More than 20 UFOs landed at Bangor International Airport on Saturday — not the unidentified flying objects you might assume that acronym stands for, however.
The United Flying Octogenarians are an international organization with one requirement for membership: you must have been pilot in command of an aircraft after turning 80.
“Could be a plane, a helicopter, a glider, a hot air balloon. If you’ve got a pilot license and you’re pilot in command after you’re 80, you’re in,” said Ray Gibouleau, an Old Town resident and representative for the Maine chapter of the UFOs. “We’re growing every year. There are a lot of us old pilots out there.”
The UFOs held their first gathering in Bangor in a number of years this weekend, when the Maine Air Museum hosted a group of 23 octogenarian pilots from as far away as North Carolina, several of whom flew into Bangor International Airport on their own planes. There are 17 UFOs registered in Maine.
“We mostly talk about how great we used to be,” said Gibouleau, 81, who flew and trained for several Maine airlines and aviation outfits, including Bar Harbor Air and Central Maine Flying Services, throughout his more than 50-year career in aviation. “We share stories, that sort of thing. We’ve got a lot of them.”
The Federal Aviation Administration does not place any age restrictions on having a private pilot’s license, though all private pilots must undergo an initial medical examination before they can fly solo, and they must have another exam every three years, and then every two years beginning at age 40. Private pilots can keep flying as long as they’d like, until they either can no longer pass the exam or they simply decide to hang up their flying spurs.
There are a number of instances of pilots flying well into their 80s, or even their 90s, as is the case with Peter Goutiere, a Brewer High School graduate who is now 105 years old, and who in 2014, at the age of 100, piloted a DC-3 between Seattle and San Francisco.
Bob Barker, a Connecticut resident who is the vice president and secretary of the national UFO group, came to Bangor for the meetup. He said pilots, on the whole, all have a few distinctive personality traits.
“I think you have to have a type-A personality,” Barker said. “You’ve got to be very organized, very aware of everything around you. And you can’t get to 80 and fly a plane and not be both physically and mentally capable.”
Bangor International Airport is a favorite airfield for many pilots, thanks to its unusually long runway and its wealth of aviation history and storied past as the former Dow Air Force Base.
The airport is home to the Maine Air Museum, located on Maine Avenue about a tenth of a mile past the intersection with Hammond Street. The museum comprises three rooms packed with thousands of items — from racks of military uniforms and walls of historic photos, to whole elements of fighter jets, aviation vehicles and the shell of a deactivated nuclear missile.
There’s also an extensive display on some of Maine’s aviation mysteries and famous events, such as the 1963 Elephant Mountain B-52 crash near Greenville and the mystery of L’Oiseau Blanc, the White Bird, an aircraft that may have crashed in Maine in 1927 before it was able to make the first-ever trans-Atlantic flight, before Charles Lindbergh.
The museum also offers a viewing deck, so visitors can watch planes take off and land at the airport.
“A lot of folks don’t know we’re here, but our aim is to preserve the history of aviation in Maine,” said Chuck Byrum, president of the museum and a retired U.S. Air Force firefighter. “If you’re a pilot, or you like history, or even if you just like planes, we have lots to show everybody.”
Gibouleau, who made his first solo flight on Aug. 30, 1956, in the cockpit of a Piper J3 Cub at the Brewer airfield, said he’s certain there are a number of people in Maine who could be UFOs, or are almost ready to be when they’re old enough.
“There probably are more Maine pilots that are flying or have flown at age 80 and over that probably are not aware of the UFOs,” said Gibouleau, who has trained countless pilots in Maine. “It’s a great way to commemorate your first flight as a young pilot, or a birthday. Flying a plane on your 80th is a big deal.”