A group of dedicated enthusiasts in the Atwater-Merced area formed the Castle Air Museum Foundation, Inc. which is now a non-profit organization. Its purpose is to build a facility in which faithfully restored historic aircraft could be exhibited for public enjoyment.
It opened in 1981, on a site adjacent to the former Castle Air Force Base. Most of the workers there are volunteers, and the small admission charge helps defray restoration and maintenance projects. Although most of the aircraft on display belong to the U.S. Air Force Museum, it does not provide any funds for maintenance and repair.
Today, it showcases 54 vintage World War II, Korean War, and Cold War era aircraft. The outdoor airpark covers 11 acres, and an indoor facility features photographs, uniforms, and other war memorabilia.
The RB-36H at the Castle Air Museum
RB-36H S/N 51-13730 on display at Chanute AFB, Rantoul, Illinois, circa 1967
The airpark houses one of only four surviving Convair B-36 Peacemakers, a model RB-36H with serial number 51-13730. The photos below were taken by the author in May, 2012.
This is the only reconnaissance version of the B-36 on display, and was assigned to the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Rapid City Air Force Base, South Dakota (Ellsworth AFB after June 1953) from 1952 to 1957.
In 1957, it was reassigned to Chanute Air Force Base, Rantoul, Illinois, and was used as a ground instructional airframe.
After active service, the B-36 was placed on display on the grounds of the base. When Chanute AFB was closed, the Peacemaker was transported to Castle on eleven flatbed railway cars in 1992. The complicated reassembly and restoration took quite some time, with final repainting completed in October of 1994. The Chanute Air Museum was later closed, in 2015.
Project to Further Restore the RB-36
The RB-36 on display is currently being reskinned and restored. In 2018 the restoration team reports that they are 3 years into a 10-year project to complete the restoration. The photos included on this page were taken prior to the start of the current restoration project.
For more information and current status of the project, we highly recommend a visit to the website of the Castle Air Museum
Photos of the RB-36 at the Castle Air Museum
Right fuselage view of the Convair RB-36 Peacemaker S/N 51-13730 at the Castle Air Museum
Nose view of the Convair RB-36H Peacemaker
RB-36H Peacemaker of the U.S. Air Force on display in California
The shield of the Strategic Air Command, painted on the RB-36H Peacemaker
RB-36H Peacemaker engines
Plaque describing the RB-36H Peacemaker at the Castle Air Museum in Atwater, CA
Castle Air Force Base History
The Army Air Corps Basic Flying School in Merced, CA, opened in September 1941, one of the many such fields built around the country to meet the needs of the Army's Pilot Training Program. It was later known as Merced Army Airfield, and in 1946 it was renamed Castle Air Force Base in honor of Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle.
Over the years the base was home to a number of bombers, including the B-29, B-36, B-47 and B-52, and supporting aerial tankers such as the KC-135. The base was closed in 1995, and today is known as the Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center.
Highlights of Other Aircraft at the Castle Air Museum
Besides the RB-36H Peacemaker, the Castle Air Museum collection includes man other restored World War II, Korean War, and Cold War era aircraft.
Visiting the Castle Air Museum
At the Museum you can actually get up close to the planes, and touch them! To make the experience even more personal, they even schedule “Open Cockpit” days during the Memorial Day weekend; other special events are scheduled during the year.
While studying and photographing the B-36 during our last visit, a volunteer drove up in a golf cart. He was a pilot on KC-97 and KC-135 aircraft, stationed at Castle AFB, and was a wealth of aeronautical history, and enthusiasm!
The outdoor plane galleries cover 11 acres, and indoor exhibits features photographs, uniforms, and other war memorabilia.
It is open daily year-round (weather permitting), except for New Year's Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The airplanes are outside, so prepare in advance if the weather is rainy, cold, hot or windy.
For more information, we recommend a visit to the website of the Castle Air Museum.
Don’t miss this fine collection of American air power!
The map below shows the Castle Air Museum, physically located at 5050 Santa Fe Drive, Atwater, CA 95301. Phone 209.723.2178.
The B-36 survivors are listed below ... click the links for additional information and photographs of the airplane at each facility.