Who knew that the AC-103W gunship desperately needed a bigger gun? Not me. The video below tells the tale — in that rah-rah procurement kinda way. Wikipedia tells us that the Lockheed Martin prop plane dates back to the Civil War [/sarc] and evolved into by a number of colorfully named variants . . .

One aircraft received the “Surprise Package” refit in 1969. The Surprise Package upgrade included the latest 20 mm rotary autocannons and 40 mm Bofors cannon but no 7.62 mm close support armament.

The Surprise Package configuration served as a test bed for the avionic systems and armament for the AC-130E.

In 1970, ten more AC-130As were acquired under the “Pave Pronto” project. [ED: cute.] In the summer of 1971, Surprise Package AC-130s were converted to the Pave Pronto configuration and assumed the new nickname of ‘Thor’.

Conversion of C-130Es into AC-130Es for the “PAVE Spectre” project followed. Regardless of their project names the aircraft were more commonly referred to by the squadron’s call sign ‘Spectre’.

Which came first, the AC-130E SPECTRE or James Bond’s Spectre? (FYI: JB’s previous nemeses SMERSH was modeled on the real SMERSH formed by Stalin’s thugs.)

Anyway, maybe some of our veteran readers can share some stories of the AC130 in action. I’ve heard that the AC-130’s current cannon pushes the plane sideways. I imagine the new ordnance does the same, only more so.

72 Responses to The USAF Finally Gives Its AC-130W Gunship The Big Gun It Desperately Needs

  1. The Griffin AGM and SDBs are the more exciting upgrades to the Gunship in recent years. More range = more standoff distance = killing shitheads from farther away, regardless of whatever shoulder-fired SA-X they scrounge up in Bakara Market.

  2. I’ve watched a live fire demonstration of an AC-130 at Fort Bragg about almost 30 years ago. It had to be seen to be believed. It was firing 105 mm cannons and all of it’s other weapons system.

    It such a ludicrous amount of fire power down on the range that the entire ground looked like a laser light show.

    I can only imagine what a current version could do. They are worth every penny.

    • While stationed at Pope AFB in the early 90’s, had the pleasure of a night ops live fire. Lit up the sky like the 4th of July. Bright enough to shut down our NVG’s. Devastation on the ground was……yeah, impressive!

  3. The AC130 has been hauling the 105MM howitzer around for decades. This is old, old, really old news. The 30MM replaces the 25MM which replaced the 20MM rotary guns. The AGMs are new.

    • Here’s a cool vid of the AC 130 firing, including the inside of the plane, and close ups of the guns firing, including the 105.

    • That was my reaction as well. I’m wondering what the “news” is? The 105mm has been on the AC-130 forever.

    • The W model was built without 105mm howitzers, only the smaller guns in preparation for Small Diameter Bomb dispensers. This displeased the ground-pounder greatly, not to mention those never materialized in the form the USAF envisioned. Hence, they add howitzers to the newer aircraft.

  4. So the 73rd had to haul freight in addition to CIW support. Can you imagine? “We’re going to have to wait on the airstrike. They’re hauling mail to Kandehar!” Now admittedly, the mail IS more important. Still…….

    • Maybe that is why they were happy about the 105mm! I just ordered a rv mattress from amazon and if came rolled up like a sleeping bag. I would hate to take that to the chest coming from a 105 at 30,000 feet.

    • Those early Hercs could do that thanks to the big, fat and heavy Hamilton-Standard props they had.

      The kinetic energy stored in them at zero pitch could be converted to *instant* thrust when the prop levers were slammed forward.

      I don’t know if the newer ones could do that as well as the old ones, their composite props are likely much lighter (so the aircraft could carry more) so there would be less sheer mass to convert to instant thrust.

      Has anyone heard any news on what may have caused that KC-130 Herc to come apart at cruise altitude in Mississippi about a week back?

      • Whenever I hear of some High Speed dudes dying en masse I remember an unusual comment / conversation I heard in Iraq, something to the effect of I hope they enjoy their cushy, good paying CIA jobs. It was likely just a way to lock down any bad feelings and not mope about it, and that’s what I use it for, but it still made some of wonder.

