The 16th Special Operations Squadron (16 SOS) lineage dates back to the 16th Air Corps Ferrying Squadron, which was activated on 16 April 1942 at Hensley Field, Grand Prairie, Texas. The unit ferried AT-6s from factories to destinations in Canada and the U.S.. Moving to Love Field, Dallas, Texas, in September 1942, the unit delivered other types of aircraft until disbanded on 1 April 1944.

The 16th Combat Cargo Squadron was activated on 13 June 1944, at Syracuse Army Air Base, New York, flying C-47s and C-46s. The unit was deployed to India on 1 December 1944, and airlifted personnel, supplies, and equipment within the Burma-India-China theater in support of Wingate's Raiders until November' 1945. The squadron was deactivated 29 December 1945.

On 30 October 1968, the 16 SOS "Spectre" was activated at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), Thailand, and assigned to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. The unit was equipped first with the AC-l30A Gunship and later with the more advanced AC-l30E/H model. Even before Spectre was a squadron, it was utilized by Special Forces in Vietnam. On 18 August 1968, a Gunship flying an armed reconnaissance mission in Vietnam's III Corps was diverted to support a Special Forces base at Katum. The ground commander quickly assessed the accurate fire and capabilities of this weapon system and called for fire on his own perimeter when the Viet Cong attempted to bridge the wire on the west side of his position. So began the close working relationship with Special Forces that Spectre enjoys to this day.

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The early years of Spectre yielded many firsts. On 26 September 1968, Spectre took its first hit from an antiaircraft artillery (AAA) emplacement near a Special Forces camp-Spectre had a new patch and was now battle damaged qualified. December 1968 saw Spectre fly its first mission with F-4 escorts, a tactic implemented to protect the Gunship against heavy and concentrated AAA. The first escort was flown by the "Night Owls" of the 497 Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) also stationed at Ubon. Thus began another working relationship that is still in existence.

On 24 May 1969, Spectre lost its first Gunship and two crew members. At the very moment the aircraft was hit, the 16 SOS sustained its first KIA -- the illuminator operator, who died from exploding AAA rounds, but not before he had warned the pilot and crew of the approaching deadly rounds. Most of the crew bailed out over Thailand and were recovered. A skeleton crew brought the aircraft back to Ubon where it crash landed. All escaped the aircraft before it was consumed in flames except the engineer, who became Spectre's second combat fatality. Looking on the brighter side, Spectre accomplished a spectacular first on 8 May 1969, when a Gunship shot down an enemy helicopter, to the chagrin of the local fighter squadron, who were getting nothing in the way of air-to-air kills at the time.

When one thinks of special operations gunships, the AC-130 aircraft immediately comes to mind; but not all gunships were AC-130s. Prior to the AC-130s, aircrews flew the latest in the family of gunships which included the famous AC-47 Spooky, AC-119G Shadow, and the AC-119K Stinger. In December 1969, the AC-123K began operations with the 16 SOS. The big difference between the AC-130 and the AC-123 was that the AC-123K did not have guns. This Spectre aircraft flew over its targets and dropped bombs! This weapon system proved less effective than its counterpart, the AC-130, and operations with it were discontinued in June 1970. December 1970 saw the arrival of the Pave Pronto AC-130As. As the squadron continued to grow, new events took place.

In February, 1971, CMSgt Don Beardsley (Spectre FE) came to Hurlburt as part of the advance party for the gunship's move from Lockbourne AFB to Hurlburt Fld.    AC-130A's and the AC-119 gunships were put in place as the 415 SOTS (Special Operations Training Squadron) came to Hurlburt.  There were many challenges until the 16th arrived at Hurlburt.

