The Douglas AC-47D is a fixed-wing, side-firing aerial gunship that provides close air
support in defense of ground positions, escort and patrol, pre-planned strikes against suitable
targets, and forward air controlling for fighter strikes.
In the early-1960s, the Air Force Systems Command began experimenting with
fixed-wing, side-firing weapons systems for possible use in Vietnam. By 1964, the first gunship
conversion of a World War II Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport was
completed under the Project Gunship I program. Initially designated FC-47D (Fighter-Cargo),
it was later changed to AC-47D (Attack-Cargo).
On 15 December 1964, the AC-47D, using the callsign "Spooky", was introduced
into combat in Southeast Asia. It was an instant success in breaking up enemy attacks on hamlets
and other defensive positions, and within a year, substantial numbers of the rehabilitated "Gooney
Birds" were in action throughout the region.
Following the highly successful Project Gunship I combat test program, the
U.S. Air Force created the 4th Air Commando Squadron (ACS) in August 1965 as the first operational
unit equipped with "Spooky" gunships. Although the 4th ACS was based at Tan Son Nhut AB, it deployed
from several forward operating locations throughout South Vietnam (Bien Hoa, Pleiku, Na Trang, Da
Nang and Can Tho). In November 1965, the 4th ACS (tailcode EN) was assigned 16 operational aircraft
with four more assigned as "advanced attrition" aircraft. Within two years, the 4th ACS and the newly
formed 3rd ACS (tailcode EL) were serving under the 14th Air Commando Wing (ACW). In August 1968,
the unit designations were changed from "Air Commando" to "Special Operations" (SOS/SOW).
A total of fifty-three C-47Ds were converted for use as gunships during the Vietnam War.
Although the AC-47D "Spooky", commonly referred to as "Puff" (as in "Puff the Magic Dragon"), was an
effective attack system, it was also vulnerable to enemy fire. Fifteen aircraft were lost between
December 1965 and September 1969.
The AC-47D was equipped with three 7.62mm SUU-11A Gatling Miniguns mounted in
the fifth and sixth windows on the port side of the fuselage and in the aft passenger/cargo door
area. Approximately 16,500 rounds of ammunition was carried on a typical mission. Note: The SUU-11As
were later replaced by specially designed 7.62mm General Electric MXU-470/A Gatling Miniguns.
For night missions, the aircraft carried approximately 48 MK-24 Mod 3 flares.
Each flare could last up to three minutes and produce a light magnitude of two million candlepower.
The delivery system was extremely simple, the loadmaster armed and dropped each flare out the
cargo door when the pilot signaled by flashing a cargo compartment light. Note: Initially, 30 MK-6
flares of 750,000 candlepower were carried before the MK-24 flares were available.
Airspeed during attack maneuvers was normally 120 knots indicated air speed (KIAS).
With the Miniguns firing at a rate of 6,000 rounds per minute, aerial coverage was provided over
an elliptical area approximately 52 yards in diameter, placing a projectile within every 2.4 yards
during a three-second burst.
From 1964 to 1969, the AC-47s successfully defended 3,926 hamlets, outposts
and forts. They fired over 97 million rounds and killed over 5,300 enemy soldiers. No outpost or
village under gunship protection was ever lost to the enemy. Typical was the defense of the
embattled DUC LAP compound in Quang Duc Province. Major Daniel Rehn, pilot of Spooky 41, observed:
"When we arrived, the buildings in the compound were all afire and the men
were grounded in a blockhouse below the burning operations center. I set up a quick orbit of the
area and began firing on targets about 200 to 300 meters from the camp. Almost immediately we began
receiving intense AAA fire from four points. I began by firing a long burst at a target from my
Miniguns but when the tracers started to fly close to us, I moved to another altitude to peck with
short bursts at the enemy locations."
For several days, the gunships shot 761,044 rounds and dropped 1,162 flares. Up
to four aircraft worked the area simultaneously. The AC-47s not only devastated the attacking enemy
troops but stiffened the confidence of defenders, particularly at night. As the men at DUC LAP put
it, "Spooky" truly became their "Guardian Angel".
During a night defense of a hamlet in the Mekong River Delta, a reporter from the
Stars and Stripes watched an AC-47 attack from inside the fortifications. Upon
witnessing the wrath that the AC-47 brought down on the VC attackers that night, he reported that
visual effect of the tracers, one in every five rounds (20 per second), gave the appearance of
Dragon's breath. He also tied the roar of the guns into the description. (Captured VC documents
later told of orders not to attack the Dragon, as weapons are useless and it will only infuriate the
AC-47 "Spooky" Gunships: The Record", USAF Museum.)
The 'Cone of Fire'
When firing its 7.62mm Gatling Miniguns and dropping flares while defending
ground positions, the AC-47D "Spooky" gunship is a sight to be seen. As the aircraft banks left
over the target area, tracer bullets and the aircraft's rotating beacon create a phenomena known
as the "Cone of Fire", a very awesome
and disturbing site! Photographers using time lapse exposure techniques could really capture the
essence of the moment.
Sergeant John L. Levitow
Congressional Medal of Honor.
House. More »
After leaving the air force, Mr. Levitow
The End of An Era
By the end of 1969, the AC-47D "Spooky" gunships had been replaced by the larger,
more advanced Lockheed AC-130A "Spectre" (Project Gunship II) and AC-119G/K "Shadow/Stinger"
(Project Gunship III) line of gunships. Almost all of the surviving AC-47 aircraft were turned
over to foreign air forces throughout Southeast Asia.
|Project Gunship I
|Project Gunship II
||AC-130A/E/H/U (Spectre/Spooky II)
|Project Gunship III
|Project Black Spot
||AC-123K (Black Spot)
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