Cameras clicked and flags waved Wednesday as scores of people showed up at the former Castle Air Force Base to welcome the newest addition to the aircraft museum here.
A U.S. Marine Corps and Navy flight crew flew the Northrop-Grumman EA-6B Prowler, an electronic warfare jet, into the base where it will be retired to the Castle Air Museum, a collection of more than 60 aircraft on display at the base.
Jim Rentfrow, 72, an Army veteran from Atwater, came out to see the new arrival. He said his son, James, a commander who teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy, has flown many Prowlers in his time in the service.
The Prowler’s primary use was to disrupt enemy radar and other signals to protect allied aircraft and troops on the ground. That makes it unique in the museum’s collection of fighter jets, bombers and other aircraft.
Rentfrow said his son has shared stories of flying during conflicts in Iraq and Bosnia in that style aircraft, which meant he was traveling close to the ground. That can make a plane a popular target for people armed with the right weapons.
“I’ll just put it this way, we were glad when he started being a professor instead of flying,” Rentfrow said about his son.
Aircraft such as the Prowler have been used since the Vietnam War and regularly upgraded for use in conflicts since then. The first deployment of the Prowler was May 25, 1968, according to the Navy’s website, but it was first deployed in a war zone in 1972.
The museum’s Prowler came from a test squadron at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.
Joe Pruzzo, chief executive officer of the museum, has said because the Prowler was flown in, it is unlike most of the other aircraft at the museum. They are usually trucked in and reassembled before being put on display.
Air Force veteran John Garcia, 69, of Modesto and a few of his buddies from the American GI Forum also came out to welcome the Prowler and take photos. As veterans, he said, they like to check out military history. “It brings a lot of memories,” he said. “It’s a great addition to this Castle museum.”
One of those members of the American GI Forum, Pat Sobotka, a Navy veteran from Ceres, said the Prowler was a happy sight when he was serving in Vietnam, but it’s sad to see it retired. “I hate it when they shut them down,” the 72-year-old said.
Castle Air Museum in Atwater receives no government funding, but operates using the donations of private citizens. The collection is made up of more than 60 aircraft, including a former Air Force One used by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
The museum, 5050 Santa Fe Drive, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.