March Air Force Base is an old and storied air base. Some of the first military pilots ever trained in this country passed through this base on their way to being readied to serve in World War I. Large scale deployments, many of historical significance, have begun here. It should be no surprise, then, that it has a world class museum dedicated to those fabulous boys and their flying machines.
Located off of Interstate 215 between the towns of Perris and Moreno Valley, the March Air Museum has exhibits dedicated to the history of military aviation, from the early days of dirt runways and Curtis Jennys, to the more modern SR-71s and F-14s. Additionally, the museum has several planes from foreign Air Forces on display, such as the MiG-19, and the unique FO-141.
Many of the planes have been repainted to their original colors, and many of the older bombers have had their nose art beautifully restored. Additionally, several of the planes have been painstakingly restored by volunteers. Often times, these restored planes began their lives at the museum as little more than a battered airframe and a pile of rusted parts. After restoration, though, they are works of art, and usually airworthy.
The museum's collection includes dozens of planes, some of the more significant or interesting aircraft include:
What keeps this museum from being simply a crypt for now-dead aircraft is the equally strong human factor. There are exhibits on the Women Air Corps, the Tuskeegee Airmen, and on US servicemen imprisoned at the infamous Staglag III in Nazi Germany. There are personal effects, ranging from the simple, battered World War I era book of marching songs, to the poignant retelling of one serviceman's internment in Stalag III. Though the greatest display of this emotion is through both the volunteers and the other visitors.
Walking around the facility, one sees the emotions of the greying veterans as they walk among the planes much like the ones they flew decades prior. Even from afar, you can see it as they get up next to the plane and rest their hand on its cold metal. Its clear they are reliving, even if just for a moment, those days now long past. That same feeling is equally present among the volunteers as you walk up to them. They're eager to tell about their memories of flying, enthusiastic about showing you the aging photographs when they were a young airman. Its clear that they love being there.
Daily tours of the flightline are offered at 10 am and 1pm. During the tours, a guide takes you through the flightline, and explains the significance of the planes. The history of the planes is discussed, including the varying models of the planes produced, and there are numerous side discussions on other historic planes. If you have simply a casual intrest in aviation history, this is the place to start. Even the more hard-core aviation buff would be interested in the tour, as there are talks about the more obscure, yet intresting facets of aviation history, such as the DC-2 1/2
Personally, this place is great simply because of the emotions from these majestic planes. You get a real sense of awe from being around these incredibly powerful machines, a hint of the experiences those pilots must have faced. You can almost smell the jet fuel and exhaust these planes emitted at one time, almost see them taxiing down the runway, ready to take to the sky for one last flight of glory. They are beautiful relics from earlier times we will hopefully never have to experience again.
Weather permitting, this museum is a good visit year-round. The best time to go is when one of the flightline tours is being conducted, as you get the best feel as to how people actually interacted with these planes. Plan to spend a good couple hours there, getting a feel for the historical significance of the planes on display. Though the museum is not as large or as famous as the United States Air Force Museum, or the National Air and Space Museum, it is still time well spent.
To get to the March Field Air Museum from Los Angeles, take either the 91 or 60 Freeways east to Interstate 215, head south on the 215, and exit on Van Buren Boulevard, It is right on the east side of the freeway in the large building with the orange and white checkerboard roof. As they have no true street address, if you need further directions, their telephone number is +1 (909) 697-6600. Its open seven days a week from 9am to 4pm. Admission is free, but there is a recommended donation of $5 for adults, $2 for children, or $10 per family of 2 adults and 2 children.