bien hoa, vietnam

F-100D of the 352nd Tactical Fighter Squadron dropping a napalm bomb near Bien Hoa, South Vietnam. Super Sabres could carry an impressive array of weapons, including high explosive bombs, napalm, rockets, cluster bombs and even the guided Bullpup missile. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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.