91-year-old Texan shares memories of Loring Air Force Base
There are people all across the nation (and even the world) who have experienced Aroostook County in one way or another. When you get to talk to someone that has experienced The County, they have very fond memories. Usually, a smile comes to their face and a twinkle comes to their eyes.
Recently, I met a gentleman who now lives in Texas with his daughter. He is 91 years old, and he and his daughter were visiting Loring Air Force Base where he was stationed at in 1953. He was a B-36 pilot when he came to Loring, and in 1954 was sent to Texas to learn to fly a B-52.
“I got to ride a car on the runway at Loring yesterday,” he said, adding he had flown many planes on runways but never got to ride in a car on one. He thought that was a pretty fun thing to do.
When I asked him about some of the things that happened “back in the day,” he told me a few stories. The first was about when the B36s were carrying 50,000-pound nuclear bombs. He recalled how one B36 was loaded with a nuclear bomb and on the runway getting ready to take off when the bomb fell off the plane. It broke through the bomb bay door and landed on the runway. Yes, a nuclear bomb fell out of the B36 and was sitting on the runway at Loring Air Force Base. He said the base was closed for about a week before the Air Force could get some engineers and equipment up to take care of it. It is a wonder that Aroostook County and western New Brunswick still exist.
Another story was about the winters of 1954 or 1955. The snow banks on the runway were so high that when the B-36s landed, it was as though they were landing in an open top tunnel. The plane would disappear below the snowbanks. The pilots had mere feet of clearance on each wing tip. One time, a plane caught its wingtips on a snow bank, causing significant damage to the aircraft. He said no one was hurt, but the base was closed for three days while snow removal equipment widened the runway.
I asked him about in-air refueling. He said the B-36 did not have the capability to be refueled in the air, but when the B-52’s came in, they did have that capability but had to use KC-97’s to refuel them. The KC-97’s had to refuel at 12,000-15,000 feet where the air is very turbulent, and they could not fly fast enough while refueling to keep up with the B-52s. The KC-97 would have to gain altitude of up to 15,000 feet and then start to descend while hooking up to the B-52 to refuel while on the way down to 12,000 feet. He said when the KC-135 arrived at Loring, it could fly as fast as the B-52 and they could also fly at 30,000-35,000 feet where air currents are much smoother.
I was very glad that this gentleman was lucky enough to experience Aroostook County again, and that on this occasion he was able to experience it with his daughter. That made this visit extra special for him. He returned to Texas with a wide grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye that you only get when you remember Aroostook County. Yes, there is a story or two about our famous winters, but what most folks talk about are the people of The County. They tell many stories of how they genuinely felt welcome … like part of the family.
Presque Isle native Steve Dobson now lives in Washburn and owns the Aroostook Hospitality Inn motels in Van Buren and Washburn. This item first appeared on the Aroostook County Tourism website on Oct. 5.