One of the Air Force’s first three C-21A jets will have a new parking space at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
The aircraft, a military airlift version of the Learjet 35A twin turbofan business jet, landed on the museum’s runway Wednesday. But it also made history of a different sort: the jet was the last airplane assigned to the North Dakota Air National Guard on the final manned flight mission of the 119th Wing, nicknamed the “Happy Hooligans.”
“We’re starting a new chapter of not having airplanes,” said Col. Kent Olson, wing commander who has hundreds of hours in the jet. “We’re very sad. We’ve been flying airplanes for 66 years so it’s in your lifeblood. It’s a tradition.”
The Fargo-based unit flew the small jet in the Middle East during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places across the globe since it started flying it in 2007. “We’ve done a ton of stuff with that airplane in the short time we’ve had it,” he said.
Olson has flown F-16s to T-37s before flying the C-21.
“The F-16 is like driving a Ferrari for its performance,” he said. “The C-21 is kind of like a Volvo station wagon.”
The unit will transition to the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, he said.
The Air Force had a fleet of more than 80 C-21A aircraft which carried up to eight passengers and more than 3,000 pounds of cargo. Aeromedical evacuation flights could transport five ambulatory patients. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the jets delivered air tasking orders to units that could not receive the information electronically.
The last of the Air National Guard jets, which began Air Force service in 1984, were due to retire this year.
The jet will be put on display in the southeast Asia Gallery in October, said museum historian Jeffrey Underwood.
“It’s in perfect condition right now,” he said.