        • C-130’s are particularly tough, it would be sad if maintenance was flagging due to a decade + of scrounge olympics funding.

      • I was wondering about that also. 130s don’t come apart in the air, leaving my bets on an explosion. With everything they carry, it could have been a gun problem, an accident with the ammo, or a bomb. Hoping it was not a bomb.

        • ” With everything they carry, it could have been a gun problem, an accident with the ammo, or a bomb. Hoping it was not a bomb.”

          They had 10+ people riding in back, I hope it wasn’t one of them that did something stupid…

        • Problems with fuel quality (which I never ran into in 20 years of flying) will cause one or more engines to lose power or quit. They will not blow the airplane apart in the air.

        • You can pretty much guarantee that it was not an explosion. Most likely some sort of pilot error or mechanical failure led to the aircraft finding itself in an aerodynamic condition that led to the partial mid air separation of a critical component. Look at the photos not he ground. The aircraft hit the ground mostly intact, just missing a few large pieces. A shift in cargo, a jammed control, a stall condition or a material failure could cause this. An explosion is almost certainly not responsible.

        • Hey, WAKE UP, a KC-130 is a tanker/transport, NOT the AC130. The KC-130 is an inair-refueling aircraft, so you can forget munitions or bombs being the cause. More than likely is was some dumb special LBGT soldier smoking a cigarette (sarc)!

        • I flew tanker aircraft (EC/KC-135) for USAF for 10 years, over most of the world, never even heard of a problem involving fire/explosion. KC-130 only has drogue system, making it less complex and probably safer. I would sooner look to the question of Marines flying fixed-wing combat aircraft, clearly a job best left to us Air Force manly-men. Were there grenades on board?

          OTOH, my previous comment was thrown off by the current thread, about AC-130, forgot that was KC, leaves guns and ammo out of the picture, afraid my money is on a bomb. I hope they tell us.

      • “Has anyone heard any news on what may have caused that KC-130 Herc to come apart at cruise altitude in Mississippi about a week back?”

        I haven’t heard about that one, but the C-130A firebomber that crashed in CA in 2002 was determined by the NTSB to have been caused by a crack starting in a rivet hole, eventually extending to over 12″ in a hard-to-see area in the wing-to-body area. One of the early C-130s built, in 1957. An old plane for sure.

        • The Cal Fire crash was an early Herc that had known problems with cracks developing in the wing’s box spar. The problem was, as I understand it, they knew it could happen, but neglected to inspect for it.

        • Crop-dusters / fire-bombers run the living piss out of their sh_t, and they barely have time after a season (and some time off) to get it flyable for the next season. Plus, fire-bombing is best run (most efficient) when you carry the maximum amount of foaming agent on board. Once you release that agent in a ‘drop’ there are huge stresses the plane must overcome, plus the buffeting from mountain winds as they ‘ridge-run’ down on the fires.

          A weak spar should not have been trifled with.

        • I still have a “seatbelt” from a C-130 I jumped out of in the 80s that was built in 1957 (my birth year). Still love hearing them fly over my house headed for Ft.Bragg!

    • I love watching this film of the C-130 landing on the Forrestal. The junior flight engineer was AD2 Ed Brennan. I flew with him several years later in VP-56. By then he was AD Chief Brennan. I had heard stories about the C-130 landing on a carrier, but I thought they were pulling my leg. Ed never talked about the carrier landings. It might explain why he was bald as a cueball when I knew him

    • Yeah it always reminds me of those horribly cheesy illuminati end of the world agenda 21 jade helm 2012 Mayan NIBIRU catalysm videos that declare billions will die in the coming months videos that are all over YouTube.

  5. I joined the Air Force in 1977. In 1980, I was assigned to the 43rd Strategic Wing, 43rd MMS, Andersen AFB, Guam working B-52D Bombers…..known as the Shark Tail. I worked with several guys during that time who were gunners on the AC-130 Spectre Gunships, also known as Spooky. Heard plenty of war stories about missions during Vietnam. One particular guy that I worked with ran the 105 Howitzer, and he indeed did tell me that firing that gun would push the aircraft sideways. He had quite a few 35mm videos that he took during missions. Pretty damn interesting to watch……especially after a few six packs of San Magoo. Man….those were the days!

