As the Vietnam War expanded in scope and intensity, the Air Force increased its counterinsurgency capability and most of its special operations resources were dedicated to the war in Southeast Asia. Propeller aircraft such as the T-28, B-26, C-47, and A-1 appeared strangely out of place in a jet-age air force.

However, as one air commando commented, "Our planes may be obsolete and unsophisticated, but they can do our kind of job." That might be a C-47 dropping flares to illuminate the target; a B-26 making repeated strafing, rocket, and bombing passes; or a forward air controller (FAC) identifying a target for strike aircraft. Whatever it might be, the jobs got done as the air commandos met the expanded requirements and tasks of air operations in Vietnam. Air commando units performed psychological operations, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, forward air control, close air support, and interdiction.

The most important special operations development which came out of the Vietnam War was the gunship - the AC-47, the AC-119, and at its best, the AC-130. The AC-130 performed its interdiction and close air support missions in an outstanding manner and proved to be the most effective "truck killer" in the war. This radical concept, calling for a transport with side firing guns, met considerable initial opposition within the Air Force. However, once a C-47 was equipped and tested in Vietnam, the results were convincing. Although the gunship was vulnerable to enemy ground fire, it had the advantage of being able to keep a target under constant fire by executing its signature orbit overhead. In the face of heavier ground fire, the Air Force responded by improving avionics and increasing gunship firepower to permit it to operate at higher and safer altitudes. Gunship development progressed from the AC-47 through the AC-119G/K models, to the AC-130A during the Vietnam era. The AC-130H, and the newest gunship, the AC-130U, continues this legacy by providing greater capabilities and larger, more accurate weapons. The initial armament of 7.62mm miniguns on the AC-47, while devastating to enemy ground troops, could not compare with the power of the 25mm, 40mm, and 105mm weapons of the AC-130U. Due to continuing technology improvements, day or night precision strikes came to be a gunship hallmark.

The wing concentrated almost exclusively on training aircrews enroute to Vietnam. This increased its size significantly. By October 1965 there were 165 aircraft of 10 different types assigned to Hurlburt. Due to the number of aircraft and the training requirements, operations were split into two wings - one at Hurlburt Field and one at England AFB, Louisiana. Headquarters, 1 ACW transferred to England and the 4410 Combat Crew Training Wing took charge at Hurlburt on January 15, 1966. Split operations continued until July 15, 1969, when 1 ACW headquarters transferred back to Hurlburt Field. During that time, the Air Force redesignated the 1 ACW as the 1st Special Operations Wing (SOW) effective July 8, 1968. Except for one year from July 1974 to July 1975, when it was the 834th Tactical Composite Wing, it remained the 1 SOW until October 1, 1993. It then became the 16 SOW.