AC-130 Spectre / Spooky II Gunship
The Lockheed AC-130 is a C-130 cargo plane converted into a gunship. The port side of the AC-130 houses firing ports for an array of cannons, howitzers and gatling guns.
AC-130 - Role
AC-130s missions are often coordinated by JTAC units on the ground, usually by USAF Combat Controllers (CCTs).
- 2 x 20mm M61 Vulcan cannon
- 1 x 40mm L60 Bofors cannon (120 rpm)
- 1 x 105mm M102 howitzer (6-10 rpm)
- 1 x 25mm GAU-12/U gatling gun (1800 rpm)
- 1 x 10mm M102 howitzer (6-10 rpm)
- AC-130W Stinger II - based on MC-130W Combat Spear + Precision Strike Package more info: AC-130W Stinger II
- AC-130J Ghostrider - based on MC-130J Commando II + Precision Strike Package more info: AC-130J Ghostrider
AC-130 Operational History
- 1960s/70s - Vietnam / Laos
- 1983 - Grenada - Operation Urgent Fury
- 1989 - Panama - Operation Just Cause
- 1991 - Persian Gulf - Operation Desert Storm
- 1993 - Somalia - Operation Restore Hope
- 1995 - Bosnia - Operation Deliberate Force
- 2001 - Present - Afghanistan - Operation Enduring Freedom
- 2003 - Present - Iraq - Operation Iraqi Freedom
A total of 7 AC-130s have been lost during combat operations, including 5 over South East Asia, 1 during Desert Storm and 1 over Somalia, 1993.
AC-130 Spectre Resources
- ac-130 gunship gallery
- ac-130 gun camera video
« Special Ops Aircraft
The early years of Spectre yielded many firsts. On 26 September 1968, Spectre took its first hit from an antiaircraft artillery (AAA) emplacement near a Special Forces camp--Spectre had a new patch and was now battle damaged qualified. December 1968 saw Spectre fly its first mission with F-4 escorts, a tactic implemented to protect the gunship against heavy and concentrated AAA. The first escort was flown by the "Night Owls" of the 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) also stationed at Ubon. Thus began another working relationship that is still in existence.
On 24 May 1969, Spectre lost its first gunship and two crew members. At the very moment the aircraft was hit, the 16 SOS sustained its first KIA--the illuminator operator, who died from exploding AAA rounds, but not before he had warned the pilot and crew of the approaching deadly rounds. Most of the crew bailed out over Thailand and were recovered. A skeleton crew brought the aircraft back to Ubon where it crash landed. All escaped the aircraft before it was consumed in flames except the engineer, who became Spectre's second combat fatality. On the brighter side, Spectre accomplished a spectacular first on 8 May 1969, when a gunship shot down an enemy helicopter, to the chagrin of the local fighter squadron, who were getting nothing in the way of air-to-air kills at the time. When one thinks of special operations gunships, the AC-130 aircraft immediately comes to mind; but not all gunships were AC-130s. Prior to the AC-130s, aircrews flew the latest in the family of gunships which included the famous AC-47 Spooky, AC-119G Shadow, and the AC-119K Stinger. The concept had been tested and the C-130 airframe was selected, however, very few C-130 aircraft were available for configuration to gunships and alternate airframes were used. In December 1969, the AC-123K (Black Spot) began operations with the 16 SOS. The big difference between the AC-130 and the AC-123 was that the AC-123K did not have guns. This Spectre aircraft flew over its targets and dropped bombs! This weapon system proved less effective than its counterpart, the AC-130, and operations with it were discontinued in June 1970.
More on the AC-123K Also called NC-123K "Project Black Spot":
In December of 1965, the USAF began Project Black Spot. This test program was designed to give the Air Force a self-contained night attack capability to seek out and destroy targets along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In early-1966, the concept was approved by the Department of Defense and two Fairchild C-123K Providers (#54-691 and #54-698) were modified by E-Systems of Greenville, Texas to the redesignated NC-123K (often referred to as AC-123K) configuration .
The aircraft were equipped with a long, 57.75 inch nose fairing that housed an X-band forward-looking radar. Below and aft of the extended radome was a turret with Forward-Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), Low-Level Light Television (LLLTV), and a laser range-finder/illuminator. Also, a low-level Doppler navigation radar and weapons release computer were installed.
Two rectangular aluminum weapons dispensers (for CBU bomblets) were stacked within the fuselage. Each container housed 12 cells, each cell containing three Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs). Depending on the type of CBU installed, the containers had a capacity of between 2,664 and 6,372 one pound bomblets. The bomblets were released through 12 openings in the cargo floor that aligned with the cells in the weapons dispenser. The lower fuselage contained 12 inward opening doors that aligned with the openings in the cargo floor, forming a chute. Bomblet release was controlled by a weapons panel in the forward section of the fuselage. In the event of an emergency, the entire load could be jettisoned manually.
The first aircraft (#54-691) was delivered to Eglin AFB, Florida in August 1967 and the second (#54-698), incorporating an AN/ASD-5 Black Crow direction finder set (engine ignition sensor), was delivered in February 1968.
Prior to deploying to Vietnam, the two aircraft were sent to Osan Air Base, South Korea to be evaluated against the high-speed infiltration boats used by North Korea to send agents into South Korea. The unit remained in Korea from 19 August 1968 to 23 October 1968, and were scheduled for a total of 57 missions. Upon completion of their Korean assignment, the unit was deployed to South Vietnam for a combat evaluation of the "Black Spot" weapons system.
It was in South Vietnam where the aircraft operated under the project name and callsign - "Black Spot". Both aircraft began operations on 15 November 1968, flying from Phan Rang Air Base, with mission staging areas at Binh Thuy and Pleiku. During the combat evaluation period, a total of 69 sorties were flown over target areas consisting of the Mekong Delta and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. From November 1968 to May 1969, these "gunships" flew 186 missions, destroyed 415 trucks and damaged 273 more. While operating as armed night surveillance units in the Mekong Delta, the two aircraft destroyed 151 boats/vehicles, damaging another 108 and noted secondary explosions on 161 targets. Both aircraft completed 70 percent of all missions and had an in-commission rate of 84 percent; not bad for an aircraft that was developed as a test bed and never intended to be used operationally!
A little History as told by CMSgt Don Beardsley (33 Yr USAF Veteran and Long time Spectre/Blind Bat FE)
"A lot of people don't know about the connection between the two units, Bennie Castillo started Blind Bat at Danang AFB Viet. the first FE to die was Cecil Taylor who my assistant Crew Chief/FE at Patrick AFB. In Systems command at that time the FE's were assigned to Maintance and maintained the aircraft and also was the assigned FE's A lot of the first crew members to Ubon came from Patrick in addition to all the 130's from their.
I knew most every individual in Spectre from it's beginning as I was at Ubon when Spectre first arrived, (Their was a great rivalry between Blind Bat and Spectre to see who could spray paint the most logo's around the base) The Blind Bats started flying out of Danang in Vietnam, but after one of our aircraft's was satchel charged we moved to Ubon a lot of this was started with Bennie the Bean Castillo. I was flying Blind Bat C-130A's, we dropped flares to light up targets for fighter aircraft. we had already been using a star light scope, to find targets at night. Later we progressed to the NOD before Spectre arrived, our first EWO was a contraption built of dexon frame and a scope on it that could detect gomer trucks ignition. The only bad thing is we could not shoot back, On my first mission in North Vietnam we had search lights put on us and the B57's that was with us peeled off real quick, I felt like we was in a Ford "Model A" trying to get away down an old dirt road. When I got to Lockbourne AFB to help train combat crews for duty to SEA and Ubon. At first we trained crews on the AC-119s for familiarization on gunships. Waiting for our first AC-130A. It wasn't long before we made our move to Hurlburt Field. When we arrived the AC-130E's was sitting on the ramp we immediately sent Four Pilots and Engineers to learn all about the E-Model's. Then we kind of had the people that was already qualified on the E's and the gunship qualified people teaching each other. This School squadron was known as the 415th SOTS. When the war was winding down the gunship school and Gunships was being evaluated to keep them or send them to the bone yard. WE then were attached to the 8th SOS as Gunships Ops, we finally got the approval to prepare for the return of the 16th. SOS to be activated at Hurlburt Field. on Dec 1975. Just an added note most of the early AC-130A's came from Patrick AFB, JC-130"s that I was flying on at the time. Now you know the rest of the story."