    • Yeah, physics says firing the 105 would push the plane sideways, since all of the recoil is transferred to the airframe.
      Just like firing the main guns of a battleship will move the ship.
      The reality is, though, that in either case, because of the masses involved (the AC-130 weighs well over 100,000 lbs), the movement isn’t much.
      And we all know the old saw that the 75mm gun in the B-25 actually stopped the plane when it fired.

      • The mount on the 105 in the Herc was ‘squishy’, it had a rather long travel (stroke?) in it, so the recoil impulse was spread out over a longer period of time. Result was the recoil was more like a firm ‘shove’ instead of a harder shock.

        Much kinder on the airframe.

        That it could even do that is testimony to the inherent strength of the Herc…

      • WRONG! Very little of the recoil was transferred to the airframe, if any. The design of the howitzer mount made it much like a “recoilless rifle”. An aircraft airframe could not hold up to the forces exerted by a 105mm firing continuously! Secondly, if you watch the video, a sideways force would throw the gunners off their feet or off balance when it fires, which it doesn’t do. When I was in SF, I had the opportunity to accompany an AC-130 on a mission in support of my unit and I can’t remember any sideways force, but the thump, thump, thump……….was exhilarating!

  6. these guys bring an awesome punch. there are videos of them going all out at night, which are a “blast” to watch. But I still have a soft spot for the original gunship, the AC 47D Spooky, aka Puff the Magic Dragon.

  7. Had one that actually took fire coming off the runway. It immediately circled up and, still relatively close to the ground (mind you they usually orbit at around 9k – 10k feet) let rip with its 25MM “Equalizer.” Looked like a damn sheet of lightning thrown down from Olympus by Zeus himself. It even thumped out a few bursts of 40MM and two 105MM — it HAD to be the howitzer from the flash.

    Needless to say, they took out a treeline (and every-fucking-thing around it) that supposedly had some brain-dead hajis on it. Operative word being HAD. QRF went out and found blood and various bits and body parts strewn across what was probably half a city block.

    I’d hate to ever be on the receiving end.

  8. James Bond’s SPECTER. As a teenager in the 1960’s, i read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. The Signet paperback books sold for $.50 or $.60 cents. I still have a few.

  9. What’s new about this, as pointed out by several people above. OLD, non-news, and you knew it as you didn’t even identify which weapons you were talking about or the time frame, either. Let’s be a little more honest here, ok?

  10. That’s one hell of a rim fire looking round. I sure hope its more reliable then my 22LR using ThunderBolts………..

  11. Great urban combat platform for supporting grunts. Insurgents are so afraid of it that an unarmed C-130 going into a bank turn is enough to scatter them sometimes. Too short in supply. The Marine Wing’s Harvest Hawk is a step in the right direction but missiles are no substitute for direct fire from 105mm of steel

  12. This is a great plane hercs
    I flew 3000 combat in Viet name we flew out of Ubon, Thialand, they did everything they were asked to do and they took a lot of fire and flew the next night. I spent 33 months there and only alive because of the great herc.

    • My brother flew hercs for most of his career, with a combat tour in Gulf I. Still works as a civilian contractor, doing the sim training at Little Rock. He said the thing he liked doing the most was coming over a strip at 100′ with the engines at full power by the pitch dialed back to slow speed and dumping stuff out the back without stopping.

  13. These gunships have always been my favorite since my dad would talk fondly out them from Vietnam. Something about a machine that was designed to carry a lot of weight and someone having the brilliant idea to jam as many guns as they could out the side.

    Anyways I am from Indiana and went to the NRA convention in Louisville and stopped at the Indiana Rifle and Pistol Association booth. One of the guys there was wearing the spooky hat and looked to be my dads age. Sure enough he was one of the first and was over there the same years and the area overlapped. Small world.