Early in 1971, the first use of "smart" bombs used in conjunction with Spectre's guidance took place and the first Soviet-built SAM attack on a Spectre gunship occurred in March. On 25 October 1971, what everyone was excitedly waiting for happened; the first "Cadillac" gunship, the AC-130E arrived. Within a few days, the "E" model flew its first combat mission. At about the same time the new gunship arrived, so did the active TV system, which rapidly became an integral part of the gunship concept. And as if the gunship wasn't awesome enough with its sensitive "eyes" and deadly firepower, Spectre was about to pack an even bigger wallop. On 17 February 1972, the first 105mm cannon arrived for service with Spectre and was installed on Gunship 570. It was used from mid-February until the aircraft received battle damage to its right flap. The 105 was switched to Gunship 571 and was used until March 30 when the aircraft was shot down.


On 28 January 1973, the Vietnam peace accord went into effect, marking the end of Spectre operations in Vietnam. It was a time for joy, but war still raged, and Spectre was still heeded and requested. On 22 February 1973, American offensive operations in Laos ended. This signaled more celebration at Ubon, Now the gunships became totally committed to operations in the Cambodian conflict. It was during the Cambodian conflict that the first gray gunship, or "gray ghost" arrived for battle. That same spring, the "E" models had a name change as they were redesignated the "H" models. On 15 August 1973, Spectre ceased all combat operations as the United States offensive role in Southeast Asia came to a full and complete halt. The last battle weary Spectre gunship touched down at Ubon on 15 August 1973. The 16 SOS accomplished some amazing feats during its tour in Southeast Asia. As the most deadly night-flying weapons system in the theater, Spectre destroyed or damaged over IO,OOO trucks over the Ho Chi Minh trail. Additionally, the squadron achieved 1,327 consecutive on-time combat mission launches -- a phenomenal record. Spectre's performance during operations in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia was extraordinary, but it did not come without cost -- 52 brave aircrew members were lost in combat.

On 22 July 1974, Spectre completed its change of station to Korat RTAFB. Spectre's dedicated training program was tested on 12 April 1975, when Khmer Rouge insurgents were threatening the capital of Phnom Penh. AC-130s were called upon to help in Operation EAGLE PULL, the final evacuation of U.S. and allied officials from Phnom Penh before she fell to the communists. Spectre flew the skies again and assured that the evacuation would be a safe one. Before Spectre could tell of her tales of Phnom Penh, the Saigon government began to deteriorate under the onslaught of the North Vietnamese communists. The AC-130 was over Saigon 30 April 1975 to protect the final evacuation of friendly parties in Operation FREQUENT WIND. Peace was still not to be had as Cambodia tested the will and spirit of the United States when she seized the US Mayaguez on 15 May 1975 on the open sea. Spectre again flew through the shies to get the job done. All the "A-Model" were redeployed from Korat to Hurlburt Fld, FL. during June, 1975.  The flash of the guns and effect of her firepower will be remembered by the Khmer Rouge soldiers and sailors. Spectre played a major role in the rescue of the US Mayaguez and her crew. The AC-130 gunship had shown her versatility, firepower, accuracy, and dependability. In December 1975, the 16 SOS began its move to Hurlburt Field, Florida, with the first gunship arriving on 12 December 1976 with the last aircraft (Acft# 576) flying the Spirit of '76" flag. By the end of January 1977, all the men and women of the 16 SOS had left Thailand.

The bicentennial year found the 16 SOS in full swing, participating in numerous exercises that included RED FLAG and REFORGER. For the next several years, the Spectre gunships went through a series of back-to-back deployments that spread across all of America and much of the world, including such places as the Canal Zone, Korea, Guam, and Ecuador. In July 1978, one gunship deployed to Kwang Ju, Korea to support a classified peacetime reconnaissance mission. The aircrews and aircraft returned in September 1978. In November 1979, the unit was tasked with flying four AC-I30H gunships nonstop from Hurlburt Field to Anderson AFB, Guam because of the hostage situation at the Embassy in Iran. Without hesitation, the crews were ready and each aircraft logged a total of almost 30 hours. With four in-flight air refueling for each aircraft, this 5-month exercise of men and machines proved once again that Spectre was ready any time and any place. All crewmembers on these aircraft received an Air Medal for that great feat.  Upon return in March 1980, the squadron soon found itself in Egypt to support the ill-fated hostage rescue attempt. Four aircraft deployed to support this operation.

