It’s a Memorial Day tradition and a red-letter day for vintage airplane buffs.
The Castle Air Museum will be conducting its 18th annual Open Cockpit Day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the museum, 5050 Santa Fe Drive in Atwater. Between 5,000 and 6,000 visitors are expected and more than 100 museum volunteers will be on hand, working in food booths, as docents and inside the gift shop.
Joe Pruzzo, the museum’s executive director, said the event will mark the dedication of the newest aircraft, the North American RA-5 Vigilante reconnaissance bomber, only one of 11 in existence.
More than 35 of the 60 aircraft will be open for viewing. Law enforcement and military vehicle displays are planned along with helicopter rides and food booths. Children’s activities include model airplane building and a bounce house.
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Pruzzo said event participants also will be able to tour the museum’s Air Force One airplane for an additional $10 charge.
Larry Cristofani, the museum’s special events coordinator, said Open Cockpit Day is one of the largest events of the year and a great family attraction. The museum’s planes generally are only open twice a year for inspection.
Event participants will be able to talk with men and women who have flown in those aircraft before, Cristofani said. The event is a great opportunity for young people to become familiar with vintage military aircraft.
The Vigilante bomber was located in 2011 at the Naval Air Weapons Station, a Navy proving ground at China Lake near Ridgecrest.
The Vigilante was retired 35 years ago and stayed at China Lake until it was disassembled and moved to Castle more than two years ago. Pruzzo said it is the last of its type likely to be preserved. Ten others are in airplane museums around the country.
Pruzzo said the Vigilante was a high-speed reconnaissance aircraft used by the U.S. Navy from 1960 to 1979. The plane’s original mission, while stationed aboard aircraft carriers, was to deliver a nuclear weapon while traveling twice the speed of sound.
In 1967, the pilot of a Vigilante discovered the location of the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison where prisoners of war were held, according to Pruzzo.
Admission to Open Cockpit Day is $12 for adults and $8 for seniors 60 and older. Youth from ages 6 to 17 will be admitted for $5, and active duty military are admitted for free. General admission does not include presidential aircraft tours.