The Lockheed AC-130H/U is a fixed-wing, side-firing aerial gunship that provides close air
support, air interdiction and force protection. Close air support missions include troops in
contact, convoy escort and urban operations. Air interdiction missions are conducted against
preplanned targets or targets of opportunity. Force protection missions include air base
defense and facilities defense. Secondary missions include armed reconnaissance, forward air control,
limited command and control, and combat search and rescue.
During the 1950s, the C-130 Hercules
was originally designed as an assault transport but was readily adapted for a variety of
missions, including weather reconnaissance, mid-air space capsule recovery, search and rescue,
drone launching, and mid-air refueling of helicopters. The AC-130H "Spectre" and AC-130U "Spooky II"
are Hercules transports that have been converted into side-firing gunships, primarily for night
attacks against ground targets.
Originally, C-130As were converted into side-firing gunships during Project
Gunship II and the follow-on programs, Projects Plain Jane, Surprise Package and Pave Pronto. The
prototype AC-130A (#54-1626), previously designated JC-130A, was tested at Eglin AFB, FL and in
Southeast Asia during 1967. A short-nose Hercules, it was a basic C-130A with the addition of four
7.62mm General Electric XMU-470 Miniguns, four 20mm General Electric M61 Vulcan cannons, an analog
fire control computer, a Night Observation Device (NOD) or Starlite Scope, a "bread board" computer,
and a 20kW searchlight. Project Gunship II was a great success.
In 1968, seven more JC-130A aircraft were converted, although these were equipped
with better Texas Instruments AN/AAD-4 Forward-Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), a Singer-General Precision
fire control computer, a Texas Instruments Moving Target Indicator (MTI), and other equipment to
reach current C-130A production standard. These aircraft were deployed to Southeast Asia in late-1968.
They were painted black overall and also known as "Plain Janes", to distinguish them from the "Surprise
Package" and "Pave Pronto" AC-130As.
The single "Surprise Package" AC-130A was equipped with two 40mm Bofors cannons
(in place of the aft pair of 20mm Vulcans), General Electric ASQ-145 Low-Level Light Television
(LLLTV), a Konrad AVQ-18 laser designator/rangefinder, and a new AYK-9 digital fire control
computer. This gunship conversion was an even greater success than those before it!
The "Pave Pronto" AC-130As were all based on the "Surprise Package" design, but
featured additional equipment including an AN/ASD-5 Black Crow Direction Finder Set to find the
emissions of the ignition system of Russian truck engines. These ten aircraft were first painted in the
typical Vietnam three-tone camouflage scheme, but later the underside and the sides were painted
black. All AC-130As often carried ALQ-87 ECM pods or SUU-42A/A Ejector Pods (starboard for flares,
port for chaff) under the wings.
Because of C-130A airframe limitations, a new program was incorporated using the
low-time C-130E as the basis for the gunship conversion. Eleven C-130Es were converted featuring
the same equipment and armament as the "Pave Pronto" AC-130A, and become known as the "Pave Spectre"
AC-130E. The first aircraft arrived in Southeast Asia in October 1971.
Beginning in 1973, Project Pave Spectre II upgraded all but one of the AC-130Es with
new Allison T56-A-15 turboprops, the latest radio, avionics and ECM gear, a 105mm Howitzer cannon and
inflight refueling capability. These aircraft were redesignated AC-130H.
Over a decade later, in 1986, another Hercules gunship program was initiated.
Thirteen new C-130H aircraft were procured from Lockheed then modified with improved armament,
avionics, battle management sensors and countermeasures. The resulting gunship aircraft was designated
AC-130U and entered service in 1995.
On 10 September 1995, the Air Force commemorated
the end of an era with the retirement of the first C-130 aircraft to come off the production line, tail
number 53-3129. Produced by Lockheed in 1953, it was affectionately dubbed the "First Lady", and was
one of five AC-130A gunship aircraft retired during an official ceremony. While the other four aircraft
were sent to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC)
at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, the "First Lady" went on permanent display at the
Eglin AFB Armament Museum in Florida. Note:
The AC-130A gunship prototype (#54-1626) was retired in 1976 and is currently on display at the
at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
A total of 43 C-130 aircraft were converted into gunships:
||JC-130A aircraft converted under the Project Gunship II program. (Prototype)
||JC-130A aircraft converted under the Project Plain Jane program.
||C-130A aircraft converted under the Project Surprise Package program.
||C-130A aircraft converted under the Project Pave Pronto program.
||C-130E aircraft converted under the Project Pave Spectre program.
||AC-130E aircraft upgraded under the Project Pave Spectre II program.
||New C-130H conversion, known as the "U-Boat".
