BIRTH OF THE "SPECTRE" GUNSHIP

Spectre had its beginning when operational testing of a C-130 as a gunship was conducted at Eglin AFB FL from June through September of 1967. The bird saw its first combat when a C-130A Task Force was deployed to Nha Trang, Republic of Vietnam, on 20 September 1967. The first combat mission was flown shortly thereafter on 27 September 1967. The first AC-130 gunship was known as "Super Spook" during those first few days of operation. The first truck busting mission was flown on 9 November 1967. This task force became Detachment 2, 14th Air Commando Wing. In June 1968, Spectre was deployed to Tan Son Nhut AB near Saigon for support against the TET Offensive. While there, Detachment 2, 14th Air Commando Wing, was assigned to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing and became the 16th Special Operations Squadron. It was at this time that the C-130A gunship was designated the AC-130A.

On 30 October 1968, the 16 SOS "Spectre" was activated at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), Thailand. 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. Cont below...

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 497th 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. 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. The concept had been tested and the C-130 airframe was selected, however, very few C-130 aircraft were available for configuration to gunships and alternate airframes were used. In December 1969, the
AC-123K (Black Spot) 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.

More on the AC-123K Also called NC-123K "Project Black Spot": 

In December of 1965, the USAF began Project Black Spot. This test program was designed to give the Air Force a self-contained night attack capability to seek out and destroy targets along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In early-1966, the concept was approved by the Department of Defense and two Fairchild C-123K Providers (#54-691 and #54-698) were modified by E-Systems of Greenville, Texas to the redesignated NC-123K (often referred to as AC-123K) configuration.

The aircraft were equipped with a long, 57.75 inch nose fairing that housed an X-band forward-looking radar. Below and aft of the extended radome was a turret with Forward-Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), Low-Level Light Television (LLLTV), and a laser range-finder/illuminator. Also, a low-level Doppler navigation radar and weapons release computer were installed.

Two rectangular aluminum weapons dispensers (for CBU bomblets) were stacked within the fuselage. Each container housed 12 cells, each cell containing three Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs). Depending on the type of CBU installed, the containers had a capacity of between 2,664 and 6,372 one pound bomblets. The bomblets were released through 12 openings in the cargo floor that aligned with the cells in the weapons dispenser. The lower fuselage contained 12 inward opening doors that aligned with the openings in the cargo floor, forming a chute. Bomblet release was controlled by a weapons panel in the forward section of the fuselage. In the event of an emergency, the entire load could be jettisoned manually.

The first aircraft (#54-691) was delivered to Eglin AFB, Florida in August 1967 and the second (#54-698), incorporating an AN/ASD-5 Black Crow direction finder set (engine ignition sensor), was delivered in February 1968.

Prior to deploying to Vietnam, the two aircraft were sent to Osan Air Base, South Korea to be evaluated against the high-speed infiltration boats used by North Korea to send agents into South Korea. The unit remained in Korea from 19 August 1968 to 23 October 1968, and were scheduled for a total of 57 missions. Upon completion of their Korean assignment, the unit was deployed to South Vietnam for a combat evaluation of the "Black Spot" weapons system.

It was in South Vietnam where the aircraft operated under the project name and callsign - "Black Spot". Both aircraft began operations on 15 November 1968, flying from Phan Rang Air Base, with mission staging areas at Binh Thuy and Pleiku. During the combat evaluation period, a total of 69 sorties were flown over target areas consisting of the Mekong Delta and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. From November 1968 to May 1969, these "gunships" flew 186 missions, destroyed 415 trucks and damaged 273 more. While operating as armed night surveillance units in the Mekong Delta, the two aircraft destroyed 151 boats/vehicles, damaging another 108 and noted secondary explosions on 161 targets. Both aircraft completed 70 percent of all missions and had an in-commission rate of 84 percent; not bad for an aircraft that was developed as a test bed and never intended to be used operationally!

A little History as told by CMSgt Don Beardsley (33 Yr USAF Veteran and Long time Spectre/Blind Bat FE)

"A lot of people don't know about the connection between the two units, Bennie Castillo started Blind Bat at Danang AFB Viet. the firsi FE to die was Cecil Taylor who my assistant Crew Chief/FE at Patrick AFB. In Systems comand at that time the FE's were assigned to Maintance and maintained the aircraft  and also was the assigned FE's  A lot of the first crew members to Ubon came from Patrick  in addition to all the 130's from their. 

