Six decades will pass quietly into history next week as the old gives way to the new at the Bangor Air National Guard Base.
After establishing the Air Force and Air National Guard in 1947, the Defense Department assigned the 101st Fighter Wing to the Maine Air National Guard. Stationed at Dow Air Force Base in Bangor and equipped with P-47 Thunderbolts, the 101st initially maintained its aircraft in World War II-era hangars.
In 1954, the renamed 101st Fighter Interceptor Wing consolidated its aircraft maintenance into a new hangar, dubbed Building 496. For the next 58 years, maintenance personnel repaired such aircraft as the F-89J Scorpion, F-101B Voodoo, and KC-135R Stratotanker inside this hangar.
Air Guard personnel last serviced a Stratotanker inside Building 496 on Friday, July 20. On Wednesday, Aug. 15, aircraft maintenance will shift to Building 499, an approximately 23,500-square-foot hangar recently constructed by the Fairfield-based Sheridan Corp.
Except for a brief occupation by the 101st Logistics Squadron, Building 496 will be vacated until its demolition next year. Although some maintenance personnel have expressed their fondness for certain as-pects of the old hangar, “its time had come,” said Col. Gerry Bolduc, vice commander of the 101st Air Refueling Wing, Maine Air National Guard.
“It’s showing its age,” he said while recently touring Building 496. Inside its cavernous interior, equipment lay packed for transfer to the new hangar.
According to Master Sgt. Stacey Powell, the assistant building manager, a “contractor is moving our larger equipment,” including CNC machines, drill presses,, and milling machines.
“We started palletizing our own equipment on July 23,” he said. “We are scheduled to be completely out of the hangar by Aug. 15.”
Despite ongoing maintenance for Building 496, additional work would be needed to “bring everything up to date,” Bolduc said. He described the electrical and plumbing systems as “antiquated,” and the two existing boilers, resembling an oil-heating system found on massive Navy vessels circa 1960, produced about 800,000 BTUs per hour apiece.
“They took forever to heat the [hangar’s] interior” whenever the doors were opened in winter, said Col. John Thomas, who commands the 101st Maintenance Group. Occasionally when an ice- or snow-covered KC-135 was towed into the hangar, the boilers would take so long to restore the building’s heat that little frozen precipitation melted off the plane overnight.
Replacing the heating system in Building 496 would cost more than $1 million, Bolduc noted.
Despite its structural deficiencies, Building 496 wears its age well. “Our maintenance people have taken great pride all these years in keeping this place in the best shape possible,” Thomas said.
He pointed out the hangar’s painted concrete floor, unmarred by grease or oil stains. “This is a garage, an industrial facility,” he said. “They keep it spotless.”
Building 496 has seen heavy use since the 101st Air Refueling Wing and the Bangor ANG Base went to a wartime footing on Sept. 11, 2001. “We are 24/7 operational,” said Col. John D’Errico, the wing commander. “We are involved with flying operations, either our own here in Bangor or those being flown” by American and allied air forces, “around the clock.
“Most Air Guard bases are Monday through Friday, except for the drill weekends,” he said. “We are Sunday through Saturday, 365 days a year.”
“We process the most fuel out of this little base” of any of the Air Guard’s 89 flying units, Bolduc said.
After 9/11, the Northeast Tanker Task Force was created at the Bangor ANG Base to support American and Allied flight operations (including aerial refueling missions) involving aircraft flights between the United States and Europe. The task force also supports POTUS (president of the United States) flight operations and homeland security activities.
With Maine Air Guard personnel staffing many positions, the task force has been busy during the Afghan and Iraqi wars. Although the operational tempo has slowed since the United States withdrew from Iraq, missions are still flown at any time.
“We’re fighting the war from our own backyard,” D’Errico said. He credits the Bangor base’s extensive flights operations — the base also services some 1,000 “transient” military aircraft each year — for convincing Pentagon officials to approve the new hangar — and for convincing Congress to fund it.
D’Errico credited the Maine congressional delegation for “working hard” to obtain funding for the hangar. “We made a case for everything we’re doing for the Air Mobility Command and for the Air Force,” he said.
“It was recognized by the Air Force and by the president with his budget that we needed the new facility,” D’Errico said. “We were put on the fast track for a new hangar.”
Planning for the new hangar began in early October 2006, when representatives from Kansas City, Mo.-based Burns & McDonnell met with Air Guard officials in Bangor. They presented their needs — including “good lighting, pitched roofs,” Bolduc recalled — and the Burns & McDonnell architects and engineers returned to Bangor several other times in the next year.
Burns & McDonnell redesigned Building 496 to accommodate the KC-135s before their arrival in Bangor in the mid-1970s.
The Defense Department budgeted $28 million for the new hangar, located near Building 496. Construction started in November 2010; the project will actually cost around $18 million, representing a significant savings for taxpayers.
Designed and built with energy conservation in mind, Building 499 will receive a LEED Silver rating from the United States Green Building Council, which administers the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. According to Bolduc, the Bangor ANG Base will be the first such Air Guard facility to receive this rating for a new building.
Each capable of producing 3.4 million BTUs, three natural gas-fired Vantage Hydronic boilers will heat the new hangar, which has radiant in-floor heat, a well-insulated main door, and computer-controlled blowers that carefully monitor the temperature and volume of intake air. The lights and HVAC system in each room are controlled by motion detectors to reduce power consumption.
Set high in the building’s two “long” walls (Building 499 measures 152 feet by 154 feet) are insulated translucent panels that let “in a lot of light,” said Senior Master Sgt. David Hughes. “It reduces the amount of lighting we need.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Hughes, assigned to the 101st Maintenance Group. “There’s been a lot of hard work to get this done.”
The new hangar will “make our life a lot more easier and productive,” he said. Aircraft maintenance personnel “are chomping at the bit” to move into Building 499; “they’re ready to go,” he said.
The Maine Air Guard organized a “hangar bash” last May 5; many current and former ANG personnel who worked in Building 496 attended the event, which “was a wonderful celebration to say ‘good-bye’ to the old girl,” Bolduc said.
While its own facility undergoes renovations, the 101st Logistics Squadron will occupy Building 496 for several months. After the hangar’s 2013 demolition, its “footprint” will be planted in grass.