AC-130H and MC-130P immortalized in air park

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tyler Placie
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Air Commandos, past and present, and their families gathered to celebrate the service of two iconic aircraft, the AC-130H Spectre and the MC-130P Combat Shadow, during dedication ceremonies at the air park here, Feb. 2.

More than 400 people attended the ceremonies for the Spectre and Combat Shadow to cement the legacy of these aircraft at Hurlburt Field. The aircraft were retired as the Air Force and Air Force Special Operations Command modernize the fleet with the addition of aircraft such as the AC-130J Ghostrider and the MC-130J Commando II.

Out of necessity, the Spectre was born from lessons learned from the AC-130A, thus eventually fielding the AC-130E gunships equipped with 7.62 mm, 29 mm and 40 mm guns, as well as upgraded electronics and sensors.

“When you talk to the Special Forces guys on the ground, they say, ‘We always want a Spectre overhead, that’s when we get a good night’s sleep,’” said retired Gen. Charles Holland, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and AFSOC.

But, that wouldn’t be the last of the weapon upgrades for the AC-130 aircraft. In 1972, the Air Force would replace the 40 mm gun with a 105 mm cannon.

“To this day, there is no sound that strikes more fear into the hearts of our enemies than the sound of an AC-130 orbiting and firing overhead,” said Lt. Col. Derrick Barton, commander of the 4th Special Operations Squadron and narrator for the AC-130H dedication.

Modernization of the force spurred additional changes and powerful engines were added, and the Spectre was once more re-designated as the AC-130H. Aircraft 69-6575, Wicked Wanda, was the first off the line.

“Years from now, people will see ‘Wicked Wanda’ on her perch and wonder - perhaps imagining the battles and the far-off conflicts written on the brass in front of her. We here know better - It was the men and women who flew her in Grenada and Iraq, and Kuwait and Afghanistan,” said Col. Sean Farrell, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing. “We who flew her and kept her going know what to fix in our minds; the Airmen, the Spectres who wore the patch. We in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

The Spectre played a role in operations all over the world, first in Vietnam. Then in the 1980s, the AC-130H gunships participated in Operation Eagle Claw, led Operation Urgent Fury and took part in Operation Just Cause. During the 90s, Spectres contributed to surveillance and intelligence missions in Latin America and flew interdiction missions in Iraq during Desert Storm. The last operational years of the AC-130H Spectre were spent flying combat missions in the Balkans and Somalia, and in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“From Isaiah 6:8, ‘Here am I; send me,” said Holland. “And that’s what the Spectre community has always done and will continue to do in the future as we look at this bright road ahead.”

Like the Spectre, the MC-130P Combat Shadow has been an integral part of the Air Force fleet.

The Combat Shadow series first entered service in 1965 during the Vietnam War, as the HC-130H CROWN airborne controller. Since the establishment of AFSOC in 1993, a version of the Combat Shadow had been flying Special Operations missions. The HC-130 was then modified with internal fuel tanks for aerial-refueling and became the Papa or MC-130P Combat Shadow, to designate its multi-mission capabilities in 1996.

“There’s no way you could get anywhere without the MC-130 Papa,” Holland said.

The Papa supported special operations missions worldwide including: operations Just Cause, Desert Storm, Northern and Southern Watch, Deny Flight, Deliberate Force and Joint Endeavor. After 9/11, the Combat Shadow supported special operations forces during the final stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom and deployed multiple times as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Shadows own the night, and we know it,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command.

Holland echoed the sentiment.

“I continue to hear from special operations ground assets how important the Air Commando capabilities in close air support, infiltration and exfiltration are to the heart and soul of the special operations mission,” he said.

As for the future of the fleet, two of AFSOC’s priorities are to provide combat-ready forces and modernize and sustain the force.

“For those of you youngsters out there that are saddling up now and going to fly the replacement, the MC-130J, that is priority one for us in AFSOC,” Heithold said.

The MC-130P Combat Shadow and AC-130H Spectre symbolize the embodiment of “Any Time, Any Place,” and their dedication at the air park serves as a reminder of the heritage and evolution of AFSOC capabilities.

“What I am proud of at Hurlburt is that we maintain that passion and we also maintain that pride in providing these legacy aircraft, which are superbly maintained here, now, in this airpark, as a reminder of who we are, who we need to be and if they could only talk, just think of the stories they could tell,” Holland said.