I knew most every individual in Spectre from it's beginning as I was at Ubon when Spectre first arrived, (Their was a great rivalry between Blind Bat and Spectre to see who could spray paint the most logo's around the base) The Blind Bats started flying out of Danang in Vietnam, but after one of our aircraft's was satchel charged we moved to Ubon a lot of this was started with Bennie the Bean Castillo. I was flying Blind Bat C-130A's, we dropped flares to light up targets for fighter aircraft. we had already been using a star light scope, to find targets at night. Later we progressed to the NOD before Spectre arrived, our first EWO was a contraption built of dexon frame and a scope on it that could detect gomer trucks ignition. The only bad thing is we could not shoot back, On my first mission in North Vietnam we had search lights put on us and the B57's that was with us peeled off real quick, I felt like we was in a Ford "Model A" trying to get away down an old dirt road. When I got to Lockbourne AFB to help train combat crews for duty to SEA and Ubon. At first we trained crews on the AC-119s for familiarization on gunships. Waiting for our first AC-130A. It wasn't long before we made our move to Hurlburt Field. When we arrived the AC-130E's was sitting on the ramp we immediately sent Four Pilots and Engineers to learn all about the E-Model's. Then we kind of had the people that was already qualified on the E's and the gunship qualified people teaching each other. This School squadron was known as the 415th SOTS. When the war was winding down the gunship school and Gunships was being evaluated to keep them or send them to the bone yard. WE then were attached to the 8th SOS as Gunships Ops, we finally got the approval to prepare for the return of the 16th. SOS to be activated at Hurlburt Field. on Dec 1975. Just an added note most of the early AC-130A's came from Patrick AFB, JC-130"s that I was flying on at the time. Now you know the rest of the story." 

-CMSgt Don Beardsley

Both aircraft were later assigned to the 16th Special Operations Squadron at Ubon RTAB. On 5 November 1969, ECM and RAHW gear was installed, and the first aircraft received a Black Crow system. They continued their mission from late-1969 till June 1970 from Ubon, often with night fighter escorts because of heavy antiaircraft artillery (AAA) fire.

Although Project Black Spot was a complete success, both aircraft were later refitted to back to the C-123K standard to serve as normal transports. Note: They did retain their unique wrap-around camouflage after the conversion.

December 1970 saw the arrival of the Pave Pronto AC-130As. As the squadron continued to grow, new events took place.

Excellent document "War Against Trucks" from USAF History Site.

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 needed 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 designated 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 10,000 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.

Not all activity of the squadron during the Vietnam conflict dealt with combat. On 5 December 1971, the 16 SOS presented the local village of Mak Mi, Thailand, with an 800 pound Budda. Each year, from 1971 through 1973, the 16 SOS was the major contributor to the annual orphanage drive held by the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. It took an awful lot of donations to get ‘Ghost Riders or Yellow Bird" off Armed Forces Radio.
 

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 US and allied officials from Phnom Penh before it 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, 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 was again called upon. 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 July of 1975, the formation of the only Air Force Reserve gunship squadron, the 711th SOS commenced. The unit was formed at Duke Field with all the AC-130As still in the inventory. The unit has participated with valor in such activity as Operations JUST CAUSE, DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, and continues to maintain the US presence in Panama. The 711th still maintains and flies the original Air Force C-130, "First Lady"--129. In December of that same year, the 16 SOS began its move to Hurlburt Field, Florida, with the first gunship arriving on 12 December 1975. By the end of January 1976, all the men and women of the 16 SOS had left Thailand.

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. 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. 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.

Spectre's next challenge took place over the island of Grenada on 25 October 1983, as AC-130Hs were overhead during Operation URGENT FURY. The 16 SOS provided 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.

The return home didn’t last long. Responding to JCS direction, Spectres found themselves at Howard AFB, Panama Canal Zone, one of the more exotic places in the world. They maintained an ongoing rotation to Howard, monitoring activities in El Salvador and other Central American points of interest. This commitment of aircraft and crews started in 1983 and lasted until 1990, longer than the original gunship commitment in Southeast Asia.

