Catherine Johnson couldn’t get enough of the Castle Air Museum’s Open Cockpit Day on Sunday.
“I love planes,” the 17-year-old student from Calaveras County said as she emerged from the flight simulator at the museum. “If I can get my hands on any plane I’ll fly it.”
The aviation enthusiast was one of many kids and their families who got a feel of what the inside of the country’s historic planes are like during Open Cockpit Day.
The biannual fundraising event for the museum was a chance for people to check out dozens of vintage military aircraft. It also featured canine demonstrations with the Atwater Police Department, Merced County Sheriff’s Office, Merced County firefighters, a helicopter ride and other activities.
In addition to airplanes, families went on helicopter rides all day, and received a presidential experience in an Air Force One plane that held two sitting presidents.
“This serves as a day of family and unity,” said Joe Pruzzo, executive director of the museum.
Pruzzo said Open Cockpit Day is a big fundraiser for the nonprofit museum. It’s held on Memorial Day weekend to honor those who flew the planes in combat by showing their stories to the next generations of air enthusiasts.
“It displays the progression of aircraft through history,” Pruzzo said. “But it’s also a good way to interact with the public, and it’s just fun for kids.”
But kids weren’t the only ones having fun.
Rohit and Eeva Sharma posed for a photo in an Atwater police car after they drove from Bakersfield with Rohit’s brothers from Clovis to check out the museum’s exhibits.
Atwater resident Patrick Mudget broke off from his family to check out a specific plane.
“I came with my girlfriend and her kids, but I told them I wanted to check out this plane,” Mudget said after he climbed up steps and took a look inside the cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas F-15A “Eagle.”
Mudget, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said it was important to give kids a history and appreciation of those who perished flying planes for their country.
Pruzzo said Open Cockpit Day also is held on Labor Day weekend for people who can’t make the Memorial Day weekend event.
Also, Pruzzo said, the museum is seeking to put up a hangar for aircraft as an educational museum venue.
“It has been met with great enthusiasm by (the Merced County Office of Education) for their (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program,” Pruzzo said.