In October of 2021, Montana Air National Guard (MTANG) officially revealed to general public one of its C-130H Hercules aircraft, painted in a special heritage livery. That special paint scheme was applied on the aircraft to celebrate the 75-year history of the 120th Airlift Wing, the unit that continues legacy of the 120th Fighter Group.
The roots of that unit date back to June of 1947, when the 186th Fighter Squadron of the MTANG was activated at Gore Field air base in the vicinity of Great Falls, Montana. Between 1942 and 1945, that airfield was the starting point of Arctic ferry route, delivering aircraft and other war supplies to the Soviet Union via Alaska and Siberia. Known as the 557th United States Army Air Forces Base Unit, the facility was closed in late 1945. However, two years later it was activated again, this time as a home base for the 186th Squadron, equipped with P-51D Mustang fighter aircraft.
Between 1951 and 1952, the 186th FS was deployed to Korea. One year later, the squadron became the first Air National Guard unit to receive fighter jets, the F-86 Sabre. Over the next years, the Sabres of the 186th FS were replaced with F-89 Scorpion and then F-102 Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart jets. In 1955, the squadron was extended to a group level and designated the 120th Fighter Group.
In 1987, the 120th FG was re-equipped again, receiving F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighters. Initially, they were of A/B Block 15 variant with a conversion to C/D Block 30 version launched in 2001. At that time, the 186th FS, still as the flying component of the group, received its nickname the ´Vigilantes´.
In 1995, status of the unit changed and since then it was known as the 120th Fighter Wing. Another change of the aircraft type took place in 2008, when the 120th FW received F-15C Eagle jets.
Years of 2013 and 2014 brought a significant change of operational role of the unit. At that time, all its F-15C jets were transferred to the California ANG, together with arrival of C-130H Hercules transport aircraft to the Great Falls. The unit was re-designed to the 120th Airlift Wing with its main task to perform as full-time component of the Air Expeditionary Forces, participating in various missions supervised by the US Air Force Air Mobility Command. While not mobilized or called for federal tasks, the 120th AW reports to the governor of Montana, providing emergency support during natural disasters, rescue operations and any other assistance during emergency situations.
The 120th Airlift Wing now includes the 120th Operations Group and the 186th Airlift Squadron – being still the only active flying component of the Wing, as well as Medical, Mission Support and Maintenance groups.
Cover photo: A C-130 Hercules aircraft assigned to the 120th Airlift Wing takes off from the Montana Air National Guard Base, Great Falls, Montana 9 Sept 2022 (US ANG photo by Master Sgt. Devin Doskey). All photos © U.S. Department of Defence (DoD). DoD information materials were used, in compliance with Public Domain licence. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.