History of the Portland International Jetport

Like many community airports, Portland International Jetport had its beginnings as the private field of a flying fan. Today, the Jetport is one of the nation’s fastest-growing airports, serving most of the major domestic airlines and over 1.6 million passengers a year.

Dr. Clifford “Kip” Strange first created space on his extensive Portland land for his own plane in the late 1920s. Before long, there were a couple of grass runways on his land that attracted other flyers.

Meanwhile, Boston & Maine Airways inaugurated airline service at the Portland facility when it moved from Scarborough in 1934. The City of Portland bought the airfield in 1936 and built a third runway. The 1930s were a time of colorful characters performing in air shows and unauthorized dogfights. In 1940, the Works Progress Administration built Portland’s first real terminal, a brick structure that is now the general aviation terminal.

Why “PWM”?

The Jetport’s FAA code name dates to the early days, when airline pilots would follow beacon lights from airport to airport. The last light before Portland was at Westbrook, 10 miles to the west, so the facility was known as Portland-Westbrook-Municipal.

The War Years and After

During World War II, the airport was closed to most civilian traffic, but lend-lease aircraft passed through on their way to Canada. When U.S. neutrality forbade cross-border flights, the Canada-bound planes would fly from Portland to Houlton, Maine, and were then towed into Canada by horses or tractors. The Portland airport was the base for Civil Air Patrol planes that searched coastal waters for enemy submarines.

The Portland International Jetport began to take its current form after the war, during the 1950s and 60s. The present main runway was built in 1957 and lengthened in 1966. The current terminal building opened in 1968, when jet aircraft arrived, and has been expanded at least twice since.

Northeast Airlines was long the Jetport’s commercial mainstay, pioneering the route to Florida and Maine’s spring vacation tradition. Thousands of Mainers first flew on its DC9 jets, nicknamed “yellow birds” for their unusual color scheme. The only other airline in Portland for many years was Bar Harbor Air-lines. 

In 1972, Northeast was bought by Delta Airlines, which remains one of the major carriers at the Jetport. The 1970s and 1980s saw the influx of other airlines, and the airport experienced strong growth starting in 1983. Today, the Jetport is the fastest-growing airport in New England, and several expansions and other improvements have been made to keep up with that growth. Recent major projects include the opening of Maine Turnpike Exit 46 in 200?, which links the jetport to Maine’s most important roadway; and last year’s [?] completion of a new five-story parking garage conveniently located just outside the Terminal. 

A Vision for the Future

Looking ahead, the Portland International Jetport has a 10-year capital program for improvements designed to keep up with the latest technology, safety requirements, and projected growth in passenger counts and air cargo volumes; while also responding prudently to broad economic and travel trends. 

Improvements will be carefully designed to continue the airport’s value to business travelers, the traveling public, and the area’s thriving economy. Plans include lengthening the primary runway by 400 feet; in-pavement runway lighting to improve low-visibility conditions; and expansion of the terminal and baggage claim facilities. 

Jetport managers and planners take pride in being a constructive part of the local community. Paul Bradbury, Airport Director, believes the Jetport’s human scale—with gates, baggage, and parking all conveniently near each other—are just as important as direct jet service to most of the hubs in the eastern half of the United States. “As we continue to develop the airport of the future, we’re committed to preserving the small-town feel of Maine,” Bradbury says. “And we think our traveling public will appreciate that.”

Dr. Clifford Strange, Founder of the Portland Airport, 1891-1958

Dr. Clifford Strange, a native of Portland, Maine, became profoundly interested in aviation at an early age. In 1915, while a student at Harvard Dental College, he and several companions designed and built a hang glider that flew successfully from a hilltop in Cape Elizabeth. Upon graduating in 1917, he received a captain's commission in the U.S. Army and served with the Dental Corps at a training field in Spartanburg, S.C.

He purchased a government surplus Curtiss "Jenny", the primary training plane of WW I and learned to fly it from a former WW I flight instructor at Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

In 1922 he acquired several acres of farmland in Stroudwater, then on the outskirts of Portland, and graded a small, grass-covered runway for personal use. His airstrip soon attracted other early pilots and aircraft owners, and in 1927 the airstrip was recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce as the "Stroudwater Flying Field".

In the late 1920's and early 1930's, Strange developed a second runway, constructed two hangers, installed an airport beacon and fueling facilities. The field was then renamed, "Portland Airport", which Dr. Strange gave [sold?] to the City of Portland in 1937.

Dr. Strange was known statewide for his efforts to promote aviation in Maine, and was frequently asked to address schools and civic organizations. He was one of the founders of the Aero Club of Maine, which numbered over 400 members statewide prior to WW II.

After Dr. Strange's death, his family continued its long association with aviation. Daughter Beth became an airline flight attendant and married a Northeast Airlines pilot; son Neal maintained a floatplane at his home in Raymond, Maine; and grandson Keith operated a seaplane base in Lincoln, Maine.