“Spooky” AC-47 In Combat Role, 80 Years After DC-3’s Maiden Flight

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See photos of World’s only Veteran Aircraft of 3 wars, built 72 years ago, and still in active military service. The SPOOKY AC-47 T Fantasma, using same air frame as the iconic Vietnam War man hunters.

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The AC-47 T Fantasma,  a night prowler using the WW II built C-47 air frame, modified with turbo engines and a couple of very lethal barrels protruding from the windows. It may not look all too impressive, but in this layout, the aircraft has pounded the FARC jungle camps by night to such extend that FARC almost disintegrated in a matter of 3 years of attacks with those “Bats out of Hell” and other specialized aircraft. Their camps were hardly to find in the dense jungle and mountains, until the Infra Red Camera arrived, coupled to those side ways firing guns.

This photos above depict unmistakably the silhouette of the Douglas DC-3/ C-47/ Dakota, a vintage aircraft of which the last one was built in 1946, 70 years ago. That legendary aircraft made its maiden flight on December 17th, 1935, now exactly 80 years ago. In the 10 years of its production, this DC-3 would forever change the World, and the 10.600 + aircraft built in all its versions in the USA were to become the most enduring aircraft ever constructed in Aviation History.

The Douglas DC-3 entered the Hall of Fame already long before WWII, responsible in 1939 for over 70 % of all North American Passenger Air Transport. But the real “Days of Eternal Glory” came during the War that took place for the USA from December 1941 to August 1945. Its heroic role as a Utility/ Cargo/ Paratrooper/ Medevac transport in all theaters of War will never ever fade from public memory.

Both in Normandy and in the Far East, flying over the Hump, its reputation as a most reliable and versatile platform for air transport was settled forever in the War History books. After 1945, there came the Berlin Airlift (1948), the Korean Conflict (1950-53)  and the Vietnam War (1964-1975). In all those conflict areas, the Skytrain/ Skytrooper/ Gooney Bird was there for help, hauling food, fuel, beer, ammo, Jeeps, Howitzers, Generals, Soldiers, Paratroopers, the wounded and the fugitives.

After the wars, the aircraft soldiered on, both in the Military Role and with Civilian Operators. They came available from the USAAF surplus dumps by the thousands. Inevitably, over the years, we saw the aircraft disappear from the European airports. With the arrival of the big Intercontinental  4- Engine Prop liners in the late 1940’s and the Jet liners in the late 1950’s, the Dakota’s role was relegated to the more remote airfields where cargo flights to primitive airstrips prevailed.

The Caribbean, Alaska , the Yukon, Northern Canada, Africa and South America are now part of the last realm of the DC-3  where until today still some 200/250 airworthy aircraft of the type can survive. Also, in a military role there are a few Air Forces that sill have the DC-3, either with original radial piston engines, or modified with the more modern Turbo Prop engines.(Mostly made by Oshkosh-based Basler, their conversion named the BT-67)

But what many people do not know is that there existed already in 1964 an outrageous version of the peaceful Douglas transport. It was armed with three side wards firing Mini guns of the Gatling-type, with six rotating barrels per gun. The vintage C-47 came out of the blue into an Attack role and got the prefix A (Attack) as AC-47.

This veteran wasp soon turned out to be a most effective deterrent in its role as a Close Air Support gunship in Vietnam. With the Viet Cong staging ambushes from paddy fields, villages, and jungles, the help of the overhead flying “Ammo Hailstorm” inducing aircraft became legendary, and soon these planes were honored with the nicknames “Puff the Magic Dragon” and“Spooky” . You can read all about that Spooky in my previous report/ blog in War History Online: Spooky Gunships in Vietnam & Colombia.

IMG_0854-cutPhoto supplied by my contact, an ex-Commanding Officer, and Fantasma pilot. This pic was taken in Eastern Colombia near the Orinoco river in Puerto Inirida, an air supply strip where Fuel and Ammo was taken just prior to the hunt for drugs and weapons smugglers that try to cross that river which is also the border with Venezuela.  The leftist Government in Venezuela is since long (already under previous President Chavez) a suspect in giving stealthy support to the FARC  with cross-border refuge, weapons supply and smuggling, all sorts of activities undermining the Colombian Government/ Army.

