President Carter brought his "people program" to New England today, arriving in this heavily Irish town on the eve of St. Patrick's Day to spend 90 minutes answering questions from the local citizenry.

In his first official trip out of Washington as President, Carter landed late this afternoon at Hanscom Field near here and was greeted by more than a dozen Massachusetts Democratic politicians, including Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III, the son of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.).

The coatless President stepped off Air Force One into a brisk, chilling wind and without his garment bag - which he had insisted on carrying himself throughout his campaign and into the early days of his presidency.

Massachusetts' most prominent Democrat, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, followed Carter off the plane. Kennedy and several Massachusetts Democratic congressmen, but not Speaker O'Neill, accompanied the President here from Washington.

About 2,000 people also turned out at Hanscom Field, which is both a civil airport and an Air Force base, to greet Carter.

Carter has been out of Washington three times since taking office - once to his home in Plains, Ga., once to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., and once on a hurrietly seletuled helicopter trip to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] inspect the effects of the birterly cold winter weather.

But this was Carter's first prePlanned trip with underlying plotical and policy objectives.

Tonight, Carter was to stand on a stage in the 68-year-old Cinta Town hall and answer questions from some of the 850 local residents who gaited adminszion to the event in a lottery drawing Saturday.

THe eventing is part of the White House-cenceived "people program that preaidential aides say is aimed at keeping Carter close to the American people. Its format - open questioninh from "ordinary Americans" was similar to the radio call-in program that Carter held earlier this month.

Tonight's event was dubbed a "town meeting," and it was modeled after Clinton's annual town meeting of local citizens at which the local budget is debated and adopted.

But it was in no sense a genuine New England town meeting and more closely resembled a carefully-planned campaign appearance designed to generate the maximum news coverage.

Earlier today in Clinton, the aging, picturesque mill town of 13,000 residents was in a near-frenzy awaiting the President's arrival. The town's narrow streets were clogged with traffic and the local residents were decked out in green carnations and other symbols of St. Patrick's Day. At the Town Hall, hundreds of people wandered in and out during the day to watch the final preparations for Carter's appearance.

In the main hallway of the building, a group of children from a nearly school put up pictures they had drawn of the President and a list of their own questions that held clues to the issues that were on the minds of Clintion's adult population.

Among the questions were: "Will you keep the prices down los; what do you plan to do about energy; how much will oil cost; will you lower hospital bills?"

On Thursday, Carter will travel to Charleston, W.Va. to participate in a discussion of energy issues. Thursday night he will deliver his first major foreign policy address at the United Nations in New York.