The story

Lockheed AC-130 Spectre Gunship: rear-left view

Lockheed AC-130 Spectre Gunship: rear-left view

A view of an AC-130 Spectre Gunship from the left rear, showing the rear loading ramp.

This aircraft, No 53-3129, was the first production AC-130, and was built in 1953. Named "First Lady", it remained in service until 10 September 1995, when it was officially retired. This photograph was taken in the previous year.

Lockheed AC-130 Spectre Gunship: rear-left view - History

You're likely to get some mild flaming on your post, as this is about the tenth post where the SPECTRE (C-130/H) and the SPOOKY C-130/U) are referred to as "Puff the Magic Dragon" which began life as a C-47 / DC-3.

Otherwise, thanks for the cool pic.

"1967 - 1969 I worked at LTV installing the gattling-guns."

And YOU did a great job!
I saw Puff in action many a time.
At night we would get within 1/4-1/2 mile off shore and light up the night sky with starshells
so Puff could come in for strafing runs.

The pilot flies the aircraft in a very precise arc while the weapons guys pick AND DESTROY 'surgical' targets, or blanket an area for suppression and destruction. The Spectre and Spooky can be both discriminate and indiscriminate, but always devastating.

The crew of this AC-130A "Spectre" gunship, named Azrael--Angel of Death, (Azrael, in the Koran, was the angel of death who severed the soul from the body) displayed courage and heroism during the closing hours of Desert Storm. On February 26, 1991, the allied ground forces were driving the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. The crew of Azrael, Spectre #54-1630, was sent to the Al Jahra highway between Kuwait City and Basrah, Iraq, to intercept the convoys of tanks, trucks, buses, and cars that were fleeing the battle. Facing numerous enemy batteries of SA-6 and SA-8 missiles, and 37mm and 57mm radar-guided anti-aircraft artillery, the crew attacked the enemy skillfully, inflicting significant damage to the convoys. The crew's heroic efforts left much of the enemy's equipment destroyed or unserviceable, contributing to the defeat of the Iraqi forces. On February 28, 1991, Iraq agreed to a cease-fire.

During the 1950s the versatile C-130 Hercules was originally designed as an assault transport but was adapted for a variety of missions, including weather mapping and reconnaissance, mid-air space capsule recovery, search and rescue, ambulance service, drone launching, and mid-air refueling of helicopters. The C-130 could transport up to 92 combat troops and their gear or 45,000 pounds of cargo. Where facilities were inadequate, the Hercules could deliver cargo by parachute or by using the low altitude parachute extraction system (LAPES) without landing. The AC-130A "Spectre" is a C-130 that was converted to a side-firing gunship, primarily for night attacks against ground targets. In addition to its armament, it also possessed sensors, a target acquisition system, and a forward looking infra-red (FLIR) and lowlight television system.

The aircraft on display was assigned to the 919th Special Operations Wing (SOW) and was retired to the Museum in October 1995.

Span: 132 ft. 7 in.
Length: 96 ft. 10 in.
Weight: 124,200 lbs. max.
Armament: Two 7.62 miniguns plus two 20mm and two 40mm cannon
Engines: Four Allison T-56-A-9D turboprops of 3,750 equivalent shaft horsepower ea.
Serial number: 54-1630

Max. speed: 380 mph/330 knots
Cruising speed: 335 mph/291 knots
Range: 2,500 statute miles/2,172 nautical miles
Service ceiling: 33,000 ft.

The C-130 Hercules

A C-130E Hercules from the 43rd Airlift Wing, Pope Air Force Base, N.C., flies over the Atlantic Ocean. The C-130 Hercules primarily performs the intra-theater portion of the airlift mission. The aircraft is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for -troops and equipment into hostile areas. (Credit and Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Howard Blair )

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is one of those legendary aircraft that have gone down immortalized in aviation history. Like it’s namesake, this four-engine turbo prop cargo transport has the strength like the son of Zeus, and can perform almost every tasks given, anywhere, at anytime. There are a ton of articles about the C-130 on the Internet such as these from Wikipedia, Military Factory, or the company’s website that you can read on your leisure time.

A Little Air Force History: The Air Force Gunship

The Douglas AC-47 Spooky was the first in a series of fixed wing gunships developed by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. It was designed to provide more firepower than light and medium ground-attack aircraft in certain situations when ground forces called for close air support. The AC-47 was featured in the movie Green Beret with John Wayne.

The Fairchild AC-119G Shadow and AC-119K Stinger were twin-engine piston-powered gunships developed by the United States during the Vietnam War. They replaced the Douglas AC-47 Spooky and operated alongside the early versions of the AC-130 Spectre gunship.

The Lockheed AC-130 gunship is a heavily armed, long-endurance, ground-attack variant of the C-130 Hercules transport, fixed-wing aircraft. It carries a wide array of ground attack weapons that are integrated with sophisticated sensors, navigation, and fire-control systems.

Lockheed AC-130 Spectre Gunship: rear-left view - History

Constructed as a C-130A-LM by Lockheed at Marietta, GA.
Markings applied: LAC 3001
Roll-out date

Photographer: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation photographer negative #C9682
Notes: This photo shows the 1st development model C-130A (53-3129) produced in Marietta, GA. The aircraft is shown during a test flight over Stone Mountain, GA near Atlanta.This photo was scanned from an original that was given in 1954 to Lamar E. Binion, Chief Flight Test Engineer, Lockheed-Georgia. The same photo is described on p. 17 of Lockheed Hercules by Francis K. Mason.(Thorsons Publishing, 1984.)

Involved in an incident.
Aircraft suffered serious damage while returning from a test flight when an engine fire broke out. The fire continued to burn and burned the entire left wing off just after the crew evacuated on landing.

Taken on Strength/Charge with the United States Air Force with s/n 53-3129.

Photographer: Photo taken by Lockheed-Georgia photographer. Photo ID: RE 5203
Notes: Photo shows the C-130 flight test team in Marietta, GA: Lamar E. Binion, Chief Flight Test Engineer (6th from right) Alan Youngs, Flight Test Engineer (7th from right). No other names are available.

Converted to a JC-130A.
Modified by Temco Division at Majore Field, Texas.

To Cambridge Air Research Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH.

Transferred to 6515th Test Squadron, Patrick AFB, FL.

Transferred to 6550th Space Wing, Patrick AFB, FL.

Flew missions for NASA over the Air Force Eastern Test Range.

Transferred to 4413th Combat Crew Training Squadron, England AFB, LA.
Operated with markings: IH

Converted to an AC-130A.
This configuration included four M-61 20mm cannons and four GAU-2B 7.62mm miniguns.

Transferred to 16th Special Operations Squadron, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand.
Operated with markings: EA

Damaged by anti-aircraft shell.

Damaged by anti-aircraft shell.

Damaged by anti-aircraft shell.

Markings Applied: The First Lady, FI

Hit by a 37mm shell which exploded just aft of her nose wheel, inflicting serious damage not only to the wheel but also to the area beneath her flight deck serious damage to structure and to her hydraulic and electrical components.

Transferred to Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV).
Upgraded with Surprise Package configuration which deleted two of the 7.62mm miniguns, two 20mm cannons and added two 40mm Bofors cannons.

Transferred to 415th Special Operations Training Squadron, Hurlburt Field, FL.
Assigned for training gunship crews.

Transferred to 711th Special Operations Squadron., 919th Special Operations Wing (AFRES), Duke Field, FL.

Photographer: Ken Videan
Notes: At Greenham Common, still fitted with 3 bladed propellers.

Photographer: Ken Videan
Notes: At Greenham Common. Note 3 bladed propellers.

Photographer: Robert Nichols
Notes: at RAF Greenham Common IAT

Upgraded from 3-bladed propellers to 4-bladed.

Photographer: Glenn Chatfield
Notes: 35mm slide photographed at Chicago OHare Airport during open house

Photographer: Glenn Chatfield
Notes: 35mm slide photographed at Chicago OHare Airport during open house

Photographer: Glenn Chatfield
Notes: 35mm slide photographed at the Dayton, OH, International Air Show and Trade Exposition.

Photographer: Ken Videan
Notes: On finals to Fairford.

Photographer: Ken Videan
Notes: Close up of nose art.

Photographer: Peter Nicholson
Notes: On display at the 1994 International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford using callsign Irid 11 and named First Lady.

From September 1994 to March 1995

Participated in Operation Uphold Democracy in Panama.

Last flight.
Last operational flight.

To National Museum of the United States Air Force Loan Program, Wright Field, Dayton, OH.
View the Location Dossier

Loaned to 96 ABW/MU, Eglin AFB, FL.

Ferry flight. Delivered to Air Force Armament Museum, Eglin AFB, Valparaiso, FL.
View the Location Dossier

Photographer: Ken Videan
Notes: At Valparaiso, Eglin AFB.Undergoing a repaint.

Photographer: Glenn Chatfield

Photographer: Glenn Chatfield

Photographer: Terry Fletcher

Lockheed AC-130A Spectre Gunship

The Lockheed AC-130 gunship is a heavily-armed ground attack airplane. The basic airframe is manufactured by Lockheed, and Boeing is responsible for the conversion into a gunship and for aircraft support. It is a variant of the C-130 Hercules transport plane. The AC-130A Gunship II superseded the AC-47 Gunship I in Vietnam. In 1967, JC-130A USAF 54-1626 was selected for conversion into the prototype AC-130A gunship. The modifications were done that year at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, by the Aeronautical Systems Division. A direct view night vision telescope was installed in the forward door, an early forward looking infrared (FLIR) in the forward part of the left wheel well, and Gatling guns fixed mounted facing down and aft along the left side. The analog fire control computer prototype was handcrafted by RAF Wing Commander Tom Pinkerton at the USAF Avionics Laboratory. Flight testing of the prototype was subsequently performed primarily at Eglin Air Force Base, followed by further testing and modifications. By September 1967, the aircraft was certified ready for combat testing and was flown to Nha Trang Air Base, South Vietnam for a 90 day test program. Following these successes, a few more AC-130As were constructed using similar equipment and manufactured versions of the analog computer. The original 54-1626 Gunship is displayed at the USAF Museum. The AC-130 was supplemented by the AC-119 Shadow Gunship III during the Vietnam War, which would later prove <b>…</b>

War Of The World

The Lockheed AC-130 gunship is a heavily-armed ground-attack aircraft. The basic airframe is manufactured by Lockheed, and Boeing is responsible for the conversion into a gunship and for aircraft support. It is a variant of the C-130 Hercules transport plane. The AC-130A Gunship II superseded the AC-47 Gunship I in Vietnam.

The gunship's sole user is the United States Air Force, which uses AC-130H Spectre and AC-130U Spooky variants. The AC-130 is powered by four turboprops and has an armament ranging from 20 mm Gatling guns to 105 mm howitzers. It has a standard crew of twelve or thirteen airmen, including five officers (two pilots, a navigator, an electronic warfare officer and a fire control officer) and enlisted personnel (flight engineer, electronics operators and aerial gunners).

The US Air Force uses the AC-130 gunships for close air support, air interdiction, and force protection. Close air support roles include supporting ground troops, escorting convoys, and flying urban operations. Air interdiction missions are conducted against planned targets and targets of opportunity. Force protection missions include defending air bases and other facilities. Stationed at Hurlburt Field in Northwest Florida, the gunship squadrons are part of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), a component of United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

The C-130 Hercules was selected to replace the AC-47 Spooky Gunship I used during the Vietnam War, to improve gunship endurance capabilities and increase capacity to carry munitions.

In 1967, JC-130A USAF 54-1626 was selected for conversion into the prototype AC-130A gunship. The modifications were done that year at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, by the Aeronautical Systems Division. A direct view night vision telescope was installed in the forward door, an early forward looking infrared (FLIR) in the forward part of the left wheel well, and Gatling guns fixed mounted facing down and aft along the left side. The analog fire control computer prototype was handcrafted by RAF Wing Commander Tom Pinkerton at the USAF Avionics Laboratory. Flight testing of the prototype was subsequently performed primarily at Eglin Air Force Base, followed by further testing and modifications. By September 1967, the aircraft was certified ready for combat testing and was flown to Nha Trang Air Base, South Vietnam for a 90 day test program. The AC-130 was later supplemented by the AC-119 Shadow Gunship III, which later proved underpowered.

Seven more aircraft were converted to the "Plain Jane" configuration like the AC-130 prototype in 1968, and one aircraft received the "Surprise Package" equipment the next year. In 1970, an additional 10 AC-130As were acquired under the "Pave Pronto" project. Conversion of C-130Es into AC-130Es for the "PAVE Spectre" project followed.

Regardless of their project names, the aircraft were more commonly referred to by the Squadron's call sign: Spectre.

Recent and planned upgrades
In 2007, AFSOC initiated a program to upgrade the armament of existing AC-130s still in service. The test program planned for the 25 mm GAU-12/U and 40 mm Bofors cannon on the AC-130U gunships to be replaced with two 30 mm Mk 44 Bushmaster II cannons. In 2007, the Air Force modified four AC-130U gunships as test platforms for the Bushmasters. However, AFSOC canceled its plans to install the new cannons on its fleet of AC-130Us. It has since removed the guns and re-installed the original 40 mm cannons and returned the planes to combat duties. Brig. Gen. Bradley A. Heithold, AFSOC's director of plans, programs, requirements and assessments, said on 11 August 2008 that the effort was canceled due to problems with the Bushmaster's accuracy "at the altitude we were employing it" in tests. There were also schedule considerations that drove the decision, he said.

There are also plans to possibly replace the M102 howitzer with a breech-loading 120 mm mortar, and to give the AC-130 a standoff capability using either the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (based on the Hydra 70 rocket), or the Viper Strike glide bomb.

These heavily-armed aircraft incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensors, navigation and fire control systems to provide precision firepower or area-saturation fire with its varied armament. The AC-130 can spend long periods flying over their target area at night and in adverse weather. The sensor suite consists of a television sensor, infrared sensor, and radar. These sensors allow the gunship to visually or electronically identify friendly ground forces and targets in most weather conditions.

The AC-130U is equipped with the AN/APQ-180, a synthetic aperture radar for long-range target detection and identification. The gunship's navigational devices include inertial navigation systems and a Global Positioning System. The AC-130U employs technologies developed in the 1990s and can attack two targets simultaneously. It also has twice the munitions capacity of the AC-130H. Although the AC-130U conducts some operations in daylight, majority of its combat missions are conducted at night.

During the Vietnam era the various AC-130 versions following the Pave Pronto modifications were equipped with a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) system called the Black Crow (AN/ASD-5), a highly sensitive passive device with a phased-array antenna located in the left-front nose radome that could pick up localized deviations in earth's magnetic field and is normally used to detect submerged submarines. The Black Crow system on the AC-130A/E/H could accurately detect the unshielded ignition coils of Soviet trucks driven by the North Vietnamese that were hidden under the dense foliage of the jungle canopy along the Ho Chi Minh trail. It could also detect the signal from a hand-held transmitter that was used by air controllers on the ground to identify and locate specific target types. The system was slaved into the targeting computer.

PGM-38/U 25 mm ammunition for AC-130U
The PGM-38/U Enhanced 25 mm High Explosive Incendiary (HEI) round was created to expand the AC-130U gunships' mission in standoff range and survivability for its 25 mm GAU-12/U gun system. This round a combination of the existing PGU-25 HEI and a M758 fuse designated as FMU-151/B to meet the MIL-STD-1316. The FMU-151 has an improved arming delay with multi-sensitive range.

Operational history
The AC-130 Gunship first arrived in South Vietnam on 21 September 1967 under the Gunship II program, and began combat operations over Laos and South Vietnam that year. By 30 October 1968, enough AC-130 Gunship IIs arrived to form a squadron, the 16th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW), at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand.

By December 1968 most AC-130s were flown under F-4 Phantom II escort from the 479th Tactical Fighter Squadron, normally three Phantoms per Gunship. In late 1969, under the code name of "Surprise Package", 56-0490 arrived with solid state laser illuminated low light level TV with a companion YAG laser designator, an improved forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensor, video recording for TV and FLIR, an inertial navigation system, and a prototype digital fire control computer. Surprise Package was equipped with the latest 20 mm Gatling guns and 40 mm Bofors cannon, but no 7.62 mm close support armament. Surprise Package was refitted with upgraded similar equipment in the summer of 1970, and then redeployed to Ubon RTAFB. Surprise Package served as a test bed for the avionic systems and armament for the AC-130E. In the summer of 1971, Surprise Package was converted to the Pave Pronto configuration, and assumed its new nickname, Thor.

In Vietnam, gunships destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and participated in many crucial close air support missions. During the Invasion of Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury) in 1983, AC-130s suppressed enemy air defense systems and attacked ground forces enabling the successful assault of the Point Salines Airfield via airdrop and air land of friendly forces. The AC-130 aircrew earned the Lieutenant General William H. Tunner Award for the mission. AC-130s also had a primary role during the United States invasion of Panama (Operation Just Cause) in 1989 when they destroyed Panama Defense Force headquarters and numerous command and control facilities. Aircrews earned the Mackay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year and the Tunner Award for their efforts.

During Operation Desert Storm, AC-130s provided close air support and force protection (air base defense) for ground forces, and battlefield interdiction. 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 helped stop a southbound Iraqi armored column on 29 January 1991. One day later, three more gunships provided further aid to Marines participating in the operation. The gunships attacked Iraqi positions and columns moving south to reinforce their positions north of the city. Despite the threat of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and increasing visibility during the early morning hours of 31 January 1991, one AC-130H, AF Serial No. 69-6567, call sign Spirit 03, opted to stay to continue to protect the Marines. A SAM subsequently shot down Spirit 03, and all fourteen crew members perished.

The military has used AC-130 gunships during Operations Restore Hope and United Shield in Somalia, in the NATO mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in the 1997 evacuation of American noncombatants in Albania.

The AC-130 gunship has the distinction of holding the record for the longest sustained flight by a C-130. From 22nd through the 24th of October 1997, two AC-130U gunships flew 36.0 hours nonstop from Hurlburt Field, Florida to Taegu Air Base (Daegu), South Korea while being refueled seven times in the air by KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. This record flight shattered the previous record longest flight by over 10 hours while the two gunships took on 410,000 lb (186,000 kg) of fuel. Gunships also were part of the buildup of U.S. forces in 1998 to convince Iraq to comply with UN weapons inspections. The United States later used gunships during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. In 2007 US Special Operations forces used the AC-130 in attacks on suspected al-Qaeda militants in Somalia. The AC-130 has the distinction of never having a base under its protection lost to the enemy.

Current aircraft
The AC-130H has a unit cost of US$132.4 million, and the AC-130U a unit cost of US$190 million (fiscal 2001 constant dollars). Currently there are eight AC-130H and seventeen AC-130U aircraft in active duty service.

It is not designed to strafe, it is designed to loiter over a target or, to apply suppression fire or support fire for a sustained period of time.

It often circles a target area and a counter clockwise orbit (circling to the left) makes sense since the captain sits on the left and can keep the area in view at all times.

Therefore, the weapons are mounted on the left.

Traditionally, the doors most used on an aircraft (including civilian ones) are on the left (captain's) side. Often weapons are mounted in door apertures so that additional holes do not have to be introduced into the fuselage. It follows that there are more, more accessible, pre-existing holes on that side of the fuselage.

The AC-130 is the evolution of modified C-47s from the Vietnam War. At the time, a small group of USAF personnel explored arming cargo aircraft with side mounted weapons in order to bring greater firepower to bear for ground support. In particular, they wanted to solve the problem of strafing, where aircraft can only bring their firepower to bear for a short period of time, and often without a great deal of time to aim.

Captain Ron Terry was in charge of the initial effort which adapted these planes to gunship use in Vietnam in 1964:

Terry arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base near Saigon on December l. After the miniguns arrived the following week, he selected two test crews of six flight members and an interpreter, and two C-47s with relatively low flight time from the 1st Air Commando Squadron. The planes were modified to accept three minigun pods along the port side (two in the last two windows and one in the cargo door) an MK 20 Mod 4 gunsight mounted in the left cockpit window and a selective trigger placed on the pilot’s control to fire one or all the guns.

Since AC-130s are now specially converted from C-130s by Boeing, and they use modern targeting sensors (IR and visual cameras), and that windows/doors are no longer large enough for the custom mounts they use to install the weapons, there's probably no specific reason for keeping them on the left except that it's the status quo.

Lockheed AC-130 Spectre Gunship: rear-left view - History

Some Great Stories on the
Lockheed C-130 Hercules and History of the Gunship.

This quarter there have been some great stories of the C-130 and a history of the gunship on the internet. The first is a condensed history of the C-130 the second is a Marine’s story of flying the C-130 over Iraq which is one of the funniest story written about the aircraft and the third one is a history of the gunship to include the AC-130. The stories are part of our Air Commando history and the joy and terror our aircrews had in flying the Hercules. Enjoy these wonderful stories of our war birds which many of us grew up with to see a repeat of the Douglas C-47.

Condensed History of the C-130

Designed for the Long Haul: Production of the C-130 Hercules Spans Half The History of Powered Flight (Posted: Thursday, December 16, 2004) Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, BY PETER BACQUE, TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER, Thursday, December 16, 2004.

Even when that's the way to bet, the race is not always to the swift nor love to the lovely. This year, the aircraft that is arguably the greatest plane to fly in American military service celebrates 50 years of continuous production, a remarkable testimony to its hardy usefulness.

The plane is not the mighty B-52, not the redoubtable F-4 Phantom, not the artist's-dream P-51 Mustang, none of them: This foremost of U.S. military aircraft is the Dumboesque C-130 Hercules.

"I am convinced that the C-130 is one of the greatest aircraft ever built," said Air Force Gen. John W. Handy, chief of the U.S. Transportation Command.

Lockheed Martin Corp. has been building the rugged plane without interruption to the assembly line since early 1954, longer than any military aircraft. Its production has spanned essentially half the history of powered flight.

With its distinctive pudgy shape tugged along by four mighty - and mighty noisy - turboprop engines, the Hercules is a transport plane that no news reporter can resist calling "lumbering," though it can zip along at almost 400 mph.

And the plane has landed nimbly - without the aid of an arresting tailhook to stop it - on one of the Navy's aircraft carriers. It landed on only one carrier, the USS Forrestal, during tests of the feasibility of landing and launching such a large plane on carriers.

The C-130 has landed or airdropped cargo at every flashpoint from the Congo to Vietnam to Kosovo to Afghanistan and Iraq. It has dropped bombs and then turned around and hauled relief supplies to every Godforsaken outpost and calamity on the globe.

During the Vietnam War, a Coast Guard C-130 pilot even outmaneuvered a North Vietnamese MiG-21, luring it into apparently crashing in a canyon as the Hercules evaded the little fighter's cannon fire. The kill was not confirmed, but the C-130 flew out of the valley and the MiG didn't, according to Coast Guard aviation sources.

First flown Aug. 23, 1954, in Burbank, Calif., the C-130 entered operational service in 1956 with the U.S. Air Force. Since then, more than 2,270 Hercules have been delivered to 60 countries, and 67 countries - counting those that bought pre-owned C-130s - fly the beefy plane.

Because of its ubiquity, the "Herk" is the standard by which military equipment is measured. As one official told Army magazine, "if it doesn't fit into a C-130, it doesn't go."

An array of technical, economic and historical factors vaulted the Hercules to its pre-eminence.

From its high wing to low-hanging belly to its upswept tail, form follows function in the Herk's design.

"The C-130 is only the second airplane designed from the ground up as a military cargo airplane," said Bill Mikolowsky, Lockheed Martin's senior manager for air mobility at the Hercules plant in Marietta, Ga. "They got it about just right."

After generations of underpowered cargo craft, the C-130's turbine engines - a first for American production transports - endowed the plane with plenty of power. Those turboprop power plants gave the aircraft the ability to carry more, go faster and get into and out of tiny rough-country strips.

"That made the airplane an instant success," Mikolowsky said. The C-130 is as tough as the Greek hero it's named for. "It's a very robust aircraft," said John McDonald, the C-130 chief engineer with the Air Force's Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Georgia.

Compared with temperamental jets, he said, Herks are happy on dirt runways, where their high-set wings and propellers keep the engines from sucking up buckets of rocks. Its cargo compartment is high, wide and long, and you can drive right into it from the rear-opening ramp. "You can do roll-on, roll-off stuff all the time," McDonald said.

"Aerodynamically, the C-130, though not pretty - except to those of us who love its rugged good looks - represents a reasonably clean figuration," which contributes to its performance, Mikolowsky said.

Buying and flying the Herk won't break the bank. The Air Force says a C-130 costs $48.5 million, which, while not Georgia peanuts, is inexpensive for a military transport. "Compared to most aircraft, the cost per flying hour is very, very low," McDonald said. And "if you're going to modify an aircraft, the C-130 is a lot cheaper" to redesign for those odd little special missions.

There's strength in numbers. With so many Herks flying around the world, a solid industrial base grew up to support the plane, making it attractive for armed forces to operate. "You can buy more," McDonald said, "so you use them for more things." Good publicity goes a long way.

Two dramatic, widely reported events demonstrated how useful the Hercules could be to military customers, Mikolowsky said.

In the 1968 siege of Khe Sanh during the Vietnam War, a massive airlift shouldered primarily by the Hercules supplied cut-off U.S. Marines for 70 days.

Then in 1976, the Israelis flew four C-130s 2,000 miles to rescue 105 hostages held by terrorists in Entebbe, Uganda, demonstrating how the plane could be turned into a weapon of power projection.

International sales took off. "If you're going to have a serious air force, you've got to have Herks to go with your fighters," Mikolowsky said. Pilots love it.

"It's a damn good airplane," said Bob Hill, Lockheed Martin's chief production and delivery pilot in Marietta, Ga.

Hill is 71, and he has flown approaching 10,000 hours in the Herk.

"I'm not retired," he said, "cause there's no way in the world I can get hold of an airplane like this."

USMC Pilot Love of the C-130

This is from a colorful writer from the 1st Marine Air Wing based at MCAS Miramar, (The guy ought to write for a living. This is my nominee for 'Best of the Month.)

There I was at six thousand feet over central Iraq, two hundred eighty knots and we're dropping faster than Paris Hilton's panties. It's a typical September evening in the Persian Gulf hotter than a rectal thermometer and I'm sweating like a priest at a Cub Scout meeting. But that's neither here nor there. The night is moonless over Baghdad tonight, and blacker than a Steven King novel. But it's 2004, folks, and I'm sporting the latest in night-combat technology - namely, hand-me-down night vision goggles (NVGs) thrown out by the fighter boys.

Additionally, my 1962 Lockheed C-130E Hercules is equipped with an obsolete, yet, semi-effective missile warning system (MWS). The MWS conveniently makes a nice soothing tone in your headset just before the missile explodes into your airplane. Who says you can't polish a turd?

At any rate, the NVGs are illuminating Baghdad International Airport like the Las Vegas Strip during a Mike Tyson fight. These NVGs are the cat's ass. But I've digressed.

The preferred method of approach tonight is the random shallow. This tactical maneuver allows the pilot to ingress the landing zone in an unpredictable manner, thus exploiting the supposedly secured perimeter of the airfield in an attempt to avoid enemy surface-to-air-missiles and small arms fire. Personally, I wouldn't bet my pink ass on that theory but the approach is fun as hell and that's the real reason we fly it.

We get a visual on the runway at three miles out, drop down to one thousand feet above the ground, still maintaining two hundred eighty knots. Now the fun starts. It's pilot appreciation time as I descend the mighty Herk to six hundred feet and smoothly, yet very deliberately, yank into a sixty degree left bank, turning the aircraft ninety degrees offset from runway heading. As soon as we roll out of the turn, I reverse turn to the right a full two hundred seventy degrees in order to roll out aligned with the runway. Some aeronautical genius coined this maneuver the "Ninety/Two-Seventy." Chopping the power during the turn, I pull back on the yoke just to the point my nether regions start to sag, bleeding off energy in order to configure the pig for landing.

"Flaps Fifty!, Landing Gear Down!, Before Landing Checklist!" I look over at the copilot and he's shaking like a cat shitting on a sheet of ice. Looking further back at the navigator, and even through the NVGs, I can clearly see the wet spot spreading around his crotch. Finally, I glance at my steely-eyed flight engineer. His eyebrows rise in unison as a grin forms on his face. I can tell he's thinking the same thing I am. "Where do we find such fine young men?"

"Flaps One Hundred!" I bark at the shaking cat. Now it's all aimpoint and airspeed. Aviation 101, with the exception there are no lights, I'm on NVGs, it's Baghdad, and now tracers are starting to crisscross the black sky. Naturally, and not at all surprisingly, I grease the Goodyear's on brick-one of runway 33 left, bring the throttles to ground idle and then force the props to full reverse pitch. Tonight, the sound of freedom is my four Hamilton Standard propellers chewing through the thick, putrid, Baghdad air. The huge, one hundred thirty thousand pound, lumbering whisper pig comes to a lurching stop in less than two thousand feet. Let's see a Viper do that!

We exit the runway to a welcoming committee of government issued Army grunts. It's time to download their beans and bullets and letters from their sweethearts, look for war booty, and of course, urinate on Saddam's home. Walking down the crew entry steps with my lowest-bidder, Beretta 92F, 9 millimeter strapped smartly to my side, look around and thank God, not Allah, I'm an American and I'm on the winning team. Then I thank God I'm not in the Army. Knowing once again I've cheated death, I ask myself, "What in the hell am I doing in this mess?" Is it Duty, Honor, and Country? You bet your ass. Or could it possibly be for the glory, the swag, and not to mention, chicks dig the Air Medal. There's probably some truth there too. But now is not the time to derive the complexities of the superior, cerebral properties of the human portion of the aviator-man-machine model. It is however, time to get out of this shit-hole. "Hey copilot, clean yourself up! And how's 'bout the 'Before Starting Engines Checklist.'"

History of Fixed Wing Gunships

There were many pre-Vietnam gunship-like aircraft -- not only in the USA -- and even more helicopter during and after this war. I will concentrate here on USAF and USMC fixed-wing gunships, starting with the early '60s.

Project Tailchaser: Convair (A)C-131B

First test flights with armed C-131B, serial 53-7820, at Eglin AFB, 08/1964, with General Electric 7.62 mm SUU-11A/A Gatling Minigun.

Project Gunship (I): Douglas C-47, FC-47D, AC-47D

Tests were continued with a similar armed C-47D 44-8462 _Terry_&_Pirates_ at Eglin AFB in 1964. The first real FC-47D was 43-48579 _"Puff"_ (often called Puff the Magic Dragon), ferried back from Nha Trang to Bien Hoa, and fitted with 3 GE Miniguns, a Mark 20 Mod 4 sight (from A-1E Skyraider), VHF/UHF/FM radios, TACAN, IFF, 45 flares (200,000 candlepower) and 24,000 rounds of ammunition. Converted in 10/1964, and used by the 4th Air Commando Squadron. In Spring 1965 a second C-47D was converted in the same way. Four other were later armed with ten .30 calibre machine guns, Type M-2 Browning air-cooled. One of them was 43-48491 _'Git-Em'_Bullet_, another was _Grunt_2_ and one may have had the serial '36440' (?).

Three were operational with the 4th ACSq. and one was used for crew training at the Forbes AFB. All 6 original FC-47D were later redesignated AC-47D. Air International at Miami, FL, converted 20 more C-47 to AC-47D, which were used from Fall 1965 by the 4th ACSq. The early six were returned to Clark AFB, refitted and camouflaged. The 4th ACSq. became part of the 14th SOW, which was known as 'Antique Wing'. AC-47s were flown by the 3rd SOSq. (tailcode EL) and 4th SOSq (tailcode EN), both part of the 14th SOW, and by the 432nd TFW at Udorn RTAB (tailcode OS).

Their call sign in Vietnam was _SPOOKY_.

Known serials are: 43-48072, 43-48491 _'Git-Em'_Bullett_, 43-48579 _"Puff"_, 43-48701, 43-48801, 43-49274, 43-49852, 44-76534, 44-76985, 45-927.

Partially known serials are: 'OS 43-010', '43-263', 'EN 770' _Spooky_, 'EN 354', 'EN 859', and '717' _Delta_Queen_, and 10 other serials are missing. Also the first armed C-47D was 44-8462 _Terry_&_Pirates_.

One reported serial '36440' may be wrong (couldn't find any, it is not one of the following 42-36440, 43-36440, 44-36440, 43-x6440).

18 AC-47D were given in 1969 to the VNAF, and at least 11 went to the Royal Laotian AF.

Other C-47, working close together with AC-47Ds were four types of EC-47s: EC-47D, which were C-47D, converted to ECM / ELINT aircraft, EC-47N, which were C-47A converted as ECM / ELINT aircraft, with R-1830-90D or -92 engines, EC-47P which were C-47D, converted to ECM / ELINT aircraft, with R-1830-90D or -92 engines, and EC-47Q which were C-47A and C-47D, converted to ECM / ELINT aircraft re-engined with R-2000-4 engines. These aircraft were also used as sensor relay aircraft, and to monitor and home on to VC radio traffic. After pinpointing a target, they called the _Spooky_ gunships. USAF units using EC-47s during the Vietnam conflict were the 14th SOW "Antique Wing", with the 5th SOSq. (tailcode EO) and the 9th SOSq. (tailcode ER), the 432nd TEWS (tailcode AN) and the 360th TEWS (tailcode maybe AJ ?).

Partially known serials were: EC-47N 'AN 42-645', EC-47 'AJ 331'.

Nose arts seen were: EC-47N _Beep!_Beep!_

Some EC-47s were later given to the VNAF.

Project Gunship II: Lockheed AC-130A

The prototype for the best known gunships at all, was a C-130A 54-1626 named by the crew _Vulcan_Express_, equipped with four 7.62 mm General Electric XMU-470 Minigun Modules, four 20 mm General Electric M61 Vulcan Gatling cannons, a Night Observation Device (NOD) or Starlite Scope, a 'bread board' computer, and a 20 kW searchlight at Wright-Patterson AFB, and redesignated JC-130A. It was later known as _Super_Spooky_ and served also with the 4950th Test Wing.

This aircraft, a short nose Hercules, was tested at Eglin AFB from 06/1967 to 09/1967, and was then deployed to Nha Trang AB at 09/20/1967. It flew its first operational mission seven days later.

The aircraft was a great succsess, and LTV E-Systems at Greenville, TX, got a contract to modify seven early model JC-130A to similar AC-130A, but equipped with better Texas Instruments AN/AAD-4 FLIR, Singer-General Precision fire control computer and a Texas Instruments Moving Target Indicator (MTI), and other equipment to reach current C-130A production standard.

Four were finally deployed to Vietnam in late 1968, and the other went to the 16th SOSq. (tailcode FT) at Ubon RTAB in 05/1969. These seven aircraft were painted black overall and also known as _Plain_Janes_, to distinguish them from the single _Surprise_Package_ AC-130A and the _Pave_Pronto_ AC-130As. The 4413th CCTS, 4410th CCTW (tailcode IH) was later redesignated the 415th SOTSq., 1st SOW at Hurlburt Field, FL (tailcode AH) and was charged with the training of all AC-130 crews.

Apparently, some of the _Plain_Jane_ aircraft were later updated to the _Pave_Pronto_ standard, including 54-1630 and 56-0490.

_Gunship_II_ JC-130A-LM serial was: 54-1626 _Vulcan_Express_ / _Super_Spooky_, (first painted white over grey, and later in three-tone camouflage).

_Plain_Jane_ AC-130A-LM serials were: 53-3129, 54-1625, 1627, 1628, 1629 (the first AC-130 casualty -- two crew member killed 05/24/1969 when she crashed at Ubon after being hit over Laos), 1630 _Azarel_-_Angel_of_Death_ (3 mission markings during _Desert_Storm_).

_Plain_Jane_ AC-130A-7-LM serial was: 56-0490 _Thor_.

Other nose arts were: _Mors_de_Caelis_ (Death from Above).

Project Surprise Package: Lockheed AC-130A

A single AC-130A was equipped by the Gunship System Program Office at Wright- Patterson AFB with two 40 mm Bofors cannons in place of the aft pair of 20 mm Vulcans, General Electric ASQ-145 Low Level Light TV (LLLTV) and a Konrad AVQ-18 laser designator/rangefinder, and a new AYK-9 digital fire control computer. The aircraft was an even greater success!

_Surprise_Package_ AC-130A serial was: unknown, see _Project_Pave_Pronto_.

Project Pave Pronto: Lockheed AC-130A

LTV E-Systems was awarded another contract, covering nine more AC-130As, all based on the _Surprise_Package_ design. The only additional equipment carried was an AN/ASD-5 _Black_Crow_ Direction Finder Set to find the emissions of the ignition system of Russian truck engines. These aircraft were first painted in the typical Vietnam three-tone camouflage scheme, but later the underside and the sides were painted black. AC-130As often carried ALQ-87 ECM pods or SUU-42A/A Ejector Pods (starboard for flares, port for chaff) under the wings.

During _Operation_Desert_Storm_, six AFRES AC-130A of the 711th SOSq., 919th SOG, from Duke Field, FL, were deployed (probably under _Operation_ Proven_Force_ to Turkey: 54-1623, 1630, 55-0011, 0014, 0029, and 56-0509.

_Pave_Pronto_ AC-130A-LM serials were: 54-1623 _Ghost_Rider_, 55-0011, 0014 _Jaws_of_Death_ (20 mission markings during _Desert_Storm_), 0029 (the first loss, crashed at Ubon RTAB after AAA hit on 05/29/1969), 0040, 0043, 0044.

_Pave_Pronto_ AC-130A-20-LM serial was: 55-0046.

_Pave_Pronto_ AC-130A-6-LM serial was: 56-0469.

_Pave_Pronto_ AC-130A-7-LM serial was: 56-0509.

One of the serials belongs to the original _Surprise_Package_ aircraft.

Three AC-130A were lost during the Vietnam conflict, one to AAA, on to a shoulder launched SA-7 _Grail_ over South Vietnam, and one over Laos to an SA-2 _Guideline_. With F-4 Phantom driver, the AC-130 Hercules gunships was known as the _Fabulous_Four_Engined_Fighter_.

Other interesting C-130As were the so called _Blind_Bat_ night FAC aircraft, which initially tested all the FLIR, LLLTV and _Black_Crow_ systems, later used on AC-130A gunships. Serials for C-130A _Blind_Bat_ flareships: unknown.

Project Pave Spectre (I): Lockheed AC-130E

Because of the airframe limitations of old C-130A Hercules, a new program evolved, using low-time C-130E as basis for the gunship conversion. Eleven C-130E were converted with the same equipment and the same armament as the _Pave_Pronto_ AC-130A, becoming the _Pave_Spectre_ AC-130Es. The first aircraft arrived in Ubon on 10/25/1971, and they were operational with the 16th SOSq. their whole operational life. In 1973, some aircraft began arriving at Ubon in a new overall Flat Black paint scheme in place of the old gloss Black and camouflage scheme. One AC-130E, 69-6571, was lost in combat, before the _Pave_Spectre_II_ program started, probably shot down over Laos by an SA-2 _Guideline_.

_Pave_Spectre_ AC-130E-LM serials were: 69-6567 to 6577.

Project Pave Aegis: Lockheed AC-130E

Under the _Pave_Aegis_ program, all AC-130Es were supposed to be equipped with an 105 mm howitzer, replacing one 40 mm L-60 Bofors, but many where updated directly to _Pave_Spectre_II_, including the _Pave_Aegis_ modifications.

Project Pave Spectre II: Lockheed AC-130H

Beginning in 1973, all but one AC-130E were re-engined with new Allison T56-A-15 turboprops, equipped with the latest radio and avionics gear, and redesignated AC-130H _Pave_Spectre_II_. During _Operation_Desert_Storm_, five AC-130H of the 16th SOSq., 1st SOW, Hurlburt Field, FL, were deployed to Saudi Arabia: 69-6567 (which was lost on 01/31/1991 probably to a hand-held SAM, using the callsign _SPIRIT_03_ - all 14 crew killed), 69-6569, 69-6570, 69-6572, and 69-6576.

The last one mentioned (69-6576), was lost on 03/14/1994 over the Indian Ocean, due to fire caused by a 105 mm round exploding in the barrel during a test firing. The aircraft was at this time part of _Operation_Restore_Hope_ in Somalia, and was on a 8.5 hour reconnaissance flight, using the callsign _JOCKEY_14_. Of the crew of 14, only 6 survived.

The cockpit crew survived, and evacuated from the cockpit after the crash landing (ditching near the shoreline), and was rescued: Capt. John Palen - Aircraft Commander (A/C, pilot), 33

Capt. Kevin Thompson - Co-pilot, 31

Staff Sgt. Steve Anderson - Flight engineer, 33

Four of the crew bailed out before the crash, but only three were found and rescued later: Tech. Sgt. Raul Savedra - Lead gunner, 33

Tech. Sgt. Bruce Grieshop - Gunner, 36

Staff Sgt. Dave Ceurvals - Gunner, 31

The other 8 crew members did not survive: Capt. David Mehlhop - Navigator (Nav), 30

Capt. Tony Stefanik - Fire Control Officer (FCO), 31

Capt. Mark Quam - Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO), 27

Master Sgt. Roy Duncan - Loadmaster (LM), 40

Tech. Sgt. Bobby Daniel - Infrared sensor (IR), 34

Staff Sgt Bill Eyler - TV sensor, 32 - first to bail out, but he was never found even though he was a jumpmaster

Staff Sgt. Mike Moser - Gunner, 32

Staff Sgt. Brian Barnes - Gunner, 26

_Pave_Spectre_II_ AC-130H-LM serials were: 69-6567 to 6570, and 6572 to 6577.

Starting in 1973, all AC-130A, and AC-130H were painted overall gunship Grey, and were sometimes referred to as _Grey_Ghosts_.

The call sign for most AC-130 during Vietnam was _SPECTRE_.

Project (Pave Spectre III ?): Lockheed AC-130U

In 1986, another Hercules gunship program was initiated, and the resulting aircraft was designated AC-130U. Thirteen aircraft, including 1 as attrition for an AC-130H), were procured from Lockheed, (originally as C-130H) and modified by Rockwell International with improved guns, AN/AAQ-117 FLIR, new ALLTV, better ECM systems, GPS, sat-coms and AN/APG-180 strike radar. They were tested by the 418th TESTS at Edwards AFB, CA. The AC-130Us are also known as _U_boats_. Besides the FSD aircraft, which is permanently assigned to Edwards, all should be operational by now with the 4th SOS _Ghostriders_, 16th SOG, 16th SOW, at Hurlburt Field, FL.

Serials of AC-130U: 87-0128 (FSD aircraft), 89-0509 to 0514, 90-0164 to 0167, 92-0253, and maybe others. Several have the well known _Spectre_ (or _Ghostrider_) nose art markings, and 90-0166 was named _Hellraiser_.

Most gunships were built and used during Vietnam, but AC-130 Hercules served also:

1979 in Iran: _Operation_Eagle_Claw_,

1983 in Grenada: _Operation_Urgent_Fury_,

1989 in Panama: _Operation_Just_Cause_,

1990/91 in Iraq: _Operation_Desert_Storm_,

1993/94 in Somalia: _Operation_Restore_Hope_,

1993/95 in Bosnia-Herzogowina: _Operation_Deny_Flight_, and

1994 in Haiti: _Operation_Uphold_Democracy_ right now.

Project Gunship III: Fairchild AC-119G, AC-119K

(This project, or one of their deployments, might be also known as _Project_ _Combat_Hornet_, but none of my sources, listed below, mention this, so I am not definitly sure.)

Fairchild-Hiller (later Fairchild-Republic) converted 26 C-119G to AC-119G at St. Augustine, FL. Armed with four 7.62 mm SUU-11A/1A minigun pods. Later aircraft got General Electric MXU-470 minigun modules. They were also fitted with an AVQ-8 20kW Xenon light, Night Observation Sight, LAU-74A flare launcher, armor, APU, fire control computers, APR-25 and APR-26 radar warning receiver / ECM-gear. They were used by the 71st SOSq. from 05/1968, until they became part of the 14th SOW as the 17th SOSq.

Their call sign in Vietnam was _SHADOW_.

Known serials were: 52-5892 _Charlie_Chasers_, 5898, 5905, 5907, 5925, 5927, 5938, 5942, 53-3136, 3145, 3170, 3178, 3189, 3192, 3205, 7833, 7848, 7851, 7852, 8114, 8115, 8123, 8131, 8155 and two others.

Other nose art was: _City_of_Columbus_ /_Indiana_/_Shadow_, _Midnite_Special_.

Fairchild also converted 26 C-119G to AC-119K. The prototype was 53-3187. They were first brought to C-119K standard (including J85-GE-17 jet engines in underwing pods) then brought to AC-119G standard and then two M61A1 20 mm Gatling guns, AN/APN-147 Doppler terrain following radar, AN/AAD-4 FLIR, AN/APQ-133 side-looking beacon tracking radar, and AN/APQ-136 search radar was added specifically for the truck-hunting role. After testing, the first was delivered 11/03/1969 to the 18th SOSq. at Nha Trang and were part of the 14th SOW. The 1st SOW (tailcode AH) flew also AC-119K.

Their call sign in Vietnam was _STINGER_ (after the two M61A1 Vulcans).

The serials were: 52-5864, 5889, 5910, 5911, 5926, 5935, 5940, 5945, 9982, 53-3154 _Good_Grief_The_Pea-nut_Special_, 3156, 3187, 3197, 3211, 7826, 7830, 7831, 7839, 7850, 7854, 7877, 7879, 7883, 8121, 8145, and 8148.

Other nose art was: _The_Super_Sow_, _The_Polish_Cannon_, _Fly_United_, and _Montezuma's_Revenge_ (sp).

Some AC-119G and a few AC-119K were turned over to the VNAF in 1971.

Project Black Spot: NC-123K, AC-123K

Fairchild-Hiller modified 183 C-123B to C-123K with two additional J85-GE-17 jet engines in underwing pods. Two of them were then modified for a test program by LTV E-Systems in 03/1966 to NC-123K. The nose was extended by 57.75 inches to house an X-band Forward Looking Radar (same as in F-104J). Just aft of the new radome was a turret with FLIR, LLLTV and laser range- finder / illuminator. Also a low-level Doppler navigation radar and weapons release computer were installed. The aircraft were equipped with 12 chute dispenser in a container in the aft cargo compartment. (The aircraft was supposed to carry two of these stacked over each other, but the heavy load reduced the range nearly to 'Zero'). Each chute could carry three CBUs. Depending on the type of CBU loaded, 2,600 to 6,300 one pound bomblets were carried. The first aircraft, 54-691, was delivered to Eglin AFB in 08/1967 and the second, 54-698, incorporating an AN/ASD-5 _Black_Crow_ direction finder set (engine ignition sensor), was delivered in 02/1968.

The _Black_Spot_ aircraft were often referred to either as AC-123K or as NC-123K. They became operational in 1968 and flew 28 operational missions between 08/19/1968 and 10/23/1968 in the South Korean Sea, trying to stop infiltration from North into South Korea by sea. But no bad guys were caught. From 11/14/1968 to 05/11/1969 the aircraft were used in Vietnam to fly night missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During this time, they flew 186 missions, destroyed 415 trucks and damaged 273 more. They also attacked boats in the Mekong Delta. They were later assigned to the 16th SOSq. at Udon RTAB. On 05/11/1969 ECM and RAHW gear was installed, and the first aircraft, 54-691, got also a _Black_Crow_ system. They continued their mission from late 1969 till 06/1970 from Udon, often with night fighter escorts, because of heavy anti-aircraft fire.

Both aircraft were later refitted to standard C-123K at Monthan-Davis AFB, AZ (the storage code 'CP024' was assigned to 54-698). Both aircraft retained their unique wrap-around camouflage and served as normal transports. Serials were: 54-691 and 54-698.

Other interesting special operations (test) Provider were:

Several C-123B were used as 'Flare Ship's by the 14th SOW, using the call sign _CANDLE_. One (55-4577), (tailcode TO), was painted black on the underside with standard three-tone camouflage on top.

One NC-123B 'Light Ship' with 28 very big, very bright retractable lights in the cargo compartment, which could light a 2 mile diameter area on the ground from 12,000 ft altitude.

One NC-123B (55-4528) with a radome above the cockpit and infrared sensors mounted under the fuselage, to detect trucks on the Trail. Used also the wrap-around camouflage of NC-123Ks.

One NC-123B (54-652) with a nose mounted infrared sensor. This was the first "anti-trail" aircraft to operate over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Painted Dark Gull Gray, and carried VNAF insignia in a placard holder.

One C-123B (54-683) was equipped with a "Fulton Device" mounted on the nose. The aircraft was assigned to the 4410th Special Operations Training Group, Hurlburt Field, FL, 1968.

Project Pave Gat: Martin Marietta RB-57G

One _Tropic_Moon_3_ RB-57G 'Night Intruder' (ex B-57B) was equipped with a three-barrel 20 mm cannon under the belly. The system was not deployed to SEA for operational tests. The serial was: 53-3906.

The Lockheed SP-2H AP-2H, OP-2E

In 1967 four SP-2H were field modified with multiple Miniguns mounted at various angles in the bomb bay, which created a spray effect when fired. BuAeros: unknown.

The only other known thing is that one was overall black, one was green, and the two others were overall grey.

In 1966 Lockheed started to modify four SP-2H under the TRIM (Trails and Road Interdiction, Multisensor) program as gunships. The ASW radome and the MAD tail were removed, and in place of the MAD boom, a twin 20mm cannon was installed. The place of the ASW radar was occupied by an AN/APQ-92 search radar in an external pod / radome. LLLTV and FLIR were mounted in a chin fairing under the nose. A removable, large SLAR (Side-Looking Airborne Radar) was mounted in a pod, like on an OV-1D, on both sides of the aircraft, aft of the wing trailing edge on the fuselage. Also an Airborne Moving Target Indicator, DIANE (Digital Integrated Attack and Navigation Equipment), and an AN/ASD-5 _Black_Crow_ truck ignition sensor were employed, of which much was later used by A-6C TRIM Intruders.

Two forward firing 7.62 mm SUU-11A/1A Minigun pods, two Mk.82 500 lb. GP bombs, and two Mk.77 incendiary bombs were mounted on the wings, outside the engines. They also used special 'sound suppression muffler pipes' for the J34-WE-36 jet engines and flame dampener at the piston engines.

Between 09/01/1968 and 06/16/1969 the four aircraft flew over 200 missions with VAH-21 from Cam Rahn Bay against road and river traffic in the Mekong Delta area. Some missions were flown against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and inside Laos and Cambodia. They returned back to ConUS in 1969 and were placed in storage at Davis-Monthan AFB, after being demodified. All but one (displayed at the Pima AFB Museum) were scrapped.

BuAerNos: 135620 ('SL 1'), 148353 ('SL 2'), 148337 ('SL 3') _Napalm_Nellie_, and another ('SL 4') _Iron_Butterfly_.

Lockheed also prepared twelve SP-2E for conversion to OP-2E, by updating them to SP-2H standard. They were then converted at China Lake into OP-2Es, by removing the MAD tail and installing a blunt bulkhead with AN/ALE-29 Chaff Dispenser in it. Under the tail were a rearward looking camera, and under the nose was mounted a large radome housing an AN/APQ-131 radar.

The mission of the OP-2E was to drop ADSID seismic sensors over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which were carried on multiple ejector racks under the wings and other sensors were carried in the bomb bay. The aircraft were also equipped with SUU-11A/1A Minigun pods under the wings.

The aircraft were deployed with VO-67 at Nakhon Phanom AB, Thailand, and the sensor drop missions were part of _Project_Igloo_White_. Acoustic sensors like _Spikebouy_ and _Acoubouy_ were dropped too, and the signals were relayed by QU-22B or EC-121R aircraft to gunships. After the OP-2Es were retired and sent back to the US, where they were scrapped, F-4D Phantoms were used to drop the sensors under _Project_Igloo_White_.

BuAerNos: 131423 ('MR 10'), 131455 ('MR 6'), 131462, 131525, 131528 ('MR 1'), and 7 others.

Several AP-2E (ex P2V-5F) ECM / SIGINT Neptunes were used by the US Army 1st Radio Research Company, out of Cam Rahn Bay from 07/1967 to 04/1972, and also relayed sensor data.

BuAerNos: 131429, 131458, 131485, 131492, 131496, 131526, 131531, and others.

The North American YOV-10D NOGS

Two OV-10A were converted to YOV-10D NOGS (Night Observation GunShip) for the night FAC and interdiction role. The nose was extended about three feet to fit a Hughes FLIR and a laser target illuminator / rangefinder and the fuselage hardpoints were removed and a General Electric XM-197 three-barrel 20 mm Gatling gun was mounted in a ventral turret. The turret could turn around 360 degree, but the FLIR and the laser were fixed in the forward looking position. Both were test flown and accepted by the USMC in 1970. They were tested at China Lake and later (1971/72) by VMO-2 at Da Nang in Vietnam. Both aircraft used a three-tone camouflage, but were first flown in the standard green over grey camouflage of the USMC.

BuAerNos: 155395 (#2) and 155660 (#1).

The test results are not known, but at least 18 OV-10A were converted to OV-10D NOS (Night Observation System), but without the cannon, even though the turret might be an option.

BuAerNos: 155395, 155396, 155409, 155410, 155436, 155451, 155466, 155468, 155470, 155472, 155473, 155479, 155482, 155489, 155492, 155493, 155494, 155502 and maybe others.

Another OV-10A was tested with an Emerson Electric turret housing a GAU-2B minigun under the fuselage. (BuAerNo: ?)

The USAF tested 1973 fifteen OV-10A under the Pave Nail program as laser designator (Night FAC) aircraft, modified by LTV E-Systems with a Martin laser pod under the fuselage. One of the aircraft used by the 23rd TASS was 67-14623.

Project Credible Chase: Fairchild AU-23A and Helio AU-24A

The Fairchild AU-23A was a modified Pilatus PC-6 Turbo-Porter, with either a single General Electric XM-197 three-barrel 20 mm Gatling gun, or two General Electric 7.62 mm MXU-470 Minigun modules. In addition, several bombs, napalm or rocket pods could be carried on four underwing and one fuselage hardpoint. The aircraft was dubbed 'Peacemaker'. Fifteen of the 17 converted were sold to the Royal Thai Air Force for COIN missions.

Serials were: 72-1304 to 1318, c/n 2050 - 2064, and two others.

Of the other 21 aircraft, I have serials for (73-1699, and 74-2073 - 2092), 13 were later (not under the _Project_Credible_Chase_) delivered to the Thai Air Force, and 5 to the Thai Air Police.

The Pilatus Porter was also planned to be built in license by Fairchild under the OV-12A designation (20 for USN were cancelled), and 2 Pilatus built UV-20A Chiricahua (79-23253 and 23254) were used by the US Army in Berlin.

The Helio AU-24A was the gunship version of the H550A Stallion, with a PT6A-114 turboprop, equipped with a General Electric XM-197 three-barrel 20 mm Gatling gun was mounted in the left cargo door. It also had 5 underwing and fuselage hardpoints. Of the 17 built aircraft, fourteen or fifteen were sold to the Cambodian (Khmer) Air Force.

Serials were: 72-1319 to 1333.

The two prototypes were civil registered 'N9552A' and 'N9551A', of which the second was carrying _four_ AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles!

The Helio Stallion was also built as U-10 Super Courier (ex L-28). Over 120 were built: L-28A (2, later redesignated U-10A), U-10A (26), U-10B extended range and paratrooper doors (57), U-10D heavier (36), but no U-10C.

All _Project_Credible_Chase_ aircraft were tested at Eglin AFB, and had US serials and markings prior to delivery to the SEA countries. They were first natural silver and later overall Olive Drab. The RTAF later flew with a two-tone camouflage. The program was conducted around 1970/71.

Project Little Brother: O-2A gunships

Another gunship project, which was not realized, was the conversion of O-2A _Sleeptime FAC_ to _Little Brother_ gunships, with a cannon not unlike the _Project_Credible_Chase_ aircraft. As far as I know, none was converted.

On the other hand, some O-2A were used (as were OV-10s, AC-130s and others) for laser illumination of ground targets with AN/AVQ-12 _Pave_Spot_ laser designators, and not only to mark targets with smoke rockets.

United States Military Aircraft since 1909
by Gordon Swanborough, Peter M. Bowers
Putnam, 1989
ISBN 0-85177-816-X

United States Navy Aircraft since 1911
by Gordon Swanborough, Peter M. Bowers
Putnam, 1990
ISBN 0-85177-838-0

U.S. Military Aircraft Designations and Serials since 1909
compiled by John M. Andrade
Midland Counties Publications, 1979
ISBN-0-904597-21-0, Softcover
ISBN 0-904597-22-9, Hardcover

Lockheed Aircraft since 1913
by Rene J. Francillon
Putnam / Naval Institute Press, 1982 and 1987
ISBN 0-87021-897-2

Gunships - A Pictorial History of Spooky
by Larry Davis
Squadron Signals Publication - 6032, 1982
ISBN 0-89747-123-7

Air War over Southeast Asia - A Pictorial Record - Vol.1 1962-1966
by Lou Drendel
Squadron Signals Publication - 6034, 1982
ISBN 0-89747-134-2

C-123 Provider in action
by Al Adcock
Squadron Signals Publication - 1124, 1992
ISBN 0-89747-276-4

P2V Neptune in action
by Jim Sullivan
Squadron Signals Publication - 1068, 1985
ISBN 0-89747-160-1

C-130 Hercules - Special Purpose Aircraft - C&M Vol.7
by Ray Leader
Detail & Scale / TAB Books Inc., 1987
ISBN 0-8306-8531-6 (Paperback)

US Navy & Marine Corps - Air Power Directory
World Air Power Journal
Editors: David Donald and Jon Lake
Aerospace Publishing London / Airtime Publishing, 1992
ISBN 1-874023-26-3 (Aerospace)
ISBN 1-880588-02-1 (Airtime)

United States Air Force Yearbook 1994
Article: Spectre Stalks the Night
by Tim Ripley
RAFBFE Publishing, 1994

Lockheed C-130 Hercules

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 04/27/2021 | Content © | The following text is exclusive to this site.

Easily one of the most successful military aircraft of the post-World War 2 age, the Lockheed C-130 "Hercules" continues in dedicated service today, some sixty years after its first flight. The versatility of this transport became such that a plethora of special mission variants emerged over the course of its steady and lengthy career. Production has reached over 2,300 units with operators ranging from Afghanistan and Algeria to Yemen and Zambia while the United States remains its largest global operator through its use by special operations forces, airlift squadrons, electronic warfare groups, transport sections and more - all falling under various service banners including that of the Air National Guard and Coast Guard.

The story of the Hercules began in a 1951 United States Air Force (USAF) requirement by which time America was already committed to a new war in Korea. The USAF requirement called for a new tactical-level transport with the ability to take-off and land on rough, unprepared runways in short order. As such, a high-winged, four-engined design was adopted from Lockheed that showcased the needed lift and control and low-altitude, low-speed flight. The design included an elevated flight deck and raised tail unit. The raised cockpit placement offered good views of the terrain ahead as well as the engine installations along each wing leading edge while the elevated tail section cleared the rear base of the aircraft for access to the hold within - the classic transport arrangement now copied by other manufactures the world over. The aircraft would serve as a direct replacement for aging, limited-scope transport types then in service and pressed to their limits over the Korean Peninsula.

The USAF commissioned for a pair of prototypes under the "YC-130" designation during July of 1951 to which then development and construction produced flyable forms, one taking to the air for the first time on August 23rd, 1954. Satisfied with the product, the USAF ordered the type into serial production, this coming from the Lockheed Marietta, Georgia facility - the legacy of the Hercules transport was officially born.

The initial operational model became the C-130A and a production form saw first flight in 1955. The aircraft lacked nose radar seen in future models and instead showcased a "blunt" nose configuration showcased by the YC-130 prototypes. Power was served through 4 x Allison T56-A-9 turboprop engines driving three-bladed propeller units. Quantitative deliveries followed in December of 1956.

With the A-model in service just a few short years, engineers managed an improved design which yielded the C-130B introduced in 1959. By this time, the engines were uprated and now driving four-bladed propeller units with improved efficiency resulting in extended operational ranges. The undercarriage was further reinforced for the rigors of unprepared airfields. The C-130B-II became a specialized electronics reconnaissance form and these featured faux underwing fuel tanks housing antenna equipment. The C-130D (there was no "C-130C" model) became a specialized winter variant of the C-130 complete with landing skis for Arctic-type service. This variant was taken on by the USAF and the Air National Guard.

The next major form emerged as the C-130E which appeared in 1962. More powerful Allison T56-A-7A turboprop engines were introduced with this mark which improved "hot and high" operating performance. Range was again extended through implementation of larger external fuel tanks and the airframe reinforced for battlefield abuses. The new fuel tanks were relocated from outboard of the engine pairing to between each installation. The aircraft's Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) was increased which broadened the tactical in-theater hauling capabilities of the design. The avionics suite was addressed for the better. The Canadian Air Force recognized this mark as the "CC-130E".

The line was once again improved with the arrival of the C-130H of 1965. These included yet more powerful Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines and eventually saw the avionics suite modernized and the structure further reinforced for extended service lives.

The C-130J "Super Hercules" has emerged as a new, fully-modernized version of the base C-130 design (a design largely unchanged over all of these years). Introduced in 1999, it features all new avionics with cockpit, new engines and other modernized components to keep the platform viable into the foreseeable future. Over 300 have been manufactured and serve the USAF, USMC, the British Royal Air Force, the Italian Air Force and many other global operators.

Many "special mission" Hercules have been developed over the life of this aircraft. The DC-130 became a drone control platform and built from the A-, E-, and H-models. Electronic warfare versions were known under the "EC-130" designation and encompass some named variants such as the "Commando Solo", the "Rivet Rider", and "Compass Call". The HC-130 is used to signify a Search and Rescue (SAR) version born from several Hercules models - some named as in the "Combat King" and the "Combat King II". An aerial refueling version went on to serve the USMC under the KC-130 designation (F-, R-, T-, and J-models).

U.S. special forces marks have included the MC-130E/H "Combat Talon" (I and II), the MC-130W "Combat Spear" / "Dragon Spear", the MC-130P "Combat Shadow", and the MC-130J "Combat Shadow II" / "Commando II". The YMC-130H was a specially-modified C-130 used by special forces during the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt on April 24th, 1980.

Several C-130s serve with the USAF/Air Force Reserve as hurricane-watching platforms for the American weather service. The VC-130H is a modified V.I.P. passenger transport.

One of the most famous - and easily identifiable - of the C-130 variants is the AC-130 "gunship" and its battery of weaponry installed along the portside of the aircraft. The mark has gone under the various names of "Spectre", "Spooky", "Ghostrider", and "Stinger II" and some 47 have been manufactured across Hercules A-, E-, H-, U-, and W-models. Weapon load outs include 7.62mm miniguns, 20mm Gatling guns, 40mm cannons, a 105mm field howitzer, a 30mm autocannon, AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles, conventional drop bombs, and general air-to-surface guided missiles and precision bombs depending on the sub-variants involved. The effect of a salvo delivered from the side of a circling AC-130 has proven to have utterly lethal effects on the receiving enemy.

Lockheed has also delivered a civilian-minded version of its ubiquitous C-130 under the L-100 "Hercules" designation.

C-130s have seen military service since their introduction during the Vietnam War (1955-1975) where some seventy of the type were lost in combat. Israeli commandos used the aircraft when overtaking a terrorist-held airliner in 1976. Argentine forces fielded the aircraft during the 1982 Falklands War with Britain. The Hercules was back in play during the 1991 Gulf War where it was used by several of the primary participating parties of the American-led coalition. More recent events have seen the C-130 fielded in the Afghanistan and Iraqi theaters of war following the respective 2001 and 2003 American-led invasions. Several other global operators have found the type useful in weeding out fanatical Islamist strongholds over unforgiving frontiers.

Amazingly, production of C-130s remains ongoing as of 2014 and major operators beyond the United States have become its allies in Britain and Australia and elsewhere. The type has proven a reliable transport and Close-Air Support platform capable of hauling anything from ammunition and supplies to the injured and specialist troops (even paratroopers). Its versatility has seen it undertake roles that include firefighting service and humanitarian assistance. Few aircraft today can match the track record of this Lockheed product and the story of the Hercules remains an ongoing one with no sure replacement in sight.

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