- CMSgt Don Beardsley
Both aircraft were later assigned to the 16th Special Operations Squadron at Ubon RTAB. On 5 November 1969, ECM and RAHW gear was installed, and the first aircraft received a Black Crow system. They continued their mission from late-1969 till June 1970 from Ubon, often with night fighter escorts because of heavy antiaircraft artillery (AAA) fire.
Although Project Black Spot was a complete success, both aircraft were later refitted to back to the C-123K standard to serve as normal transports. Note: They did retain their unique wrap-around camouflage after the conversion.
December 1970 saw the arrival of the Pave Pronto AC-130As. As the squadron continued to grow, new events took place.
Excellent document "War Against Trucks" from USAF History Site.
Early in 1971, the first use of "smart" bombs used in conjunction with Spectre's guidance took place and the first Soviet-built SAM attack on a Spectre gunship occurred in March. On 25 October 1971, what everyone was excitedly waiting for happened; the first "Cadillac" gunship, the AC-130E arrived. Within a few days, the "E" model flew its first combat mission. At about the same time the new gunship arrived, so did the active TV system, which rapidly became an integral part of the gunship concept. And as if the gunship wasn't awesome enough with its sensitive "eyes" and deadly firepower, Spectre was about to pack an even bigger wallop. On 17 February 1972, the first 105mm cannon arrived for service with Spectre and was installed on Gunship 570. It was used from mid-February until the aircraft received battle damage to its right flap. The 105 was switched to Gunship 571 and was used until March 30 when the aircraft was shot down. On 28 January 1973, the Vietnam peace accord went into effect, marking the end of Spectre operations in Vietnam. It was a time for joy, but war still raged, and Spectre was still needed and requested. On 22 February 1973, American offensive operations in Laos ended. This signaled more celebration at Ubon; now the gunships became totally committed to operations in the Cambodian conflict. It was during the Cambodian conflict that the first gray gunship, or "gray ghost" arrived for battle. That same spring, the "E" models had a name change as they were designated the "H" models. On 15 August 1973, Spectre ceased all combat operations as the United States offensive role in Southeast Asia came to a full and complete halt. The last battle weary Spectre Gunship touched down at Ubon on 15 August 1973. The 16 SOS accomplished some amazing feats during its tour in Southeast Asia. As the most deadly night-flying weapons system in the theater, Spectre destroyed or damaged over 10,000 trucks over the Ho Chi Minh trail. Additionally, the squadron achieved 1,327 consecutive on-time combat mission launches--a phenomenal record. Spectre's performance during operations in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia was extraordinary, but it did not come without cost--52 brave aircrew members were lost in combat. Not all activity of the squadron during the Vietnam conflict dealt with combat. On 5 December 1971, the 16 SOS presented the local village of Mak Mi, Thailand, with an 800 pound Budda. Each year, from 1971 through 1973, the 16 SOS was the major contributor to the annual orphanage drive held by the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. It took an awful lot of donations to get Ghost Riders or Yellow Bird" off Armed Forces Radio.
On 22 July 1974, Spectre completed its change of station to Korat RTAFB. Spectre's dedicated training program was tested on 12 April 1975, when Khmer Rouge insurgents were threatening the capital of Phnom Penh. AC-130s were called upon to help in Operation EAGLE PULL, the final evacuation of US and allied officials from Phnom Penh before it fell to the communists. Spectre flew the skies again and assured that the evacuation would be a safe one. Before Spectre could tell of her tales of Phnom Penh, the Saigon government began to deteriorate under the onslaught of the North Vietnamese communists. The AC-130 was over Saigon 30 April 1975 to protect the final evacuation of friendly parties in Operation FREQUENT WIND. Peace was still not to be, as Cambodia tested the will and spirit of the United States when she seized the US Mayaguez on 15 May 1975, on the open sea. Spectre was again called upon. The flash of the guns and effect of her firepower will be remembered by the Khmer Rouge soldiers and sailors. Spectre played a major role in the rescue of the US Mayaguez and her crew. The AC-130 gunship had shown her versatility, firepower, accuracy, and dependability. In July of 1975, the formation of the only Air Force Reserve gunship squadron, the 711th SOS commenced. The unit was formed at Duke Field with all the AC-130As still in the inventory. The unit has participated with valor in such activity as Operations JUST CAUSE, DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, and continues to maintain the US presence in Panama. The 711th still maintains and flies the original Air Force C-130, "First Lady"--129. In December of that same year, the 16 SOS began its move to Hurlburt Field, Florida, with the first gunship arriving on 12 December 1975. By the end of January 1976, all the men and women of the 16 SOS had left Thailand. For the next several years, the Spectre gunships went through a series of back-to-back deployments that spread across all of America and much of the world. In November 1979, the unit was tasked with flying four AC-I30H gunships nonstop from Hurlburt Field to Anderson AFB, Guam, because of the hostage situation at the Embassy in Iran. Upon return in March 1980, the squadron soon found itself in Egypt to support the ill-fated hostage rescue attempt. Four aircraft deployed to support this operation. Spectre's next challenge took place over the island of Grenada on 25 October 1983, as AC-130Hs were overhead during Operation URGENT FURY. The 16 SOS provided armed reconnaissance and close air support for the assault by multinational forces which liberated the island. Spectre was praised for "saving the day" by providing last-second intelligence to the air assault forces. Gunship crews silenced numerous AAA emplacements and knocked out several enemy armored personnel carriers. The return home didnt last long. Responding to JCS direction, Spectres found themselves at Howard AFB, Panama Canal Zone, one of the more exotic places in the world. They maintained an ongoing rotation to Howard, monitoring activities in El Salvador and other Central American points of interest. This commitment of aircraft and crews started in 1983 and lasted until 1990, longer than the original gunship commitment in Southeast Asia. Operation JUST CAUSE was a National Command Authority-directed intervention into the Republic of Panama, which the gunships of both the 16 SOS and the 711 SOS spearheaded. On 20 December, 1989, seven aircraft simultaneously attacked the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) targets throughout the country. All seven aircraft, two out of Howard AFB, and five out of Hurlburt Field, were over their targets on time. This was no easy task in itself since it required flying two formations; one an 8-hour, 5-ship formation out of CONUS. By 27 December 1989, Spectre crews had flown 355 combat hours. AC-I30 Spectre gunship participation in Operation JUST CAUSE is best summarized by the Commander of the 7th Ranger Regiment in the following quote: "The devastating fire delivered by the AC-130s prior to the airborne assaults at Rio Hato and Torrijos/Tocumen aided the ground forces in quickly overcoming resistance at both objectives. Without your support, friendly casualties would have been much higher." Soon after JUST CAUSE, Spectre again changed commands and in May 1990 was assigned to the Air Force Special Operations Command. On 6 September 1990, the 16 SOS deployed in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, followed by the 711 SOS. The primary objective was to provide close air support (CAS), rear area security (RAS), and interdiction in support of US Central Command objectives. On 16 January, 1991, Operation DESERT STORM kicked off. The primary interdiction targets were early warning/ground control intercept (EW/GCI) sites along the southern border of Iraq. The first gunship to enter the Battle of Khafji was called off airborne alert on 29 January to help stop an Iraqi armored column that was moving south. One day later, three more gunships were called in to provide further aid to the Marines. These gunships pounded Iraqi positions and columns that were again moving south to reinforce their positions north of the city. Aircraft #69-6567, call sign Spirit 03, elected to remain on station during the early morning hours of 31 January 1991, to provide further fire support to the Marines. Unfortunately, Spirit 03 was shot down by a surface to air missile (SAM) and all 14 crew members perished. During the retreat of the Iraqi Army from Kuwait, one AC- I30 gunship provided air cover for Kuwait International Airport. The remainder of DESERT STORM saw the gunships flying airborne alert. On 27 May 1991, the remaining gunships in Saudi Arabia returned to home station at Hurlburt Field. In 1992, the gunships found themselves on a humanitarian mission in support of Operation PROVIDE HOPE, to quell the unrest in Somalia. After their initial support, several gunships were redeployed to Italy to maintain a force for Operation DENY FLIGHT, where they still maintain a detachment. In late 1993, another contingent was again deployed to Kenya in an effort to bolster US presence in Somalia. A major milestone was reached in 1994. The acceptance of new, from the ground up, gunships is underway. The first AC-130U aircraft arrived in early 1994! It is the result of years of work to develop an airframe for the purpose of being a gunship, rather than converting an airframe designed for a different purpose, to the gunship configuration. If its anything like its predecessors, we will be reading about its extraordinary activities in the various "hot spots" of the world for the next twenty years! As with any activity, you accrue some costs. During Operation CONTINUE HOPE, the cost was eight men who paid the ultimate price. Spectre experienced it first non-combat casualties on 14 March 1994. Jockey 14 experienced a catastrophic failure while firing a 105mm cannon off the coast of Kenya. The aircraft crash landed within sight of shore. Three members parachuted to safety and were picked up, and three other members survived the crash landing. One member perished at sea after bailout and seven members died from the impact of crash landing. Several major events occurred in 1995. The first was the formation of a new active-duty gunship squadron, composed of AC-130U gunships, the 4th SOS. The heritage of the 4th SOS can be traced to the 4th SOS of the Viet Nam era and its AC-47s. The Air Force capitalized on that heritage by selecting the moniker of SPOOKY. No matter what the name, they are still SPECTREs and are AC-130 gunships. In early April, aircraft 509 was dedicated at the Hurlburt Field Air Park, the first AC-130 gunship to be put on permanent static display. The other major event was the retirement of the remaining 5 A-model gunships on 10 September, 1995. Included in the group was the first production C-130 the Air Force received, aircraft 53-3129 (First Lady). the last AC-130A live fire was conducted by 129 over A-77 on 28 Sept 95. It is "ON Station" for permanent static display at the Eglin Armament Museum as a Gunship. That brings to an end the saga of the A-models, who served 10 days short of 28 years (looking for someone to POSITIVELY Verify this statement) as the "Four Engine Fighter". Their legacy is a solid foundation for the newest systems to build on and can only grow with the passage of time.
