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551st Flies One Last Time

Members of the 551st Special Operations Squadron stand together for a group photo after a fini flight at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. The 551 SOS will be standing down June 15, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

Members of the 551st Special Operations Squadron stand together for a group photo after a fini flight at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. The 551 SOS will be standing down June 15, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

Capt. Tyler Davenport, 551st Special Operations chief of safety, gets sprayed after a fini flight at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. The flight was flown to commemorate the phasing out of the 551 SOS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

Capt. Tyler Davenport, 551st Special Operations chief of safety, gets sprayed after a fini flight at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. The flight was flown to commemorate the phasing out of the 551 SOS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

Lt. Col. John Lyford, 551st Special Operations director of operations, comes off an AC-130W aircraft after a fini flight at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. After the 551 SOS stands down, the intent is to move gunship training to Hurlburt Field, Florida, and potentially Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

Lt. Col. John Lyford, 551st Special Operations director of operations, comes off an AC-130W aircraft after a fini flight at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. After the 551 SOS stands down, the intent is to move gunship training to Hurlburt Field, Florida, and potentially Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

Lt. Col. Kris Airkens, 551st Special Operations Squadron commander, and Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Drain, 551 SOS senior enlisted leader, salute an AC-130W aircraft as it pulls in after a flight at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. The squadron, a tenant unit of the 492nd Special Operations Wing, has been at Cannon since July 24, 2009, after its reactivation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

Lt. Col. Kris Airkens, 551st Special Operations Squadron commander, and Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Drain, 551 SOS senior enlisted leader, salute an AC-130W aircraft as it pulls in after a flight at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. The squadron, a tenant unit of the 492nd Special Operations Wing, has been at Cannon since July 24, 2009, after its reactivation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

An AC-130W aircraft, piloted by members of the 551st Special Operations Squadron, pulls in after their fini flight at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. The squadron will be officially made inactive June 15, 2021, but the flight marked the end of training at the 551 SOS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

An AC-130W aircraft, piloted by members of the 551st Special Operations Squadron, pulls in after their fini flight at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. The squadron will be officially made inactive June 15, 2021, but the flight marked the end of training at the 551 SOS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

An AC-130W aircraft, piloted by members of the 551st Special Operations Squadron, flies over Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. The flight was flown to commemorate the last training flight of the 551 SOS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

An AC-130W aircraft, piloted by members of the 551st Special Operations Squadron, flies over Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 29, 2021. The flight was flown to commemorate the last training flight of the 551 SOS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Vernon R. Walter III)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

Members of the 551st Special Operations Squadron took an AC-130W aircraft for one last flight here, April 29, 2021.

The flight commemorated the drawdown of the 551 SOS. The squadron will be officially made inactive June 15, 2021, but the flight marked the end of mission qualification training at the 551 SOS.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” said Lt. Col. Kris Aikens, 551 SOS commander. “I was here in 2009 when the unit stood up from a detachment to a squadron. I have seen almost 12 years of training gunships at the 551st, and now I get to see it end. Over a decade of training ends with that flight.”

The squadron, a geographically separated unit of the 492nd Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, has been at Cannon since July 24, 2009, after its reactivation. The 551 SOS has a long legacy of training AFSOC personnel, having previously trained MH-53 aircrews at Kirtland Air Force Base. Since being activated at Cannon, it has provided aircrew training on the AC-130W aircraft and a wide array of other aircraft to ensure Cannon can carry out its specialized mission.

“The AC-130W is going to be retiring in the next couple years, so our mission to train new AC-130W crew members is done,” Aikens said. “Now, our personnel will be focused on refresher and continuation training for the wing’s operational units.”

While the 551 SOS is coming to a close, there are still units to train.

“Our mission isn’t going away,” Aikens said. “The Operational Support Squadron will just pick up where we left off. We were deeply involved with operational training at Cannon, and I’m proud of what the squadron accomplished here.”

As the aircraft touched down, it signified the end of the qualification training for the 551 SOS, and the sunset of the squadron began.

“From the beginning, I saw a large focus on quality,” Aikens said. “We wanted to make sure that the individuals that came here left even better. As we look to inactivate the squadron, and reflect on our years of training here at Cannon, I hope that every individual that came through the 551 feels that we met that goal.”