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|Some AC-119 Gunship History
Fixed Wing Gunship:
fixed wing gunship was a great developmental and operational success.
A few dedicated, innovative individuals brought forth a new concept quickly
and cheaply that fit the war that was being fought in Vietnam. The basic
gunship concept is quite simple: an aircraft flying in a level turn around
a point on the ground (as if tethered to a pylon, hence called a "pylon
turn") can deliver fairly accurate firepower from guns firing perpendicular
to the line of flight. This concept was first proposed in 1926 but the
Army Air Forces/US Air Force did not pick up on it until the early 1960s.
Gunships Quickly Prove Their Worth
Terry and his team arrived in South Vietnam in December 1964. The gunship quickly demonstrated that it not only worked but was valuable. On its first night mission on 23-24 December, it helped repel a Vietcong attack on an outpost. The gunship concept would be used in two very different roles. The first was to provide heavy firepower to ground forces engaged in combat in South Vietnam. The other was to interdict enemy logistics in Laos. During it's legendary time in Vietnam the AC-47 earned the nicknames Puff the Magic Dragon or Puff and Spooky.The aircraft's success continued, but better gunships were coming on-line.
AC-130 Tested (Gunship II)
September 1967, Captain Terry returned to Vietnam to test the AC-130 Spectre.
The evaluations concluded that the AC-130 was "a three-fold improvement
over its predecessor, the AC-47. The AC-130 was deemed the most cost-effective,
close-support, and interdiction weapon in the USAF inventory. Four AC-130
Spectres were sent into combat in Laos before the end of 1968 and proved
to be some of the best weapons in the interdiction campaign. During the
period January 1968 through April 1969, they flew less than 4 percent
of the total sorties against moving targets, yet claimed over 29 percent
of the destroyed and damaged trucks. Little wonder why the Air Force wanted
The C-119 is Resurrected (Gunship III)
The third airframe used as a gunship was the C-119, another obsolete transport like the C-47, however not as esteemed. Nevertheless, it was brought out of semi-retirement to reinforce the gunship effort in late 1968 and although little known, it became the most numerous of the Vietnam War gunships. The AC-119G Shadow was intended to take up the AC-47's mission in South Vietnam: defend hamlets, provide fire support for ground troops, and fly close air support and escort convoys (only until more AC-130s could be brought online). While it served well, it was considered little improvement over the AC-47. Although more AC-130s were eventually brought on line, the AC-119G Shadow did not fly into oblivion. Shadows, Spectres and Stingers continued to fly and fight to the very end.
Air Force thought better of the AC-119K Stinger. The K model had
increased engine power (two J85 jet engines supplemented the two props),
heavier armament (two 20 mm guns in addition to the four 7.62 mini guns
carried by shadow), an improved fire control system, and forward
looking infrared radar (FLIR).
The Final Challenge
last challenge to the USAF in the Vietnam War came in 1972. By then the
Communists had improved the Ho Chi Minh Trail into an extensive road net
and greatly upgraded its defenses. The North Vietnamese upped the ante
by deploying SAMs, both the large SA-2s and shoulder-fired SA-7s. Damage
to the gunships increased while truck kills declined. Even escorting fighters
could not provide the gunships with the permissive air environment they
required. The increased attrition, as well as the 1972 North Vietnamese
invasion, forced the Air Force to shift its emphasis. The main mission
of American airpower in 1972 was simply to thwart the North Vietnamese
Learn more about the AC-119 gunships and view photos by visiting the www.ac-119gunships.com and the www.71stsos.com website.
learn more about the Air Force AC-130 Spectre and Shadow gunship
visit the Spectre Association
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