In March 1983, Spectre left Tactical Air Command (TAC) to become a member of Military Airlift Command (MAC) and was assigned to the Twenty Third Air Force. But before moving under the command of MAC, the squadron deployed assets to Panama for reconnaissance missions. Little did Spectre know that this rotation would last until May 1990. Spectre's next great challenge took place on 25 October 1983, as AC-130Hs were overhead the island of Grenada during Operation URGENT FURY. The 16 SOS was tasked to provide armed reconnaissance and close air support for the assault by multinational forces which liberated the island. Spectre was praised for "saving the day" by providing last-second intelligence to the air assault forces, Gunship crews silenced numerous AAA emplacements and knocked out several enemy armored personnel carriers. AC-130s suppressed enemy air defense systems and attacked ground forces enabling the successful assault of the Point Salines Airfield via airdrop and air land of friendly forces. The AC-130 aircrew earned the Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner Award for the mission.  

Operation JUST CAUSE was a National Command Authorities-directed intervention into the Republic of Panama, and a complete success for Spectre. The 16 SOS spearheaded the entire operation on 20 December 1989, with seven aircraft simultaneously attacking the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) targets throughout the country. Distribution of these targets was critical to the success of the US ground forces by neutralizing PDF resistance and by creating confusion. All seven aircraft, two out of Howard AFB, and five out of Hurlburt Field, were overhead their targets on time. This was no easy task in itself since it required flying two formations. One, an 8-hour, 5-ship formation out of the CONUS had to fly through extremely bad weather making both the gun tweaks and the two heavy weight air refuelings very challenging. Noteworthy is the fact that the squadron was not tasked to maintain qualification in formation flying, and neither flight had much formation practice -- a testimony to pilot skill and crew dedication. Two gunships targeted the PDF headquarters, La Comandancia, the highest-valued target in the invasion. Using surgical precision and t~ng the endurance of the gunners, the crews, in less than two orbits, reduced the building complex to burning rubble, and at the same time took out several barracks and antiaircraft artillery guns. There was virtually no collateral damage to the civilian buildings and homes surrounding La Comandancia. Besides La Comandancia, Spectre serviced- key targets in minimum time as a prelude to ground force assault or airdrops at Torrijos/Tocumen Airport, Rio Hato Air Base, the Rio Pacora Bridge, and Colon. All crews exhibited valor and dedication by performing superbly in spite of the expectation of encountering AAA. Four crews did encounter some AAA which was quickly put out of commission, as were numerous armored vehicles. Targets were often as close as ten meters from friendly positions, but collateral damage was minimal. On the first night, crews flew an average of 15 grueling hours with at least three air refuelings. After covering the original objectives, gunships were diverted to other areas including the US embassy to provide fire support, surveillance, and reconnaissance. That evening, Spectre even assisted in the beginning of the chase down of Gen Noriega, Panama's self-appointed President. Before Gen Noriega sought refuge in the Papal Nuncio, aircrews flew numerous missions as part of the extensive manhunt for him. Often, several crews were simultaneously involved in the search to follow-up on suspected hide-outs. The extensive aerial coverage provided by these gunships directly resulted in Noriega's inability to escape from Panama. After Noriega entered the Papal Nuncio, the gunship changed from manhunt to overhead security, providing 24-hour coverage to prevent PDF members any chance to rescue their deposed leader. These crews were instrumental in the surrender of PDF troops at the Penonome prison and David garrisons. The presence of the AC-I30H overhead at Penonome prevented any possibility of the larger PDF force from ambushing the much smaller US ground force sent there to accept their surrender. By 27 December 1989, Spectre crews had flown 355 combat hours. AC-I30H Spectre gunship participation in Operation JUST CAUSE is best summarized by the Commander of the 7th Ranger Regiment in the following quote: "The devastating fire delivered by the AC- 130s of the 16th SOS prior to the airborne assaults at Rio Hato and Torrijos/Tocumen aided the ground forces in quickly overcoming resistance at both objectives. Without your support, friendly casualties would have been much higher."

