|BIRTH OF THE "SPECTRE" GUNSHIP|
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.
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 first FE to die was Cecil Taylor who my assistant Crew Chief/FE at Patrick AFB. In Systems command 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
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 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.
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
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
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.
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,
aircraft shuddered violently when it was struck, but it
was flyable as they headed to Ubon with an
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!
material is obtained from sources believed to be reliable,
but the Spectre Association
is not responsible for errors or omissions contained herein.