50 Years C-47 Spooky Gunship conversions, from Vietnam to Colombia.
The first C-47’s converted as “Gunships” flew in Dec. 1964 in Vietnam and their controversial start showed instantly tremendous successes in the close air support, so often required in the Vietnamese Jungle combat scene where the Vietcong (VC) could hide and stage ambushes at choice. The WWII and Korea Veteran C-47’s were provided with 3 laterally rapid firing guns that were simply placed on the port side of the aircraft’s cargo floor. The captain banked the plane and started a narrow orbit, circling in a pylon turn overhead where VC presence was detected by ground troops. The firing action was triggered by the captain who used the port Prop hub and wingtip for aiming, while the tracers gave visual sight of hitting the target area. The GE mini guns with electrically driven 6 barrels of the Gatling Gun type, pumped out 3000-6000 rounds per minute! The effect of such hefty “ammo hailstorm” was similar to that of a giant aerial shotgun, used in a combat scene where there was no virtual cover of armor plating or concrete bunkers.
While the much faster Jet fighters and Skyraiders made strafing runs with forward firing ammo, the enemy could quickly regroup or run away as the attack plane flew overhead and stopped its firing, But with the AC-47 ( Attack/ Cargo), that plane could give a semi permanent firing action, with intermittent shooting while loitering for hours over the same small area and pinning down the opposing forces. At night, flares were thrown out for illuminating the enemy positions and with all light trails from the tracers, the aircraft had the looks of a raging fire spitting Dragon, hence the nicknames “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Spooky” became later the universal name for this Old Soldier, built 20 years earlier and never designed for an active combat role. 0 Years C-47 Gunship conversions, Spooky man hunts from Vietnam to Colombia.
The AC-47 soon got a reputation for its helpful close air support for the US troops that encountered often surprise attacks of large numbers of VC guerrillas hidden in nearby bushes, hammocks or fields. The guns mounted in the AC-47’s are seen on photo 2, those are the GE Mini guns GAU-2/A of 7.62 mm caliber, but also other types of Machine guns were used of bigger caliber. With the success of the AC-47, the US went in search of larger aircraft as a weapons platform with the same laterally shooting techniques. Best known are the AC-119 G, a converted Fairchild Flying Boxcar (named Shadow and Stinger) and the Lockheed Hercules AC-130 named the Spectre, a flying monster gunship with hefty Cannons, Machine guns, Radar jamming devices, Infrared detectors, flare boxes etc.
But the AC-47 was the first one in use. It had a 7 men crew and carried up to 24.000 round on board, The airplane could take a payload of over 2.5 tons of ammo and quickly recharge at a nearby airport. Under the name Spooky the aircraft grew to a legend, while it was only for 5 years in operations in Vietnam.
In Dec.1969, the last AC-47 flew its mission and made its reputation with the VC. Their soldiers were ordered not to shoot at the overhead flying Spooky, as their small rifle fire would expose the position of the enemy troops to the aircraft crew and that would be an outright invitation for a free ticket to Hell. Allegedly, the US have flown 150.000 combat missions in those Vietnam years and pumped out nearly 100 million rounds of 7.62 mm!!!
Correct or not, this shows that the concept of the side ward firing guns shot in an inverted cone shaped concentration to the ground surely had its benefits for supporting the troops. Contrary to popular belief, the AC-47 operations did not end with the Vietnam conflict. The plane as a Gunship ‘soldiered’ on for many more years. See for more info & pics my book.
The AC-47 came in many versions and was used in Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand.
But also in Indonesia in the 1970’s (in East Timor’s uprise), Taiwan and Rhodesia, and by the mid 1980’s the AC-47 showed up in Salvador.
The SA forces had a AC-47 version named the “Dragon Daks” with a single 20 mm cannon mounted in the cargo door but many different types of weapons have been used, even the Machine Guns taken from out phased F-86’s were mounted by the Republic of China’s forces (Taiwan).
I came to Thailand in 2008 and was invited to make a bidding for components of 5 ex-USAF C-47’s that were doomed to be sunk. I came to Phuket Island and joined in chaotic preps for the making of a Reef Squadron, a submerged museum/ diver’s paradise. I made a deal about the removal of parts before the sinking would take place, but it came all to no avail as I ran into a controversy with the Military, the Diving Association and a scam.
On this photo 3, you see me throwing flowers from the barge as part of a Buddhist burial ceremony to the C-47 that is about to be positioned in its final tomb on the sea bottom. Those (A)C-47’s had come a long way from home, they had served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam and in 1975 were flown to Thailand for another 20 years of Military services. It was a weird party, no US military on this funeral, but some days later, I felt the long arm of the Pentagon reach out to me. But he greatest surprise came at the very end of this tale, as I had returned back home. This AC-47 had opted for its own final destination: Old Soldiers never die and believe it or not, in a final surprise act, she has in silence flown out from the circus .
I came back to Colombia as the travel ban to that war ridden country was lifted in Oct.2006. I encountered a country where foreigners were not seen since 1999 while the war on drugs and against Farc was still fully on. It was the year that the Colombian Forces decided to launch the AC-47 against the guerrillas hidden in the jungle. A similar situation as 40 years earlier in Vietnam, a jungle scenes with bamboo built camps that were easy meat for the low flying orbiting aircraft with side wards firing machine guns. But technology had made a giant step forward, while the good old platform of the C-47 air frame remained as was!. Enter the AC-47 T for Turbo, based on the Basler Turbo conversion BT-67’s, add a Hi Tech FLIR camera ( forward looking infrared) coupled to the pilot’s goggles and supply some serious lead pumping barrels as the ‘business end’ of this killer bat. ( see photo with a rapid firing Machine Gun with 3 barrels and a cannon with long barrel). Colombians name it the Fantasma (Spanish for Spooky), they have 5 of them and that Old Soldier still flies combat missions up until today, 50 years after the first AC-47 flew its maiden mission!
In my book I describe in details the apocalyptic scenes that this plane could inflict in the Colombian jungles. As all honest villagers were told to stay in their hammocks at night, the AC-47 T’s swarmed as “Bats out of Hell” over the jungle. picking up every human infrared silhouette outside the villages and targeted with their guns. It meant the beginning of the end for Farc, with hundreds of their troops hunted and killed at night and subsequently, thousands who ran away and deserted in the hope to escape this man hunting scheme for which Farc had no real weapon to keep the bats at bay. Farc desperately made a move to find a solution to this night thread, they came very close but DEA screwed up their evil plan just in time.
Read the intriguing story of what happened out there, it is all in my book, see the detailed photos of this man hunt system.