The Star-Herald

Aviation in The County

Dec. 17 — Wright Brothers’ Day — will be the 18th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first successful powered aircraft flight in history.  Many others have contributed to the history of the airplane and aviation over the years.  It is important to note the significant role aviation has played in Aroostook County, as well.

Presque Isle had an airport as early as 1930, albeit a grass runway.  It was known as Merritt Field, likely named after the primary pilot using the field at the time, and was located along the Mapleton Road.  With the likelihood of the United States entering World War II, the government took over the airport by eminent domain in 1940.  Construction of Presque Isle Army Air Base then officially began in 1941.  The military facility became Presque Isle Air Force Base in 1947 and continued in operation until 1961.  This military facility was hugely important to the economic growth of Presque Isle.  

The main Army Air Force unit at Presque Isle was the 23d AAF Ferrying Wing, assigned to the Air Transport Command. Presque Isle Air Force Base then became the site for the first Intercontinental Cruise Missile in the United States, the SNARK.  

Houlton also had an Army Air Base.  It was established in 1941, became a Prisoner of War Internment Camp in 1944, and closed in 1946.  

Another military facility also contributed to the growth of the area.  Loring Air Force Base in Limestone was planned in 1947 as the Limestone Army Air Field and renamed Loring in 1954. Its final closure was in 1994.  For the majority of its operational lifetime, Loring was a heavy bomberaerial refueling and interception facility for military aircraft, equipment and supplies.

Unfortunately, with increased aircraft activity comes the likelihood of aviation disasters.   According to the website www.mewreckchasers.com, there were almost 800 military aviation crashes in Maine from 1919 to 1989.  Of those, almost 150 were in Aroostook County alone.  Crash sites included Caswell, Chapman, Easton, Fort Fairfield, Houlton, Limestone, Mapleton, Mars Hill, Perham, Presque Isle, Stockholm and Van Buren.

Were you aware that there is a museum in Presque Isle dedicated to honoring those who served their country in World War II and the Cold War years at the Presque Isle base and to educate the public on the role the base had in defending North America during that time?  

The Presque Isle Air Museum was established just over twenty years ago and is located in the south end of the passenger terminal at Presque Isle International Airport at 650 Airport Drive in Presque Isle.   Admission is free and the museum is open any time the passenger terminal is open.   

If you have never been to the museum, Wright Brothers’ Day would certainly be a fitting time for your first visit.

Kimberly R. Smith is the secretary/treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society.

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