Castle Airport is a general aviation airport owned and operated by Merced County. The Airport has a rich history dating from its time as an important military base beginning during World War II. Initially designated as Merced Army Air Field in 1941 and then Castle Air Force Base in 1948, Castle Airport operated as a critical facility for the US military and the North American until its closing in 1995.
Castle AFB played an important role in the national military apparatus as a Strategic Air Command Base and due to its quite extensive air defense role, the Airport’s infrastructure is substantial. With a long runway and a heavy-duty taxiway system, today the Airport can accommodate most heavy commercial aircraft. The United States Forest Service uses Castle Airport as reloading base for its fleet of 767 aircraft that are used in aerial firefighting throughout the Western US.
Castle’s heritage lives on at the Castle Air Museum. Within the MCITD complex and adjacent to the Airport, the Museum displays over 60 restored World War II, Vietnam and Cold War era aircraft. Among the exhibit highlights are a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the world’s fastest manned aircraft and the Convair RB-36 Peacemaker, the only surviving reconnaissance variant of the largest bomber ever built for the US Air Force.
Castle’s Military History
Built as Merced Army Air Field in 1941, the field was named for Brigadier General Frederick Castle, who in 1944 remained at the controls of his burning B-17 while his crew bailed out and then died when the aircraft exploded. The 93d Bombardment Group was activated at Merced in 1946 and remained for almost 50 years, and in 1947 Castle Field was reactivated under Strategic Air Command. The 93rd flew Boeing B-29 and B50 Superfortresses and remained active until 1951 when the Group was activated and the aircraft and personnel sent to Far East Air Forces as replacements for combat losses during the Korean War.
In 1954 and the wing received the first production line Boeing B-52B Stratofortress, making it the first SAC bomb wing to receive the new aircraft. The Wing became SAC’s primary B-52 aircrew training organization, incorporating KC-135 aircrew training for the air refueling missions. In 1956, the Wing made non-stop B-52 flights of some 16,000 nautical miles (29,600 km) around North America and to the North Pole.
In 1990, the Wing operated an aerial port of embarkation (APOE) for personnel and equipment deploying to Southwest Asia during Desert Shield. In addition to aerial refueling, Castle-based KC-135 tankers ferried personnel and equipment, while B-52s deployed to strategic locations worldwide, including Saudi Arabia. B-52s bombed the Iraqi Republican Guard and targeted Iraqi chemical weapons, nuclear, and industrial plants during Desert Storm in 1991.
In 1992, following the inactivation of Strategic Air Command and the establishment of the new Air Combat Command (ACC), the 93rd Wing was renamed the 93rd Bomb Wing. Shortly afterwards, nationwide base closures under the Base Relocation and Closure (BRAC) process impacted numerous USAF installations, especially former SAC installations. With the BRAC closure of Castle AFB confirmed, the 322nd Bomb Squadron was inactivated in 1994 and the 93rd Bomb Wing was inactivated the following year with the Base’s closure.
- First jet aircraft nonstop flight around the world (January 1957)
- Nonstop, unrefueled KC-135 flight from Yokota AB, Japan, to Washington, D.C. (April 1958)