    • I was stationed in Thailand during the Viet Nam war and had several TDY trips to Ubon, I remember seeing the crew trucks, and they were painted black with the Spectre logo. I never heard the AC-130 referred to as Puff The Magic Dragon, only as Spectre. Puff usually or maybe always referred to the AC-47 Spooky gunship. That was 1970-71.

      • Yeah, there was one in the middle, too, think it was the AC-119 and seem to recall it was called “Stinger”, which confused me when this clip called one iteration of the -130 a Stinger.

      • Yes! “Puff the Magic Dragon” was the AC-47, also sometimes called “Spooky”, predecessor to the AC-130.

    • I have a friend who worked maintenance on the 130. He said that they were known as the angel of death.

  14. Growing up, I lived directly south of Duke field, and one of the ranges they used was about 5 miles directly between. We used to be able to sit out in our driveway at night (virtually every night) and see them light up the range with everything they had. It was very cool.

  15. One of my favorite things to watch is a 130 taking off with JATO. “Physically unpossible” I always think 🙂

  16. I worked with an AC-130 in Spring of ’72 around Pleiku/Kontum against tanks, at night. It did surprisingly poorly, as I recall it fired 95 rounds of 105, scored 11 hits, and stopped one tank, which had left the area by dawn. Figure it trashed the crew, crew was replaced and tank still worked (just a guess). When you care enough to send the very best against tanks, the A-10 comes to mind, or laser guided bombs. We didn’t have A-10s in 1972, but the experiences with LGBs was astonishing. First thing they did was send out 2 F-4s with 12 500 lb LGBs each (they fly by 2s, at least did then). Quickly discovered they were launching, then coming back still carrying 23 LGBs between them after killing the one tank they were sent to kill with one bomb hitting the turret. Since the guidance package cost many times what a bomb cost, it quickly became apparent a different plan was in order; they started loading 2 x 2000 lb LGBs on each plane, so in case they missed a little they wouldn’t need to drop another bomb. So they came home with 3 x 2000 lb LGBs instead. The other big difference (you guys will love this) was new orders that the crews were to be directly observing the tank after the drop, since a hit on the turret (which was normal) left no trace of the tank at all, did we hit it, or not?

  17. I was part of 2nd Ranger Battalion that took the Rio Hato military airfield and adjacent military compound during Operation Just Cause, December 1989, Panama. During our first full night securing the perimeter, not the night we jumped in but the next one, we had Spectre flying security overhead. They came over the net and said, there appeared to be a squad size element of PDF moving towards our perimeter through the jungle, should they take them out for us. We replied, roger that. First came the wham-BOOM of the 105, followed by the BWAAAAAAAA of the two 20mm Vulcans. They came back on the net and said no more movement was noted. We always slept good with Spectre on station.

  18. For those interested, the Air Force Museum (or “The National Museum of the United States Air Force” as it’s now called) has an AC-130 (the “”Azrael”) in its collection.
    IMO, the museum is well worth the trip.
    I was there several years ago, and the lighting was difficult for photography; I don’t know if it’s still that way. A fast lens is recommended if it is.

  19. I have not seen the AC-130 in action, but I have seen its immediate aftermath. I will skip how this all got set up, but basically a group of Special Operations warfighters were fired upon from a small Outpost in southern Afghanistan. That group of Special Operations were Fighters then called upon the asset they had loitering. That AC-130 dumped everything it had into that Outpost for a full 45 minutes. The outpost was right off of Highway 1, not more than 20 yards off the road. It was absolutely devastated. There was literally blood and body parts on the top of the walls. The walls where a color of shredded men, and some mud. No Hollywood effects Studio could have created a more terrible and horrifying picture. It was just a human blender.
    Unfortunately, that Outpost was actually the Afghan National Police Outpost, and it was a group that we had been training and it been conducting patrols with us. They killed all of our local cops. Locals, not understanding that that group was not the same as our group you’re very unhappy with us for quite some time.

  20. What is new about the 105 is it’s use on an AC-130W. The Air Force in it’s infinite wisdom decided that when they were designing their newest AC-130, the AC-130W, that it wouldn’t need a 105. Having rethought their decision they are now putting one on the AC-130W.

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