March Field Air Museum, Riverside, CA

Story and photos by Del Laughery

First things first: If you are going to be in the Los Angeles area, make it a point to visit this museum. It’s really something quite special. Equally important are getting there and the time of year you visit. If you’re flying in, and don’t need to land at LAX consider Ontario, CA, as an ideal alternative. It’s a great airport, with easy access to highways as soon as you’re off airport property, and you’ll be significantly closer to the museum at the start of your overland journey with appreciably less traffic between you and your destination. Now, with regard to time of year, don’t do what I did and visit in September. It’s painfully and insultingly hot. Instead, think about March, or November, both of which will provide you a sun stroke-free visit.

The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive at the museum is the 37 acres of space filled with indoor and outdoor exhibits, themed areas like the Vietnam fire base with Hueys lifting off, and an area on the far side of the grounds with aircraft in the process of, or waiting for, the restoration team’s attention. Even moving around briskly it will take you two hours to see everything. If you’re a reader, you’ll be there long enough such that there will be a need to consider meal options afterward.

Inside the main building you’ll find some very special aircraft on display. Certainly the first thing that catches your eye is the SR-71 (with canopies up to allow a view of the cockpit), complete with engines mind you. Facing the SR is a Bell P-59 Airacomet while suspended overhead is a P-39 Airacobra. Attached to the main building is another interior area housing the fragile cloth-covered airframes such as a PT-17 Stearman and PT-19 Cornell. Suspended overhead is a replica Wright flyer. Interestingly, this aircraft flew, after FAA-mandated wind tunnel testing, and actually has more hours on the air frame than the 1903 original.

Outdoors is an exemplary collection of primarily all-metal aircraft ranging from late WWII examples such as the Lockheed R-50 Loadstar, Korean-era F-84s, a very early KC-135A, as well as three different versions of F-4 Phantom IIs. You’ll also find the only A-9A on display. Do you know where the other one is? You would only need to travel as far as Edwards AFB to find it cloistered away inside a protective crate.

As I indicated, you can spend hours just walking around these exhibits, and you should also take some time to walk down to restoration hangar and check out the F-86 and T-28A as well as the long line of radial engines set aside for future projects. So, hop a flight to LA…no, I mean Ontario. Drive 40 minutes to the museum and check out this very excellent non-profit organization. If you have some extra time, Anaheim (and Disneyland) are just down the road.

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