Since I was little, my family’s summer vacation of choice has often been camping. At first we camped with a tent (which was often horrible; wet, cold, and uncomfortable), and later with a borrowed tent trailer. Our camping locations have been all over eastern Canada and the US- Quebec City, Niagara Falls, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Hampshire, and Maine, and have created some fantastic memories.
The most recent camping trip was a 2-week long extravaganza in July 2012, which took us through Quebec and New Brunswick to PEI, and then through Maine to Massachusetts before returning home via New York. Planning this trip was very exciting and my brother and I participated with enthusiasm. We wanted to see as many military things as possible, and the trip did not disappoint. We ended up seeing even more exciting things than we had planned for!
In Prince Edward Island, our main activities involved eating seafood and local potatoes, and visiting sites significant to my family. Through my grandfather, my family hails from Prince Edward Island, so there are many ancestors buried in the PEI cemeteries and properties formerly owned by family members. Of course, PEI has a great maritime history, and there were lots of interesting maritime things to see.
The cold grey Atlantic ocean
A beautiful tallship in the charming city of Summerside, PEI
The harbour of Summerside is very picturesque, with boardwalks and a wide array of shops and aquatic vessels
Charlottetown is also a fascinating city- full of history and charming architecture. I especially appreciated the area around the Government House, as it is brimming with war memorials and statues.
War memorial for World War I, World War II, and the Korean War in Charlottetown
Despite the Island’s diminutive size, there is a huge amount to see and do in PEI, and we did a lot more than what I’ve described here! As we left the Island for New Brunswick via the Confederation Bridge, we saw one more neat sight. A coastguard vessel was pursuing a small boat towards the bridge! There was much speculation among our family as to why the smaller vessel was being chased, but of course we never found out. It was rather exciting and not something I am used to seeing!
Coastguard pursuit seen from Confederation Bridge
Our next evening was spent in Bangor, Maine. Our campground- quite fortuitously although perhaps not coincidentally- was about 5 minutes away from the Bangor Airport and Air National Guard base! It was also directly beneath the airport’s approach path! As we set up our campsite, airplane after airplane came overhead at an altitude probably around 1000 feet. It was loud but I loved it. However, as soon as our campsite was sorted out, I decided to take a shower which turned out to be a mistake. While I was showering, I heard an exceptionally noisy plane overhead, and returned to my family to find that it had been a T-38 Talon. Needless to say, I was not pleased to have missed it.
That evening, we visited Bangor Airport to see if there were was any interesting activity. Although we didn’t go to the Air National Guard base, we were initially hoping to see the T-38 on the ground. Approaching the airport, not many airplanes were visible; and there were certainly no T-38s. But then I sighted an incredible sight behind one of the hangars- a massive white cargo plane with Cyrillic writing on it!
The unusual plane was like nothing I had ever seen in person before
I saw that this particular aircraft was an Antonov An-124, which is a strategic-lift aircraft possessing a payload of 330,000 lbs. It was operated by Volga-Dnepr Airlines, a company which apparently transports cargo for the USAF Air Mobility Command. Interestingly, the An-225 Mriya (the world’s largest aircraft) was based off of the An-124. I was beyond astounded to see a Russian owned aircraft in Maine, of all places!
What an amazing aircraft- this An-124 is in a Volga-Dnepr 20th anniversary livery
I am fascinated by everything Russian and everything aviation, so it was momentous that this Antonov and I were at the same place at the same time! I really was delighted, and could hardly believe it.
As well, not far from the An-124 was a C-5 Galaxy. The C-5 is an American military transport plane manufactured by Lockheed. It is of a similar size to the An-124, but in my opinion was much less impressive.
The giant C-5 Galaxy
Tail of the C-5, showing that it hails from Travis AFB in California
It was getting late by the time I was ready to leave the An-124, so we decided to drive around the airport grounds before heading back to the campground. It was a good thing we did, because at the rear of the airport we found an aircraft graveyard of sorts!
Aircraft graveyard full of former commercial airliners and business jets
The graveyard was very sad, and was also very full. There were perhaps fifty planes there, ranging from Learjets to Dash-8s to Boeing 7-series even. And most were in perfectly good condition- we surmised that the only reason they were there was because their former operators could no longer afford to keep them flying.
Some KC-135 Stratotankers were also visible once we drove around the airport, which was a cool sight. I’d never seen a Stratotanker before, yet here were several out on the tarmac, sitting sedately as the twilight fell.
A parked KC-135- these planes have been used for USAF air-to-air refueling since the late 1950s
Before we left the airport, I got one last striking view of the An-124. What an amazing evening it had been- never had I expected to see such a fabulous array of military aircraft, and especially not a gigantic Russian cargo plane. No longer did I feel bad about missing the T-38 earlier, because it seemed like the An-124 had been there just for me. This was one of the most memorable days of the camping trip, and I’m so blessed that it happened the way it did!
The An-124 against the sunset…