The Fairchild AC-119G/K is a fixed-wing, side-firing aerial gunship that provides close air support in defense of ground positions, armed reconnaissance and interdiction, and forward air controlling for fighter strikes. In Southeast Asia, AC-119Gs mainly flew fire support and air base defense missions, while the AC-119Ks were employed almost exclusively to destroy targets along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Fairchild AC-119 Background
During the mid-1960s, two highly successful gunship programs, Project Gunship I & II, were initiated by the USAF. Although the AC-47D performed very well as a gunship during Project Gunship I, the Air Force needed a larger aircraft capable of carrying a greater weapons load, while also having a longer range. For its next program, Project Gunship II, the Air Force converted several C-130A transports into gunships, designated AC-130A, to supplement the AC-47D fleet.
By the late-1960s, the Air Force needed a replacement for the successful, but aging, AC-47D “Spooky”. In 1968, Project Gunship III was initiated using the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar transport as the airframe platform. Because of the urgent need for gunships in Vietnam, the Air Force decided to create two models of the AC-119. The first, designated AC-119G “Shadow”, involved a relatively easy and quick conversion from a C-119G transport aircraft. The other model, designated AC-119K “Stinger”, incorporated two jet engines and had a slightly different armament and avionics setup. Fifty-two C-119 transports were converted into gunships between 1968 and 1969.
In mid-1968, the Fairchild-Hiller Corporation converted twenty-six C-119Gs into side-firing gunships armed with four six-barrel 7.62mm SUU-11A/1A Gatling Miniguns (installed in the aft port section of the fuselage) and flare launchers. A maximum of 50,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition could be carried for day missions and 35,000 rounds for night missions. Like the AC-47D, the pilot fired the guns and the left side window of the cockpit had a mounted gunsight. Later aircraft incorporated General Electric MXU-470 Minigun modules, an AVQ-8 20kW Xenon light, a Night Observation Device (NOD), a LAU-74A automatic flare launcher and 1.5 million candlepower illuminator (with 24 and 60 flares for night missions), fire control computers, and APR-25 & APR-26 radar warning receiver/ECM gear.
The first AC-119G “Shadow” operational sortie was flown on 5 January 1969 and by 7 February 1969, the full complement of AC-119G aircraft had arrived in Vietnam and were initially located at Tan Son Nhut, Phan Rang and Nha Trang air bases. These aircraft were operated by the 17th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) of the 14th Special Operations Wing (SOW). The “Shadow” performed all of its missions in a satisfactory manner.
The AC-119K “Stinger” was an improved version of the AC-119G “Shadow” and was built during the second phase of the Gunship III program. Twenty-six C-119Gs were converted into AC-119K side-firing gunships. They were first brought to C-119K standard, which incorporated two under-wing J85-GE-17 turbojet engines (allowing for a greater takeoff weight than the G-model), then brought to AC-119G standard. Next came additional equipment needed for the truck-hunting role; two 20mm M61A1 cannons, a forward-looking AN/APN-147 Doppler radar, a AN/AAD-4 Forward-Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) system, and an AN/APQ-136 search radar.
The first AC-119K gunship arrived in Vietnam at the end of 1969. The “Stingers” formed the 18th SOS of the 14th SOW and were initially based at Phan Rang Air Base with two detachments operated at Da Nang and Phu Cat air bases. Because of the AC-119K’s advanced sensors and increased armament, this gunship’s mission was more oriented toward armed reconnaissance and “truck killing” than the AC-119G.
Living up to its name, the “Stinger” was extremely effective as a truck killer, but had to be careful to avoid areas of heavy antiaircraft artillery (AAA) concentrations. The aircraft’s relatively slow speed and predictable attack pattern made it vulnerable to AAA. In areas where there was no enemy AAA, these gunships attacked from an altitude of 5,500 feet above ground level (AGL), and in areas with AAA present, 7,000 feet AGL was used. The normal working altitude for close air support of troops in contact (with the enemy) was 3,500 feet AGL, this enabled the AC-119K to shoot accurately with both the 20mm cannon and 7.62mm Miniguns and be relatively safe from small arms fire.
While the AC-119G “Shadow” was successful, it was only a slight improvement over the AC-47D “Spooky”. The Air Force thought better of the AC-119K, with its increased performance and heavier armament. Both AC-119 models proved invaluable and suffered few losses.
Over the past 30 years, continued advancements in technology have been made as a direct result of successful programs like Project Gunship I, II & III. Many of these advancements have been incorporated into the USAF’s current fleet of ultra-modern AC-130U “Spooky II” gunships.
The ‘Dragon’s Breath’
Photographers using time lapse exposure techniques could really capture the concentration of firepower from an AC-119 as it pours out the “dragon’s breath” on enemy positions in Vietnam. Note: As the aircraft banks left over the target area, tracer bullets and the aircraft’s rotating beacon create a phenomena known as the “Cone of Fire”, a very awesome and disturbing site!
Fairchild AC-119 Specifications
|Project Name||Aircraft Designation(s)|
|Project Gunship I||AC-47D (Spooky)|
|Project Gunship II||AC-130A/E/H/U (Spectre/Spooky II)|
|Project Gunship III||AC-119G/K (Shadow/Stinger)|
|Project Black Spot||AC-123K (Black Spot)|
Fairchild AC-119 Specifications
|Primary Role||Close air support, armed reconnaissance and interdiction, and forward air controlling|
|Original Contractor||Fairchild-Hiller Aircraft Corp.|
|Operator||United States Air Force|
|Wingspan||109 feet, 3 inches (33.38m)|
|Length||86 feet, 6 inches (26.37m)|
|Height at Tail||26 feet, 8 inches (8.11m)|
|Engines (radial)||Two Wright R-3350 radial engines||Two Wright R-3350 radial engines|
|Horsepower||3,500 shp (2,610kW) per engine||3,500 shp (2,610kW) per engine|
|Engines (jet)||N/A||Two General Electric J85-GE-17 turbojets|
|Thrust||N/A||2,850 pounds (12.7kN) per engine|
|Cruise Speed||207 mph (333km/h)||230 mph (370km/h)|
|Attack Speed||150 mph (241km/h)||207 mph (333km/h)|
|Attack Altitude||3,500 feet (1,067m) above ground level||3,500 to 7,000 feet (1,067m to 2,134m) above ground level|
|Service Ceiling||25,000 feet (7,620m)||25,000 feet (7,620m)|
|Max Takeoff Weight||62,000 pounds (28,123kg)||80,400 pounds (36,470kg)|
|Armament||Four SUU-11A 7.62mm Gatling Miniguns||Four SUU-11A 7.62mm Gatling Miniguns and two M61A1 20mm cannons|
|Basic Crew||Six (day) or Eight (night) (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, night observation sight operator, flight engineer, illuminator operator, and two gunners)||10 (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, night observation sight operator, radar/FLIR operator, flight engineer, illuminator operator, and three gunners)|
|Combat Duration||6 hours||5 hours|
|Number of Aircraft||26 aircraft||26 aircraft|