Flights of Fancy; the Aerospace Museum of California at old McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento

Tour 40 planes at the Aerospace Museum of California, on the old McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento

Deep in the bowels of the old McClellan Air Force base in McClellan, CA (just north of Sacramento) stands a gleaming, new, 30,000 square-foot hanger featuring historic civilian and military planes, engines, flight simulators and a nifty NASA exhibit. Outside the hanger another 35 airplanes are tightly packed, both civilian and Air force/Coast Guard/Marine/Army versions.

Planes and aircraft engines from every era, as viewed from the
second floor mezzanine of the museum.

For 8-year-old grandson Jack it was a chance to sample actual Air Force flight simulators, for my five friends, the chance to relive our Armed Forces experience, see some daunting aircraft and learn of the history of these remarkable aircraft and their courageous pilots.

The museum features over 40 aircraft, both military and civilian models. From a replica of the Wright Brother’s biplane that got manned-flight underway in 1903, to more recent biplanes, experimental aircraft and modern fighters and bombers, visitors will see muscular jets like the A-10 Thunderbolt, the famous “Top Gun” F-14 Tomcat, the US Navy’s Blue Angels fighter and, two Russian MIGs.

Grandson Jack Taylor is dwarfed by a huge Jolly Green Giant helicopter.

Additionally, a wide array of aircraft engines trace the earliest aircraft power plants, through development of huge V-12 engines that powered WW II fighters like the P-51, up to huge jet engines that helped power the 1969 Moon landing. A NASA exhibit offers video and artifacts of the lunar landing and the long-testing it took to make the flight a success.

Some of the more evocative aircraft and exhibits include:

Giant Allison V-12 engine powered many WW II fighter planes.

A Russian MIG- 21: Debuting in 1956 as a short range, supersonic interceptor, over 10,000 were produced and used in combat by the Soviet Union, North Vietnam and a handful of other countries. During the Vietnam War it was a most capable adversary, as US pilots battled them in F-105 and F-4 fighter aircraft (examples of these two are also on display). 85 MIGs were claimed shot down during the war. Grandson Jack gave the Russian plane an obligatory thumbs down.

Jack gives the proper “thumbs down” sign for the Russian MIG 17.

The A-10A Warthog debuted in 1972, designed to kill in enemy tanks. Equipped with the “Avenger“ 30 mm seven-barrel canon and capable of carrying up to 8 tons of external rockets under its fuselage, it was a formidable fighter, deployed during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

The Sikorsky CH-3E, “the Jolly Green Giant” helicopter debuted in 1965 and deployed in Vietnam, later serving in a number of state side missions until its retirement in 1990. With a crew of three, it could carry up to 25 troops into battle (including me a couple times in 1971).

An A-10A Warthog fighter stands ready for visitors.

The F-86 Sabre, better known as the Sabrejet, an early transonic jet fighter which achieved a 14:1 kill ratio during the Korean War and demonstrated the growing future of jet fighter planes.

Standing out among a number of aircraft engines on display is an Allison V-1710, a huge, liquid-cooled V-12 engine, developed in the 1930s and used to power P-51, P-40 and P-38 fighters. In addition to more than a dozen piston-driven engines are several jet engines, including a huge model built by Aerojet in Rancho Cordova which helped power the lunar exploration.

An F-86F Sabre inside the modern hanger; visitors enjoy air-conditioned comfort.

Air Force flight simulators on the second floor held a special allure for young Jack. Alas, seeing the special simulator hall closed on a Wednesday, he noted, “grandpa, we have to come back for these when they are open” (they are open Saturday and Sunday)! Asked later what he thought of the museum experience, “Pretty cool bunch of fighter jets, but it’s a museum for grandpas…”. Ouch, guess that dates my other travel companions.

Outside, 35 planes, representing the armed services and commercial aircraft, feature several open for walk-throughs like the Fed Ex B-727 and a large Coast Guard seaplane, staffed by friendly docents eager to share details and their personal experiences (many of them former Air Force or Navy veterans).

Plan a late lunch at the nearby renovated Officer’s Club, 3410 Westover St., McClellan Park, CA; good food, reasonably priced and nicely understated – dine where “Top Gun” pilots once hung out!

A Coastguard seaplane is among 35 planes outside at the museum.

For more information: Aerospace Museum of California, 3200 Freedom Park Drive, McClellan, CA 95652, Aerospaceca.org, (916) 643-3192. Open Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, CLOSED Mondays and Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Other air museums nearby include Castle Air Museum, Atwater, with 60 restored WW II, Korean and Cold War aircraft and retired Air Force One that carried Presidents Reagan and Clinton, castleairmuseum.org; Travis Air Base Heritage Center, Travis AFB, with WW II, Korean, Vietnam and Cold War aircraft and educational exhibits, travisheritagecenter.org; USS Hornet, Sea, Air and Space Museum, Alameda, featuring the USS Hornet aircraft carrier and a variety of fighter, attack and anti-submarine aircraft, uss-hornet.org.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

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