The "City of Bangor," a B-52 bomber named for Bangor, is pictured here at Dow Air Force Base in the 1960s. Credit: Courtesy of Tillamook Air Museum

More than 53 years ago, the last two planes departed Dow Air Force Base before it closed for good and ownership of most of the property transferred to the city of Bangor. One plane was a KC-135 named the City of Brewer. The other, a B-52 bomber named the City of Bangor.

Over the ensuing five decades, the B-52 bomber that was named for the Queen City has had many lives, both in and out of service, both intact and later decommissioned and chopped up in the 1990s.

Since September of this year, the bomber’s cockpit has been in the possession of the Tillamook Air Museum in Oregon, where employees are painstakingly restoring it before it goes on display next year.

“This plane has an incredible history, like all those other B-52s,” said Christian Gurling, curator of the museum. “The fact that it was in service at Dow Air Force Base in the 1960s, and then 25 years later the kids of someone who was stationed there could have been crewing that same plane is pretty amazing.”

How the cockpit of the hulking 120-foot plane ended up in Oregon is a story that starts in Wichita, Kansas, where the plane was built in 1960. According to Gurling’s research, after a few years in service around the country with the Air Force Strategic Air Command, it was assigned to Dow Air Force Base in 1963. In May 1964, the city was given honorary ownership of it, with the plane being christened the “City of Bangor” in a ceremony that included a champagne bottle broken over its nose by Miss Bangor 1964, beauty queen Sheryllee Kay Jones.

It would stay in Bangor for five years during the Cold War era, which saw many times more air force bases and other military installations all over the country than there are today. Dow, with its proximity to Europe and extra long runway — the longest on the East Coast — was a hub of activity during its 17-year existence, and gave Bangor its largest population in history, nearly 40,000 people.

In November 1964, however, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara announced that Dow would be among 70 bases around the country to close by the end of the decade. Over the next five years, the city and military reached an agreement to sell Bangor the majority of the base and turn it into a commercial airport — today’s Bangor International Airport.

On April 5, 1968, the B-52 and its sister plane, the City of Brewer, flew out of the base and dipped their wings in a symbolic gesture of goodbye. At the very end of a radio program broadcast by WLBZ Radio on the day of the closure, available to listen to on the University of Maine’s Digital Commons website, you can hear the planes as they took off that day.

From there, the City of Bangor B-52 had many homes across the country, first at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. In 1972, it came back home to Maine, where it was stationed at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone for several years before transferring again to bases in Guam, Texas, California, North Dakota and Washington.

The City of Bangor B-52, during its brief wartime mission during the Gulf War in 1991. Credit: Courtesy of Tillamook Air Museum

In 1991, with the outbreak of the Gulf War, the City of Bangor was put into action, flying 14 combat missions over enemy territory, based out of both Spain and England. The war was over quickly, however, and in November 1991, as part of disarmament treaties between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, the City of Bangor was decommissioned and chopped up into five parts. It was retired to the Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, also known as the Boneyard.

Years later, the Southern Utah Aviation Museum in St. George, Utah, retrieved the plane’s cockpit, and began restoring it. Not long after, however, the museum went belly-up, and the cockpit was purchased by Doug Scroggins, a world-renowned aviation restorer who works with production studios to provide aircraft mockups and effects for hundreds of films, including for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the “Fast and the Furious” franchise.

Scroggins put the cockpit into a storage facility in Las Vegas, where sadly, in 2020, there was a break-in, and vandals spray-painted the exterior. After a power wash that removed the paint, Scroggins agreed to loan the City of Bangor cockpit to the Tillamook Air Museum, with which he has a longstanding relationship.

The cockpit of the City of Bangor B-52, seen here being loaded into the hanger at the Tillamook Air Museum in Oregon. Credit: Courtesy of Tillamook Air Museum

“We have two other pieces on loan from Doug, who has been an amazing person to work with over the years,” Gurling said. “He knows how conscientious we are about every piece of aircraft we receive, so we’re now in the process of restoring it.”

Gurling said he and his staff intend to restore the exterior of the plane to its desert camouflage look from the Gulf War era, and when they put it on display sometime next year, they will highlight the plane’s long standing connection to Bangor and Dow Air Force Base.

“The core of our mission is telling the stories of the men and women who served on these planes,” Gurling said. “You might just see a big piece of aluminum, but it contains the stories of the lives of countless people who served.”

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.