Currently, there are two versions of the AC-130 in use - the AC-130H Spectre, and the AC-130U Spooky. The AC-130 is the gunship variant of the immortal C-130 Hercules (which will be mentioned in a later section). The first flight of the AC-130A (which has been removed from service) was in 1967. Although technology has evolved greatly since then, the missions of the AC-130 haven’t changed very much. The missions of the AC-130 are: close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance, perimeter and point defense, escort, drop and extraction zone support, forward air control, limited command and control (c2), and combat search and rescue (CSAR).
The AC-130A Spectre is similar to the C-130 in terms of external dimensions. It is 97 feet, 9 inches long, 38 feet, 3 inches tall, and has a wingspan of 132 feet, 7 inches. Originally, the AC-130A did not have the capability to refuel in flight. With a full load, these AC-130As had a range of 2450 miles. However, once modified with aerial refueling capabilities, the range was limited only by crew endurance. The AC-130A was sent to Vietnam on September 20, 1967, and flew its first mission one week later. The AC-130A destroyed over 10,000 enemy vehicles during the course of the Vietnam War. The last AC-130A was retired on September 10, 1995.
The AC-130H (also Spectre), which initially worked with the AC-130A, replaced it in 1995. The H-model has computers which can tell whether a target is friendly or not, thus, reducing the amount of casualties due to friendly fire. In the Persian Gulf War, one AC-130H was lost, along with all 14 crew.
The AC-130U Spooky is the world’s most advanced gunship. It can support special operations forces, in addition to its primary mission (gunship). It has a fire control system, which is capable of attacking two targets at once. Also, with the highly advanced computers it has, all guns can be slaved to computers if the need should arise.
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Author: Marc Eichler