Princeton Regional Airport Reaches 75th Anniversary

LifeFlight’s fixed wing aircraft prepares to take off with a patient in need of critical emergency care at Princeton Regional Airport. (Submitted photo)

By Lura Jackson

 

For its role in saving lives and in promoting economic interest in Eastern Washington County, Princeton Regional Airport has become an invaluable service to the extended community. The airport, which was originally constructed as part of the war effort of World War II, is now in its 75th year – and it looks better than ever as a result of last year’s enhancements.

The “most important” function of the airport, according to Airport Manager Brad Richard, is in providing a place for LifeFlight’s fixed-wing aircraft to land and depart with individuals in need of critical medical care. The airport is the closest one to Calais Regional Hospital that can support the King Air aircraft flown by the service which is utilized when weather conditions are too difficult for helicopter flight or when the helicopters are otherwise engaged. “They can have patients in Bangor in just 18 minutes or Boston in just 45 minutes,” Richard said. “They are an invaluable resource for our area and give the residents of Washington County the best care possible.” In the past year, 24 individuals have been extracted via the fixed-wing service at Princeton’s airport.

Other than LifeFlight, the airport enjoys a steady business of about 20 flights a week, depending on the time of year, with most of the flights taking place in the spring and summer. Most of the aircraft are single engines, though Richard said that there are “quite a few turboprop twins” that utilize the airport, along with the occasional business-class jet. The airport has begun to offer 100LL Avgas, 24-hours a day, as part of its newest amenities for airborne travelers.

The airport brings economic benefit to the region by enabling visitors from other regions to have convenient access to the outdoor recreational opportunities in the area. As an example, a group of fishermen from Illinois arrived at the airport last week to fish in Grand Lake Stream. “If Princeton Airport was not here, they would have to land in Bangor and drive down,” Richard said. “This way, they had just a 20-minute ride to the lodge.” The airport has also been utilized by local businesses that have required emergency access to parts, or to enable business partners to fly in with minimal logistical complications, Richard provided.

The demonstrable value of the airport contributed to a significant renovation project that was completed last year. Sargent Corporation completed a $5.5 million project on the main runway that was necessary to fix a line-of-sight issue that would have jeopardized the airport’s certification with the FAA. Richard said that the company worked for 12+ hour days, six days a week to complete the project within the 100-day timeframe required to have the airport operational again by winter.

“The project required the contractor to raise the south end of the runway almost 20 feet to level the runway,” Richard said. “The contractor was also required to replace the existing windcone, airport beacon, and electrical vault as well as a new PAPI [Precision Approach Path Indicator] landing guidance system.” To complete the project, 10 local dump trucks and drivers were employed throughout the duration and Sargent’s workers stayed in the community, adding a further economic boost.

The airport received a large grant to complete the renovation, though it required a five percent match from the community which was approximately $286,000. “The challenge was to find a way to fund this without costing local taxpayers any money,” Richard said. “It was absolutely critical to complete the project now as it was possibly our only opportunity to do so.” Stantec Engineering devised a way to offset the matching costs by proposing that the airport utilize the gravel from a portion of the former crosswind runway, a section that would be unusable following the renovations. “The project was extremely successful and the airport was back open on November 17, 2017,” Richard said. A few finishing touches remain, but for all intents and purposes the renovations are completed.

 

For an airport that was initially built to be a stop-over point for aircraft headed overseas from the Dow Airforce Base during the Second World War, the Princeton Regional Airport has come a long way in its integration into the community. While its history as a servicing point for bombers lends to its enduring legacy, it is the airport’s role in saving lives in the modern era that most endears it to the residents of Washington County. 

There is 1 Comment

I lived and grew up in Woodland for 7 years. My dad worked on the construction of the original Princeton airport. I grabbed every opportunity for a plane ride possible. Later, in the 70s and 80s, I got some additional flight instruction from Gus Gillis and rented his airplane for some wonderful scenic flights in the general area.
I was always amazed and thankful for the scope of that old airport. It far exceeded most available general aviation bases, thanks to the war effort. I only wish I was still an active pilot and hope the people who use it can appreciate it.
Ken Lund