Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Macdonald, former N. D. adjutant general, speaks during a news conference prior to the departure of the last C-21 aircraft number 40064 at the North Dakota Air National Guard Base, in Fargo, N.D., on Aug. 27. (Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp / U.S. Air Nation)
Air Force C-21 pilots Col. Brad Derrig, the 119th Wing vice-commander, and Col. Kent Olson, the 119th Wing commander, make one final pass in C-21 aircraft number 40064 during its final flight from the North Dakota Air National Guard Base, in Fargo, N.D., on Aug. 27. (Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp / U.S. Air Nation)
FARGO, N.D. — The last airplane in the history of the North Dakota Air National Guard left its home base Tuesday, ending more than 65 years of manned flying missions for a unit whose members proudly proclaim themselves the Happy Hooligans.
The 119th Wing that was founded in 1947 has made the move to unmanned aircraft systems after flying fighter jets for 50 years and, most recently, transport planes. Its most memorable moment came when three of its pilots patrolled the skies over the nation’s capital after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The departure of the final plane means North Dakota is the only state without a manned mission. Retired Maj. Gen. Alexander Macdonald, the unit’s former commander who flew 10,000 hours, said that’s both sad and incomprehensible.
“Why? Because we can do it much cheaper and more importantly, do it as good, if not better,” Macdonald said in leading off a ceremony not far from the runway where the unit’s last plane, a C-21 Learjet, took off for the National Museum of the Air Force. “If the Air Force doesn’t believe that, why don’t they give us the chance to prove them wrong?”
The Happy Hooligans began by flying the P-51 Mustang from 1947 to 1954, followed by the F-94, the F-89 Scorpion, the F-102 Delta Dagger, the F-101 Voodoo, the F-4 Phantom, and finally the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The last F-16 was flown from Fargo to McChord Air Force Base Museum near Tacoma, Wash., in 2006.
“When the last fighter left Fargo, there was a feeling among some that we had reached the end of our history as the best of the best,” Macdonald said. “But we set new standards in performance, not only in a completely different type of aircraft, but in a completely new mission.”
Col. Kent Olson, now the commander of the guard and one of the pilots who was summoned to the skies on Sept. 11, called Tuesday’s event a bittersweet moment.
“It’s our goal to return a manned flying mission to North Dakota Air National Guard,” he said.
Olson and Col. Brad Derrig, a vice commander, flew the C-21, which is the oldest of its type in the Air Force, to the museum at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.