Watch: Lockheed AC-130U Gunship Live Firing!

The Lockheed AC-130 gunship is a heavily armed ground attack aircraft currently in service with the United States Air Force. It is a variation of the C-130 Hercules transport plane. The AC-130U Spooky and AC-130W Stinger II variants are used to support ground troops, escort convoys, and in towns and cities.

The weapons of the AC-130 fire from the port side. It forms a large circle over its target, which allows it to fire longer periods than other aircraft. The AC-1300H Spectre variant has two 25 mm canons, a 40 mm auto-cannon, and one 20 mm cannon. The Spooky has a 25 mm GAU-12 Equalizer in place of the two 20 mm cannons. It has an improved fire control system and can carry more ammunition. It has one 30 mm cannon. It carries missiles and small diameter bombs.

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In September 1967, during the Vietnam War, the AC-130s began combat operations in Laos and South Vietnam. A squadron of AC-130s was formed in October 1968. It was named the 16th Special Operations Squadron. It was based at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand.

During missions in Vietnam, the AC-130 destroyed ten thousand trucks or more and contributed air support to ground troops. On May 24 the first gunship, a Spectre, was shot down in combat. After this five more Spectres were lost and fifty-two crewmen killed. The gunships were taken out by Surface to Air Missiles or anti-aircraft guns.

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The AC -130 supported the ground troops in the Gulf War (1990 – 1991), undertaking missions in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Gunships have also conducted combat missions Afghanistan (2001 – 2014) and Iraq (2003 – 2011).

A new variant, the AC-130J Ghostrider, is planned for service in the United States Air Force. It was first tested in 2014.


4th Special Operations Squadron Airmen conduct a live-fire mission in an AC-130U Gunship during Emerald Warrior 2015 at Hurlburt Field, Florida. Emerald Warrior is the Department of Defense’s only irregular warfare exercise, allowing joint and combined partners to train together and prepare for real-world contingency operations.

Video by Staff Sgt. Ashley Manz.

Joris Nieuwint

Joris Nieuwint is a battlefield guide for the Operation Market Garden area. His primary focus is on the Allied operations from September 17th, 1944 onwards. Having lived in the Market Garden area for 25 years, he has been studying the events for nearly as long. He has a deep understanding of the history and a passion for sharing the stories of the men who are no longer with us.