Tours of presidential plane in Atwater start this week

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comDecember 26, 2013 

Joe Pruzzo, chief executive officer at Castle Air Museum Foundation, speaks as the former Air Force One arrives at Castle Airport in Atwater in October.

BEA AHBECK CASSON — Merced Sun-Star

— Regular tours of Castle Air Museum’s “crown jewel” will kick off in Atwater today, and may usher in new enthusiasm for the museum.

“(We expect) more interest and more people to come to see the crown jewel we have in our midst,” said Joe Pruzzo, chief executive officer of the museum.

Work has been done on the presidential Douglas VC-9, which landed in Atwater on Oct. 16, to make it ready for regular tours, Pruzzo said. The plane’s most famous passengers were Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

This weekend the museum will offer tours at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Future tours will be available Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting, Pruzzo said. The Atwater museum, 5050 Santa Fe Drive, charges $10 on top of the general admission fee to view the inside of the plane.

The plane was part of the presidential fleet for more 30 years. It was most often used to fly into smaller airfields that might not have been able to handle the larger and more commonly used jets.

At times, the plane was referred to by the presidential call sign of “Air Force One.” Any plane carrying the president receives the moniker.

The VC-9 was also used by Vice Presidents Walter Mondale, Dan Quayle, Al Gore and Dick Cheney. Former first ladies Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush also were prominent passengers. The plane remains intact from its days with the presidential fleet, and Pruzzo said guides will be aboard the aircraft during tours.

“This is one of the few airplanes here at the museum that you can go through and tour on a regular basis,” Pruzzo said.

The aircraft, which was awarded to the museum by the U.S. General Services Administration in July, has been all over the Americas, as well as parts of Europe and Asia.

Castle Air Museum has 57 aircraft on display. Pruzzo said there are five others in various states of restoration that will later be on display. Pruzzo said the Atwater museum is the largest of its kind in the region from Southern California to Portland, Ore.

The VC-9 was in service at the 89th Airlift Wing from February 1975 to September 2005, when it was reassigned to the Air Force Reserve Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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