Bangor International Airport’s famed runway — at nearly two miles long, one of the longest in the eastern U.S. — will be repaved next year for the first time in more than two decades.
Since BIA was founded as Godfrey Field in 1921, that runway has seen many notable visitors, from dignitaries and celebrities to criminals. Here are some of the more memorable arrivals and departures from the past century.
Just 13 years after Godfrey Field was created, one of the all-time legends of aviation, Amelia Earhart, paid a visit to Bangor in August 1934. The Bangor Daily News reported that more than 10,000 people came out to see her, and that Earhart gave 200 lucky Maine women a 10-minute “joy hop” in her plane. The BDN also reported that Ralph Mills, a local actor, got in drag and managed to sneak a ride although the flights were reserved only for women.
The oldest to fly that day were two women in their 90s, Parthenia Cameron and Alice Ditmas, both of Bangor, neither of whom had ever been in a plane before. The youngest was Joanne Jordan, age 10, who would grow up to become Joanne Van Namee, former chair of the board of Bangor Publishing Company, and mother to BDN publisher Richard Warren.
It’s estimated that as of 2021, only 25 blimps remain, and only about half of them are in use. But in the first 40 years of the 20th century, airships were for a time a legitimate competitor to airplanes, for both commercial and military uses. The most famous blimp of them all is, of course, the Goodyear Blimp, which visited Bangor in 1938, flying over the city before landing at BIA and spending the next day there.
Air Force One
Technically, any plane that the president of the United States flies on is dubbed Air Force One. But the ones most people likely recognize as Air Force One — the series of specially tricked out presidential jets — have landed at BIA several times, first with John F. Kennedy, who visited Bangor in 1963 and then went on to give a famous speech at the University of Maine, just one month before his assassination.
Jimmy Carter also visited via Air Force One in the late 1970s, as did George W. Bush in the mid-2000s. In 2020, Donald Trump made two visits to Bangor — once to visit COVID-19 swab manufacturer Puritan Medical Products in Guilford and then four months later for a re-election campaign swing through Treworgy Family Orchards in Levant.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s — before X-rays and metal detectors in airports and the creation of the Transportation Security Administration — aircraft hijacking, or skyjacking, was a much more common occurrence. On Oct. 31, 1969, a hijacked plane landed at BIA, after Rafaelle Minichiello, a 20-year-old Italian national, took over TWA Flight 85 following its takeoff from Los Angeles.
He told the pilots he wanted to go to Rome, but the plane had to stop at Bangor to refuel, after refueling stops in Denver and New York. From Bangor, it went to Ireland, and then finally to Rome, where Minichiello took a police officer hostage, stole a car to go visit his dying father and was finally arrested on Nov. 2.
The story of German tourist Erwin Kreuz and his unintentional trip to Bangor has been retold in countless publications over the years, and it never gets old. In October 1977, Kreuz thought he was getting off the plane at his intended vacation destination of San Francisco, but he was actually on a layover in Bangor — though get off the plane he did, where he spent the next four days wandering around the Bangor area, thoroughly confused as he did not speak English.
A friendly German-speaking Old Town resident finally told Kreuz where he was, and overnight, he became a media sensation, feted by towns across the state. Among other things, he was given a 50th birthday party at McDonald’s and the key to the city of Bangor, met Andre the Seal and was given an acre of land on the St. John River in Aroostook County.
As the last stop on U.S. soil before Europe, Bangor sees many flight diversions each year, whether it’s for bad weather, bomb threats, mechanical issues or unruly passengers. Some of the more notable diversions over the years have included a plane carrying actor Clint Eastwood, an Air Force One flight carrying President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, and a diversion in 2004 for songwriter Yusuf Islam, a.k.a Cat Stevens, who discovered he’d been placed on the “No-Fly List” after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
One of the best things about BIA is its legacy with the Maine Troop Greeters — the devoted group of Mainers who came to the airport at any hour of the day or night to welcome home planeloads of troops returning from foreign soil. While they were most active during the Gulf War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Troop Greeters still stand ready for action should a plane arrive at any time, any day.
The Ukrainian Antonov An-225 Mriya wowed Bangor-area residents all three times that it landed at BIA, in 2003, 2015 and 2020. It was the heaviest plane ever built, and with the largest wingspan, aside from Howard Hughes’ famous Spruce Goose. Tragically, in the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the plane — an iconic symbol of Ukrainian ingenuity, and which ran service missions around the world — was destroyed by Russian forces.