Thirty-four years ago this month, at the height of a glorious 41-year run that ended in 1994, the former Loring Air Force Base, off to my northwest, was in an uproar about several close encounters of the weird kind.
On Oct. 27 and 28, 1975, unidentified aircraft that buzzed the base, taking particular interest in the weapons storage area of the Strategic Air Command installation, had the base on high-alert status.
With a reporter’s appreciation for the offbeat news story, I cannot help but think of the incident each time I drive through the East Gate entrance to the old base that now is a civilian commerce center.
The story, well-chronicled by former BDN Presque Isle Bureau Chief Dean Rhodes in articles archived in the newspaper’s morgue, also can be found on several Web sites. I Googled “Loring AFB UFO sightings” and found a bunch of them.
Shortly before 8 p.m. on Oct. 27, an airman patrolling the Loring weapons dump area saw an unidentified aircraft nearing the north perimeter of the base at an altitude of about 300 feet, its red navigational light and a white strobe light in operation.
At the same time, the Loring control tower got a radar hit from an unknown aircraft 10 to 13 miles east-northeast of the base. Numerous attempts were made to contact the aircraft, but there was no response.
The circling aircraft, described as having “helicopter-like” characteristics, came within 300 yards of the base nuclear weapons area. Loring went into alert mode and an intense ground sweep was conducted by security personnel. The intruder circled for about 40 minutes before heading toward Grand Falls, N.B., some 12 miles away, where it dropped from the radar screen.
The next night featured a repeat performance. This time, airmen reported seeing a silent orange-and-red object shaped like an elongated football hovering over the runway. It was described as being about four car lengths long, solid, with no doors or windows, and with no visible propellers or engines. It eventually departed in the direction of Grand Falls.
A Maine Army National Guard helicopter out of Bangor was deployed to Loring to assist in the hunt for the interloper. Several years later, UFO investigators Larry Fawcett and Barry Greenwood interviewed witnesses, including CWO Bernard Poulin, a helicopter crew member. Poulin said radar “was not painting the object that was being reported” by ground troops who had directed his chopper to locations where they were seeing the unauthorized aircraft. Observers aboard the helicopter never could spot the intruder.
Questions and speculation abound to this day. Was it an unannounced test of base security by SAC headquarters? A probe by an unfriendly force? Or (cue the ominous background music) was it a bona fide Unidentified Flying Object of the extraterrestrial upper-case kind, rather than a more earthly unidentified flying object, lower-case version? Three decades after the event and 15 years after Loring was shuttered, is the incident still considered by the government to be too hot for the public to handle? If so, why?
On the Web site www.rense.com, the son of a former security policeman on duty at the weapons storage area the night of the first sighting wrote that his father, mesmerized, had been watching the hovering aircraft as 42nd Bomb Wing commander, Col. Richard Chapman, arrived on the scene.
“He asked my father what the hell was going on, and why he hadn’t called this in to the tower,” the son wrote. “My father’s response was that he had called the tower and they had told him he was full of [bleep], and they wouldn’t [alert] the wing commander because, as they saw it, there was nothing there.”
The colonel contacted the tower and asked the noncommissioned officer on duty to verify the light that the colonel was seeing. The NCO insisted he could see nothing out of the ordinary.
The commander then reportedly told the man, “If the eagle on my shoulder sees that light, then those stripes on your damned sleeve better see it, as well.” The tower guy quickly replied that he could now clearly see the light.
The answer, authentic or not, endures. So, too, the questions.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.