If you were to ask special operators about their favorite close-air-support aircraft, you would get two answers: the A-10 Thunderbolt and the AC-130 gunship.

Both platforms are beloved by commandos and conventional ground troops alike for their effective firepower, but the AC-130 gunship has the edge over the A-10 because of its unique ability to fire continually against a target.

Essentially an aerial artillery platform, the AC-130 attacks using the “pylon turn” technique — flying in a wide circle above the target area, allowing for a steady volume of fire, as opposed to having to turn and come back like the A-10.

The AC-130 is so effective that it has been supporting conventional and special operations troops for close to 60 years, seeing action in Asia, South America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

The latest version of the gunship, the AC-130J, continues to be well-traveled. In March, an AC-130J operated in Japan for the first time, and in May, an AC-130J trained in Romania for the first time.

But everything began in the jungles of Vietnam.

“Puff, the Magic Dragon”

Air Force Douglas AC-47 Dragon gunship
Airmen load one of the three 7.62 mm cannons mounted on a Douglas AC-47 gunship, in Saigon, 1966. (Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

The AC-130 was introduced in the 1960s and first saw action during the Vietnam War.

It was an upgrade to the AC-47 Spooky, nicknamed “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” that had been supporting conventional and special operations troops. The nickname was inspired by the otherworldly effect the AC-47’s miniguns produced when firing at night.