AC-130 Gunships of the Vietnam War

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UPDATED: 28 Dec 04

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AC-130 "Spectre" Gunship

Patch Courtesy of Brooks Militaria


16th SOS 

AC-130  56-0014 

RTAFB Ubon, Thailand 

ca.1971


 

Diary of a Spectre

by

 Dan Int-Hout

   16th SOS, 1970, 415 SOTS, 1971-1972

Spectre Assn # 146

 

     It started when I was a C-130 Navigator instructor at Stewart AFB in Nashville in '69, a year out of Nav school.  They were going to close the base, and it looked like Blytheville was high on the list. As I had heard that they put diving weights on babies there, to keep the mosquitoes from carrying them off, I began to look at alternates.  The annual 'dream sheet' came around and I signed up for the Gunship, in spite of the requirement for senior Captains with 2000 hrs of flying time. I then forgot all about it, and shipped to Panama for a 6 week rotation. 

     After returning from Panama , and 30 days leave, I got an 'urgent' message. It seemed that a qualifying Captain was asking for a deferment (adopting a baby I believe) and could they find a volunteer who remotely qualified?  My card popped up.  When I asked when I would have to report, they said 'Friday'. It was Monday.  They managed to schedule me for my last 'plain jane' C130 mission on Tuesday and Wed. ( to Las Vegas / Nellis, with a return low level leg up the Grand Canyon, below the rim (really!). So I had a couple of days to clear the base. 

     I went to Columbus , Ohio in October '69 for training (Rickenbacker or Lockbourne, I forget which it was at that time,) with a side trip to Spokane for survival school, and Homestead for Sea Survival.  We trained in  AC-119's over southern Indiana , there being a shortage of AC-130 at the time.  Man was it cold at 6000 ft over Indiana in November and December.      

     I departed for SEA on Jan 3, 1970 , arriving at Clark for Jungle School .  I was at Ubon, Thailand before the end of January, and flew my first mission the next day, my first time in an AC-130.  Was that exciting!  We got several trucks, received several hundred rounds of 37 mm triple-A fire, and I was combat qualified before I knew it.  I started a log of trucks and 37 mm.  Rapidly, it became routine.  Shoot trucks, dodge triple-A, fly home.  I was the only Lt. Sensor operator, the first I believe. There were a couple of Lt. Co-pilots.  Nonetheless, I remember being the Lieutenant.

     Mostly I was on the NOD.  This was essentially a starlight scope mounted in what was once the crew entrance door, behind what looked to be an insignificant amount of composite armor plate.   We were instructed that in the event of an emergency, we could pull a couple of pins and go out that way, but I was advised to hang on to the NOD so that it would take out the three or four antenna that I was likely to 'bump' into as I traveled along the bottom of the aircraft.  Fortunately, I never got to try this.

      The IR we had then was pretty primitive.  A fire on a road, a water buffalo, and a truck all looked pretty much the same.  The NOD resolution was much was better, if there was any light, but there was no repeater, so I was the only interpreter of that image.  The view, however, was impressive. 8,000 ft. straight down.  One time we watched a pretty impressive firefight across the border 'in-country'.  It was cold, and the winter flying suit was not a luxury.  (Not as cold as Indiana , however).   Being in close proximity to the '20's, with the wind in my face, watching the war from an open doorway, was pretty exciting.   Shoveling brass with the gunners on the return leg was the only exercise I got!

      During the day, once we got up, that became pretty routine.  I used to go out and sit under a tree and play guitar to unwind, during the afternoons.  I was approached, eventually, and asked if I wanted to join a few guys who were putting a country music band together, and agreed, in spite of my admission that I knew none of the songs.  There was a young Irish tenor who knew the entire Hank Williams songbook, an older clerk (Tom Hansbury) who knew all the chords (but declined to sing), and a fiddle and banjo.  I tried to play lead guitar, the main consideration being that I had one, I think.   The fiddle player, Bob Ireland, was about the best musician I have ever known.  He said that he had played with Bill Monroe, and I don't doubt it.  The Banjo player, Lt. Towle, and I were learning the songs 'on the fly'.  We played a few times for a free dinner downtown. 

       In March we had a reality check. A couple of planes were hit but made it back.  Actually the same plane was hit twice with the same crew, 30 days apart (both on a full moon night). The NOD operator found a piece of shrapnel with .37 stamped on it lodged between his glasses and his skull after the first hit.  After the second, he discovered, at the bar, that he was wearing the same flight suit as when they were hit the first time.  Shortly after this discovery, he was wearing nothing but a zipper. 

      Then in April, we lost one, with both Ireland and Towle on board. I gave up music for a while after that. 

      In May, as the rainy season was beginning, two of our planes had 'the UFO incident', on sequential nights in southern Laos . On my flight, I spotted a light, which we orbited.  The light, however, was above the jungle canopy, based on shadows created below it.  The IR operator said it was cold, and the BC said it was giving off more energy than a GCI site!   Everyone on the flight claimed a visual on the target. We tracked it for 45 minutes, while the nav tried to get permission to fire on it (in spite of my negative recommendations!).  Eventually, we figured that the light was following a circular path, following us!  The command post asked if we thought it was carrying supplies south. As it was performing maneuvers that no aircraft known to man could accomplish, we said it was probably not a hostile supply vehicle, and permission to engage was denied.  On our return, intelligence said we were pulling their leg, having heard the prior night's report of the flight to the same area.  I contacted a buddy on that flight (Capt. Gillespie) and he confirmed having seen essentially what we saw.  No more was said of this incident.

      In June, with the rainy season shutting down the air war in Laos , all the AC-130's were sent back to the states for refitting.  I was assigned a maintenance admin role for the duration and became a ground-pounder for a few weeks, actually playing a little rock&roll downtown with a couple of gunners. We even had a clubhouse downtown.  When the aircraft returned, they were now fitted with a couple of 40's, the TV system, greatly improved IR, and the aligned laser target designator. 

    This had a number of effects.  First, the NOD position was eliminated, and I started working out of 'the booth', thus ending the great view of the action.   Secondly, we went up a few thousand feet, effectively out of range of the 37 mm triple-a.  The improved IR and new TV system allowed greatly improved targeting, but the laser target designator had the greatest real effect.   Where we had been on differing frequencies and call signs before, we went to a 'Spectre' call sign, and announced our entry in to a target area in the clear.  The use of 37 mm triple-a effectively stopped, with the threat of a laser guided bomb.  I never got to use one. I never had a target.    In the January-June time period, I logged 27,500 rounds of AAA directed at my aircraft.  In the Sept-December period, I logged less than 200 rounds!

        I left Thailand in early January, '71, having flown over 100 missions, destroying 397 trucks in the process.  I didn't bother logging damaged trucks.   I spent my last two years as an instructor on the AC-130A, both in Ohio and at Hurlburt.


Looking forward to hearing from other members of Gunship Units.

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AC-47 GUNSHIP I/ Call Sign - Spooky/Puff
AC-119/G/K GUNSHIP III/ Call Sign - " Shadow" /K's were "Stinger"
AC-130A GUNSHIP II/ Call Sign - Spectre 

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