Operation JUST CAUSE was a National Command Authority-directed intervention into the Republic of Panama, which the gunships of both the 16 SOS and the 711 SOS spearheaded. On 20 December, 1989, seven aircraft simultaneously attacked the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) targets throughout the country. All seven aircraft, two out of Howard AFB, and five out of Hurlburt Field, were over 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 CONUS. By 27 December 1989, Spectre crews had flown 355 combat hours. AC-I30 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 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."

Soon after JUST CAUSE, Spectre again changed commands and in May 1990 was assigned to the Air Force Special Operations Command. On 6 September 1990, the 16 SOS deployed in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, followed by the 711 SOS. The primary objective was to provide close air support (CAS), rear area security (RAS), and interdiction in support of US Central Command objectives. On 16 January, 1991, Operation DESERT STORM kicked off. The primary interdiction targets were early warning/ground control intercept (EW/GCI) sites along the southern border of Iraq. 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 #69-6567, 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 crew members perished. During the retreat of the Iraqi Army from Kuwait, one AC- I30 gunship provided air cover for Kuwait International Airport. The remainder of DESERT STORM saw the gunships flying airborne alert. On 27 May 1991, the remaining gunships in Saudi Arabia returned to home station at Hurlburt Field.

In 1992, the gunships found themselves on a humanitarian mission in support of Operation PROVIDE HOPE, to quell the unrest in Somalia. After their initial support, several gunships were redeployed to Italy to maintain a force for Operation DENY FLIGHT, where they still maintain a detachment. In late 1993, another contingent was again deployed to Kenya in an effort to bolster US presence in Somalia.

A major milestone was reached in 1994. The acceptance of new, from the ground up, gunships is underway. The first AC-130U aircraft arrived in early 1994! It is the result of years of work to develop an airframe for the purpose of being a gunship, rather than converting an airframe designed for a different purpose, to the gunship configuration. If it’s anything like its predecessors, we will be reading about its extraordinary activities in the various "hot spots" of the world for the next twenty years!

As with any activity, you accrue some costs. During Operation CONTINUE HOPE, the cost was eight men who paid the ultimate price. Spectre experienced it first non-combat casualties on 14 March 1994. Jockey 14 experienced a catastrophic failure while firing a 105mm cannon off the coast of Kenya. The aircraft crash landed within sight of shore. Three members parachuted to safety and were picked up, and three other members survived the crash landing. One member perished at sea after bailout and seven members died from the impact of crash landing.

Several major events occurred in 1995. The first was the formation of a new active-duty gunship squadron, composed of AC-130U gunships, the 4th SOS. The heritage of the 4th SOS can be traced to the 4th SOS of the Viet Nam era and its AC-47s. The Air Force capitalized on that heritage by selecting the moniker of SPOOKY. No matter what the name, they are still SPECTREs and are AC-130 gunships. In early April, aircraft 509 was dedicated at the Hurlburt Field Air Park, the first AC-130 gunship to be put on permanent static display. The other major event was the retirement of the remaining 5 A-model gunships on 10 September, 1995. Included in the group was the first production C-130 the Air Force received, aircraft 53-3129 (First Lady). the last AC-130A live fire was conducted by 129 over A-77 on 28 Sept 95.
 It is "ON Station" for permanent static display at the Eglin Armament Museum as a Gunship. That brings to an end the saga of the A-models, who served 10 days short of 28 years (looking for someone to POSITIVELY Verify this statement)  as the "Four Engine Fighter". Their legacy is a solid foundation for the newest systems to build on and can only grow with the passage of time.

RECENTLY IN SPECTRE HISTORY

24 May 69:  The40th Anniversary of the loss of AC 629 and Spectre’s Cecil Taylor and Jack Troglen.  Let's not forget the first Spectre's combat fatalities.

On 15 May 1975, crews from the 16th SOS stationed at Korat AB flew missions in support of the rescue of the U.S. merchant ship, S.S. Mayaguez. The operation began on 12 May when the Mayaguez was seized by the Cambodian navy about 100 miles off the coast of Cambodia in International waters. The ship was taken to Koh Tang Island and the crew (our intel was unaware)  had been taken to the Cambodian mainland. Spectre had at least 2 aircraft orbiting the Island 24/7 from the time it was seized. The rescue attempt for the crew (that was NOT on Koh Tang Island) began on in the early morning hours of 15 May. The fierce battle continued into the early evening with several Jolly Greens shot down and many Jolly crew members and Marines wounded or KIA. Anyone involved in the operation should check out www.kohtang.com, a website set up by the Marines on Koh Tang who owe their survival to the surgical application of firepower by the "Fabulous Four-Engine Fighter"!! Just another date in Spectre history!!

