Trip to Castle Air Force Base

I drove into Castle Air Force Base in April 16th 1973.  Castle was my first assignment after tech school.  Over the next 2 and 1/2 years, I spent many, many hours working on radar nav systems on KC-135s and B-52s.  I still have fond memories of those years.  I'll always like the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker) B-52 and respect the versatility of the Boeing 707.
  -  Gary L Vogt

A recollection of Castle AFB, from the time machine of August 1962.

Like Gary, I too was stationed at Castle AFB, Merced, California. His story reminded me of my return visit in my Grumman Tiger N81345 in the fall of 1997. On my visit I had just picked up my friend Jack who was in his final year as a CWO-3 chopper pilot for the Army stationed at twenty-nine palms east of San Diego where I was living at the time. He had dropped off his machine in Sacramento and we were returning via the San Joaquin Valley - naturally flying over Castle.

The 12,500 foot runway dwarfed the downwind leg we made in the tiger as we circled to land. the airspace was severe clear and not another aircraft in sight. A far cry from my days stationed there, when training and alert crews plied the skies in B-52s and KC-135s coupled with an occasional C-141 and the alert squadron of F-106s from the 456th fighter intercepter group. And not a word from the present tower that I had contacted while later (1964) training in my Aeronca Tri-champ with its two channel coffee-grinder receiver Narco. I learned to fly at a small strip in Atwater, California, about 5 miles from Castle.

After landing and taxiing...and taxiing...and taxiing... (we had decided to use 12,000 ft.) we, too, parked near the fire station with no one about, with its patch of green grass and flowers. We walked to the old base headquarters where I once had been a newly commissioned 2nd. Lt, assigned to the 93rd Combat Defense Squadron, the formal name for the Air Police. A single blue air force vehicle sat in front of the building where once base and wing staff cars proliferated the parking slots with two 1962 Ford Fairlanes which sported a single large red beacon and a small VHF antenna we used for base patrols. Special slots were reserved for the alert crews and tactical combat defense trucks of the Dodge power wagon class. Recollections of staff meetings with the BDCL (my boss, a Lt. Col., who had flown mustangs in WWII) came rushing back, with mixed memories of …briefings!! Learned a lot about responsibility and task completion in those days!

Walking about the base felt reminiscent of WWII abandoned airfields in England. The old tennis court I competed with my NCOIC now had rusty fences and a stringy remnant of a net. The once busy T-50 Pass and Registration building was now occupied by only a concrete foundation and a cracked walkway. We had spent many a night refinishing the interior and painting the walls, even as OIC our team worked together.

The POL and tank farm were on our route, a shabby reminder of the storage facility we had for the thousands of gallons of jet fuel those aircrews used. The Officers club, where I often visited for '2fers' and celebrated my wedding, has been converted to a restaurant-bar. Looking across at the old 22nd MMS it was easy to forget that we stored thermonuclear packages for the B-52s behind barbed wire patrolled by armed airman with what seemed to be LARGE german shephards and Rotweilers. There was no comparison to the security that the SAC men and women provided then. It was the last year of General Curtis LeMays command, and we were always prepped for the "ultimate weapon delivery system."  (or a visit by 'the general')

Gary also mentioned the operational readiness inspection (ORI) that every SAC base was ready to experience, and how critical and serious they were conducted. [And I could tell stories about one of those too] But even more "exciting" was the Cuban Missle Crisis of that August 1962. when I signed in I was given a .38 special, a badge and informed we were in DEFCON 3, which within a few days became DEFCON 2. Talk about alert, alert!! Every combat aircraft had a guard assigned around the clock, and we were launching Armed B-52s every two hours, which then flew to their "fail safe" locations, and then returned. And no one could leave the base. We slept anywhere we could. It was only years later that we realized we had come to WWIII.

As we walked to the front gate, now unoccupied, I thought about how many times I had relieved the Air Policemen on duty for lunch and dinner breaks, which always surprised both my NCOs and the guards, as well as getting strange looks from traffic coming through the gate.  Just didn't see that space occupied by a 1st Lt checking vehicles through. I figured if they could do it, I should too.

Finally, we posed in front of the well kept floral display of the 93 Bomb wing, toured the Castle AFB Museum… a sight not to be missed today as it has a really good aircraft review area, and grabbed a burger from the museum itself. Well worth a visit if your in the area. Although I would recommend a pass in the warmth of the summer. Our ramp temps were often well over 105 degrees.

When we departed, we did a couple of long 360s over the base, and the memories came flooding back, it was a heck ova time.