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Happy Hooligans' Last Hurrah - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Happy Hooligans' Last Hurrah

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Updated Story....

It's the end of an era as the 119th Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard moves to unmanned aircraft. For the past 66 years the Air National Guard has sent pilots up into the skies as one of the most elite crews in the air. Now, that mission is about to change. Valley News team's Eric Crest was there today as the guard sent off their last plane.

It's called the C-21 Learjet, and it's the last of the North Dakota Air National Guard's planes to leave Fargo.

"We stand here today at the end of an era," says retired General Alexander P. Macdonald of the North Dakota National Guard.

But this story is more about the men and women who managed the air planes and their accomplishments than the planes themselves.

"The Lockhead Martin leadership named us as the best fighter squadron on planet earth. You heard no doubts from us about that. We believed it," says Gen. Macdonald.

The thousands of men and women who all had a hand in the 66 years of accomplishments for the North Dakota Air National Guard have no reason to let their heads hang low today. General Macdonald says they are, no mincing words, the best, "the winner of 15.... 15 Air Force outstanding unit awards. No organization has won more."

That being said though doesn't make the transition into their new roles any easier, "it's really hard. 66 years worth of manned flying missions. It's very difficult to really put into words. You've had guys grow up in this maintenance organization... their entire adult career," says Nathan Erstad the acting group Commander for the 119th maintenance group.

North Dakota just became the only state in the country without an Air National Guard manned flying mission. You will no longer find a Happy Hooligan in the cock pit of planes. If you would have told a pilot on Fargo's Air Base that drones would be the way of the future five years ago, they would have told you to get out of here.

"There was absolutely no way. We were the best flying organization in the Air National Guard. The best fighter unit, the best maintenance, says Com. Erstad.

As the best of the best cope with the realization that planes under their control will now be unmanned or drones controlled from a computer. They still have that name and legacy that one day might bring a manned flight back to North Dakota.

"We'll continue to seek out new missions and one day I promise you we'll have another man flying mission here in Fargo," says Major General David A. Sprynczynatyk.

The last C-21 Learjet that left Fargo this afternoon finds its new home in Dayton, Ohio at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The Happy Hooligans will focus on the Predator drone mission and a new mission as an intelligence targeting group.

Original Story...

The last airplane is set to depart the North Dakota Air National Guard base in Fargo, after more than 65 years of flying missions. 

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. 

The airmen for the unit have been known as the Happy Hooligans since the 1950s.

Three of Hooligans in F-16 fighter planes patrolled the skies over Washington D.C. after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

The last F-16 was flown from Fargo to McChord Air Force Base Museum near Tacoma, Wash., in December 2006, when the base switched to the C-21 Lear jet.

The Learjet was supposed to be a bridge to a new C27-J Spartan transport plane mission, but the Air Force canceled the plane.

The lone remaining C-21 is scheduled to leave the Fargo base about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The more than 1000 ND Air Guard members will now focus on their current Predator drone mission and a new mission as an intelligence targeting group. 

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