The U.S. Air Force confirmed in mid-2019 that the AC-130U gunship (affectionately known as "spooky") had finished its final combat deployment. The last Spooky gunship returned from a mission to Hulbert Field, Florida, on July 8. Spooky's final ride ushers in the new era of the AC-130J Ghostrider. So as Spooky's illustrious career pridefully rises to the rafters, we look back on some of the coolest facts about the AC-130U gunship.
1. Each one costs about $190 million
According to the USAF website, one Spooky AC-130U runs about $210 million. Compare this to the infamous "brrrrrt brrrrrt" A-10 Warthog's total unit cost of $20 million. This makes the AC-130U one of the single most expensive units in the Air Force. The rest of these facts make Spooky's price tag make a bit more sense.
2. It takes a crew of 13 to operate
The cockpit of the AC-130U, 2016.
(Senior Airman Taylor Queen)
That's right, it takes a baker's dozen airmen to operate Spooky. The 13 crew members consist of: a pilot, a co-pilot, a navigator, a fire control officer, an electronic warfare officer, a flight engineer, a loadmaster, an all-light-level TV operator, an infrared detection set operator, and finally—four aerial gunners.
3. It can attack two targets simultaneously
The "fire control system" in the AC-130U is capable of targeting two separate targets, up to one kilometer apart, and then engaging each target individually with two different guns. This versatile offensive advantage is referred to, simply as "dual-target attack capability." And you thought your job required multi-tasking.
4. It was originally nicknamed "Puff the Magic Dragon"
The AC-47 "Puff the Magic Dragon", 1965.
The original (and unofficial) nickname was "Puff the Magic Dragon." This nickname came about for the predecessor of the AC-130U. The predecessor was the Douglas AC-47 Spooky. It was developed and utilized during the Vietnam War. "Puff" ran so that "Spooky" could walk.
5. It contains over 609,000 lines of software
The versatile functionality of the AC-130U Spooky gunship also calls for extremely advanced onboard computer processing. One single Spooky gunship has over 609,000 lines of software. For reference, a complicated iPhone full of apps would contain about 50,000 lines of software. The software on the AC-130U covers advanced sensor technology, fire control systems, infrared technology, global positioning, navigation, and radar.
6. Only 47 AC-130s have ever been built...
In a testament to both the maintainers quality of work, and the exorbitant price tag—only 47 AC-130s (of any variant) have ever been built... since the Vietnam War. Another reason why so few have been built is because their role in nighttime counter insurgency is incredibly specific. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
7. And only 7 AC-130s have been lost
Six of these were lost during the Vietnam conflict, when the AC-130s humble beginnings were just recently developed. In modern conflicts, the most significant lost AC-130 was the Spirit 03 that was tragically lost in the Iraqi conflict on Jan. 30, 1991, from a lone shoulder-fired surface to air missile. The attack came after the ship had battled through the cloak of night, but doubled back after refueling to defend ground forces after dawn had broke. There were no survivors, but the bravery and service of the Spirit 03 lives on.
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