Last aircraft leave closing Maine Navy base

BRUNSWICK (AP) — The two last planes at Maine's Brunswick Naval Air Station lifted off Saturday in blustery winds, ending nearly 60 years of maritime patrol operations at New England's last active-duty military air base.

Associated Press

Nicole Underwood, left, Palen Raspet, center, and Lisa Zwierko wave goodbye as the last P3 Orion takes off on its final flight from Brunswick Naval Air Station on Saturday in Brunswick. Underwood's husband is the navigator on the flight. Raspet and Zwierko's husbands are the pilots. The base is relocating its aircraft and personnel to then naval air station in Jacksonville, Fla.

The P-3 Orions of the VP-26 squadron lumbered down an 8,000-foot runway before heading off to a six-month deployment in Central America. After that, they fly to their new home at Florida's Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

The planes took off without any speeches or fanfare about 50 minutes apart Saturday afternoon. A small group of visitors gathered at the base operations building to watch, including Albert Stehle of Bowdoinham, whose father, Leroy Stehle, commanded the VP-26 during the early 1970s.

"I just came to see the last plane take off," said Stehle, a building contractor who lives in the flight path of the base and will no longer be able to look up and see the planes bearing the squadron's trident insignia. "After being a Navy brat for all these years and having to miss your dad because he was off on deployment, you finally realize it was all for a great cause."

Brunswick, once home to 4,000 sailors and six patrol squadrons, now has a skeleton crew. Its two runways are scheduled to close in January and personnel will continue to leave the base until it closes for good in May 2011.

The decision to shutter the base was made in the final round of closings by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission in 2005. The 3,200-acre base will be turned over to a redevelopment group.

The Brunswick Naval Air Station opened during World War II to train British and Canadian pilots. After the war, the base was deactivated for a time before the U.S. Navy moved in.

The P-3 Orions, which went into operation in the 1960s, tracked Soviet submarines in the Atlantic Ocean during the Cold War. More recently, the planes have been used on drug interdiction missions and in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Helping to oversee Saturday's departures was Cmdr. Jeff Draeger, executive officer of VP-26.

Draeger, who is scheduled to depart Brunswick on Tuesday aboard a military airlift, said he and his wife, a P-3 pilot whom he met at the Naval Academy, have enjoyed their two tours with Brunswick and plan to keep their home there.

"We love it," he said. "The local community has been very supportive and the Navy has felt very welcome."

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 's picture

Sad...Godspeed Navy.... I

Sad...Godspeed Navy.... I loved the base shows and the Blue Angels were great.

 's picture

so just hang a sign out now

so just hang a sign out now and say aliens, unwanted people, terroist, high jackers etc just come in be way of Maine coast. By the time we get armed forces to catch you ,you'll be long gone thanks to our elected people who by the way are not here either.

 's picture

What exactly are you doing

What exactly are you doing besides running your know-it-all mouth on SJ blogs everyday?!

 's picture

So sad to see 'em go...

So sad to see 'em go...


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