AC-130A Spectre

The AC-130 Spectre gunship in the Air Park is an AC-130A model named the "Ultimate End." The A-model gunship was the first AC-130 model. The aircraft is 97 feet 9 inches long and 38 feet 3 inches tall. It has a wingspan of 132 feet 7 inches and a wing area of 1,745 sq. feet. Initially, the C-130 had a maximum speed of 384 mph and an unrefueled range of 2,450 miles with maximum load. However, with the aerial refueling modification, the range for the later model gunships was only limited by crew endurance. The YC-130 first flew August 23, 1954 and C-130A production began April 7, 1955, with Air Force deliver beginning in December 1956.

Lockheed built the C-130 Hercules, which became one of the most versatile and longest lasting aircraft produced. Like the C-47 before it, many countries acquired if for their transport needs. More than 39 countries have flown this aircraft. It had the ability to haul heavy loads and large equipment and operate in and out of short, rough landing strips.

The RC-130 was configured for photo reconnaissance; the DC-130 launched and controlled drone targets for air defense weapons practice; the GC-130 was a drone director for research purposes; the JC-130 recovered satellite capsules; and the C-130D was fitted with skis and takeoff rockets for use in Antarctica. The HC-130 has been used for search and rescue, weather reconnaissance, recovering Discoverer capsules and NASA manned space flight modules. The HC-130 has also been used by special operations as a helicopter aerial refueler. The Marines utilized the KC-130 as an aerial tanker. Also, the C-130 was adapted for fire fighting and delivered 30,000 pounds of liquid fire suppressants over 30,000 square feet of forest in only 10 seconds.

The high-wing design of this aircraft and its large capacity made it especially suited as a gunship. The first gunship, the AC-47, with low wings, reduced its field of fire. Having the guns below the wings eliminated the basic problem of the AC-47. Also, the large C-130 could carry more ammunition for its heavier weapons. The AC-47 was equipped with three 7.62mm miniguns. In contrast the AC-130A carried 7.62mm and 20mm weapons; the AC-130H fired 20mm, 40mm and 105mm guns; and the newest gunship, the AC-130U, is equipped with 25mm, 40mm and 105mm weapons.

The C-130 gunship was a new weapon system in an old airframe. Therefore, there were a number of firsts that one model or another chalked up for the gunship. Spectre was operationally tested at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., from June to September 1967. It initially deployed to Nha Trang, Republic of Vietnam September 20, 1967, and flew its first combat mission September 27. Its first truck busting mission was flown November 8, 1967, and all A-model gunships were assigned to Detachment 2, 14th Commando Wing. In 1968, Det. 2 was assigned to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing and became the 16th Special Operations Squadron. At that time the C-130A was renamed the AC-130A.

A gunship was called to Katum, Vietnam, to support a special forces base under strong attack. The ground commander asked the gunship to fire on the enemy at the very edge of the camp. The gunship demonstrated the accuracy of its weapons and thus was born the close-air support capability ground forces have relied upon ever since.

The 16th SOS moved to Thialand on October 30, 1968. The squadron continued to fly the A-model until it received the AC-130E, which was later, redesignated the AC-130H.

Spectre suffered it first battle damage from anti-aircraft artillery September 26, 1968. The sturdy C-130 returned to base. In December 1968, F-4 Phantoms first escorted the gunship in an effort to protect it from ground fire. However, the first gunship was lost with two crewmembers on May 24, 1969. One was killed when the gunship was hit and the other perished when the plane crashed at home base.

A gunship accomplished an unusual feat, May 8, 1969, when it shot down an enemy helicopter. Thus was born the nickname the "fabulous four engine fighter" to the chagrin of fighter pilots who were having few opportunities for air-to-air kills. Firepower increased when the first 105mm cannon arrived for installation on the gunship February 17, 1972. The artillery piece was first used in combat March 1, 1972.

Khmer Rough insurgents threatened the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh on April 12, 1975. Gunships participated in the evacuation of American citizens from the capital as it fell to the communists. Later in the same month, April 30, Spectres also patrolled over Saigon during the American evacuation. Cambodians captured the USS Mayaguez on May 15 in international waters and AC-130As played a key role in the recovery of the ship and crew. In July the Air Force activated its only reserve gunship squadron at Duke Field, Fla., and equipped it with AC-130A Spectres.

Because of the hostage situation in Teheran, Iran, four H-model gunships of the 16th SOS flew nonstop from Hurlburt Field to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam in 1979 and later were part of the support force during the hostage rescue attempt in 1980. However, weather and mechanical problems with the helicopters forced the mission abort of this heroic effort. In October 1983, the gunships of the 16th SOS played a very significant part in the rescue of American medical students on the island of Grenada. Without the firepower of the AC-130Hs, the invasion of Grenada would have cost more American lives.

The invasion of Panama in December 1989 was another major success in which both the H-models and A-models played key roles. The fighting was opened by a gunship attack on the military headquarters of the dictator of Panama and the outcome was never in doubt. All objectives were quickly accomplished and democracy was restored to Panama.

Also, both the AC-130A and AC-130H gunships were part of the international force assembled in the Persian Gulf region to drive out of Kuwait which Saddam Hussein had invaded in early August 1990. In the following January, the allies launched the actual war known as DESERT STORM following the DESERT SHIELD build-up. Victory was accomplished in a few weeks and Kuwait was set free of the foreign invader.

Sadly, on January 31, 1991, the enemy shot down one AC-130H gunship (call-sign SPIRIT-03). It resulted in the loss of all 14 crewmembers, the largest single air power loss of the war.

Post war restriction on Iraq required the presence of gunships to enforce them. Other international crises have kept the gunships in a high operations tempo mode. These included support of the United Nations forces in Somalia and in the area of the former Yugoslavia. Another crisis the Spectre participated in was the restoration of the democratically elected president of Haiti in the fall of 1994, Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY. It was a complete success and that success was achieved without actual combat and the loss of life.

AC-130A TAIL #56-0509 HISTORY
Aircraft #56-0509, named the "Ultimate End," was accepted by the Air Force on February 28, 1957, and modified to the AC-130A configuration on July 27, 1970. The aircraft participated in the Vietnam conflict and the rescue of the USS Mayaguez. The "Ultimate End" demonstrated the durability of the C-130 after surviving hits in five places by 37mm anti-aircraft artillery on December 12, 1970, extensive left wing leading edge damage on April 12, 1971 and a 57mm round damaging the belly and injuring one crewmember on March 4, 1972.

"Ultimate End" was assigned to Duke Field on June 17, 1975, where it continued in service until retired in the fall of 1994 and transferred to Hurlburt Field's Air Park. While assigned to the 711th Special Operations Squadron at Duke Field, "Ultimate End" served in Operations JUST CAUSE, DESERT STORM and UPHOLD DEMOCRACY. After 36 years and seven months of service, 24 years as a gunship, "Ultimate End" retired from active service October 1, 1994. It made its last flight from Duke to Hurlburt on October 20, 1994.

The Spectre Association dedicated "Ultimate End" (which served with the 16 SOS in Vietnam) on May 4, 1995. Lt. Col. Michael Byers, then 16 SOS commander, represented the active-duty gunship force and Clyde Gowdy of the Spectre Association represented all Spectre personnel past and present for the unveiling of a monument at the aircraft and the dedication as a whole.

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