Five crew members from the AC-47, the AC-130, and the AC-119 will be presenting about their time spent aboard these gunships, built for the Vietnam War, on Thursday, June 16, at 7 p.m. as part of the EAA Aviation Museum Aviation Adventure Speaker Series.
Representing the AC-47 is Junior Skinner and John Bonner, EAA 1462750. Junior was a crew member on the AC-47 and is one of the leaders of the AC-47 gunship reunions. John was a pilot for the 4th Special Operations Squadron in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970.
Terry Sarul, EAA 863497, was a crew member on the AC-119 for the 18th Special Operations Squadron.
The AC-130 is represented by Ryan Wichman, EAA 1179807, and Clay Ten Eyck. Ryan is a current USAF AC-130 crew member, coming to the EAA Aviation Museum just weeks after returning from combat. Clay is currently a AC-130 pilot.
The Douglas AC-47, also known as “Spooky” and “Puff the Magic Dragon,” was the first in a series of gunships developed as “Project Gunship I” for the Vietnam War. The AC-47 was adapted from the C-47 used during WWII, with 53 C-47s being converted. Originally a cargo aircraft, the AC-47 was equipped with three 7.62 mm GAU-2, or M134, Gatling miniguns. Each of these miniguns could fire between 50 and 100 rounds per second. First used in 1964, this fixed-wing, side-firing gunship immensely helped the war effort in Vietnam, as it provided air support for ground positions and performed pre-planned strikes.
In 1965, the U.S. Air Force created the 4th Air Commando Squadron, being the first operational unit to be equipped with the AC-47. Two more squadrons were later formed, and the unit designation was changed from “Air Commando” to “Special Operations”. While the AC-47 was a great asset to American troops in Vietnam, better technology started being developed. As the new Lockheed AC-130 and the Fairchild AC-119 started coming in to use, AC-47s were slowly given to other nations’ air forces, such as to Laos and Cambodia. The final combat mission the U.S. flew using the AC-47 was in late 1969. While consistently used by other countries for a while, the AC-47 is currently only used by the Colombian Air Force.
Closely following the creation of the AC-47 was the Lockheed AC-130. Developed out of the C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft, “Project Gunship II” was first deployed in 1968. This aircraft was chosen for its stability, maneuverability, and payload capacity. This new gunship was heavily armed and suited for endurance runs. While there were a wide-variety of AC-130 variants, they generally were fitted with miniguns, cannons, and howitzers. Commonly used during the war in Vietnam was the AC-130 Spectre and the AC-130U Spooky. The AC-130 is still in operation by the USAF, currently using the variants AC-130W Stinger II and AC-130J Ghostrider. These versions have a 30 mm ATK GAU23/A autocannon, a 105 mm M102 howitzer, and a series of missiles and/or bombs. According to the CIA’s website, “The AC-130 gunship’s primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance.” Most recently the AC-130 has been used in the War on Terror in Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan.
Right after the AC-130 was introduced came the AC-119, officially coming into play in late 1968. This aircraft, Project Gunship III, had two variants: the AC-119G Shadow and the AC-119K Stinger. Originally built from the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar, 52 of these functioned alongside the AC-130. Containing four 7.62 GAU-2/A miniguns, two 20 mm M61 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling cannons, and 60 Mk 24 flares in a LAU-74/A flare launcher, the AC-119 was often used as a truck hunter over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The AC-119G Shadow was placed with the 71st Special Operations Squadron, while the AC-119K Stinger was placed with the 18th Special Operations Squadron. The USAF retired the AC-119 in 1971. However, the Republic of Vietnam Air Force continued using AC-119s until 1975, until the fall of Saigon. AC-119s are no longer in use today.
Thursday’s event is free for EAA members and just $5 for nonmembers.