Operation PROMOTE LIBERTY, the pacification of Panama, began successful completion of JUST CAUSE on
14 January 1990. Initially, four gunships were assigned to the mission with crews on round-the-clock alert status. Taskings were made by Joint Task Force Panama in support of US Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and Marine forces. Close air support and armed reconnaissance missions were flown nightly to ferret out any remaining Noriega loyalists. As the resistance dwindled, the number of AC-130H aircraft in Panama dropped to two, and eventually the 16 SOS discontinued operations in Panama, for the first time in seven and one half years, on 31 May 1990. The Air Force recognized the superior performance of Spectre aircrews during Operation JUST CAUSE by bestowing several decorations on the 16 SOS. The crew of Air Papa 06, one of the gunships that attacked La Comandancia, was awarded the prestigious 1990 Mackay Trophy as having performed the most meritorious flight of the year by an Air Force aircrew. The outstanding performance of the Air Papa 04 crew over Rio Hato Air Base won them the Lt Gen William H. Tunner Crew Award as the Military Airlift Command's Outstanding Aircrew of the Year. Additionally, the aircraft commander of Air Papa 03 was awarded the 1990 Jabara Award for his superior airmanship during operations over the Rio Pacora Bridge. Spectre aircrew members also won numerous Distinguished Flying Crosses, Air Medals, Commendation Medals, and Achievement Medals.

Soon after JUST CAUSE, Spectre again changed commands and in May 1990 was assigned to the Air Force Special Operations Command. Spectre did not have much time to rest on her laurels, and on 6 September 1990 deployed in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD and DES'ERT STORM. As a member of the Central Air Force, the 16 SOS was poised to defend Saudi Arabia from Iraqi invasion and ultimately to free Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. Flying to the desert, and then establishing a working airfield at King Fhad International Airport required every bit of the squadron's capabilities. The trip to the desert had been unique in that it was the first 5-aircraft formation transatlantic flight ever made by the gunship. The crew of one aircraft had to refuel with the number three propeller pitchlocked in order to make it to their destination. After arrival, the Spectre crews had to perform all of the basic tasks necessary in setting up a working airbase. A key step in maintaining a combat-ready unit was coordinating use of Saudi Arabian territory for live-fire ranges. Without these ranges, gunship operations for DESERT SHIELD would have been severely limited. The squadron conducted numerous training operations, capabilities briefings, firepower demonstrations, and classes on gunship employment for various user organizations. The squadron's primary objective was to provide close air support (CAS), rear area security (RAS), and interdiction in support of US Central Command objectives. During the tail end of DESERT SHIELD, Spectre was tasked for Operation EASTERN EXIT. On 3 January 1991, one AC-130H and crew deployed to an east African country to start planning' for the non-combatant evacuation operations of an American embassy. On 5 January, the gunship assisted US Marines with their entry into the embassy compound and remained at an orbit point east of the city. Later that afternoon, another AC-I30H was launched from Saudi Arabia to help with the nighttime evacuation of embassy personnel. This aircraft completed two air refuelings and arrived at the orbit point during the mid-phase of the evacuation. Both aircraft remained on station until the last Marine helicopters were safely away from any threat. On 7 January, the gunships returned to Saudi Arabia.