RECENTLY IN SPECTRE HISTORY :
24 May 69: The40th Anniversary of the loss of AC 629 and Spectres Cecil Taylor and Jack Troglen. Let's not forget the first Spectre's combat fatalities.
On 15 May 1975, crews from the 16th SOS stationed at Korat AB flew missions in support of the rescue of the U.S. merchant ship, S.S. Mayaguez. The operation began on 12 May when the Mayaguez was seized by the Cambodian navy about 100 miles off the coast of Cambodia in International waters. The ship was taken to Koh Tang Island and the crew (our intel was unaware) had been taken to the Cambodian mainland. Spectre had at least 2 aircraft orbiting the Island 24/7 from the time it was seized. The rescue attempt for the crew (that was NOT on Koh Tang Island) began on in the early morning hours of 15 May. The fierce battle continued into the early evening with several Jolly Greens shot down and many Jolly crew members and Marines wounded or KIA. Anyone involved in the operation should check out www.kohtang.com , a website set up by the Marines on Koh Tang who owe their survival to the surgical application of firepower by the "Fabulous Four-Engine Fighter"!! Just another date in Spectre history!! 22 April 1970 - the anniversary of Gunship 54-1625 The Warlord while truck hunting along the southern portion of the Ho Chi Minh trail, in Laos. While strafing the trucks, the AC-130 Gunship, from the 16th SOS, was hit by 37 mm AAA, catching fire. Ten crewmen were listed as KIA. Staff Sergeant E. Fields was the only survivor. 24 April 1980 - 29 years ago - crews from the 16th SOS were deployed in support of Operation "Desert One". Five members of the 8'th SOS and three Marines perished in the desert of Iran. 29-30 April 1975 - 34 years ago - Crews from the 16th SOS stationed at Korat Royal Thai Air Base participated in Operation "Frequent Wind", the final evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. These were the last flights flown by gunships into Viet Nam airspace.
Great Detailed Gunship Bit of History
In History March 27, '69 : Then Major Charlie Spicka was scheduled for a routine AC-130A Spectre Gunship Interdiction mission over the Trails in Laos on March 27, '69. On that mission, a 37 MM round hit their Gunship in the right horizontal stabilizer. The aircraft was recovered safely to Ubon.
Charlie was one of the first twelve pilots to complete the Gunship training course in September '68 at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. Following Jungle Survival Training at Clark AB, P.I., Charlie and the others arrived at Ubon AB, Thai as members of the newly established 16th SOS under the 8th TFW Wing who flew missions in the F-4 Phantom. A sign over the 16th SOS Sqdn. Ops. read: "The Fabulous Four Engine Fighters of the Wolfpack". [The 8th TFW]
AC-130A's had four 20 MM Vulcans & four 7.62 miniguns. The Unit lost 6 aircraft from 1969 until the end of the war.
The mission Charlie flew on March 27, 1969 was in Gunship # 53-3129 which is known as the "First Lady" as it was the first production Lockheed C-130 accepted by the USAF. The "First Lady" is now on static display at the Eglin Armament Museum near Eglin AFB, Florida. About 2 hrs. into the five hour mission as the aircraft entered into its "pylon geometry" attack pattern one of the numerous 37 MM AAA rounds struck the aircraft in the tail. A crew of 14 were aboard that night, 6 Officers and 8 Enlisted.
The aircraft shuddered violently when it was struck, but it was flyable as they headed to Ubon with an F-4 escort above.
This was the third hit by AAA fire Charlie got while flying in the month of March 1969. The 16th SOS Commander told Charlie to go to Bangkok for a three day R&R as the joke in the squadron was that Charlie couldn't get a crew together. Some even referred to Charlie as "Old Magnet Ass".
Charlie completed his one year combat tour in October 1969 and he was posted to the Pentagon as the Air Staff Point-of-Contact for Gunship Operations in AF/XOOSO, Special Ops.
Charlie successfully found funding for modification of the Gunship fleet with new sensors and improved armament to include the 40 MM Bofors Cannon and 105 MM Howitzer. In 1971, Charlie suggested a buy of more Fixed-wing Gunships. The USAF finally agreed to modify eleven -130E aircraft with the upgraded AC-130 Spectre Gunship configuration.
Charlie Spicka departed the Pentagon in July 1973 for a tour in the UK. Charlie retired as an 0-6 at USAFE Hqtrs. in 1984 and he now lives in Oceanside, Calif. with his wife, Carole.
Finally, AF Fixed-wing Gunships starting with AC-47 Spooky's, the AC-119G Shadow, the AC-119K Stinger and AC-130A/E/H Spectres made a significant contribution to the US war effort in Vietnam. The AC-130H and AC-13U Gunships have served with distinction in both Iraq and in Afghanistan. AF Gunships contributed significantly to USAF Airpower for over 40 years.
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AC-130A crew reunited with “Spectre 17” Gunship 50 years after it was hit by 57mm round over Vietnam
Along with the structural damage, the 57 mm also created a three-foot hole in the weapons control booth of AC-130A “Spectre 17” – and Chandler was falling through it.
Collectively, members of the “Spectre 17” aircrew would say Mar. 4, 1972, was both the luckiest and unluckiest day of their lives.
“I’ve lived most days of my life since then just being happy that I’m alive,” Gary Chandler recalled.
As explained by Airman 1st Class Natalie Fiorilli, 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs, in the article From boring to unimaginable: Vietnam-era crew recalls famed Spectre 17 flight , Chandler, a retired US Air Force Col., served as an infrared sensor operator on board the AC-130A Spectre Gunship, now referred to as ‘Spectre 17’ for its call sign. The crew, assigned to the 16th Special Operations Squadron, were operating a combat mission supporting Operation Commando Hunt, a campaign of the Vietnam War .
Compared to other missions they had flown, the night of Mar. 4 started as a slow night, Chandler said.
“It went from boring to unimaginable in about a split second,” said Chandler.
The crew saw two large flashes illuminate the ground below. Enemy anti-aircraft artillery had struck their gunship, causing severe damage to the structure of the aircraft.
“I never saw anything like it,” said Lee DeRosa, an electronic warfare officer on board Spectre 17. “It looked like the Fourth of July.”
In the moments following the explosion, the cockpit filled with smoke and heat.
“I could barely see the copilot,” noted David Hobgood, aircraft commander of Spectre 17.
Likewise, the blast left the crew members in the back of the aircraft disoriented.
“Out of nowhere, there was this blinding light,” said Chandler. “I thought maybe the whole aircraft had blown up. I had no idea what happened.”
Along with the structural damage, the 57 mm also created a three-foot hole in the weapons control booth – and Chandler was falling through it.
“I opened my eyes just a bit to try and see what was going on, and realized that I was looking at floor level, and I couldn’t quite figure out why,” Chandler said.
Crew members near the booth quickly worked to respond to Chandler, pulling him from the hole and using rags and rope they found nearby to apply tourniquets to his injuries.
The infrared sensor operator had injuries to both legs and feet and also had several broken bones.
Unsure of the aircraft’s ability to land, the aircrew would go on to secure themselves after treating Chandler’s wounds.
Inside the cockpit, Hobgood remembers preparing for a crash landing.
