Many visitors to Sierra Academy of Aeronautics do not realize until after they arrive is the site of our operations has a rich and ongoing history in aviation.
Sierra Academy’s home base is at the former Castle Air Force Base known as Strategic Air Command and was the premier training and launching site for the bulk of the bombers and flying fortresses which made their way to Germany during World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean Conflict. The Base closed its’ military operations in 1995 under President Bill Clinton as a gesture toward more peaceful relations with China and Russia helping to bring the residual tensions of the Cold War to a close.
Since the Base was reopened for commercial purposes, Sierra Academy of Aeronautics took advantage of the airports’ unique geographical location which made it an ideal location for year-long flight training. Subsequently, Sierra also procured several of the Base’s existing operational building which was already designed for pilot training, dining and housing needs. In 2005, Sierra Academy of Aeronautics opened our hangar doors and once again filled the skies over Atwater with frequent flight activity.
Despite the changes that came with the military’s departure, much of the former Air Base’s glory and contributions to aviation still continues today. The Base is now called Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center. It is also home to the largest Air Museum in the Western United States hosting over 70 unique aircraft's ranging in size from small fighters to the Flying Fortress. Displays include many advanced fighter jets, restored WWII warbirds, as well as the SR-71 Blackbird, and the recently retired Airforce One.
Since 2014, Sierra Academy has also become close neighbors with the 60-acre headquarters for the acclaimed “Google X Project” where Google is currently developing their Self-Driving Car and performing test launches for their “Project Loon”. Project Loon is where they launch high-altitude balloons into the stratosphere for the purpose of bringing WI-Fi Internet access to remote areas of the world.
Beyond Google X Headquarters, the former Air Base has also welcomed the University of California at Merced and MESA Research Facility. Its opening was ushered in by visiting First Lady Michelle Obama and is the site of their advanced aerial drone testing facility.
One of the Academy’s oldest and friendliest neighbors belongs to a set of aircraft hangars located near the school’s dormitories. These aircraft hangars house various aircraft which are being restored by retired military mechanics and pilots. These Veterans work on behalf of the Air Museum in a tireless effort to preserve the rich history and aviation milestones which today's pilots have been trained and build upon. Not only are these Veterans dedicated to teaching new generations of the privilege and responsibility of being a pilot, but they warmly welcome visitors to walk over to their open hangar doors and peek in on new projects and share their experiences in aviation.