May 16, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - A North Dakota Air National Guard unit that was called to patrol the skies over Washington after the September 2001 terrorist attacks has set a record for safety. The 119th Fighter Wing, nicknamed the "Happy Hooligans," has flown more than 60,000 hours without an accident, which guard officials say is a milestone for the country's F-16 units.
"The tradition of the Happy Hooligans certainly is alive and well," Maj. Gen. Michael Haugen, the North Dakota National Guard Commander, said Thursday. "This unit has constantly demonstrated it can handle any mission given to it."
The historic flight came Wednesday in a training mission that included the assistance of an air refueling tanker from Grand Forks Air Force Base.
"Raid 31," the KC-135R Stratotanker and its GFAFB-based aircrew of Lt. Col. Patrick McCormack, aircraft commander, 1st Lts. Brian Ewasko and Thomas Hutton, co-pilots, and boom operator Master Sgt. Jeremy Jurek provided the air refueling task on the day the record was set.
The record dates back to January 1990 and includes 38,729 flights, Haugen said. That's more than any other Guard unit in the country and second only to an active duty F-16 Air Force squadron from Idaho, he said.
"We have a culture of safety in this organization that certainly transcends my time as wing commander," said Col. Rick Utecht. "We're used as benchmarks by many other units from around the country."
The milestone is a credit to pilots, mechanics and other support personnel, Haugen said. The F-16s are more than 20 years old, he said.
"Most of us probably have cars that are a lot newer than that," Haugen said. "They deserve new aircraft. They're good, but just think how good they could be with something brand new."
Representatives of Lockheed Martin Corp., the makers of F-16s, will make a presentation to the unit in June, Utecht said.
About 10,000 hours have been flown in the past two years. More than one-third of those hours were combat air patrols, including flights over Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11, 2001, Utecht said.
The last time a North Dakota Air National Guard airplane was destroyed was in March 1973. when two F-101 fighters collided during a training flight. One plane returned to Fargo, while the second plane crashed near Fessenden. All four crew members survived.