July 20, 2024
The Air Force's “Spooky” Gunships Have Flown Overseas for the Last Time
The AC-130U Spooky gunships will still be available for deployment, in case of emergencies, until the AC-130J takes over. The Air Force plans to buy 37 AC-130Js.
The AC-130U Spooky gunships will still be available for deployment, in case of emergencies, until the AC-130J takes over. The Air Force plans to buy 37 AC-130Js.

The Air Force’s famous AC-130U “Spooky” gunship is on the verge of retirement with the heavily armed cargo plane returning on Monday from its last scheduled overseas mission. The Spooky is being replaced with a newer gunship, the AC-130J Ghostrider, which boasts greater precision firepower, as well as the new ability to carry laser-guided missiles and bombs.

The gunship concept dates to the Vietnam War, when World War II-era C-47 transports were fitted with side-firing Gatling guns to provide close air support for remote outposts, as well as rain bullets on enemy convoys navigating the Ho Chi Minh trail. The concept proved so popular the Air Force modified C-130 Hercules transports to take over the role. Various types of gunships have served since, including in the 1989 invasion of Panama, 1991 Gulf War, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The AC-130U “Spooky” first entered service in 1995 and is a third-generation gunship. The aircraft was fitted with multispectral television sensors, high-definition infrared sensors, and radar, allowing the 13-man crew to pinpoint enemy forces and engage them with autocannons and a 105-millimeter howitzer.

The AC-130J “Ghostrider” is based on the newer, more powerful C-130J Super Hercules transport. The Ghostrider features improved navigation and sensors and mounts one GAU-23/A 30-millimeter autocannon, the same gun mounted on the Navy’s Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers and the Army’s Stryker Dragoon infantry carriers, and a 105-millimeter howitzer firing in direct fire mode.

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