Wednesday, June 2, 2010

AC-119 Gunship

I'm sure many of you know about the AC-130 Spectre gunship, a ground attack plane developed from the C-130 transport. And the sharp tacks out there probably know the AC-47 Spooky, which was really the first fixed wing gunship and pioneered the tactics used even today. Today's topic is a plane that gets a lot less attention, but is still pretty neat.

This is the AC-119 Shadow.
Like the AC-47 before it, the Shadow was developed from an earlier, somewhat outdated transport aircraft. There were large numbers of C-119 Flying Boxcar aircraft in the hands of the Air Force Reserve and that meant that there would be little or no retraining necessary for pilots, as well as large numbers of spare parts in inventory. The AC-47 Spooky gunships were not as effective as had been hoped and the C-119 was thought to be a good platform for expansion and refinement of the gunship concept and technology. With better flight characteristics and an increased payload, the Shadow was able to stay airborne longer, increasing the range and time on station. They also were able to carry more munitions, increasing their effectiveness. Very few AC-119s were ever made (52), and they only served for about 3 years before being retired by the USAF in 1971.

Introduced in November of 1968, the first 26 AC-119Gs were armed with four SUU-IIA/IA gun pods, with the GAU- 2/A miniguns firing the 7.62mm NATO at more than 12,000 rounds per minute. The Shadow usually carried 1500 rounds per weapon on missions, for a total of 6,000 rounds. That is an amazing amount of firepower to come flying over the hill right when you think your attack on the evil imperialist Yankees is going so well. It also carried the LAU-64/A flare launcher with 60 Mk. 24 flares to fool heat seeking missiles, and had increased armor protection over its forebearer.
Later a new version of the gunship was brought online, known as the AC-119K Stinger. Firepower had been greatly increased by the addition of two M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon, which were capable of much more armor penetration than the somewhat anemic .30 caliber full metal jacket machine gun rounds. The 20mm rounds were capable of destroy almost all ground targets from bunkers to trucks to tanks. The explosives helped too. The AC-119Ks made great strides in the fire control and target acquisition realms by also being equipped with the AN/APN-147 Doppler Navigation radar, AN/AAD-4 Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), AN/APQ-133 side-looking beacon tracking radar and AN/APQ-136 search radar. This enabled a very good chance of locating large enemy concentrations at night, from beyond the range of most ground fire. Targets like truck convoys were particularly vulnerable to this type of attack and the AC-119Ks were used a great deal on the Ho Chi Minh Trail for this purpose.
During their service in the Vietnam War, only five AC-119s were lost to all causes.

Specifications (AC-119G)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 6 (day), 8 (night)
  • Length: 86 ft 5¾ in (26.36 m)
  • Wingspan: 109 ft 3¼ in (33.31 m)
  • Height: 26 ft 7¾ in (8.12 m)
  • Wing area: 1,400 ft² (130 m²)
  • Empty weight: 40,125 lb (18,200 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 62,000 lb (28,100 kg)
  • Powerplant:Wright R-3350-85 "Duplex Cyclone" radial engines, 3,500 hp (2,610 kW) each


Both the AC-119 Shadow and the C-119 Flying Boxcar are easily identified by their somewhat rare double tail booms and fins.

C-119 #566 "Green Hornet" on display at the Museum of Aviation, Warner Robins, GA.

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