“The sound of an AC-130 Gunship has had our enemies looking to the skies in fear for the last 50 years,” the narrator tells us at the start of a U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) video celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ground attack aircraft this month. The airframe is basically a fixed-wing transport aircraft with a whole crap-ton of anti-ground weapons affixed to it, for use in supporting ground troops and laying the hurt down on enemy ground forces.
According to the video, guns were first mounted to the side of an AC-47 transport plane during the Vietnam War. The AC-47 was called “Spooky” and “Puff the Magic Dragon,” which referred to the way the guns erupted from the aircraft like puffs of dragon fire. The AC-47 then evolved into the AC-119 around 1968, and was officially called the “Shadow,” but also unofficially known as “Creep.”
In 1967, the original AC-130 Gunship was introduced, and was used primarily for night attacks. This preference continues on today, and is due primarily to the aircraft’s low operating altitude (7,000 feet) and large profile.
The original AC-130H Spectre was fielded in 1972, and was equipped with two 20mm Gatling guns, along with a 40mm cannon, and a 105mm Howitzer. That’s a whole lot of pain to rain down. The Spectre was recently retired from service. The upgraded AC-130U “Spooky” has a single 25mm cannon in place of the Spectre’s two 20mm cannons, as well as an improved fire control system and increased ammunition capacity.