Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cold War-era Soviet Union fighter jet a first for Atwater, California, museum (with video)

Atwater,  California -  An aircraft museum got its first fighter jet used by military forces hostile to the U.S. during the Cold War, according to museum staffers.

The MiG-21 was a fighter jet used by the former Soviet Union, Eastern European countries and in parts of eastern Asia, according to Joe Pruzzo, executive director of the Castle Air Museum. The museum’s jet, which was in the Czechoslovakian Air Force, arrived late Tuesday.

“A lot of these came available for collectors ... because a lot of these countries were cash-strapped,” he said.

The Mikoyan-Gurevich fighter, often called a “Fishbed” by the American military, weighs about 19,425 pounds and has a maximum speed of 1,468 mph, according to the Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii.

Pruzzo said north Vietnam, Egypt, China and a number of other countries’ militaries purchased the fighter or built their own under license from the Soviet Union. The jet, typically used to intercept large bombers, went out of production in 1985 after about 30 years.

“A lot of them built (MiG-21s) because they’re fairly inexpensive, and lightweight, nimble aircraft,” he said. “(They have) quite an extensive production span.”

The Pacific Aviation Museum described the MiG-21 as “a swift sword in battle. Its limits are little room for fuel, arms or radar, and poor view to front and rear.”

The Castle Air Museum’s MiG came in on the back of trucks from Reno, Nev., and it was donated by Steve Rosenberg, a Bay Area collector, according to Pruzzo.

The aircraft at the museum is restored, maintained and otherwise serviced through volunteer work. One of those volunteers, Tom Rosenberg, was on site as a crew took to putting the newly shipped MiG back together.

Rosenberg, who is not related to the jet’s donor, has been in Atwater since being stationed at the former Castle Air Base in 1970. He retired as a master sergeant.

The 82-year-old was a KC-135 boom operator, which means he helped aircraft refuel in flight. He served in Korea, two tours in Vietnam and continues to serve as a volunteer.

His health lately hasn’t allowed him to do the more physical labor, but he helps where he can.

“It gives me something to do. A lot of the guys out here are former Air Force or Navy,” he said. “I just like hanging out here. Some days I get on the golf cart and chase parts.”

Pruzzo said it’s likely the MiG will be ready for Open Cockpit Day on May 28. The museum has more than 70 aircraft, all of which came from the American military or an allied force, until now.

“A lot of times visitors like to say, ‘Who were they up against?’ ” He said. “So now they can see the adversary of that warfare.”

The museum, 5050 Santa Fe Drive, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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