The United States Air Force has some of the most sophisticated aircraft in the world. And some of the most feared aircraft by our enemies aren’t the sexy, sleek fighter jets, but the fat, slow converted cargo aircraft. The AC-130U gunship, “Spooky” as the pilots call it strikes more fear in the hearts of the Taliban than any other aircraft.

In 2009, Norwegian journalist Peter Refsdal embedded with the Taliban in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, the United States’ attempt to uproot al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power. One of his most interesting observations: The Taliban do not fear fighter jets.

“All the time there’s jets, the sound of jets flying around, and the Taliban, they don’t care about it,” Refsdal told Anderson Cooper in a 2010 interview for CNN. “But there’s one plane that scares them. … It was the sound of this transport plane that scared them. And this is a plane equipped with a lot of heavy machine guns, even a cannon. And the thing is, the Taliban, they know that this gunship is used when there are some Special Forces operations. It’s used as a support, air support during these kind of operations.”

Refsdal is talking about the AC-130 gunship, a variant of the C-130 that is absolutely brimming with firepower. “It’s the four fans of freedom, as we call it,” Major Eric Forsyth, an HC-130J pilot, told Popular Mechanics.


The AC-130 is only operated by Air Force Special Operations Command, or AFSOC, and the currently deployed model is the AC-130U “Spooky.” The Spooky can unleash hell with a variety of weapons, including the M102 105-mm howitzer fired from the left rear-side door. It’s the largest gun ever operated on a USAF aircraft.

“The psychological effects of the gunship—the Taliban just go home and wait until the gunship has gone away,” says Forsyth.

The AC-130U is a tremendous weapon that all of the Special Operations Forces have at their beck and call. And they’ve gotten the grudging respect from the enemy. But the next generation of “Spooky” the AC-130J is rumored to be the premiere AFSOC (Air Force Special Operations Command) ground support aircraft for the next 50 years.