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AC-47 Spooky

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AC-47 Spooky
An AC-47 on the ground.
Type Fixed-wing gunship
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company
Introduced 1965
Status In service in Colombia
Primary users United States Air Force
Royal Lao Air Force
Colombian Air Force

The Douglas AC-47 Spooky was the first in a series of gunships developed by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. It was felt that more firepower than could be provided by light and medium attack aircraft was needed in some situations when ground forces called for close air support.

The AC-47 was a United States Air Force C-47 Skytrain that had been modified by mounting three 7.62 mm General Electric miniguns to fire through two rear window openings and the side cargo door, all on the left (pilot's) side of the aircraft. Other armament configurations could also be found on similar C-47 based aircraft around the world. The guns were actuated by a control on the pilot's yoke, where he could control the guns either individually or together, though gunners were also among the crew to assist with gun failures and similar issues. Its primary function was for close air support for ground troops, both U.S. and South Vietnamese. Once called into action, it could loiter, orbiting the designated target, sometimes for hours, providing suppressing fire. A three-second burst from all guns, according to Air Force reports, would put one round in every square foot of a football field sized target. As it carried over 24,000 rounds of ammunition, it was highly unpopular with those on the receiving end of its fire and extremely popular with the troops it flew in support of, who gave it the nickname of Puff the Magic Dragon. In addition to the miniguns, it also carried flares, which it could drop at will to light up the battleground.

Due to the age of its base airframe, the aircraft was very vulnerable to ground fire. Consequently, further gunship designs, the AC-119 gunship and the AC-130 gunship were developed, based around newer cargo airframes.


In August 1964 years of fixed wing gunship experimentation reached a new peak with the intiation Project Tailchaser. This test involved the conversion of a single Convair C-131B to be able to fire a single GAU-2/A Minigun at downward angle out of the left side of the aircraft. It was discovered that even using crude grease pencil crosshairs it was very easy for a pilot flying in a pylon turn to hit a stationary area target with relative accuracy. Testing was conducted at Eglin AFB by ADTC.

By October, a C-47D under Project Gunship was converted to a similar standard as the Project Tailchaser aircraft, but instead with a total of 3 miniguns. These weapons were initially mounted on locally fabricated mounts, which essentially strapped gun pod versions of the guns (SUU-11/A) onto a mount that allowed it to be fired remotely out of the left side of the aircraft. This aircraft was sent for use by the 4th Air Commando in the Republic of Vietnam for operational testing. By mid-1965, a total of 6 aircraft were operating with the 4th Air Commando, and by fall of 1965, there were 20 more. The original gunships had been designated FC-47D by the United States Air Force, but with protests from fighter pilots, this designation was changed to AC-47D during 1965. Eventually the 4th Air Commando was absorbed into the 14th Special Operations Wing (SOW), and AC-47Ds were assigned to the 3rd and 4th Special Operations Squadrons (SOS), as well as, later to the 432nd Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Udon Royal Thai Airbase (RTAB).

As the United States began Project Gunship II and Project Gunship III, many of the remaining AC-47Ds were transferred to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF), the Royal Lao Air Force (RLAF), and to Cambodia, after Prince Sihanouk was deposed in a coup by General Lon Nol.

John L. Levitow was a AC-47 loadmaster on the February 24, 1969 mission that won him the Medal of Honor.

In the 1950s, a small number of C-47s were fitted with electronic equipment designed to calibrate and test for accuracy the navigational aids then in use. At the time, these aircraft were designated AC-47. When the universal designation system was adopted in 1962 these aircraft were redesignated EC-47A.

Armament variations

When the AC-47 was introduced, there was no idea as to how successful the idea would be, and so when requests for additional gunships began to come in, the USAF found itself in a precarious situation. It simply did not have enough miniguns initially to fit additional aircraft after the first two conversions. The next four aircraft were in fact equipped with 10 AN/M2 .30 caliber (7.62 mm) machine guns. However, it was quickly found that these weapons, using ammo stocks from WWII and Korea jammed easily, were extremely dirty in terms of gases produced from firing, and 10 guns could only provide the density of fire of a single minigun. When stocks for miniguns improved, all four of these aircraft were retrofitted with 3 miniguns.

As has been mentioned before, the mounting hardware initially used on the AC-47 simply used minigun pods that were set up for the gunship application. Eventually, Emerson Electric developed the MXU-470/A, a purpose built mount, which was subsequently used, and also used on subsequent gunship aircraft.

Retrofitted AC-47s are still in use in Colombia, where they are known by civilians as Avion fantasma (ghost planes). They are successfully operated by the local airforce in COIN operations in conjunction with AH-60 "Arpia" helicopters (an armed variant of the UH-60) and A-37 Dragonfly fixed-wing aircraft against local illegal armed groups. These are mostly likely the five BT-67s purchased by Colombia with 12.7mm machine guns (of unknown type) slaved to a Forward Looking Infrared (or FLIR) system. For more information see Colombia: Seguridad & Defensa. The BT-67 is a variant of the C-47/DC-3 made by the Basler Corporation of Oshkosh, WI. These "Turbo Dakotas" feature PT6A-67R turboprops made by Pratt & Whitney Canada, driving five-bladed Hartzell propellers, along with essentially overhauling the basic airframe.

Variants of the AC-47 based on various iterations of the airframe including the BT-67, have been used by Laos, Cambodia, South Africa, and Rhodesia, to name just a few, and with a variety of weapons configurations including gatling weapons of numerous types, various medium and heavy machine guns, and larger autocannon (South African "Dragon Daks" were known to fit 20 mm cannons).


Specifications (AC-47)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 8: pilot, copilot, navigator, flight engineer, loadmaster, 2 gunners and a South Vietnamese observer
  • Length: 64 ft 5 in (19.6 m)
  • Wingspan: 95 ft 0 in (28.9 m)
  • Height: 16 ft 11 in (5.2 m)
  • Wing area: 987 ft² (91.7 m²)
  • Empty weight: 18,080 lb (8,200 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 33,000 lb (14,900 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: lb (kg)
  • Powerplant:Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial engines, 1,200 hp (895 kW) each



  • Guns:
    • 3× 7.62 mm (0.30 in) General Electric GAU-2/M134 miniguns, 2,000 rounds/gun or
    • 10× .30 in Browning AN/M2 machine guns
  • 48× Mk 24 flares

External links

Related content

Comparable aircraft

Designation sequence

  • Project Gunship I - II - III

Related lists

da:AC-47 Spooky de:Douglas DC-3#Douglas AC-47 Spooky ms:AC-47 Spooky no:Douglas AC-47 Dragon Ship