The formidable AC-130 gunships have an impressive combat history. During Vietnam,
they destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support
missions. Following the end of the Vietnam War they saw action during the attempted rescue of the crew
of the USS Mayaguez (1975), Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada (1983), Operation Just Cause in Panama
(1989), Operation Desert Storm in Iraq (1991), Operation Restore Hope in Somalia (1993-1994), and
Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia (1995).
Although the AC-130 gunship programs were considered highly successful, the
slow-moving airplane was very susceptible to ground fire. Consequently, eight AC-130s have been lost
during combat operations. The first casualty took place when tail number 54-1629 was hit over Laos
and crashed during a landing attempt at Ubon, Thailand. A second AC-130 fell to enemy fire over Laos
in April 1970. The third and fourth losses took place within hours of each other in the spring of 1972,
and a fifth was shot down a few weeks later while supporting friendly forces during the siege of An Loc
in South Vietnam. A sixth gunship was shot down over Laos in December 1972. A total of 75 crewmembers
were lost in the AC-130 mission in Southeast Asia, before hostilities ended in 1975. Since that
time two other AC-130s have fallen in both Kuwait and Somalia.
On 31 January 1991, the first AC-130H was lost in combat while supporting coalition
forces engaged in ground combat during the battle of Khafji in Operation Desert Storm. A second
aircraft supporting operations in Somalia was lost on 15 March 1994 when the 105mm cannon exploded
while the aircraft was airborne. The eight remaining AC-130H "Spectre" gunships are still flying with
the 16th Special Operations Squadron (SOS), part of the 16th Special Operations Wing (SOW), at Hurlburt
AC-130U 'Spooky II'
The AC-130U, commonly referred to as "U-Boat", is the most complex aircraft weapons
system in the world today. It has more than 609,000 lines of software code in its mission computers
and avionics systems. The newest addition to the command fleet, it is the latest in a long line of
heavily-armed, side-firing gunships and is named "Spooky II" in honor of the first gunship model,
the AC-47D. All other AC-130s are referred to as "Spectre". The prototype AC-130U (#87-0128) made
its first flight on 20 December 1990. The initial flight test period lasted through 21 December 1991
and consisted of 48 test flights, a total of 165 hours.
The "Spooky II" gunship program consists of 13 new Lockheed C-130H airframes
modified by Boeing
with improved armament, advanced sensors, a Hughes APG-180 fire control radar system,
GPS, the ALQ-172 Electronic Countermeasure System, an ALR-56M radar warning receiver, an APR-46A
panoramic receiver, and an AAR-44 infrared warning receiver integrated with a series of ALE-40
chaff & flare dispensers. The modifications allow the aircraft to perform the full range of special
operations and conventional gunship missions, at night and in adverse weather. These aircraft also
have the capability to loiter for long periods over targets, while providing precision fire support.
A multi-mode strike radar provides extreme long-range target detection and
identification. It is able to track 40mm and 105mm projectiles and return pinpoint impact locations
to the crew for subsequent adjustment to the target. The fire control system offers a Dual Target
Attack capability, whereby two targets up to one kilometer apart can be simultaneously engaged by
two different sensors, using two different guns. No other air-ground attack platform in the world
offers this capability.
Targeting equipment installed in the gunship includes an advanced All-Light Level
Television (ALLTV) system with a laser illuminator, laser target designator, laser range finder,
infrared detection set, and night vision goggles for the pilots. Navigational devices include the
inertial navigation system (INS) and global positioning system (GPS).
The side-firing weapons array consists of one 25mm GAU-12 Gatling gun (firing
1,800 rounds per minute), one 40mm L60 Bofors cannon (with a selectable firing rate of single shot
or 120 rounds per minute) and one 105mm M-102 Howitzer cannon (firing 6 to 10 rounds per minute).
Defensive systems include a countermeasures dispensing system that releases chaff and flares to
counter radar infrared-guided antiaircraft missiles. Also, infrared heat shields mounted underneath
the engines disperse and hide engine heat sources from infrared-guided antiaircraft missiles.
The AC-130U is pressurized, enabling it to fly at higher altitudes, saving fuel
and time, and allowing for greater range than the AC-130H. An inflight refueling capability is also
All AC-130Us are currently assigned to the Air Force Special Operations Command
(AFSOC) and serve with the 4th SOS, part of the 16th SOW, at Hurlburt Field,
|Project Gunship I
|Project Gunship II
||AC-130A/E/H/U (Spectre/Spooky II)
|Project Gunship III
|Project Black Spot
||AC-123K (Black Spot)
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