Shadow and Stinger: Developing the AC-119G/K Gunships in the Vietnam War

By Roper, Jim | Air & Space Power Journal, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Shadow and Stinger: Developing the AC-119G/K Gunships in the Vietnam War


Roper, Jim, Air & Space Power Journal


Shadow and Stinger: Developing the AC-119G/K Gunships in the Vietnam War by William Head. Texas A&M University Press Consortium (http:// www.tamu.edu/upress), John H. Lindsey Building, Lewis Street, 4354 TAMU, College Station, Texas 77843-4354, 2007, 352 pages, $49.95 (hardcover) .

Readers love conflict, and author William Head has provided it at every level and turn in this history of the AC-1 19 gunship's development, deployment, and combat in the Second Indochina War. Not a droning historical narrative, the book dives into the billowing controversy, political indecision, interservice turbulence, and stormy resistance of senior officers to adding high-tech sensors and side-firing guns to an "old piece of junk" (p. 48) cargo plane. From takeoff, the author punches through Gen William Momyer's "myopic" (p. 48) dream of an all-jet Air Force and the machinations of several well-intended general officers that delayed deployment of the AC-1 19, which eventually did prove effective. Irony is a dominant feature of the story.

Head points out that advocates of an all-jet Air Force claimed they were fighting for a fair share of resources for the newest military service. They disdained reciprocating engines, special operations, and slow-moving aircraft that were perfectly suited for survivability, lethality, and cost-effectiveness in the jungle counterinsurgency.

Detailed and documented, Shadow and, Stinger offers delicious history. In providing background for the concept of the fixed-wing gunship, Head serves up the "originator" (Lt Col Gilmour McDonald) , the "catalyst" (Maj Ralph Flexman), die "tester" (Capt John C. Simons), and the "seller" (Capt Ronald W. Terry) (p. 19). The original FC-47 (changed to AC47 after the fighter community heard about this designation) needed an interim replacement by 1968 while C-1 30s were located for a long-range modification program. The AGI 19G and K (with added jet engines, bigger guns, and better sensors) emerged in shifting political winds that required frequent contract modification. Head shows how one could call completion of the project "a miracle" (p. 76) .

Geopolitics play a key role in the drama. The Tet offensive in early 1968 ended President Johnson's political career, and President Nixon's Vietnamization policy caused the AC-1 19 to become a weapon that would cover American retreat from Southeast Asia rather than fight for victory. The author recognizes Tet as a huge defeat for the communists, but brief enemy successes in urban areas and bases (areas that gunships were ideally suited to defend) added priority to the development programs. Tet also showed the massive logistic success the enemy enjoyed along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, where the AC119K, armed with 20 mm cannon, could have an effect. …

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