By JIM PURCELL
When it is on the job, the AC-130 makes it rain steel. In short, it's a beast.
Lockheed built 47 AC130s within about a 50-year period for the United States Air Force. If an enemy were to see one coming during any of the wars between that time, there was the distinct possibility it would be among the last things they ever saw.
|The AC-130 has been on the job since 1967|
The AC-130 gunship is a heavily armed, long-endurance ground attack variant of the C-130 Hercules transport. It has served since 1967, into today. Throughout the life of the AC-130, there have been five variants of it: the AC-130A, AC-130E, AC-130H, AC-130J and AC-130U.
The AC-130’s wingspan stretches 133 feet and it travels at 299 miles per hour, which is hard to outrun from the ground.
The armaments aboard the AC-130 says it all. The AC-130A is armed with four 7.62mm GAU-2/A miniguns and four 20mm M61 Vulcan cannons. This variant could also alternately be armed with a “surprise package” of two 7.62mm GAU/2A miniguns, two 20mm M61 Vulcan cannons and two 40mm L/60 Bofors cannons.
The AC-130E Pave Aegis took armaments to the next level, being equipped with two 20mm M61 Vulcan cannons, one 40mm L/60 Bofors cannon and one 105mm M102 Howitzer. This array was also used for the AC-130H Spectre gunship.
During its flight, the AC-130 has an unpressurized cabin, with weaponry mounted to fire from the port side of the fuselage. When the plane is going to attack, its pilots would execute a pylon turn, flying in a large circle around their target. This allowed for the crew to unload the plane’s ordnance for a longer duration than most conventional strafing runs.
|The AC-130 opens up against a target|
The AC-130 line of aircraft traces its origins to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Ohio. It was there that the first Hercules C-130 transport was transformed into the offensive monster that is the AC-130. The plane replaced the Douglas AC-47 Spooky gunship.
The Air Force was seeking a successor to the Spooky in order to improve mission endurance and capacity to carry munitions. The AC-130 was able to accommodate these specifications with ease over the older plane.
During 2007, the Air Force Special Operations Command initiated a program to upgrade the AC-130’s armaments. The test program planned for the 25mm GAU-12/U and 40mm Bofor cannons on the AC-130U to be replaced with two 30mm Mk44 Bushmaster II cannons. However, this program was canceled the following year, after it was discovered that the Bushmaster cannons did not have the accuracy needed to replace the 25mm GAU-12/U and the Bofor cannons.
During its long service, the AC-130 has seen service in every American conflict and war, beginning with the Vietnam War. In addition to wartime service, the AC-130 has been called upon for standby during U.S. operations in Central America during the 1980s.
As time goes by, some things change – and some things don’t. The AC-130’s variants continue to be a force to be reckoned with on modern battlefields. With its potent punch from the sky, it can easily be characterized as ‘the infantryman’s best friend.’