Earlier this week, after four decades in service, the Alaska Air National Guard’s last two C-130 Hercules aircraft flew away for good. The plane has been the workhorse for the Air Guard. Its departure is the end of an era in the organization’s 70-year history.

“The last 41 years of that have been with the C-130,” said Lt. Col. Michael Cummings, commander of the 144th Airlift Squadron.

“Longer than the state has actually been a state, this unit has been running and flying tactical airlift,” added Tech Sgt. Colton Nelson, C-130 loadmaster with the 144th.

The tactical airlift mission means the 144th picked up and dropped off people and supplies, when and where they’re needed. Many missions involved humanitarian aid around the country and the world on some of the most difficult days, like 9/11.

“We were the only airplane flying in the United States because we were taking blood from Alaska to New York,” Cummings said. “We had a crew that took off here on Sept. 12 and was basically cleared by the controllers who said, ‘yeah, you can do whatever you want because you’re the only people up here.'”

Their mission also covered every inch of the state, in the bad times and the good, like the annual Operation Santa Claus, when crew members brought presents and holiday cheer to remote communities.

“Any time the governor or the people of the state of Alaska need us, we’re there,” Nelson said. “We’re there with these airplanes to help them.”

“That stuff is pretty rewarding, when you know you’re someone’s lifeline and that’s the kind of work the C-130s do,” Cummings added.

The crew members laud the C-130s versatility. It can carry a lot and land almost anywhere.

“These airplanes have landed on aircraft carriers. They’ve landed on beaches. They’ve landed on soccer fields, on floating ice caps. You name it, this airplane has landed there,” Nelson said. “You can literally say you’ve flown on an airplane that’s been there, done that and will continue doing that.”

That’s why the loss of these planes is bittersweet. The mission of the 144th is changing but it’s hard to say goodbye to history.

“You don’t want to lose them, but them going away is a very bright future, not only for the unit, but for the Alaska Air Guard,” Cummings noted.

The two C-130 Hercules flew away on Sunday, March 5. One will go to an aircraft boneyard. The other will be parked, have its wings removed and be used for training.

The Air Guard still has C-130 King model planes, which are used for search and rescue.

KTVA 11’s Bonney Bowman can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter