AC130 Spectre gunship
Return to previous page: AC-130
In the late 1970s when the AC-130H fleet was first being modified for in-flight refueling capability, a demonstration mission was planned and flown from Hurlburt Field, Florida, non-stop, to conduct a 2-hour live-fire mission over Empire Firing Range in the Republic of Panama, then return home.
This 13-hour mission with two in-flight refuelings from KC-135 tankers proved the validity of flying long-range missions outside the contiguous United States to attack targets, then return to home base without intermediate stops.
AC-130s from both the 4th and 16th Special Operations Squadrons have been deployed in virtually every conflict the U.S. has been involved in, officially and unofficially, since the end of the Vietnam War.
In July 1979, AC-130H crews deployed to Howard Air Force Base, Panama, as a precaution against possible hostile actions against American personnel during the Nicaraguan Revolution. New time aloft and non-stop distance records were subsequently set by a 16th SOS 2-ship AC-130H formation flight that departed Hurlburt Field on 13 November 1979 and landed safely on 15 November at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, a distance of 7,200 nautical miles and 29 hours 43 minutes non-stop duration, with four inflight refuelings. Refueling support for the Guam deployment was provided by KC-135 crews from the 305th Air Refueling Wing from Grissom AFB, Indiana.
At Guam, AC-130H crews through trial and error developed communications-out/lights-out refueling procedures for later employment. This deployment with the 1 SOW/CC as Task Force commander was directed from the office of the CJCS because of fear that Iranian militants could begin executing American Embassy personnel who had been taken hostage on 4 November. One early option considered AC-130H retaliatory punitive strikes deep within Iran. Later gunship flights exceeded the 1979 Hurlburt to Guam flight.
During Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada 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 Operation Just Cause in Panama 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 the Gulf War of 1990-91 (Operations Desert Shield and 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 lone insurgent with a Strela-2 MANPAD subsequently shot down Spirit 03, and all fourteen crew members perished.
The military has used AC-130 gunships during the humanitarian operations in Somalia (Operation Restore Hope and Operation United Shield) in 1992-93, Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti in 1994, and in the NATO missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo during the 1990s. AC-130s took part in Operation Assured Response in Liberia in 1996 and in Operation Silver Wake in 1997, the evacuation of American non-combatants from Albania.
The AC-130U model gunship set a new record for the longest sustained flight by any C-130 with a mission from the 22 October through the 24 October 1997, when 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 tankers. This record flight shattered the previous record C-130 longest flight by over 6 hours, while the two U-model 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 used gunships during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (2001– ), and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq (2003–2010). In 2007 U.S. Special Operations forces used the AC-130 in attacks on suspected al-Qaeda militants in Somalia.
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.
February 7, 2011: The first of 15 MC-130Js currently on order for U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command has completed final assembly at the Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta. Following painting and production flight test the aircraft will be delivered this summer. The MC-130J 每 a versatile multimission tactical airlifter 每 delivers increased combat performance to the warfighter with its more powerful engines and MC-130J-unique features. It is a modern aircraft capable of worldwide employment for missions requiring clandestine single or multiship low-level aerial refueling of Special Operation Force vertical and tilt-rotor aircraft and/or infiltration, resupply and exfiltration by airdrop or landing on remote airfields.
MC-130J Features: * Advanced multispectral sensors and 60/90 kVA generators * Expanded avionics 每 including enhanced displays and dual military SATCOMs * Modernized refueling system 每 low- and high-speed aerial refueling and rapid ground refueling * Fully functional combat system operator crew station * Universal aerial refueling receptacle slipway installation 每 virtually unlimited range, endurance * Enhanced cargo handling system 每 greatly reduced reconfiguration times, excellent airdrop accuracy * Enhanced service life center wing * Well-defined growth path to even greater combat capability
In 2014, USAF officials say, is that there are a lot of other aircraft that do CAS that also do those other missions.
Return to previous page: AC-130