“I was absolutely shocked that the gear came down and held,” Hobgood said, adding that it was a surprisingly smooth and uneventful landing.
Following their arrival at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, injured crew members were transported for medical care.
However, the majority of the Air Commandos would take to the skies in the next hours and days following the incident.
“We all flew,” said Hobgood. “That’s what we did.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the famed flight.
As noted by Alert5 , to commemorate the event, the crew reunited on Mar. 3, 2022, by revisiting the aircraft, which is now on display at the Hurlburt Field Memorial Air Park at Hurlburt Field , Florida.
The AC-130A Spectre is a C-130 converted to a gunship, primarily for night attacks against ground targets. To enhance its armament’s effectiveness, it used various sensors, a target acquisition system, and infrared and low-light television systems.
The AC-130 gunship has a combat history dating to Vietnam. Gunships destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support missions.
All gunships evolved from the first operational gunship, the AC-47, to the AC-119, and then the AC-130A which was the basis for the modern C-130 Hercules gunship .
Photo credit: Senior Airman Jonathan Valdes Montijo / U.S. Air Force
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Ac-130h spectre ac-130u spooky.
The AC-130H Spectre gunship's primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. Other missions include perimeter and point defense, escort, landing, drop and extraction zone support, forward air control, limited command and control, and combat search and rescue.
These heavily armed aircraft incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended periods, at night and in adverse weather.
During Vietnam, gunships destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support missions. AC-130s suppressed enemy air defense systems and attacked ground forces during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. This enabled the successful assault of Point Salines airfield via airdrop and airland of friendly forces.
The gunships had a primary role during Operation Just Cause in Panama by destroying Panamanian Defense Force Headquarters and numerous command and control facilities by surgical employment of ordnance in an urban environment. As the only close air support platform in the theater, Spectres were credited with saving the lives of many friendly personnel.
During Operation Desert Storm, Spectres provided air base defense and close air support for ground forces. AC-130s were also used during Operations Continue Hope and United Shield in Somalia, providing close air support for United Nations ground forces. The gunships have most recently played a pivotal role during operations in support of the NATO mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing air interdiction against key targets in the Sarajevo area.
The AC-130 is an excellent fire support platform with outstanding capabilities. With its extremely accurate fire control system, the AC-130 can place 105mm, 40mm and 25mm munitions on target with first round accuracy. The crew of these aircraft are extremely proficient working in military operations in urban terrain [MOUT] environments.
The AC-130H ALQ-172 ECM Upgrade installs and modifies the ALQ-172 with low band jamming capability for all AC-130H aircraft. It also modifies the ALQ-172 with engineering change proposal-93 to provide increased memory and flight line reprogramming capabilities. The Air Force [WR-ALC/LUKA] issued a sole source, fixed price contract, to International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) for development of low band jammer and subsequent production. Issue a competitive, firm fixed price contract for the Group A modifications (preparing aircraft to receive jammers).
Currently funded weight reduction and center of gravity (CG) improvements to the AC-130H aircraft include: redesign of 40mm and 105mm ammo racks using lighter weight materials; reverse engineering of 40mm and 105mm trainable gun mounts using lighter weight material; and removal of non-critical armor. These efforts are performed by a sole source contract awarded to Rock Island Arsenal.
Continuing the distinguished combat history of side-firing AC-130 gunships, the new AC-130U Spectre gunship is being fielded as a replacement for the AC-130A aircraft. This program acquires 13 new basic C-130H aircraft for modification and integration by Boeing to the AC-130U Gunship configuration. The AC-130U gunship airframe is integrated with an armor protection system (APS), high resolution sensors (All Light Level Television (ALLTV), infrared detection set (IDS) and strike radar), avionics and EW systems, a sophisticated software controlled fire control system, and an armament suite consisting of side-firing, trainable 25mm, 40mm, and 105mm guns. The strike radar provides the first gunship capability for all weather/night target acquisition and strike.
The acquisition program for this new gunship evolved from a Congressional mandate in the mid-1980s to revitalize the special operations force capabilties. Following the contract award to Rockwell in July 1987, the aircraft was first flown on 20 December 1990. FY92 procurement funding was increased to provide the 13th aircraft to replace the AC-130H lost during Desert Storm. Upon completing an exhaustive flight test program at Air Force Flight Test Center from 1991 to 1994 the first aircraft was delivered to AFSOC on July 1, 1994. Boeing�s contract includes: concurrent development, aircraft production, flight test, and delivery. All aircraft have been delivered and the program is transitioning to the sustainment phase. A competitive contract for sustainment was awarded in July 1998.
As a result of the aircraft's success in Operation Enduring Freedom, the Air Force has initiated procurement for 4 additional AC-130U aircraft, to be delivered by FY 2006.
Operation Enduring Freedom saw extensive use of AC-130U "Spooky" aircraft to support special operations and ground forces. Despite being implicated in friendly-fire incidents, the gunships proved crucial to the air campaign because they were able to loiter over the battlefield and strike targets of opportunity. These aircraft benefit from a recent engineering program at the Air Force academy, which determined ways to streamline the AC-130 airframe, decreasing drag, increasing loiter time, and decreasing each aircraft's infrared signature. AFSOC also fit AC-130U aircraft with a video link to download video directly from an orbiting Predator UAV, enabling the gunships to attack targets directly rather than first circling to pinpoint the targets.
The AC-130U is the most complex aircraft weapon system in the world today. It has more than 609,000 lines of software code in its mission computers and avionics systems. The newest addition to the command fleet, this heavily armed aircraft incorporates side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended loiter periods, at night and in adverse weather. The sensor suite consists of an All Light Level Television system and an infrared detection set. A multi-mode strike radar provides extreme long-range target detection and identification. It is able to track 40mm and 105mm projectiles and return pinpoint impact locations to the crew for subsequent adjustment to the target. The fire control system offers a Dual Target Attack capability, whereby two targets up to one kilometer apart can be simultaneously engaged by two different sensors, using two different guns. No other air-ground attack platform in the world offers this capability. Navigational devices include the inertial navigation system (INS) and global positioning system (GPS). The aircraft is pressurized, enabling it to fly at higher altitudes, saving fuel and time, and allowing for greater range than the AC-130H. Defensive systems include a countermeasures dispensing system that releases chaff and flares to counter radar infrared-guided anti-aircraft missiles. Also infrared heat shields mounted underneath the engines disperse and hide engine heat sources from infrared-guided anti-aircraft missiles.
The AC-130U P3I program develops and procures modifications that correct softwareand hardware deficiencies of the AC-130U fleet discovered during flight tests and that were outside the scope of the original FY86 contract. These modifications will include the following: combine all necessary software requirements for the System Integration Test (SIT) system and hardware and software improvements for the APQ-180 strike radar system; upgrade the Tactical Situation Map; improve core avionics and computers required for the multi-mission advanced tactical terminal/integrated defense avionics system installation; upgrade the EW suite; and modify the software/hardware required for the trainable gun mounts. The Air Force is replacing the 40 mm gun, unique to the AC-130, with the 30mm GAU-8 to alleviate logistic problems.
The AC-130H/U, AAQ-26 Infrared Detection Set (IDS) Upgrade program modifies the optics on the AN/AAQ-17 Infrared Detection Set (IDS) currently installed on 13 AC-130U and 8 AC-130H Gunship aircraft to the AN/AAQ-26 configuration. The AC-130U wiring, Operational Flight Program (OFP), Control Displays Program (CDP), Trackhandle, bus multiplier (BMUX), control panels, and variable slow rate feature will be modified. The AC-130H will also be modified. Support equipment, spares, and tech data for both aircraft will be modified as required to support the AN/AAQ-26 configuration. Mission requirements dictate a significant enhancement in target detection, recognition, and identification ranges to decrease aircraft vulnerability. A sole source fixed price incentive contract was awared to Raytheon for design, modification, and installation; with directed sub to Lockheed Aerospace Systems Ontario (LASO) for integration of the AN/AAQ-26 on the AC-130H and Rockwell for software integration of the AN/AAQ-26 on the AC-130U.
The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has a requirement for a C-130 engine infrared (IR) signature suppression system to provide Special Operations Forces (SOF) C-130 aircraft with an IR signature reduction equal to or better than existing systems at a lower cost of ownership. The primary difficulties with present suppressor systems are low reliability and poor maintainability. This C-130 Engine Infrared Suppression (EIRS) Program system will be used on AC-130H/U, MC-130E/H/P, and EC-130E aircraft. The key requirements for the Engine IR Suppression system are: (a) improved reliability and maintainability over existing systems to result in lower total cost of ownership; (b) IR signature suppression levels as good as the current engine shield system (aka. Tubs); (c) no adverse impacts to aircraft performance and ability to accomplish SOF missions; (d) complete interchangeability between engine positions and identified aircraft types. The suppressor is expected to be a semi-permanent installation, with removal being primarily for servicing, allowing the aircraft to perform all required missions with the suppressors installed. There will be up to two competitive contracts awarded for the initial phases of development with a downselect to one contractor for the completion of development and production. The contract will contain fixed price options for procurement, installation, and sustainment of the system.
The Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) program develops and procures 60 systems and provides 59 SOF aircraft (AC-130H/U, MC-130E/H) with a DIRCM system capability. The DIRCM system will work in conjunction with other onboard self-protection systems to enhance the aircraft�s survivability against currently deployed infrared guided missiles. Growth is planned to add a capability to detect and counter advanced threats. Execution of this program is in concert with a joint US/UK cooperative development/ production effort with the UK as lead. Development and acquisition of the DIRCM system will be in accordance with UK procurement laws/regulations. UK designation for this program is "Operational Emergency Requirements 3/89." In late 1999, Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract to install Northrop Gruman AN/AAQ-24(V) Nemesis DIRCM systems on U.S. Special Operations Command aircraft. The AN/AAQ-24 confuses hostile IR-tracking missiles by directing IR-energy, generated by instense lamps, at the missile's IR seeker. Northrop Gruman announced all manufacturing work associated with the AN/AAQ-24 complete in early 2001. Continuing research associated with the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) program will develop a laser-based DIRCM to be fielded later in the decade.
Because of its success during Operation Enduring Freedom, the Air Force has begun considering plans to improve AC-130 and to better fill its primary role. Improvements and replacements must be able to loiter over the battlefield and provide precise, intense firepower on demand more accurately, more effeciently, and more responsively from a platform more survivable than the AC-130. Because the AC-130 flies low and slow, the Air Force worries that the AC-130 is particularly vulnerable to the new SAM threat. Proposals to improve the AC-130 include integrating a stand-off attack capability in the form of Hellfire or JSOW missiles, equipping the AC-130 to control and/or launch UAVs for reconaissance and attack, and replacing the AC-130 with a gunship mounted on a different platform. Suggestions include an AC-17, which would be able to fly higher, fly faster, and carry more payload than the AC-130, and the creation of a new, stealthy airframe. Air Force planners are moving away from the "lone-wolf" mentality of AC-130 gunships operating solo to a "wolfpack" mentality where gunships would control a number of assets, included UAVs, UCAVs, and smart weapons, to coordinate attacks. The next generation gunship may be a flying mothership for UAVs. The AC(X) program is moving into an analysis of alternatives phase.
Sources and Resources
Lockheed AC-130H Spectre / AC-130U Spooky
Close air-support (cas) / air interdiction / force protection gunship [ 1972 ], the lockheed ac-130 is a special-mission gunship variant of the storied c-130 hercules high-wing transport..
AC-130A Spectre "Ghost Rider"
Lockheed ac-130a spectre “ghost rider”.
The AC-130A Spectre, a heavily armed ground attack aircraft, is one of more than 70 versions of the propeller-driven C-130 Hercules built by Lockheed in Marietta, GA. Other variants include transport, refueling, weather data, command, electronic warfare, firefighting, and special operations.
The model name “Spectre” refers to a ghostly aberration or something widely feared as a possible unpleasant or dangerous occurrence. With two 20mm Vulcan cannons, two 7.62mm miniguns and two 40mm Bofors cannons, “Ghost Rider” was a welcome site for friendly ground troops and terrifying for enemy forces. A crew of 14 operated the gunship as it performed “pylon turns” to keep all the firepower on one side of the plane directed towards targets. Sensors, including forward-looking infrared radar (FLIR), radar, low-light TV (night vision), and Black Crow (detected electrical signals in running engines) were used to find enemy targets hidden from visual sighting.
The C-130 has operated on all 7 continents, including Antarctica with skis attached to the wheels, and played an essential role in military, humanitarian, and scientific missions around the world. It has even landed and taken off from an aircraft carrier during testing for carrier resupply, but the idea was scrapped due to the heavy weight of the plane stressing the panels of the flight deck.
The AC-130 (Bu # 54-1623) on display at the Aviation History and Technology Center is the 10th production C-130 (12th overall including two prototypes) and the second oldest airframe converted to a gunship. The aircraft served over 4,000 combat hours in Vietnam and sustained damage on multiple occasions. The “flying tank” was repaired and went on to protect ground forces in Operations Just Cause, Desert Storm, and Uphold Democracy before being retired in 1995.
First Flight August 23, 1954
U.S. Usage (all models) 1956-Current (In different variants)
Crew Varies by mission, minimum of 5
Length 97 ft. 9 in.
Wingspan 132 ft. 7 in.
Empty Weight 59,164 lbs.
Max. Takeoff Weight 122,245 lbs.
Max. Speed 375 mph
Max. Altitude 33,000 ft.
Powerplant 4 x Allison T56-A-9/11
Used By (all models) U.S. Air Force U.S. Navy U.S. Coast Guard Over 70 foreign nations (In different variants)
The original C-130 design was well ahead of its time and has withstood the changing dynamics of aviation and military usage for over 65 years. As technology advances, continual upgrades to the C-130’s avionics, powerplants, aircraft systems, and materials has led to Lockheed operating the longest continuous military aircraft production line ever. Currently, over 2,600 have been produced and the aircraft has been utilized by over 70 countries.
No enemy has downed an Air Force AC-130 gunship in 30 years. Here’s why
“The lessons passed on to crews trained since that fateful day are the true legacy of Spirit 03.”
By David Roza | Published Feb 5, 2021 9:46 AM EST
- Tech & Tactics
A bouquet of flowers stood in the bright sunshine atop a plaque at Hurlburt Field last Friday, where the 1st Special Operations Wing hosted a ceremony in remembrance of the largest single loss of life for the Air Force in Operation Desert Storm.
That loss occurred 30 years ago, on Jan. 31, 1991, when an AC-130H Spectre gunship — one of the Air Force’s deadliest aircraft for supporting ground troops — under the callsign Spirit 03 was shot down by an Iraqi surface-to-air missile during the battle of Khafji.
All 14 airmen aboard were killed, but one Air Force general wrote that their sacrifice helped usher in a new era of the AC-130, one where new technology and tactics helped ensure that no gunship has been lost in combat since.
“We owe much to those who sacrificed everything aboard Spirit 03, not only because ‘they gave the last full measure of devotion’ for us, but also because they bequeathed to us, at a critical point in history, the decisive motivation to reinvent the AC-130 for a new challenge and a new century,” wrote now-retired Maj. Gen. Mark Hicks, a career gunship pilot, in the summer 2014 issue of Air Commando Journal .
Hicks’ account not only explains the impact of Spirit 03’s crash on the AC-130 community, but also debunks some of the myths that grew out of the fatal tragedy.
Here’s what happened: on Jan. 29, 1991, Iraqi troops moved south out of Kuwait and assaulted the border town of Khafji, Saudi Arabia. The assault force included 40 tanks and 500 troops, according to retired Chief Master Sgt. Bill Walter, a Desert Storm veteran who served 42 years in the AC-130 community and wrote a detailed account of Spirit 03’s crash for Air Commando Journal in 2012.
Coalition troops were overpowered and pulled back into Khafji, but two U.S. Marine reconnaissance teams were left behind inside city limits, Walter wrote. Over the night of Jan. 30 and into the morning of Jan. 31, two AC-130H gunships with call signs Spirit 01 and Spirit 02 swooped in to destroy Iraqi armor and vehicles, but they encountered stiff anti-aircraft fire.
A third AC-130, Spirit 03, arrived a few hours later and spent several more hours circling the fight awaiting tasking, Walter wrote. Eventually, Spirit 01 and 02 peeled off to return to base and advised Spirit 03 to do the same as anti-aircraft fire intensified, but the third gunship continued to accept target tasking from a Marine forward air controller flying over Khafji.
Spirit 03 shot up a border post that Iraqi soldiers were using for cover, but by 6:00 a.m., Spirit 03 was running low on fuel as daylight approached. Still, the crew continued firing on targets even as it declared ’bingo’ fuel, which meant that it had only enough gas to make it back to base, Walter wrote. At one point, the Marine air controller suspected a Free Rocket Over Ground system in the area that could have posed a threat to the Marines, so Spirit 03 went looking for it.
