Castle Air Museum, located at 5050 Santa Fe Drive in Atwater, hosted Open Cockpit Day on Memorial Day, May 27, allowing guests to view and climb inside dozens of the museum’s 72 military airplanes and to talk to the knowledgeable and friendly docents to learn interesting facts.
For example, Dave Metz, a volunteer docent, spoke to those viewing the EC-121 about the plane, which was actively flown in the military from 1953 through 1976.
Metz, himself, flew it twice — “from 1969 into half of 1970 and from half of 1972 to half of 1973, during Vietnam”.
Describing the aircraft, he exclaimed, “The EC-121 was a flying radar station!”
The plane’s original mission, according to Metz, was to fly over the ocean on the East and West Coasts 250 miles out and look out another 250 miles for Russian Bears, the bombers.
He said, “The Russian Bears could fly 500 miles per hour so we had one hour to discourage them.”
When the crew members of the EC-121 spotted Russian Bears, they would communicate that to the 102’s and 106’s, the fighters, and the fighters’ presence would send a message to the Russians that they needed to go back home.
Metz explained that the EC-121 was unarmed and couldn’t protect itself.
In 1969, North Korean Air Force MiG-21 fighter-interceptors shot down an EC-121 in international airspace off North Korea’s east coast, killing its 31 crew members on board.
Metz said, “Because the plane was unarmed, everyone perished.”
He happened to be flying an EC-121 around that time in the same area.
Describing other missions, Metz said, “In Vietnam from 1965 to 1973, we kept our fighters out of Chinese air space. We made 3,000 calls to our fighters to keep them out of China. We assisted in 25 MiG kills, and in the rescue of 80 downed pilots in Vietnam.”
During Open Cockpit Day, Michael Rosado, a tour guide docent, manned the simulator.
He explained, “We’re simulating the F-14 Tomkat. The simulator has two seats, and two kids can be pilots at the same time, looking at the same visual. The crowd waiting for the kids outside can see the visual on a screen. UC Merced volunteers ferry people in and out of the simulator and teach the kids what to do. They get a six minute ride for $5.”
Rosado laughed, “We get little kids and big kids, and adults like it too. We run the simulator in God-mode. Even if the little kids run into the ground, they don’t die.”
Emily Bayer, age 14, told the Times she enjoyed the simulator.
She said, “It was cool. I was in the air. I was mostly by the water. I saw a lot of water and a couple houses. I was looking for a landing strip to land on, but I couldn’t find one.”
In addition to operating the simulator and viewing the military aircraft, for an extra $10 guests could tour the Presidential aircraft known by at least two United States Presidents as Air Force One, or they could take a shuttle bus to view the Hidden Collection of fabric-covered aircraft made of wood.
Some took helicopter rides, children built make-and-take models and jumped in bounce houses, others used the Rock Climbing Wall, and everyone was happy to see and sample sandwiches, beverages, and ice cream at the Food Court.
The weather cooperated to make the day pleasant and enhance the fun adventure for the guests.