On 16 January 1991, Operation DESERT STORM kicked off. The primary mission of the squadron was interdiction and armed reconnaissance. The primary interdiction targets were early warning/ground control intercept (EW/GCI) sites along the southern border of Iraq. On 17 January, two AC-130Hs deployed from Hurlburt as part of a 288-man, 6 aircraft Air Force Special Operations Forces combat force on Operation GABLE SHARK. This was a Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, classified mission of vital national importance deployed to Europe in direct support of Operation DESERT STORM. On 18 January, three aircraft from Saudi Arabia were launched to interdict EW/GCI sites, but all missions were diverted in flight to hunt for SCUD missiles. At a later date, some EW/GCI sites were struck. By 22 January, the 16 SOS had set up an orbit point 30-40 miles south of the Iraqi border. Increased mobile SAM activity prevented operating within Iraqi airspace. On 27 January, the orbit point was moved to a position south of the Kuwaiti border. This allowed Spectre to accept a tasking from the US Marines to perform armed reconnaissance in and around the city of Khafji during 29-31 January. The first gunship to enter the Battle of Khafji was called off airborne alert on 29 January to help stop an Iraqi armored column that was moving south. One day later, three more gunships were called in to provide further aid to the Marines. These gunships pounded Iraqi positions and columns that were again moving south to reinforce their positions north of the city. Aircraft #696567, call sign Spirit 03, elected to remain on station during the early morning hours of 31 January 1991 to provide further fire support to the Marines. Unfortunately, Spirit 03 was shot down by a surface to air missile (SAM) and all 14 crewmembers perished. The bravery and dedication of Spectre resulted in the destruction of 21 enemy fuel trucks, 10 armored personnel carriers, and 2 antiaircraft artillery sites during the Battle of Khafji. The crew of Spirit 03 was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals. The actions of the aircrews played a decisive role in the retaking of Khafji and its subsequent control for the duration of hostilities. Overall, the 16 SOS was credited for destroying 21 fuel trucks, 10 armored personnel carriers, 9 23mm AAA sites, 6 electronic equipment vans, 3 Squat Eye/Flat Face radar facilities, 2 communication sites, and a command post complex. Numerous other targets, including large numbers of enemy personnel, were engaged but not confirmed destroyed. During the retreat of the Iraqi Army from Kuwait, one AC- I30H gunship provided air cover over the Kuwait International Airport. The remainder of DESERT STORM saw the 16 SOS flying airborne alert. On 27 May 1991, the remaining gunships in Saudi Arabia returned to home station at Hurlburt Field.

Bosnia: Operation Deny Flight became Operation Deliberate Force on Aug. 19, 1995. It was the largest NATO air operation in history. On the first night, "GHOST-31", aircraft 69-6568 struck an artillery/mortar position southeast of Sarajevo, thus marking the first time this aircraft had ever fired in combat. The 16th SOS flew multiple combat search and rescue sorties from Sept. 6-8, 1995 in support of the rescue attempt of a French Mirage aircrew downed by a surface-to-air missile near Pale. During the operation, which lasted until Sept. 15, 1995, the 16th SOS expended 268 rounds of 105MM and 125 rounds of 40MM against early warning radar sites and command and control facilities. The 16th SOS also participated in Operations Decisive Endeavor, Joint Endeavor, Assured Response, Deliberate Guard, Joint Guard, Goal Keeper and Wintering Over.

The 16 SOS has flown over 70,000 hours without any Class A or Class B mishaps. In 1990, the squadron received the MAC 20,000 Hours Flying Safety plaque and contributed significantly to the 1st Special Operations Wing's receipt of the SICOFAA Flying Safety Award. Equally impressive has been Spectre's explosive safety and ground safety programs. Since the squadron's inception in 1968, there has not been a single on-duty, loss of life due to explosive or ground safety incidents.

The 16 SOS Guidon is adorned with two Presidential Citations, four Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards with V devices, campaign streamers, and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm. The overall professionalism of the unit has been recognized by being selected as MAC's Outstanding Special Operations Squadron five times.

Factual material is obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but the Spectre Association
is not responsible for errors or omissions contained herein.

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