Air Museum starts campaign for new hangar

April 11, 2019

Castle Air Museum in Atwater has decided to move forward with a capital campaign with the goal of sheltering the majority of its military aircraft collection from the harsh Central Valley climate by placing it in a state-of-the-art 160,000 square foot hangar facility.

The construction of a facility to house the planes has been discussed for quite some time as a way to protect the collection from corrosion due to the elements and best preserve the legacy of our veterans.

Air Museum CEO Joe Pruzzo said, “After the airplanes were painted, we would move them in and have them preserved for perpetuity without the effects of dust, pollutants, and rain. As times goes on, these military planes will be the only tangible objects left to educate future generations about the immense sacrifices our veterans made for our freedoms and the lifestyle we enjoy today.”

The preservation of the collection is not only important for the education of our youth, but also the collection attracts visitors from many countries and brings income into the local area.

Pruzzo explained, “About 30 percent of our visitorship is from overseas — from Europe, the Pacific Rim, South America, Africa and Russia. They come here for the rarity of the airplanes and the scope of the collection. They stay here and spend money on hotel rooms, in restaurants and at gas stations.”

Describing the proposed project, Pruzzo said, “The first structure we need to get constructed is 160,000 square feet. It will cost $7 million, move in. The hangar would be 200 x 800 feet long, and 65 feet at the peak. Right now, we have about 72 planes outdoors. We could fit about 50 aircraft in there, as well as educational exhibits. With the cost of prep work, paint, and repair of corrosion, if you keep doing that over the years, a building like that will eventually pay for itself.”

Pruzzo said, “Unlike past plans, this time we actually have funded the engineering drawings that are stamped blueprint quality, which we had to have in order to be accepted for a grant.

“We have plans that will be in our hands in about a month, and these drawings will be made available to the public as soon as we have them.”

What are some ideas as to how to fund the hangar facility?

Pruzzo explained, “An individual has pledged a $1 million match. We are looking for another individual to match the million dollar offer. If we match the $1 million, it becomes $2 million. We’re also still interested in private individuals and public corporations helping to fund this.”

He continued, “There is money out there being made available through different opportunities. The grant people are on board to get the remainder of the money. There are grants available through philanthropic organizations and government entities that focus on parks, which would fit this endeavor. As I understand it, the maximum which could be received from grants would be $8 or $9 million. A firm from Southern California is writing grants. They’ve had quite a bit of success in writing grants for different organizations. They have written them for the Los Angeles Police Department, and philanthropic organizations. They are affiliated with the Reagan Library. It helps that the Presidential aircraft we have here was Mrs. Reagan’s favorite aircraft, and there is a spark of interest with this project from the Reagan Library, as well.”

What else could the hangar facility be used for?

Pruzzo said, “The siding is a PVC type material that allows ambient light in, and shelters from the ultraviolet light, so this would not only be a museum of our aviation history but an event center available to the community, bringing in corporate events and reunions.

“Another thing is we might host exhibits there not related to airplanes that would be a cultural draw. This would allow us a lot of flexibility and at the same time provide the community an opportunity to see exhibits, hear speakers, or attend a company party under the wings of some of these exquisite planes.

“With something of this sort, we could host events even in the Winter months.

“It would be a destination site for Bakersfield to Redding for hosting reunions and corporate events.

“The hope would be to have a gift shop in this structure, as well.

“If the cost doesn’t allow, then you just have less amenities, and do more as money becomes available.

He concluded, “It’s a multi-year undertaking that will not happen overnight.”

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