McClellan Aviation Museum Foundation

Photos by Diana Schultz, Military

In 1982 the U.S. Air Force implemented the Heritage Program as a way for Air Force bases nationwide to connect with the communities surrounding them. The program was intended to inform the public about the air base and its function and contribution to the Air Force.

In September 1986 the McClellan Air Force Base Museum, Sacramento, CA, was established and aircraft of every type were put on display in a parking lot located near the center of the base. Aircraft came in from other bases and the Air Force acquired other aircraft for display, including some Russian MiGs.

The Air Force allocated two buildings to display McClellan’s humble beginnings as a farmer’s field to the large sprawling airfield it eventually became. There were many photographs from its early days, as well as an extensive display of uniforms starting with the earliest Army Air Corp uniforms — it is the largest collection of Air Corps uniforms nationwide.

The buildings also housed several interactive displays, aircraft power plants from radial engines to jet engines, and suspended from the ceiling was a fully restored WWII reconnaissance spotter plane (L2M). The museum was maintained by the Air Force and staffed by volunteers, some of whom are retired Air Force personnel.

McClellan AFB has the distinction of being the second to the last stop for the Doolittle Raiders and their B-25s before they flew to Alameda NAS and were loaded aboard the USS Hornet (CV-8).

With the Cold War over, the Department of Defense decided that some military bases were no longer needed and would be permanently closed. McClellan AFB ceased operation in 2001 and the property was turned over to Sacramento County for development. Before the Air Force officially departed, sensitive instruments were removed from many of the museum’s aircraft, and they were also de-militarized. The museum was left in limbo as to whether or not it could continue. Thanks to the determination of the museum’s volunteers, it would continue and remain at the same location — for how long though, no one was sure.

In September 2003 the museum became the McClellan Aviation Museum and Aerospace Learning Center and was given a permanent location on the former air base, moving to the north end of McClellan Park along Freedom Park Drive. The aircraft on display were painstakingly relocated to what had once been a running track/football field.

The museum complex next to Freedom Park will eventually encompass nine acres with a new 19,000-square-foot museum building with interactive displays, an aircraft park, a historic display area and classrooms. Plans are in the works to bring in additional aircraft for display.

Thirty aircraft are on display now, including the C-53 which saw action in Europe on D-Day and an A-10 “Warthog” that saw action in the first Gulf War. This particular A-10 had its left engine shot full of holes (which are still visible) by Iraqi forces, but unbeknownst to the pilot, the engine had failed. Upon landing, the pilot was anxious to get back in the air to make waste of more Iraqi equipment so he yelled for the ground crew to load him up again. One of the ground crewmen told him that his plane was headed for the scrap heap as it was too badly damaged to fly — much to the surprise of the pilot!

The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 9-4, and Sunday, noon to 4. Admission is free but donations are greatly appreciated, as the museum is a nonprofit organization staffed only by volunteers. The second Saturday of every month, weather permitting, some of the aircraft are opened up for further inspection.

If you are in the Sacramento area, take some time and stop by the McClellan Aviation Museum. For more information, call 916/643-3192 or visit www.mcclellanaviationmuseum.org.