Then things went south fast.
Without warning, a small Iraqi surface-to-air missile collided with the aircraft’s left wing, starting a wing fire near the external fuel tank, Walter wrote. At first, pilots Capt. Thomas Bland and Maj. Paul Weaver maintained control of the gunship, but as the burning fuel spread, two-thirds of the left wing broke off and made the aircraft spin wildly out of control. The extreme G-forces made bailout nearly impossible and the aircraft crashed into the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf.
It took a month to find the crash site, and that delay fueled intense speculation about what had happened, Hicks wrote in his article: “That speculation, fueled by our grief, frustration, and anger, gave birth to legends that persist to this day.”
One of the first myths was that the pilot, Maj. Weaver, was overly eager to see combat after missing it in the 1989 invasion of Panama in Operation Just Cause, Hicks wrote. There was also the myth that the aircrew ignored the danger of the rising sun and died heroically defending Marines who were in danger of being overrun.
Neither story is completely true, the general wrote.
“Both stories contain partial facts, but are somewhat misleading,” Hicks wrote. “The fact remains that Spirit 03 was shot down by an enemy weapons system while doing what we asked them to do and exactly as we had trained them to do.”
There were no signs of incompetence or reckless heroism in the crew’s actions, Hicks wrote, nor was there a particular urgency for them to find the FROG system, he said. The crew did make a tactical error by staying in a high-threat area with a backlit sky without justification for the risk, he said, but there were also shortcomings in training, technology, and tactics that contributed to the loss.
On the technology front, the sensors and fire control system were antiquated and finicky except at the exact right altitude and airspeed, Hicks wrote. This affected the tactics and flight paths employed by AC-130 pilots, Hicks argued, which made the crew more vulnerable to enemy fire. Even worse, when an AC-130 came under fire, the aircraft’s antiquated flare system was useless against later-generation man-portable surface-to-air missiles. Defensive improvements were “long overdue,” Hicks wrote.
“In the years following Desert Storm, modifications included modern chaff and flare dispensers, infrared missile-launch warning, and modern electronic countermeasures,” he added.
In an email to Task & Purpose, Chief Master Sgt. Bill Walter explained that after Desert Storm, all AC-130 aircraft were fitted with AN/AAR-44 Missile Approach Warning Systems. Those systems detect man-portable air-defense (MANPADS) missile launches, warn crews of the threat, and automatically deploy flares. This system works without any crew interaction, which saves precious seconds under fire.
The crash of Spirit 03 motivated the widespread implementation of these technologies, Hicks said, but they would not have made much of a difference without developing better tactics, too. Crews re-focused on minimizing their exposure to enemy fire while flying loose, unpredictable orbits around the combat zone that also went to higher altitudes and lowered their chances of getting hit.
They also cut out unnecessary crew communication procedures, used better navigation systems and night-vision goggles, and got used to breathing through oxygen masks to keep working at high altitude in the AC-130’s unpressurized cabin. These abilities gave crews more flexibility to maneuver and find targets while in combat.
“Again, improved fire control and better sensors really helped, but it was a commitment to be tactically sound that really made the difference,” Hicks wrote.
Walter expressed a similar view.
“The fundamental lesson learned is to always expect to be fired upon when firing,” he told Task & Purpose. “This rule dates back to the earliest days of AC-130 gunship employment. Though the crew of Spirit 03 was well trained in that aspect, the sun was breaking over the horizon to their east, likely preventing visual acquisition of the inbound MANPADS missile.”
“Had the crew been able to see the inbound missile, maneuvers and decoy flares would have likely defeated it in a similar way it did for two other AC-130 crew during [Desert Storm],” he continued. “Unfortunately, nobody saw it coming.”
However, it was also important to avoid over-correction, Hicks cautioned. Some members of the AC-130 community over-reacted to Spirit 03 by avoiding daytime missions entirely, he said. While the slow-moving Spectre is more vulnerable to enemy fire during daylight, Hicks said avoiding daytime missions cost ground troops vital air cover during combat in Afghanistan. Spectres flew in daylight a year before Desert Storm, during Operation Just Cause, Hicks pointed out, and even night-flying isn’t completely safe.
“We must always balance our personal survivability, and that of the aircraft we fly, against the utility of the mission—and that decision is the commander’s business,” Hicks wrote.
Unfortunately, Spirit 03 was not the last AC-130 crash. Three years later, in 1994, a Spectre with the 16th Special Operations Squadron crashed off the coast of Kenya when a high-explosive round detonated prematurely in the bore of the aircraft’s cannon. Eight crew members died immediately, and a ninth died of his injuries years later. That loss carried its own lessons-learned, and over the past 30 years not a single AC-130 has gone down in combat, even through thousands of combat hours during the Global War on Terror.
While the Spectre gunships were retired in 2015, subsequent AC-130 models such as the Spooky, Stinger II, and Ghostrider continue to apply the same lessons learned after Spirit 03 went down.
“The AC-130 community went to Desert Storm ill prepared for combat on a modern battlefield,” Hicks said. “We had grown complacent over years of peacetime operations, permissive environments, and little investment in modernization … It was the combination of the motivating impact of the loss of Spirit 03 and advanced technology that enabled the renaissance in tactics through the 1990s, that set conditions for the golden age of the AC-130 gunship in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Walter echoed that sentiment.
“The series of events leading to the loss of Spirit 03 has been studied at great length and is currently part of the training syllabus for AC-130 crew training,” he told Task & Purpose. “The lessons passed on to crews trained since that fateful day are the true legacy of Spirit 03.”
The crew members of Spirit 03: Maj. Paul Weaver Capt. Thomas Bland Jr. Capt. Arthur Galvan Capt. William Grimm Capt. Dixon Walters, Jr. Senior Master Sgt. Paul Buege Senior Master Sgt. James May II Tech. Sgt. Robert Hodges Tech Sgt. John Oelschlager Staff Sgt. John Blessinger Staff Sgt. Timothy Harrison Staff Sgt. Damon Kanuha Staff Sgt. Mark Schmauss Sgt. Barry Clark
Featured Image: An AC-130U Spooky gunship from the 4th Special Operations Squadron flies over Hurlburt Field, Fla., on Aug. 24, 2007, during training. (Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Emily S. Moore)
Related: AFSOC to finally mount a laser weapon on an AC-130 gunship
David covered the Air Force, Space Force, and anything Star Wars-related for Task & Purpose from 2019 to 2023. He previously covered local news in Maine and FDA policy in Washington D.C. David loves hearing the stories of individual airmen and their families and sharing the human side of America’s most tech-heavy military branch. Contact the author here.
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AC-130 Spectre Gunship: The military’s ultimate combat aircraft
The AC-130 Spectre Gunship, AKA Hell in the Sky, is known to be the US Military’s ultimate combat aircraft. The history of the AC-130’s date back as late as Vietnam/Laos and have become a huge part of our combat. This fighter plane that is manufactured by Lockheed and Boeing is operated by the United States Air Force Special Operations. AC stands for attack cargo, which is one of the purposes of this combat aircraft. The main reason for the AC-130 is to gather close air support for other troops.
Besides being close to land in air support, the AC-130 Spectre Gunship has many other important roles within the military. Some other key roles they play are armed reconnaissance, pre-planned air to land strikes, and being a defense patrol in the air for other bases. This battle plan is a scary sight, the wingspan is around 132 feet and stretches 97 inches in length. These AC-130’s are a hard sight to miss in the air.
The AC-130 Spectre Gunships have two original variants. The two types were AC-130H(Spectre) and AC-130U(Spooky II). AC-130U is operated by the 4th Special Operations Squadron, controlled by 13 crew members, and fly as high as 30,000 feet. AC-130H is operated by the 16th Special Operations Squadron, controlled by 14 crew members, and can fly as high as 25,000 feet. As of 2014, the AFSOC retired the Spectre model and has since replaced it with AC-130J Ghostrider. The Ghostrider is based on the MC-130J Commando II plus Precision Strike Package making it a lethal piece of machinery.
The AC-130 battle planes are more than just a big defensive patrol in the sky, they have a little extra power behind them. These metal birds in the sky have lots of weaponry to them making them the ultimate combat aircraft. Some of these include; side-firing weapons withing sensor technologies, 105 mm cannon and 25 to 40 battling guns, infrared radar sensors, and many more lethal weapons and features.
With this big plane, you need a big and experienced crew. To start you must have your pilot, co-pilot, and navigator to help fly and guide the plane. Then you have a fire control officer for safety and five electronic warfare officers on deck. Also, need a TV Operator to watch the radar for incoming traffic and problems. Finally, you need an infrared detection set operator, loadmaster, and four ariel gunners ready for travel and combat.
