LORING COMMERCE CENTER, Maine — It’s been nearly 29 years since a B-52 Stratofortress has landed in the great state of Maine; the last time being in the Fall of 1993 at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine.
At the time of it’s closure, Loring AFB was home to the 42nd Bomb Wing, most notable for the dynamic duo consisting of the B-52 and KC-135 tanker; an imperative pair for homeland defense and providing high strategic value during peacetime and wartime, most notable of which was during the Cold War.
Loring Air Force Base had a huge impact on the local community, striking a sense of patriotism in the heart of Aroostook county; forever embedded in its core, and in the early afternoon of August 11th, 2022, history would once again be made at the former Strategic Air Command Superbase.
Excitement and anticipation were among the many emotions as a crowd of civilians, veterans, and service members stood frantically hunting the County skies looking for the long awaited Stratofortress to return home after 29 years; a site I can only compare to a feeling we’ve all been privy to as kids searching for Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. And for those of us lucky enough to be on the roof of the former Loring AFB control tower, it certainly seemed as though Santa was expected in Maine’s Northern skies at any moment.
The crowd had a 360 degree view of the airfield, its massive hangars, and what was left of the hundreds of buildings that housed over ten thousand airmen and their families; truly a shell of its former self from 30 years ago.
When the B-52 “BUFF” appeared over the horizon, in flight from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, the onlookers were amazed and stunned in excitement that they were about to witness its landing; a task the locals and Loring Air Museum leadership have been trying to accomplish for a very long time.
Matt Cole is the Loring Air Museum Vice President, and has fought tooth and nail to get the legendary bomber up to Maine. “Getting the aircraft here and the flybys coordinated has been about eleven months in the making. A lot of planning went into this, really the last 3 weeks has been emails, phone calls, text messages, all day and all night,” Matt said with a grin on his face, probably on his 5th cup of coffee.
Matt and his teammates have worked hard over the years to preserve the legacy that is Loring Air Force Base. “Loring is a staple here, we want to honor its history by bringing this bird in,” Matt said.
The Barksdale B-52 did two flybys before finally landing on the iconic 12,100ft runway, causing enough applause and exclamation to drown out the sound of the plane’s eight jet engines as the craft slowed to a walk, assisted by a 90 foot long, 200 pound drag chute that deployed when it landed.
Though the B-52 was the main course, the weekend was full of events and attractions, uniting folks from all over the country to witness the legendary craft back at Loring AFB. Cuppy Johndro is the Secretary of the Loring Air Museum and a local legend at that. “We’re knocking it out of the park. A B-52 landing, flyovers from Minot AFB and the MAINEiacs, a dinner dance in front of the B-52, food, and music,” Cuppy said excitedly. “The Airmen that were stationed here get it, it’s that feeling when veterans meet other veterans. It brings about a lot of emotion. Sharing stories, seeing the smiles, it’s priceless. What Barksdale, Minot, and the MAINEiacs have done for us this weekend by bringing these planes back up into our skies is nothing short of perfect.”
On Friday Minot AFB sent another B-52 to Loring for an additional flyby, drawing another huge crowd as it flew over with thunderous airpower. Saturday brought in a KC-135 from the 101st Air Refueling in Bangor, sealing the deal by bringing the two powerhouses back to Loring.
The weekend was filled with mixed emotions, some even saying that seeing that B-52 round the corner while taxiing was a “dream come true”. For the team and event participants, having the Air Force back at Loring was truly a whole other level of excitement. “It’s a breath of fresh air seeing you guys here in uniform, in a way it honors all the Airmen that were here before,” Matt said.
As exciting as it was to have the Air Force back, it was as equally as humbling for the service members in uniform to be part of an iconic piece of Maine history. Lt Col Jason Dymond is the B-52 Aircraft Commander and is an Instructor Pilot back at Barksdale. “The reception here has been amazing. Being based out of Barksdale and having the opportunity to come up here and be the first B-52 crew to land in this state in 29 years is unreal. The rich BUFF history here at Loring AFB has made this experience very unique and me and my crew are honored to be a part of it all. Is it a little sad to see the state the base is in after all this time? Sure. But I think it just makes events like these that much more important to have,” Lt Col Dymond told me as we stood atop the control tower waiting for Minot’s bird to fly over.
Lt Col Dymond became an Air Force pilot shortly after 9/11 and has a very high sense of patriotism. It was very evident that he was happy to be a part of it all. “I’m a small part of this weekend. It’s cool knowing that we made history, but there was a lot of hard work by these folks here like Cuppy and Matt that went on behind the scenes”.
The crew and their BUFF will head home after it’s all said and done, hopefully to return in the near future. The Loring Commerce Centre leadership are optimistic that now they’ve “broken the ice” by having a crew back to the 42nd Bomb Wing, it will be easier for more events like this in the future.
Maine has a rich and deep Air Force History with both Loring AFB and Dow AFB, along with the various stations and outposts scattered around the state. And though the sight of a B-52 flying high in our skies is very rare, it’s sister craft can be seen on a daily basis. The 101st Air Refueling Wing is home to the MAINEiacs and a World Class Organization in the Department of Defense through its Aerial Refueling reputation and excellence. The MAINEiacs wear the uniform proudly, and are happy to continue Maine’s military legacy by deploying and employing air refueling, airlift, expeditionary aerospace and combat support forces around the world. The MAINEiacs will forever honor the Loring B-52 Stratofortress and the Airmen of the 42nd Bomb Wing.