Former presidential jetliner draws crowd at Castle Air Museum in Atwater

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comDecember 27, 2013 

— Public tours of a former Air Force One jetliner started on a promising note Friday with a strong turnout, said Joe Pruzzo, executive director of the Castle Air Museum.

About 30 people took the 11 a.m. tour Friday, and other tours were scheduled at 1 and 3 p.m. By the time the last tour was completed Friday, 108 people had gone through the plane. Tours of the former presidential aircraft will be offered every Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting, Pruzzo said.

“We hope to have 30 or more for every tour,” he said. “It’s certainly a very special treasure.”

The air museum has 56 vintage military airplanes on display, seven undergoing restoration and three more awaiting a move to the museum, on the grounds of the former Castle Air Force Base. The former presidential plane arrived at Castle on Oct. 16.

Tony Rocha, museum coordinator, said a number of steps have been taken to make sure the tours are safe and preserve the historic aircraft for future generations. They includs removing military equipment, draining the fuel tanks and keeping people from touching the seats.

Barricades, ropes and cones have been placed to keep people away from certain parts of the plane.

“Wear and tear can be substantial,” Rocha said. “It’s pretty much ready to go. We will put down a carpet runner and seat covers with the presidential seals.”

Pruzzo said tours inside the airplane will last about 15 minutes. No interior photography will be allowed. Six people will be allowed on the plane at one time. Photography is permitted outside the plane, and the overall tours are expected to last about 30 minutes.

Rocha said people on the tour will be able to look into the cockpit and see where Presidents Reagan and Clinton sat. He hopes eventually to have historic photos on display, perhaps table settings, and brochures available by next weekend.

Pruzzo said the museum is moving along on its fundraising plans for a $10 million building to house Air Force One and other significant aircraft. He expects more news about funding prospects next month and to break ground on the building next year.

Tickets to tour the plane, priced at $10, can be purchased at the air museum gift shop. The plane is situated on the Castle tarmac for the time being until the new storage building is erected.

Pruzzo expects the presidential plane to enhance interest in the Castle Air Museum. The Douglas VC-9 was part of the presidential fleet for more than 30 years, up to 2005, and most often used to fly into smaller airfields that couldn’t accommodate bigger planes.

The plane was used by Vice Presidents Walter Mondale, Dan Quayle, Al Gore and Dick Cheney, along with first ladies Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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