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Let your Imagination Take Flight
April, 2018 - Issue #163
courtesy of Shutterstock
courtesy of Shutterstock

"My son Drew and I stopped in for what we thought would be a short visit on a Sunday afternoon. We quickly found ourselves ENTHRALLED by the aircraft and their stories."
You're forgiven for missing this anniversary in aviation history, but only because you can still attend the party: the 100th anniversary of March Air Force Base.
Lt. Harold Compere's February 27, 1918 touch down on a training flight from San Diego was the first landing at the base. It inaugurated a rich 100-year history in military aviation that continues today at one of America's oldest Air Force bases.
Named March Field in honor of Second Lieutenant Peyton C. March, Jr., son of the Army chief of staff who was killed in a flying accident in Texas, the base trained pilots for World War I just 15 years after the Wright Brothers first proved that powered flight was possible.
The base's training mission continued in World War II. During the Korean War, it dispatched B-29 bombers to Okinawa, where they flew missions over North Korea. Props gave way to jets, and March housed massive eight-engine B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War. When its mission later changed to refueling, March's tankers played a critical role in the Gulf War.
March was decommissioned in 1996 and now serves as a reserve facility. But its proud history has been collected and preserved at March Field Air Museum, located between the runway's western edge and nearby Interstate 215.
Open to the public, the museum offers a chance to examine an impressive collection of fighters, bombers, trainers, tankers and helicopters that illustrate the advancing stages of American aerial warfare, from wooden-propped biplanes to Predator drones.
My son Drew and I stopped in for what we thought would be a short visit on a Sunday afternoon. We quickly found ourselves enthralled by the aircraft and their stories.
The signature piece is an SR-71 Blackbird, which dominates the museum's main hangar. Before unmanned drones and ubiquitous satellite coverage, the SR-71 delivered reliable photo reconnaissance by flying high and fast and shooting sophisticated cameras packed with 1,500-foot rolls of film.
Though it first flew more than 50 years ago, the Blackbird appears ageless. Its unique design looks more rocket than plane and still conveys a futuristic aesthetic. Retired 20 years ago in favor of satellites and drones, the Blackbird's speed and altitude records remain unbeaten.
With no ropes on the flight line outside, you're free to get up close to aircraft. Peek in open bomb bays. Stand beneath the wings of a B-17 bomber. Wander through the re-created Fire Base Romeo Charlie to examine Vietnam-era helicopters. In addition to preserving and restoring the aircraft, the museum uses serial numbers and service records to research and share their history.
Jump on a tram tour with one of the museum's volunteers as your guide and you'll hear those stories along with your guide's own experiences. It's easy to imagine the aircraft in action while listening to a retired combat air controller share stories about directing ground support missions in Vietnam with F-4 Phantom fighter bombers, calling for evacuations by Huey helicopters and clearing airspace ahead of a B-52 bombing raid.
While the museum honors the past, a reminder of America's present conflict sits just across the runway. Our tour guide
pointed out what appeared to be commercial passenger planes on the tarmac. The big Boeing jets belong to a charter operator that ferries Marines and soldiers stationed at nearby bases from March to their deployments in the Middle East.
One hundred years after Lt. Compere's landing, March Air Reserve Base is still in the fight and still making history. The anniversary party will be April 7 and 8 when the base hosts the 2018 March Air & Space Expo. With active duty planes to walk through, and aerial performances by vintage warplanes and the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team, it promises to be a fitting celebration honoring March's century of dedicated service.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic.

Go There!
March Field Air Museum
marchfield.org
March Air & Space Expo marchairshow.com
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