Castle Air Museum in Atwater has been chosen as one of a handful of aviation museums in the nation to receive a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft, a key player during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
According to Air Force officials, the aircraft will be delivered to the air museum sometime in June 2021, and once restored will be the only F-117 Nighthawk on display between Southern California and the Pacific Northwest.
Castle Air Museum, located at 5050 Santa Fe Drive in Atwater, is one of the largest aerospace museum displaying vintage aircraft in the Western U. S. It is open daily during the pandemic and in addition to the delivery of the F-117, promises other exciting new developments this year.
People are welcome to come out to the air museum to see the historic military aircraft treasures. There is also a great gift shop.
“The museum is open,” said Joe Pruzzo, executive director. “We shut down for about six weeks in the Spring of 2020, but since we are an outdoor venue, we have been open nonstop since May 8, 2020, and have no plans to do any more COVID shutdowns. The aircraft displays are on about 23 acres so there is a lot of room for social distancing for visitors who want to take a walk through the past more than 80 years of aviation history.
Museum hours currently are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The last admission to the aircraft exhibit areas is 3:15 p.m. each day. They only close the exhibit space because of extreme inclement weather. The only day they plan to close this spring is Easter Sunday.
“For more information, people are invited to check out our website at www.castleairmuseum.org or they can call the gift shop at 209-723-2182, or the administration offices Monday through Friday at 209-723-2178.
“There are several aircraft on their way to us some time during 2021,” Pruzzo said. “The first is a Navy Grumman A-6 Intruder, which was the next to last to ever fly in Navy service. …
“Also, we have a Navy F-4 Phantom in the works.
“Around June, we will be receiving a Stealth Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk.
“When it arrives, the plane is going to be a very rare sight. The Reagan Library has one, and there are several more in Southern California. Ours will be the only one between Southern California and the Pacific Northwest, to our knowledge.
“This aircraft type was used in Desert Storm and several other operations.
“They have been in service since 1983 but weren’t acknowledged to exist by the U. S. Military until the late 1980s. The military didn’t want to let the aircraft’s existence be public knowledge because it was essential to its mission to keep it secret.
“It’s almost invisible to radar and was used at night.
“The plane we will receive saw service on the first night of Desert Storm over Baghdad, Iraq. The mission was to bomb Command and Control Centers by removing the ability for Iraqi Air Defenses to detect Allied aircraft.
“We have three events coming up: The Charity Benefit Golf Tournament on Saturday, April 24, to be held at the Pheasant Run Golf Course in Chowchilla; the air museum’s Open Cockpit Day on May 31; and our Fall Open Cockpit Day on Saturday, October 2.
“We are undertaking some beautification of the exhibit areas, and that includes installing a different type of crusher dust which has a grey hardpan look instead of red rock.
“We are painting the posts and chains around the aircraft.
“We are extending our irrigation along the northern fence to beautify the grassy areas.
“The air museum is looking forward to a return to offering school field trips this year.”