By Hunter Umphrey
Special to The Weekly
Sleek and silver, the antique airplane stationed on the Maine Air Museum’ s lawn is often blanketed by the shadows of Bangor International Airport’ s arrivals and departures. The old aircraft is not as big or sophisticated as modern planes, but the museum’ s all-volunteer staff preserves and displays the vintage Luscombe for its sentimental value.
One recent visitor to the museum was a former military pilot who had trained in a similar Luscombe during World War II. He pined for the experience of sitting in one again, so a host of volunteers helped ease him into the plane.
“We got him in there,” museum volunteer Mike Cornett said, “and he just started crying. He hadn’ t been in one since 1942.”
The museum’ s nostalgic tribute to aviation history extends inside its building, a former missile assembly outpost. Unheralded icons of Maine aviation are honored in one corner with plaques and photographs arranged by the Maine Aviation Historical Society, which operates the museum and bought the building in 1999.
A 1908 copy of the Boston Herald trumpeting the Wright brothers’ flights old-fashioned flight simulators from half a century ago plane seats from the Stephen King movie “The Langoliers” a 150-pound German seaplane propeller a radiation-measuring Geiger counter from the 1960s and a copy of a 1927 Bangor Daily News article about Charles Lindbergh’ s visit to Old Orchard Beach are all within the museum.
Cornett can give a narrated tour of up to two hours through the elaborate museum. Most items remind him of a story.
“The world’ s first stowaway,” Cornett exclaimed, looking at a black-and-white photograph of three men and a plane. Arthur Schreiber of South Portland, Cornett continued to say, “got into the back of this airplane, and he hid there. About 500 miles off over the water [on the way to Spain from Maine], they couldn’ t figure out why they couldn’ t get up so high. He came crawling out of the tail, and the story we got was that the only reason they didn’ t throw him overboard was because he told them he’ d share the residuals as the world’ s first stowaway.”
By scanning eBay, soliciting donations and even rifling through some trash bins, the museum has built an impressive collection, but its continued growth depends on donations.
Many military uniforms have been donated and are now on display, including a hat worn by James Dow, the namesake of Bangor’ s old Dow Air Force Base.
Bangor resident Peg Redman donated her World War II Air Force uniform, complete with an ankle-length olive-green skirt.
“I had it for quite a while, and I didn’ t know what to do with it. I was the first one from Bangor or Brewer to join the women’ s auxiliary. I just love my uniform, and,” Redman said, “to me, that was the best place for it to go.”
The museum has only parts of some uniforms. Cornett chuckled while recalling one donor who provided only the half he could no longer wear.
“He used the pants,” Cornett said. “Unfortunately, his belly expanded so much he couldn’ t use the shirt any more.”
The museum will be open through the second week of September, Cornett said.
“Because of fuel costs, we can’ t be open during the winter,” Cornett said. “It would just kill us.”
The museum opened for the season on Memorial Day and has participated in Bangor’ s Memorial Day and Independence Day parades. Located adjacent to the airport on Maine Avenue in Bangor, the museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and noon-4 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $1 for children and $2 for adults.
After leading a 90-minute tour of the facility on a recent Sunday, Cornett concluded the session with a cliffhanger:
“We’ ve got more stuff to show, but we’ re holding it back for next year.”