21 April
1970 - the anniversary of Gunship 54-1625  The Warlord while truck hunting along the southern portion of the Ho Chi Minh trail, in Laos. While strafing the trucks, the AC-130 Gunship, from the 16th SOS, was hit by 37 mm AAA, catching fire. Ten crewmen were listed as KIA. Staff Sergeant E. Fields was the only survivor.

24 April 1980 - 29 years ago - crews from the 16th SOS were deployed in support of Operation "Desert One". Five members of the 8'th SOS and three Marines perished in the desert of Iran.

29-30 April 1975 - 34 years ago - Crews from the 16th SOS stationed at Korat Royal Thai Air Base participated in Operation "Frequent Wind", the final evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. These were the last flights flown by gunships into Viet Nam airspace.

Great Detailed Gunship Bit of History

In History March 27, '69 Then Major Charlie Spicka was scheduled for a routine AC-130A Spectre Gunship Interdiction mission over the Trails in Laos on March 27, '69.  On that mission, a 37 MM round hit their Gunship in the right horizontal stabilizer.  The aircraft was recovered safely to Ubon.   

Charlie was one of the first twelve pilots to complete the Gunship training course in September '68 at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio.  Following Jungle Survival Training at Clark AB, P.I., Charlie and the others arrived at Ubon AB, Thai as members of the newly established 16th SOS under the 8th TFW Wing who flew missions in the F-4 Phantom.  A sign over the 16th SOS Sqdn. Ops. read: "The Fabulous Four Engine Fighters of the Wolfpack".  [The 8th TFW] 



 
 

Here's a photo of one of the first four AC-130A Gunships.  AC-130A's had four 20 MM Vulcans & four 7.62 miniguns.  The Unit lost 6 aircraft from 1969 until the end of the war.                                    

 
AC-130A  #54-1629

 

The mission Charlie flew on March 27, 1969 was in Gunship # 53-3129 which is known as the "First Lady" as it was the first production Lockheed C-130 accepted by the USAF. The "First Lady" is now on static display at the Eglin Armament Museum near Eglin AFB, Florida.   

About 2 hrs. into the five hour mission as the aircraft entered into its "pylon geometry" attack pattern one of the numerous 37 MM AAA rounds struck the aircraft in the tail.  A crew of 14 were aboard that night, 6 Officers and 8 Enlisted.

The aircraft shuddered violently when it was struck, but it was flyable as they headed to Ubon with an
F-4 escort above.

After landing safely and shutting down, everyone had a look at the damage inflicted by the 37 MM round that hit then.  Here's a Mar. 27, '69 photo of Maj. Charlie Spicka taking a closer look.                                                   

This was the third hit by AAA fire Charlie got while flying in the month of March 1969.  The 16th SOS Commander told Charlie to go to Bangkok for a three day R&R as the joke in the squadron was that Charlie couldn't get a crew together.  Some even referred to Charlie as "Old Magnet Ass". 

 

 

Charlie completed his one year combat tour in October 1969 and he was posted to the Pentagon as the Air Staff Point-of-Contact for Gunship Operations in AF/XOOSO, Special Ops.

Charlie successfully found funding for modification of the Gunship fleet with new sensors and improved armament to include the 40 MM Bofors Cannon and 105 MM Howitzer.  In 1971, Charlie suggested a buy of more Fixed-wing Gunships.  The USAF finally agreed to modify eleven -130E aircraft with  the upgraded AC-130 Spectre Gunship configuration.

Charlie Spicka departed the Pentagon in July 1973 for a tour in the UK.  Charlie retired as an 0-6 at USAFE Hqtrs. in 1984 and he now lives in Oceanside, Calif. with his wife, Carole.

Finally, AF Fixed-wing Gunships starting with AC-47 Spooky's,  the AC-119G Shadow, the AC-119K Stinger and AC-130A/E/H Spectres made a significant contribution to the US war effort  in Vietnam.  The AC-130H and AC-13U Gunships have served with distinction in both Iraq and in Afghanistan. AF Gunships contributed significantly to USAF Airpower for over 40 years. 


Recently Declassified Report on
Fixed Wing Gunships in SEA!
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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