But, the days of the AC-47 Spooky Gunship are not yet over, even in 2015 they still fly on patrols over Colombia. That South American nation has a long time reputation for its production, trade and smuggling of Cocaine and Marijuana. The illicit business made the local Drugs Lords as Pablo Escobar rich and famous. They were hunted down with the help of US intelligence, but their annihilation left a vacuum that soon was to be filled by another Drugs Dealer with more endurance and a couple of foreign investors.

That was FARC, the long existing leftist Guerrilla group, that smelled their chances with the extradition of the Drug Lords. You should read my book The Dakota Hunter, which gives you a detailed insight of how FARC operates and what the Colombian Government does with US help to exterminate this plague. That is a most intriguing story, described in my book’s Colombian travel report as I ran into the War on Drugs in October 2006, re visiting the country after so many war years.

My encounters with DEA agents were rather awkward. Flying into the Amazon Jungle with the DC-3 was surely not their favorite trip. I deemed their negative advice as too cautious but after their alarming message, a growing threat was felt with serious warnings from the Military and Civilians for kidnapping by the FARC Rebels: As conspicuous “extranjero”, I could never stay longer than 1-2 days on one location.

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Photo: The Colombians have 5 AC-47 T’s Fantasmas ( Spanish for Spooky) as you see in the pictures above, overflying that typical Colombian landscape that I met South of Villavicencio. Mountains with dense jungle, broken by the endless pastures used by cattle ranches. But also most fertile soil for growing illicit crops and hide-outs galore, until the AC-47 T Fantasma came flying overhead with an Infra Red camera under its nose. End of an era for FARC.  There are new hunting grounds for the Fantasma, the coastal surveillance in the North of Colombia where (semi-) submarines are constructed for the coke transport to Mexico and USA. The “underground” assembly of the Drugs Subs often takes place in hidden lagoons and overgrown river banks of the sparsely populated North -East of the country. Not to detect from the air or from sea, until that camera ship flies overhead and picks up the heat silhouettes of humans or engines.

With the BT-67 model, much stronger Turbo engines are installed with 5 Prop blades, and a load of modifications follows from there. First the payload: The original C-47 payload of 3 tons goes up to 5 tons. For that, you need more space, so the fuselage was stretched right behind the cockpit with some 7 inches (similar to the Super DC-3, or C-117D) .

It makes the nose of the aircraft standing markedly higher up when the plane is parked. More important, it has a higher cruising speed and better-streamlined nacelles, main wing with modified wingtips and flush riveting, also resulting in less drag.

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Photo above depicts the rapid firing cannon with the ammo feeder box right behind her. Aiming of the firing is not executed on a swiveling base but by the pilot steering with banking and tight turning of the total aircraft over its left side. The tracers are the proof of hitting the target and any suspicious Infra Red silhouette that tries to escape from all that Hell fire down below, is monitored on the camera / goggles and adjustments of  the aircraft’s roll rate and direction will be made in order to stop any evasive action of the bandits.

The lethal Attack nature of this remarkable 3 wars veteran lies inside the aircraft. First there is the radome under the cockpit, this is the FLIR camera (Foward Looking Infra Red),  the night detecting device of all human activities ( Body heat, cars and boats with warm engines, jungle labs, living spaces, generators etc.). This is the crux of the Killer machine, to first detect its prey at night: next come in the guns to finish the job of “Detect and Exterminate”. The 3 barrel machine gun and the rapid fire cannon (see photo above), with a presence of tons of ammo, handy with the capacity to loiter for a couple of hours over the Rebel camp, it all make this a very efficient Killer Bat.

