BANGOR, Maine — The 101st Air Refueling Wing, political delegates and military brass shepherded in a new era for the MAINEiacs on Friday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the wing’s new aircraft hangar.
The 77,000-square-foot Building 499 will replace the aging hangar next door, Building 496, which was constructed in 1954 to house jet fighters. The old hangar later was expanded to house KC-135 refueling aircraft.
Aircraft maintenance moved to Building 499 in August, but Friday was the ceremonial opening of the $18 million facility.
When Sen. Susan Collins walked into the hangar, she commented on how clean the building was despite the fact it had been in use for two months and asked Brig. Gen. James Campbell whether he thought it would stay that way.
“It’s the MAINEiacs, of course it [will],” said Campbell, adjutant general for the Maine National Guard. “If you can eat off the floor of those airplanes, I bet you can eat off the floor of this hangar in another 10 years.”
The event also was attended by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, first lady Ann LePage, Maine state Sen. Nichi Farnham, D-Bangor, state Rep. Doug Damon, R-Bangor, and a representative from U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office.
Military brass attending included Retired Maj. Gen. Ernest Park, former adjutant general for the state; Brig. Gen. Donald McCormack, assistant adjutant general for air, Maine Air National Guard; Brig. Gen. Stephen Atkinson, commander of the Maine National Guard; and Col. John D’Errico, commander of the 101st Air Refueling Wing.
Delegates and military commanders alike said the new facility will make the day-to-day work of the crews that maintain the MAINEiacs’ 10 KC-135s easier and more comfortable.
“The maintainers are the heart and soul of this wing; they have the bruised knuckles to prove it,” said Col. John Thomas, commander of the 101st aircraft maintenance group.
The “newest” plane flown by the 101st Air Refueling Wing was built by Boeing in 1963, but crews from the 101st Air Refueling Wing have kept them in flying condition.
Building 499 has more space, larger shop areas where crews will repair everything from fiberglass components to tires and wheels, and is more energy efficient. Radiant heating located in the floor allows workers to stay warm without having to warm up the entire hangar bay. Heat is produced by natural gas boilers.
The old hangar will be demolished sometime next year, according to Senior Master Sgt. David Hughes.
Hughes said Building 496 was well-maintained during its lifetime, but has outlived its useful life. The former facility was hot in summer, cold in winter, the roof sometimes leaked, and its oil boilers were inefficient and expensive to run.
“Now you have a place that is equal to your commitment and your pride,” Campbell said to members of the air refueling wing who attended the ceremony.
Military leadership commended Maine’s congressional delegation for pushing hard to secure funding for the project.
“This was successful because our delegation … made the phone calls, they made the contacts, they advocated for our position because they know what you do out here, they know the importance of this wing,” McCormack said.
Planning for the facility started a decade ago. The first request for funding in March 2003 failed, McCormack said.
The hangar project finally was included in the federal budget in 2010, despite other cuts for the Air National Guard nationwide.
“This wing has a rightly earned reputation for outstanding excellence, especially when it comes to achieving our mission,” Thomas said.
Collins said despite more cuts planned for the coming year, “no net reductions are planned for the Maine Air National Guard aircraft or personnel, and that’s great news.”
She also said she would work to ensure that Bangor is considered as a potential base for the next generation of air refuelers, the Boeing KC-46A.
“In these times of budget pressures and forced restructuring, I have been determined to keep this wing strong,” Collins said.