DUKE FIELD -- Dozens of people gathered Friday morning to say farewell to a piece of Air Force history.
The 919th Special Operations Wing sent one of its MC-130 Combat Talon I's to Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, where it will be formally retired and put on display.
"Even though there is historical significance, we use them (aircraft) until their end of life," said Col. Anthony J. Comtois, commander of the 919th SOW. "This particular aircraft has almost 24,000 flight hours and has been through a number of pretty significant missions."
The aircraft was flown for 47 years and arrived at Duke Field in 1995, he said.
"The hair on my neck is standing up just being next to this airplane," said George Ferkes, a retired Air Force pilot who flew the plane for more than 20 years. "We flew this plane from Norway down to Africa. When I saw it again, it was like, 'Whoa, I'm back home.' "
The aircraft is best known for leading the air commando assault on the Son Tay prison camp in 1970 during the Vietnam War to try to rescue American POWs.
Although the prisoners had been moved before the raid, the mission has been considered a success based on its execution and use of military assets.
"It's bittersweet as we celebrate the end of the legacy," said Col. Buck Elton with the 8th Special Operations Wing at Cannon. "It's also exciting because there are new aircraft coming behind it."
Duke Field will retire all five of its remaining MC-130s by late 2013. The planes will be replaced by twin-engine, high-wing, light mobility aircraft, Comtois said.
The actual planes Duke will receive have not been announced, he said.
After the MC-130 arrives at Canon, Lt. Col. Leon Franklin, the pilot during the Son Tay raid, will help turn it off for the last time.
Moments before the MC-130 lifted off, Ferkes stood beside it and let the past roll over him.
"There are lots of memories with this old baby," said Ferkes, who plans to travel to Canon to see it. "This is not just a piece of metal. Each plane has its own personality and has had different experiences and different missions. There is an amazing history with this airplane."