In 1964, the first USAF gunship, the Douglas FC-47, enters service in Vietnam.
The gunship idea had been making slow progress under Project Tailchaser through the end of 1963 and the early part of 1964. Under Project Gunship, Captain Ron Terry implemented three-gun, remote-firing capabilities into a pair of converted Douglas C-47B Skytrains using modified SUU-11/A gun pods.
Flying their first experimental mission on December 15, 1964, the aircraft, officially dubbed “Spooky” but more commonly known as “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” launched out of Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam and attacked enemy sampans, buildings, trails and suspected jungle staging areas raining devastation from above with their rotary miniguns.
Over the next few weeks, 16 combat sorties were flown, all considered successful. Over the next year, the U.S. Air Force quickly implemented a program to standardize and formally create AC-47 aircraft and experiment with two successors, the Fairchild AC-119G Shadow and AC-119K Stinger and the Lockheed AC-130 Spectre, establish Air Commando units, organize training programs, and implement tactics consistent with the aircraft’s capabilities. The program was so successful that it is still part of the U.S. Air Force arsenal, with the Lockheed AC-130H “Spectre” and AC-130U “Spooky” currently deployed and the AC-130J “Ghostrider” scheduled for deployment in 2017.
Unlike other military fixed-wing aircraft, the AC-130 relies on visual targeting and operates at low-altitude (roughly 7,000 ft). The United States Air Force is the sole user, using the current AC-130U Spooky II variant
A 25mm Gatling-type rotary cannon fires down on Pilsung Range from an AC-130U Spooky gunship during exercise Teak Knife 12-3 over the Republic of Korea, Sept. 12, 2012. Teak Knife 12-3 highlights the longstanding military partnership between the U.S. and ROK by enhancing the combat readiness of U.S. and Republic of Korea Special Operations and supporting forces through combined and joint live-fire training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Craig Cisek)