BANGOR, Maine — The mammoth jet airplane popularly known as Air Force One caused more than a few double takes as it taxied around Bangor International Airport on Monday afternoon.
Drivers waiting for the light to change at the intersection of Maine Avenue and Hammond Street remained stopped even after getting a green light as the Boeing 747-200B series VC-25 with the blue nose, red, white and blue color scheme and American flag on the tail touched down at BIA and taxied to the opposite side near the Maine Air National Guard Base.
President Barack Obama made several stops in New Hampshire and Massachusetts on Monday as the presidential campaign season begins to heat up.
“Generally, what happens is they’ll offload the president and his personnel there and the airplane will continue up here and wait, just in case,” said Tony Caruso, BIA’s interim director. “They brought it up here to wait out the night and I guess it’ll leave here tomorrow sometime.
“It’s rare, but not unusual. We’ll get Air Force Two as well and other higher-level dignitaries come through here on a routine basis,” Caruso said. “A lot of times it’s just a routine, tech type of stop. This was somewhat shorter notice for us, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
Caruso said BIA’s 11,440-foot runway and proximity to the Maine Air National Guard Base make it a staple stop on the list of possible destinations for Air Force One and military planes.
“They know we can handle any aircraft and we have the Guard facility here to facilitate Customs [and] Border Protection, so we are on their regular flight plan list, I think,” Caruso said.
Air Force One is the official air traffic control call sign of any U.S. Air Force aircraft carrying the president. Technically, when the president is not on board, the 747 airplanes he uses are called either SAM 28000 or SAM 29000.
Caruso said BIA personnel usually don’t have to do too much differently or elaborately just because the president’s plane is parked on the tarmac.
“For the most part, we try to keep it fairly far away from being obvious or front and center,” he said. “We don’t beef up our security unless it’s requested. The airport is pretty much self-contained from the runway.”
While no fanfare or advance publicity accompanied the arrival of the distinctive 747, it still managed to draw a crowd.
“We have a small cadre of people gathering along the fence to look,” BIA marketing manager Risteen Bahr told Caruso in his office. “They’re starting to make a little traffic jam up there, and it continues to get bigger.”
Caruso just rolled his eyes and smiled.
“Certainly any time you see a plane like this come to your airport, it’s always exciting,” he said.