As mentioned earlier the AC-130 Spectre Gunship has been used in the US Military since the Vietnam War. These AC-130’s took out over more than 10,000 trucks with air support missiles. Although this was the first war this battle plane was used in, it would not be the last. Also was active during Operation Fury in Grenada and in Operation Just Cause in Panama where they destroyed Panama’s Defense Force Headquarters and other controlled bases. These acts in Panama and Grenada awarded the aircrew present the Mackay Trophy and Tunner Award for their courageous efforts.
The AC-130 Gunships have also been a big part of the ongoing war that has occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. These battle planes were a big part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. AC-130’s provide a big part in direct and indirect aid to ground troops that are on foot, also provide armed reconnaissance. In Iraq, they play a big part in Operation Iraqi Freedom doing the same contributions they did in Afghanistan. The Spectre Ac-130’s have been a big asset in the middle east during our current war history.
Medals of America is now offering a super special Spectre t-shirt this spooky season. The Halloween Spectre T-Shirt has a unique concept of making the “Hell in the Sky”, Spooky II aircraft on this AC-130 t-shirt. In Vietnam, the Spooky Spectre AC-130 was first introduced and has changed airfare strategy in combat. Veterans will appreciate the design for it models the Vietnam Spectre Spooky logo that is seen on patches and other insignia.
To receive the nickname “Hell in the Sky” you have to be one bad man. For that name to be given to a specially operated battle plane, is even scarier. The AC-130 Spectre Gunship is one of the more essential aircraft, not only in the US Air Force but the entire United States Military. If you have seen an AC-130 plane or not I think you can now come to the conclusion or visualize that it is the ultimate combat aircraft.
- Terms & conditions
Lockheed AC-130 Spectre
- View history
The Lockheed AC-130 Spectre is a heavily-armed ground-attack aircraft based on the Hercules C-130 created to replace the AC-47 Spooky . The basic airframe is manufactured by Lockheed, Boeing is responsible for the conversion into a gunship and for aircraft support.
- 2.1 General Characteristics
- 2.2 Performance
- 2.3 Armament
History [ ]
AC-130H flying above the clouds
The AC-130 gunship's primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. Other missions include perimeter and point defense, escort, landing, drop and extraction zone support, forward air control, limited command and control, and combat search and rescue.
These heavily armed aircraft incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended periods, at night and in adverse weather. The AC-130 has been used effectively for over thirty years to take out ground defenses and targets. One drawback to using the AC-130 is that it is typically only used in night assaults because of its poor maneuverability and limited orientations relative to the target during attack.
During Vietnam War , gunships destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support missions. AC-130s suppressed enemy air defense systems and attacked ground forces during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. This enabled the successful assault of Point Salines airfield via airdrop and airland of friendly forces.
The gunships had a primary role during Operation Just Cause in Panama by destroying Panamanian Defense Force Headquarters and numerous command and control facilities by surgical employment of ordnance in an urban environment. As the only close air support platform in the theater, Spectres were credited with saving the lives of many friendly personnel. Both the H-models and A-models played key roles. The fighting was opened by a gunship attack on the military headquarters of the dictator of Panama and the
AC-130 launching angel style flares
outcome was never in doubt. All objectives were quickly accomplished and democracy was restored to Panama.
During Operation Desert Storm , Spectres provided air base defense and close air support for ground forces. Both the AC-130A and AC-130H gunships were part of the international force assembled in the Persian Gulf region to drive out of Kuwait which Saddam Hussein had invaded in early August 1990. In the following January, the allies launched the actual war known as Desert Storm following the Desert Shield build-up. Victory was accomplished in a few weeks and Kuwait was set free of the foreign invader. Iraq shot down one AC-130H gunship. It resulted in the loss of all 14 crewmembers, the largest single air power loss of the war. Post war restriction on Iraq required the presence of gunships to enforce them.
AC-130s were also used during Operations Continue Hope and United Shield in Somalia, providing close air support for United Nations ground forces. The gunships played a pivotal role during operations in support of the NATO mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing air interdiction against key targets in the Sarajevo area.
The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), on behalf of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) requested information in 2005 that may lead to the acquisition and qualification of a family of 120mm mortar ammunition for enhancing the AC-130 Gunship Lethality and Survivability. Sources Sought N00178-05-Q-1925 was posted 18 August 2005 to Federal Business Opportunities (FBO). NSWCDD and AFSOC are seeking information on any (guided or conventional) 120mm mortar round that is currently fielded, currently a Program of Record (POR), or technology mature enough to enter into an ACTD or similar demonstration.
The 120mm mortar concept shall offer benefits to the AC-130 fleet through: Employment flexibility through use
AC-130H making aerial refueling
of munitions currently available; Greater lethality through more fragmentation weight and greater blast damage; Precision strike capability; Increased standoff range and attack altitude while maintaining responsiveness; Reduction in collateral damage; and Reduction in danger close distance when supporting troops in contact.
For the 105-mm gun, 100 rounds weighs 4200 lbs. The recoil load is about 10,900 lbs, with a gun Recoiling Weight of 1,465 lbs. The muzzle pressure is 3,560 psi. It is a legacy system being phased out of the US Army inventory. There is little guided technology ongoing. For the 120-mm mortar, 100 Rounds weighs 3200 lbs. This weapon has a recoil Load of ~5,600 lbs with a gun weight of 1,315 lbs. The muzzle pressure is 1,620 psi. This is the leading FCS fire support weapon and the Stryker Brigade Combat Team fire support weapon. There is a lot of Guided Munition development work ongoing.
Specifications [ ]
General characteristics [ ].
AC-130U Spooky flying over Hulburt Field
- Officers: 5 (pilot, copilot, navigator, fire control officer, electronic warfare officer)
- Enlisted: 8 (flight engineer, TV operator, infrared detection set operator, loadmaster, four aerial gunners)
- Length: 97 ft 9 in (29.8 m)
- Wingspan: 132 ft 7 in (40.4 m)
- Height: 38 ft 6 in (11.7 m)
- Wing area: 1745.5 ft² (162.2 m²)
- Loaded weight: 122,400 lb (55,520 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 155,000 lb (69,750 kg)
- Powerplant: 4× Allison T56-A-15 turboprops, 4,910 shp (3,700 kW) each
Performance [ ]
- Maximum speed: 260 knots (300 mph, 480 km/h)
- Range: 2,200 nm (2,530 mi, 4,070 km)
- Service ceiling: 30,000 ft (9,100 m)
Armament [ ]
AC-130A Spectre Gunship
- 4× 7.62 mm GAU-2/A miniguns
- 4× 20 mm (0.787 in) M61 Vulcan 6-barreled gatling cannon
- 2× 7.62 mm GAU-2/A miniguns
- 2× 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon
- 2× 40 mm (1.58 in) L/60 Bofors cannon
AC-130 firing his GAU-12 over Guam at night
- 1× 105 mm (4.13 in) M102 howitzer
(Prior to circa 2000)
- 1× 40 mm (1.58 in) L/60 Bofors cannon
- 1× General Dynamics 25 mm (0.984 in) GAU-12/U Equalizer 5-barreled gatling cannon
See also [ ]
- Douglas AC-47 Spooky
- Fairchild AC-119 Shadow
The Lockheed AC-130H/U is a fixed-wing, side-firing aerial gunship that provides close air support, air interdiction and force protection. Close air support missions include troops in contact, convoy escort and urban operations. Air interdiction missions are conducted against preplanned targets or targets of opportunity. Force protection missions include air base defense and facilities defense. Secondary missions include armed reconnaissance, forward air control, limited command and control, and combat search and rescue.
During the 1950s, the C-130 Hercules was originally designed as an assault transport but was readily adapted for a variety of missions, including weather reconnaissance, mid-air space capsule recovery, search and rescue, drone launching, and mid-air refueling of helicopters. The AC-130H “Spectre” and AC-130U “Spooky II” are Hercules transports that have been converted into side-firing gunships, primarily for night attacks against ground targets.
Originally, C-130As were converted into side-firing gunships during Project Gunship II and the follow-on programs, Projects Plain Jane, Surprise Package and Pave Pronto. The prototype AC-130A (#54-1626), previously designated JC-130A, was tested at Eglin AFB, FL and in Southeast Asia during 1967. A short-nose Hercules, it was a basic C-130A with the addition of four 7.62mm General Electric XMU-470 Miniguns, four 20mm General Electric M61 Vulcan cannons, an analog fire control computer, a Night Observation Device (NOD) or Starlite Scope, a “bread board” computer, and a 20kW searchlight. Project Gunship II was a great success.
