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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press, Published August 27 2013

Last ND Air Guard airplane leaves its home base

FARGO — 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?"

Col. Kent Olson, now the commander of the Air 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.

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