Maine military personnel based in Bangor and Brunswick were called out Wednesday to support national-security operations along the Eastern Seaboard.
The Maine-based operations include the use of aerial-refueling planes from the Maine Air National Guard in Bangor and aircraft-carrier support flights from Brunswick Naval Air Station.
For the second day in a row, jets flew out of Bangor to fuel Air Force jet fighters flying domestic air support in the aftermath of Tuesday's terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, D.C.
"It's quite a thing when a high-performance aircraft pulls up behind you at 40,000 feet and 1,100 miles an hour," said Maj. Gen. Joseph Tinkham II, the state adjutant general, who commands the Maine Army National Guard and Maine Air National Guard.
Eight of the KC-135 refueling planes are attached to the 101st Air Refueling Wing also known as the MAINEacs at the Bangor International Airport. The wing includes 1,000 men and women, 750 of whom are part-time guard members.
An undisclosed number of P-3 Orions, meanwhile, began flying missions in support of the aircraft carriers George Washington and John F. Kennedy, off the East Coast, said Brunswick Naval Air Station spokesman John W. James IV. The mission of the P-3s includes anti-submarine warfare, surveillance and drug interdiction. A typical mission for each plane lasts between eight and 11 hours.
The air station has four active P-3 squadrons and two reserve squadrons. Each squadron consists of nine planes.
The KC-135s, part of the Air Mobility Command headquartered at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, were first summoned for their special mission Tuesday. They flew several refueling flights Tuesday and several Wednesday, said Col. Don Reynolds of Hampden, wing commander.
The KC-135s were refueling F-15 and F-16 fighters flown by the Air Force. Though Reynolds wouldn't pinpoint their location, he said several could be seen over Washington and New York after Tuesday's plane hijackings.
The average mission lasts about four hours. The air guard, similar to the Army guard, is on "heightened status," Reynolds said. Essentially, it means guard members can be expected to be activated at any time.
The National Guard commander in Maine is Gov. Angus King, and in each state the governor acts in that role. But the Pentagon in time of national emergency can call on the guards for special missions, which was done this week with the Maine air wing.
"This is what we train for, to take care of these things as they come up," said Capt. Dave Everett, 31, of South Portland, who has been with the air wing 3 1/2 years. "It's not an official presidential activation, but it's out of the ordinary. It's an unplanned operation."
When not flying for air guard, Everett is a commercial pilot for Continental Express out of Newark, N.J.
The Army guard, meanwhile, remains on standby, but under heightened security. "We are in what we call 'force-protection mode,' protecting our facilities and personnel, which in our case include helicopters in Bangor and the armories around the state, and Camp Keyes, our headquarters in Augusta," Tinkham said.
The Army guard has 30 helicopters, including 16 Blackhawk helicopters, designed for medical evacuations and part of the 112th Medical Co.; 12 Hueys, such as those that were used in Vietnam, and part of Company "C," 3-137 Aviation Battalion; and two OH-58s, which are observation aircraft.
Tinkham said King received FAA permission Tuesday to activate one of the Hueys to do forest-fire surveillance. The Maine Forest Service choppers were not allowed in the air due to the FAA's nationwide order grounding all but military aircraft.
All military aircraft have a "friend-or-foe" radio-signaling system. The FAA can confirm whether a plane is with the military by sending out a coded radio signal.
Tinkham said the Blackhawk helicopters were not used for forest-fire work because they may be needed for medical evacuations in New York or Washington.
Staff Writer Ted Cohen can be contacted at 282-8225 or at: email@example.com
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