The AC-130H/U Gunship

What is it? The AC-130 is an aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin Marietta (fondly known in the defense analysis biz as "LockMart" for its resemblance to a defense version of a certain well-known store). It is used by various arms of the United States military as a convenient means of:

  • Scaring the shit out of a lot of people at once
  • Killing a smaller number of people simultaneously
  • Destroying various types of ground targets.
Where did it come from? The AC-130H/U are the latest iterations of the fixed-wing gunship concept, and are follow-ons to the original gunship, the AC-47. It is built on the basic airframe of the C-130 Hercules, a medium intratheater transport aircraft popular in the Western world for its ruggedness, dependability and ability to operate from extremely rough airfields.

The AC-130U (the latest variant) has the official callsign of Spooky. Its predecessor the AC-130H was Spectre. Troops in Vietnam used to refer to the plane by these names, or as Puff the Magic Dragon. It was a companion to them, as it orbited their positions laying down covering fire; comments on the situation often included the line "Spooky understands."

For more information on this reference, you might try looking up the works of Michael Herr, notably Dispatches.

What does it use? The armament of the gunship has evolved over time, with one constant being the horrific amount of fire (colloq.: shitstorm) that it can bring onto even the most carefully hidden targets. To do this, it needs three basic component systems.

Spooky sees farther into the electromagnetic spectrum than we do. In addition to television imaging sensors, it has infrared detectors for night use, and synthetic aperture radar for imaging 'hard' objects under soft cover (say, trees).

In order to be effective, the AC-130 has to be able to find its targets. Modern versions use all forms of navaids from GPS to Inertial Navigation Systems.

The AC-130H mounts a 105mm gun, a 40mm gun, and two 20mm Vulcan cannons. The -U replaces the latter with a single 25mm gun. Early variants (and present ones, as additional armament) can be fitted with miniguns.

What does it cost? The AC-130U costs (in fiscal 98 dollars) approximately $81.1 million. The AC-130H costs approximately $52.3 million. Your tax dollars at work, if you live in the United States and aren't a fugitive from the IRS.

My first node!

The AC-130 "Spectre is a four-engine, turbo-prop, modified heavily armed version of the C-130 "Hercules" transport aircraft.

The AC-130 is armed with a 40-mm Bofors cannon and a 105-mm Howitzer cannon, as well as a 25-mm gun, used to blast a target with hot leadden death.

The AC-130 has a crew of up to 14 to operate the plane. It carries a wide array of defensive countermeasures including chaff and flares to counter radar and infrared-guided anti-aircraft missiles. It's also equipped with an armor protection system, as well as advanced electronic warfare equipment and high resolution All Light Level Television for night operations.

The earliest version of the AC-130 was first deployed in 1967 during the Vietnam War, providing close air support for ground-based troops and inflicting heavy damage on North Vietnamese troops and equipment.

In 1989, the aircraft was used in the U.S. invasion of Panama, destroying the national Defense Force Headquarters and several command and control facilities. The AC-130 was also used in Somalia in 1993 when one was used to level the house of Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid.

They were also used in the NATO mission over Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing air interdiction against key targets in areas around the city of Sarajevo.

One thing not mentioned yet is the orientation of all that firepower. Every piece of weaponry on the AC-130 is mounted on the left side of the aircraft. The standard method of attack is to fly in a low orbit around the target, continually saturating it with a hail of gunfire, or, alternatively, monitoring the area within the orbit for targets of opportunity.

Because this aircraft is big, slow, and unbalanced, its use requires some form of air superiority, or at least a formidable escort. Luckily for AC-130 crews, air superiority is usually something easily obtained by United States forces.

Because the AC-130, beast that it is, orbits the target with all of its weapons mounted on the left hand side, a very special option was added for the pilot.

A special HUD is mounted on the port side cockpit window, positioned so the pilot looks through it if s/he turns their head to the left. This enables the pilot to maintain speed, altitude and rate of turn while keeping their eye on the target they're circling. Orbiting a target like this is known as a 'pylon turn'. Whether the seat massages their neck (turning your head for a long period starts to hurt) has not been released.

In Desert Combat, the Spectre has this option included via the pilot's primary fire button. Alas, there's not HUD or instruments so you need to keep using the seat of your pants flying skills you need in Battlefield 1942 aircraft. Note also that the Spectre is virtually unstoppable in the game, I've heard frustrated Mirage F-1 pilots have fired their complement of 12 missiles into it and it still keeps flying. This strength also allows it to withstand all but the most violent of landings.

The Desert Combat Spectre appears to be the H variant as it has two miniguns, one large and one small cannon. The ramp can be operated from the rear crew position using the standard up/down ramp keys used on landing craft. Closing the ramp is useful as it prevents crewmembers (usually an engineer twisting their wrench to repair combat damage) from accidentally falling out the back during violent maneuvers. The aircraft also serves as a mobile spawn point, and it is possible to survive the destruction of the vehicle from a crash or enemy fire if you are standing in the hold. The only thing to remember is that if you push the 'get out of vehicle' button, you're placed in the hold and not outside, meaning if your Spectre is about to crash you'll need to run to the back and jump out.

Thanks to rootbeer277 for telling me orbiting a target is called a pylon turn

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