Saturday, July 19, 2008

Castle Air Museum

I have no idea how long my flying buddy Roland and I have been talking about going to Castle Airport, but it's been a really long time, since well before my instrument checkride. Through my training, I hardly ever flew for pleasure, since I spent all my time flying approaches and stressing myself out. Hey, it was important. Anyway, so I had a plane booked for today with the thought that I'd go somewhere, and as it turned out, Roland was free, so off we went to Castle!

Castle Airport used to be Castle Air Force Base until 1995 when they shut down military operations and it became what might have been the longest runway on a non-towered airport ever, with its 11,800 foot runway. Within the last two years (not sure exactly when) they put in a control tower. Apparently, Boeing is now going to use the airport as a 737 training facility.

Anyway, I took a guess at an IFR routing and filed a flight plan from home, and then drove off to the airport. I got there at 11:00, and by the time we got fuel, preflighted and chatted a bit in catching up, it was 11:30. We taxied to the run-up area, and I got my clearance: SJC V334 SUNOL V195 ECA Direct. That's precisely the same routing I get for my numerous trips to Stockton, which surprised me -- in my filed plan I followed another airway south to get at least near the El Nido VOR (HYP). But oh well. So we took off IFR, did all the familiar stuff, and before we got to ECA we were given a heading and told to go direct HYP when possible. Great!

We were still about 20 miles out when we got a vector for the ILS (which I'd requested earlier). They kept me high for a while, presumably to avoid any conflict with the neighboring Merced airport, but the descent was still pretty easy. I fought the ILS most of the way down, but kept pretty well on it before floating high right around the DA. I went visual, and landed relatively well on the gigantic runway. I taxied off, contacted ground, and with their help, parked at transient.

We tied down, and at the end of the parking area were a number of GIGANTIC military jets. These things were huge. One of them was being loaded with something; we didn't want to get too close or stare too hard (I had my sinister unshaven look going today). We walked into the terminal, where a number of military personnel were sitting around. I guess we looked confused (I think we were just dazed by the heat -- the ATIS had said the temperature was 32C), because a woman from the onsite FBO, Anabel (or Anna Belle or some variant thereof) asked if we were lost. I asked her if there was a good way to get to the air museum other than walking, and she offered to drive us there herself! How sweet!

Anabel (that is now officially the correct spelling, at least as far as this blog is concerned) dropped us off at the entrance to the museum, which (I hadn't realized) was all outdoors. Of course -- when dealing with HUGE planes, it'd have to be. The first thing we saw was an SR71 Blackbird. After we ate (ugh...I don't want to talk about it), we went out and saw so many planes I can't even begin to convey what any of them were or in what way they were significant, though they all were. I'm well aware of the rich history that aviation has within the military, but I'm not a plane geek -- I don't know the production history behind certain models of aircraft, I have no idea about war stories (literally!) associated with certain planes, I can't identify a plane by looking at it, even if it's really obvious. I'm still thoroughly impressed by these planes and those who flew them, it's just...anyway, here's my attempt; if you want accurate info I suggest the museum's website.

There was the SR71, which was very sleek. We saw a B-17, and I was impressed by the number and locations of the gun turrets. The B-52 was overwhelming. The C-123 made me laugh -- it looked vaguely like the plane in Chicken Run. The F-14 still looks like something out of the future.

It was getting hotter, and what breeze was once there had died down. After a brief stop in the "inside" portion of the museum, we went back to the entrance and the gift shop, and had the staff there give Anabel a call for us. She picked us up and took us back to the terminal. As we got there, we watched two of the GIGANTIC jets taking off (though one of them had to hold for a Lear jet to land -- we were feeling quite inadequate in our little Cessna). We walked out to our 172, opened the doors and...sat outside for a little while. It was really hot outside, but it was REALLY hot in that cockpit. Whew. We got in and were eager to get in the air ASAP, so we got the ATIS, got some taxi instructions, got a takeoff clearance and used it. We climbed to 6500 in an effort to find some cooler air (our OAT gauge still said 72 degrees F at that altitude). We were VFR, but it was really hazy -- we got flight following, which at least helped our peace of mind. The flight back was totally uneventful and utterly enjoyable.

I like this idea of taking trips, flying out IFR and coming back VFR. They're totally different skills, and I enjoy the opportunity to work on both.

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