ATWATER — One of the biggest planes to ever fly off an aircraft carrier is getting a second life at Castle Air Museum.
Volunteers will roll out a Douglas RA-3B Skywarrior today, making it the 56th plane to be displayed at the museum.
The aircraft made it through battles over Vietnam and the Cuban Missile Crisis. It had two sister planes, but both were shot down in Vietnam.
It was designed to be able to combat aggression from the Soviet Union. The aircraft had the ability to use nuclear weapons to strike from aircraft carriers. They stayed in use until 1991.
Joe Pruzzo, chief executive officer of Castle Air Museum Foundation Inc., said the museum's Skywarrior was converted into a reconnaissance plane and is the only reconnaissance model in existence.
Aside from reconnaissance, other Skywarriors have been modified to refuel other planes or take part in electronic warfare.
Castle Air Museum's Skywarrior is on a long-term loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation. It was hauled up from an aircraft storage facility in the city of Mojave in late 2010. Since then, volunteers have been working on restoring the plane, which is known as "The Whale" because of its enormous size.
Weighing 82,000 pounds, the plane is 76 feet long with a wingspan of 72 feet, Pruzzo said.
The museum didn't have to pay anything for the plane, he noted. But Pruzzo estimates that about $100,000 of donated money and volunteer hours went into bringing the plane back to life at the museum.
"It looks gorgeous now," Pruzzo said. "It's a tribute to the wonderful group of restoration volunteers we have."
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.