This Hi Tech hunting system is all packed in a 70+ years old aircraft platform that was designed in the early 1930’s and produced in 1944, this is a most remarkable feat for which we can have only admiration and respect.  FARC must have underestimated the fire power and reach of this unique combat machine. In their hay days between 2000-2007, FARC took refuge in Ecuador just over the border in a jungle camp and felt save from the nocturnal attacks. That seemed comfortable until one day, President Uribe of

That seemed comfortable until one day, President Uribe of Colombia , along with US help decided to make a night assault on that hidden FARC “Holiday Resort” camp. In a couple of hours, it was all done, their camp rather intact but all 24 guerrillas killed, including the Rebel Force nr 2, El Comandante Raoul Reyes. In my book you can see more photos of the AC-47 T and read about the ensuing James Bond like actions that DEA executed in Thailand and brought FARC almost on its knees.

Read also what Washington Post revealed  in 2014 about the secret US support for that Ecuador intervention. Ever since that attack in 2007, respect for the vintage C-47’s Fantasmas has grown and the rebels faced massive drain and desertion of their soldiers due to the devastating night attacks . The airborne Posse’s arrival in the region soon spreads out its reputation with an imminent “Kill ’em All”/ No Escape assault!

As a tribute to this aircraft, I have written the book The Dakota Hunter (Casemate Publishers USA/UK)  that tells about my 25 years search of the Legendary DC-3 on the last frontiers. Crashed, abandoned or still flying, I found them and often in very fascinating or outright adventurous circumstances that were worth being written down in 320 pages. The

The 250 photos in my book (most of them taken during my multiple expeditions to faraway places), are evidence of what I have seen and experienced, with the pilots, the operators but also with the Military, the War & Drug Lords that often hang around this aircraft for obvious reasons. No plane in the world that is so cheap to acquire for hauling 3 tons of Cargo and so rugged that it can virtually land on every patch of savanna land, sandy beach or a muddy river bank. Such capacities are most welcome, especially when you are in an illegal trade and want to operate under the radar of the Armies, DEA

Such capacities are most welcome, especially when you are in an illegal trade and want to operate under the radar of the Armies, DEA  and other party poopers. But honestly, even in Colombia, all civilian DC-3’s flying there are now back in the booming and straight forward business of hauling passengers and cargo into the remote wilderness of the Amazon Jungle, that opened up after the demise of FARC. The DC-3 is here to survive for many more years!

For more info, blogs, reviews and how to order the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc, come to my website www.dc3dakotahunter.com or go to Order the book directly at Amazon

In 2013, I bought an accident-crushed wreck of a C-47 air frame in Holland. The cockpit of that aircraft is now being refurbished to a Pro Flight Simulator for training / licensing of DC-3 pilots. Parts of that aircraft fuselage will be used as a donor for this Limited Series Commemorative Plaque, as you can see below. The plaque is a recovered skin panel of the C-47 B, with Tail Code 44-76787, built in Oklahoma 1944, with original rivet lines.

Dimensions of the aluminium skin panel are 16 x 11 in/ 40 x 28 cm. You buy the frame of your own choice of color and style in Frame dimensions of appr. 24 x 16 in/ 60 x 40 cm or bigger if you like (photo below).

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Another option is using the Commemorative Plaque in a double framing , along with a photo (same size) of that donor aircraft C-47, as I found it. There  are 3 photos of this aircraft you can choose from, the double framing as depicted below has an overall dimension of 25 x 35 in/ 65 x 85 cm  or  24 x 36 in/ 60 x 90 cm. ( Note, Framing is at your own choice, not included in offer, keeping the mailing expenses at a rock bottom minimum)

Finally, you can own your own piece of recovered skin of a Legendary War Bird C-47, with the majestic 80 years Maiden Flight logo, signed by The Dakota Hunter.

Certificate of Authenticity will be supplied with the plaque.  Interested to have the free online brochure that will be issued soon, including the New Baseball Cap with woven Patch of same 80 Years logo? Please fill in your email address below and I’ll come back to you soonest with news and prices.

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www.dc3dakotahunter.com
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