Chico Air Museum
By Al Rocca
Story and Photo By Al Rocca
The Chico Air Museum offers a treat for folks fascinated by planes. Driving up to the museum at the north end of the Chico airport, you will see several world class military aircraft, both American and Russian. A recently restored F-86 Sabre jet, effectively providing air superiority during the Korean War and a A-7 Corsair capable of carrier-based operations for years in the Vietnam War are just two of the many airplanes.
Once you step inside the cavernous hangar, you will see several vintage airplanes dating back to the early 1900s. The 1917 SPAD XIII is meticulously replicated to look authentic, providing a historic link to the “good old days” of open cockpit flying. The largest and arguably most impressive indoor aircraft at the museum is the F-15 Strike Eagle, built by McDonnell Douglas and used extensively in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. Standing under the wing of this monstrous all-weather multirole strike fighter is humbling. World War II aircraft include the Grumman AF Guardian and a Vultee BT-13 Valiant trainer airplane.
Several indoor room exhibits house interesting displays on the Chico Army Air Field (operating from April 1942 to the end of 1945), smoke jumpers and the long abandoned intercontinental ballistic missile (Titan I-ICBM) site, located just a couple of miles away. A fully stocked aviation library beckons those wanting to research aircraft and pilots of bygone eras. More than 100 airplane models are displayed at several locations, with each airplane expertly assembled, painted and decaled. Children and adults can enjoy the up-close experience of sitting in a P-2V Neptune maritime patrol and antisubmarine aircraft cockpit. Your copilot can sit next to you as you gaze in bewilderment at the myriad of switches, levers and control devices. Continuing the “cockpit experience,” children, with docent help, step onto the wing of a Thorp T-211, sit in a tight cockpit and work the ailerons and elevator control stick. A large table invites children to color outlines of their favorite airplanes, butterflies and helicopters.
If you are lucky, the large hangar doors will be opened and you can step onto the tarmac to observe incoming or outgoing aircraft. World-class air tankers actively use the Chico Airfield as one of their North State air bases. At other times, local pilots taxiing up close to the hangar in vintage and modern aircraft add realism and excitement. On rare occasions, you might be present when a U.S. Air Force U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft from the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force base practices landing approaches, cruising quite low to the Chico runway.
The gift shop includes a variety of model aircraft kits, T-shirts, books on aviation and Chico Air Museum caps and shirt pins. If you are an educator or interested parent, ask about the school and group museum tours.
Chico Air Museum • (530) 345-6468 • www.chicoairmuseum.org
Hours vary • Admission is free.