In 1968, seven more JC-130A aircraft were converted, although these were equipped with better Texas Instruments AN/AAD-4 Forward-Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), a Singer-General Precision fire control computer, a Texas Instruments Moving Target Indicator (MTI), and other equipment to reach current C-130A production standard. These aircraft were deployed to Southeast Asia in late-1968. They were painted black overall and also known as “Plain Janes”, to distinguish them from the “Surprise Package” and “Pave Pronto” AC-130As.
The single “Surprise Package” AC-130A was equipped with two 40mm Bofors cannons (in place of the aft pair of 20mm Vulcans), General Electric ASQ-145 Low-Level Light Television (LLLTV), a Konrad AVQ-18 laser designator/rangefinder, and a new AYK-9 digital fire control computer. This gunship conversion was an even greater success than those before it!
The “Pave Pronto” AC-130As were all based on the “Surprise Package” design, but featured additional equipment including an AN/ASD-5 Black Crow Direction Finder Set to find the emissions of the ignition system of Russian truck engines. These ten aircraft were first painted in the typical Vietnam three-tone camouflage scheme, but later the underside and the sides were painted black. All AC-130As often carried ALQ-87 ECM pods or SUU-42A/A Ejector Pods (starboard for flares, port for chaff) under the wings.
Because of C-130A airframe limitations, a new program was incorporated using the low-time C-130E as the basis for the gunship conversion. Eleven C-130Es were converted featuring the same equipment and armament as the “Pave Pronto” AC-130A, and become known as the “Pave Spectre” AC-130E. The first aircraft arrived in Southeast Asia in October 1971.
Beginning in 1973, Project Pave Spectre II upgraded all but one of the AC-130Es with new Allison T56-A-15 turboprops, the latest radio, avionics and ECM gear, a 105mm Howitzer cannon and inflight refueling capability. These aircraft were redesignated AC-130H.
Over a decade later, in 1986, another Hercules gunship program was initiated. Thirteen new C-130H aircraft were procured from Lockheed then modified with improved armament, avionics, battle management sensors and countermeasures. The resulting gunship aircraft was designated AC-130U and entered service in 1995.
On 10 September 1995, the Air Force commemorated the end of an era with the retirement of the first C-130 aircraft to come off the production line, tail number 53-3129. Produced by Lockheed in 1953, it was affectionately dubbed the “First Lady”, and was one of five AC-130A gunship aircraft retired during an official ceremony. While the other four aircraft were sent to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, the “First Lady” went on permanent display at the Eglin AFB Armament Museum in Florida. Note: The AC-130A gunship prototype (#54-1626) was retired in 1976 and is currently on display at the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
A total of 43 C-130 aircraft were converted into gunships:
The formidable AC-130 gunships have an impressive combat history. During Vietnam, they destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support missions. Following the end of the Vietnam War they saw action during the attempted rescue of the crew of the USS Mayaguez (1975), Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada (1983), Operation Just Cause in Panama (1989), Operation Desert Storm in Iraq (1991), Operation Restore Hope in Somalia (1993-1994), and Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia (1995).
Although the AC-130 gunship programs were considered highly successful, the slow-moving airplane was very susceptible to ground fire. Consequently, eight AC-130s have been lost during combat operations. The first casualty took place when tail number 54-1629 was hit over Laos and crashed during a landing attempt at Ubon, Thailand. A second AC-130 fell to enemy fire over Laos in April 1970. The third and fourth losses took place within hours of each other in the spring of 1972, and a fifth was shot down a few weeks later while supporting friendly forces during the siege of An Loc in South Vietnam. A sixth gunship was shot down over Laos in December 1972. A total of 75 crewmembers were lost in the AC-130 mission in Southeast Asia, before hostilities ended in 1975. Since that time two other AC-130s have fallen in both Kuwait and Somalia.
On 31 January 1991, the first AC-130H was lost in combat while supporting coalition forces engaged in ground combat during the battle of Khafji in Operation Desert Storm. A second aircraft supporting operations in Somalia was lost on 15 March 1994 when the 105mm cannon exploded while the aircraft was airborne. The eight remaining AC-130H “Spectre” gunships are still flying with the 16th Special Operations Squadron (SOS), part of the 16th Special Operations Wing (SOW), at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
AC-130U ‘Spooky II’
The AC-130U, commonly referred to as “U-Boat”, is the most complex aircraft weapons system in the world today. It has more than 609,000 lines of software code in its mission computers and avionics systems. The newest addition to the command fleet, it is the latest in a long line of heavily-armed, side-firing gunships and is named “Spooky II” in honor of the first gunship model, the AC-47D. All other AC-130s are referred to as “Spectre”. The prototype AC-130U (#87-0128) made its first flight on 20 December 1990. The initial flight test period lasted through 21 December 1991 and consisted of 48 test flights, a total of 165 hours.
The “Spooky II” gunship program consists of 13 new Lockheed C-130H airframes modified by Boeing with improved armament, advanced sensors, a Hughes APG-180 fire control radar system, GPS, the ALQ-172 Electronic Countermeasure System, an ALR-56M radar warning receiver, an APR-46A panoramic receiver, and an AAR-44 infrared warning receiver integrated with a series of ALE-40 chaff & flare dispensers. The modifications allow the aircraft to perform the full range of special operations and conventional gunship missions, at night and in adverse weather. These aircraft also have the capability to loiter for long periods over targets, while providing precision fire support.
A multi-mode strike radar provides extreme long-range target detection and identification. It is able to track 40mm and 105mm projectiles and return pinpoint impact locations to the crew for subsequent adjustment to the target. The fire control system offers a Dual Target Attack capability, whereby two targets up to one kilometer apart can be simultaneously engaged by two different sensors, using two different guns. No other air-ground attack platform in the world offers this capability.
Targeting equipment installed in the gunship includes an advanced All-Light Level Television (ALLTV) system with a laser illuminator, laser target designator, laser range finder, infrared detection set, and night vision goggles for the pilots. Navigational devices include the inertial navigation system (INS) and global positioning system (GPS).
The side-firing weapons array consists of one 25mm GAU-12 Gatling gun (firing 1,800 rounds per minute), one 40mm L60 Bofors cannon (with a selectable firing rate of single shot or 120 rounds per minute) and one 105mm M-102 Howitzer cannon (firing 6 to 10 rounds per minute). Defensive systems include a countermeasures dispensing system that releases chaff and flares to counter radar infrared-guided antiaircraft missiles. Also, infrared heat shields mounted underneath the engines disperse and hide engine heat sources from infrared-guided antiaircraft missiles.
The AC-130U is pressurized, enabling it to fly at higher altitudes, saving fuel and time, and allowing for greater range than the AC-130H. An inflight refueling capability is also provided.
All AC-130Us are currently assigned to the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and serve with the 4th SOS, part of the 16th SOW, at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
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Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
Lockheed C-130 Hercules
Category : Lockheed AC-130 Spectre
This category has the following 19 subcategories, out of 19 total.
- Lockheed AC-130 Hercules by location (2 C)
- 17-5872 (aircraft) (1 F)
- 18-5882 (aircraft) (1 F)
- 53-3129 (aircraft) (1 F)
- 54-1623 (aircraft) (1 F)
- 54-1630 (aircraft) (1 C)
- 55-0029 (aircraft) (1 F)
- 56-0490 (aircraft) (1 F)
- 69-6567 (aircraft) (1 F)
- 69-6569 (aircraft) (2 F)
- 69-6574 (aircraft) (1 F)
- 69-6575 (aircraft) (1 F)
- 69-6577 (aircraft) (15 F)
- 89-0509 (aircraft) (3 F)
- 89-0510 (aircraft) (1 F)
- 89-1052 (aircraft) (2 F)
- 90-1058 (aircraft) (5 F)
- 92-0253 (aircraft) (1 F)
- Lockheed AC-130U Spooky (9 F)
Media in category "Lockheed AC-130 Spectre"
The following 60 files are in this category, out of 60 total.
- Lockheed C-130 Hercules by variant
- Lockheed C-130 Hercules of the United States Air Force
- United States Air Force Special Operations aircraft
- Gunships (aircraft)
- Attack aircraft of the United States Air Force
- Military aircraft with 4 turboprop engines
- Aircraft by designation
- Aircraft by United States Tri-Service designation
- Aircraft by popular name
- Uses of Wikidata Infobox