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Historic Planes of Strategic Air Command and the Jet Age

B47 Strategic Air Command Bomber March AFB photoThe Air Museum at March Air Reserve Base in the California Desert of the Morongo Valley consists of one large hanger building packed with exhibits and a collection of over 70 aircraft, one of the largest you'll find at one facility, parked outdoors in a dirt parking area alongside the runways of the operational air base where massive jet KC-10 air tankers and C-17 cargo behemoths take off from the long runways on regular rotations.

March Field

Nieuport WWI Bi-Plane March Field Museum photoLand for what became March Air Field in the Moreno Valley near Riverside, California was graded by mule teams in February of 1918 on a former private air strip called Alessandro, forming a training field for newly minted pilots off to fight in World War I. It took just 60 days to construct a base of 12 hangers for the JN-4D “Jenny” bi-planes with 6 barracks for 150 men each, officers quarters, machine shop, mess hall, post exchange, and a hospital, dedicated on March 20, 1918, named for Second Lt. Peyton C. March, Jr., the son of the Army Chief of Staff, killed in a flying accident a month before. The first commander of the 818 Aero Squadron Captain William Carruthers moved from his offices at the Mission Inn in Riverside (see Riverside Mission Inn) to the new base.

B49 Stratofortress Bomber March Air Field photoFollowing the first world war the base gained notoriety in the 1930s when Lieutenant Colonel Henry "Hap" Arnold initiated well publicized flying maneuvers over Death Valley and up to Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains and featured in newsreels being visited by Hollywood celebrities like Wallace Berry and famous aviators like Amelia Earhart. The base served its part in World War II, but March Air Field really came into prominence in the post-war era as a home to the jet age, the most public face "SAC", Strategic Air Command.

B47 Strategic Air Command Movie Mock-up photoIn 1955, with cooperation of the Air Force, eager to promote its role in keeping America safe, the Hollywood motion picture “Strategic Air Command” was released by Paramount Pictures with Jimmy Stewart as a WWII pilot called back to fly the brand new B-47 jet nuclear bomber. The B-47 with its rocket assist take-off, swept wings and fighter-like pilot cockpit was one of the most impressive of its kind, superseded by the B-52 for it role of constant flight vigil against Russian attack. The B47 was replaced on the flight line at March with 15 B52s, alongside the KC-135 "Stratotankers." to provide the air refueling which kept the nuclear bombers aloft throughout the cold war. In the Vietnam Era and following, March Air Force Base's main role became that of supply and refueling station which continues today.

Aviation Museum

P59 First Jet Fighter March AFB photoThe Air Museum at March Field is best known for its post World War II aircraft. Inside the museum hanger you’ll find the first American jet fighter, the Bell P59 AiroComet. There is a bit of a dispute whether it was America or the British who flew the first jet fighter, both developing them in secret at the same time, but the Germans beat them into wartime skies with the Messerschmitt 262 (see Deutsches Museum Aviation), There are a couple of biplanes, a Stearman and Nieuport (a replica). Most notably unique at March is the mock-up cockpit of a B-47 used in the filming of the “Strategic Air Command” movie with Jimmy Stewart. A new exhibit dedicated to K9 War Dogs, takes up a portion of the museum, along with a small mock-up of a WWII German Luft Stalag prison camp, an exhibit honoring the Flying Tigers, collections of and photographic gear from movies and aerial reconnaissance, a nuclear bomb casing, military dirigibles and missile technology display.

B52 Bomb Bay photoHead out the door to the main aircraft display area. In no particular order are the 70 aircraft on view, parked wingtip to wingtip. Some of the large bombers on display include the World War II era B-17G Flying Fortress and B25 Mitchell bomber (used in the movie “Catch-22), the postwar and atomic era B-29 Superfortress, one of the rare B47 Stratojets still in existence, and a B52-D Stratofortress, where you can sit in the shade under the massive wing spread or stand in the bomb bay and get the same view that Major Kong had at the end of “Dr. Strangelove”.

KC135 Refueling Nozzle POV photoAlso get a feel for what it must be like to refuel in mid-air, looking down the refueling nozzle of the KC135. Among the jet fighters are an F-86 Sabre Jet and F-100 North American Super Sabre, F-101B Voodoo, F-102A Delta Dagger, F-104 Lockheed Starfighter and the sleek black, once super secret SR71 spy plane. A series of 5 Russian “Migs” are lined up in a display called “Mig Alley” the nickname for the Yalu River delta from the deadly air battles of the Korean War. On weekends a replica P-38 is on display in its own hanger.

In the courtyard outside the entrance you'll find The Freedom Wall with stone plaques inscribed with documents such as the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address and the new Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial and War Dogs Memorial. You can immortalize your name or message on a 6 inch blue tile to be placed in the Heritage Courtyard of the March Field Air Museum for $50.

Visiting March Field Air Museum

March Filed Air Museum Hangar photThe museum is located along the 215 Freeway between Riverside and San Diego, near Perris, California. The entrance is separate from the operational air base at the Van Buren Blvd. exit from the freeway (not the main base exit). The museum is open from 9 am to 4 pm, Tuesday to Sunday and most holidays, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Easter, closed on Mondays. Admission is $10 for teens and adults (12 years and up), $5 for children 5 to 11, and under 5 free. Active Duty military personnel and Reservists in uniform are admitted free of charge. There is no restaurant, but a hot dog vendor on weekends. The museum shop offers model airplanes, toys, logo t-shirts, posters and photographs, aviation and military themed items. A second hanger is under construction and the museum hopes to gain a Space Shuttle with plans for a new expanded exhibit center. © Bargain Travel West

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March Field Museum

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