Night Hunters: The AC-130S and Their Role in US Airpower

Night Hunters: The AC-130S and Their Role in US Airpower

Night Hunters: The AC-130S and Their Role in US Airpower

Night Hunters: The AC-130S and Their Role in US Airpower


In Night Hunters, air power historian William P. Head provides the first detailed study of the development and deployment of the AC-130 gunship. While other airframes and other types of close air support (CAS) and interdiction weapon systems preceded or flew with the AC-130s, this four-engine cargo airframe proved to be not only the longest serving fixed-wing gunship but also the most effective by far.

During the Vietnam War, the US military developed new tactics and weapons systems to counter a diversity of enemy tactics and geographic features, the difficult climate, and the shifting diplomatic context. One of the most important was the development of the AC-130. Its ability to transport heavier payloads at higher altitudes across longer distances made it the logical choice to be the final Vietnam-era fixed-wing gunship and the only one that continues to fly missions in the twenty-first century. In addition, it employed many of the most advanced weapons, sensors, targeting devices, and fire control systems of the 1970s or of any era.

By recounting both the technical development and the combat operations of the plane, and by looking at the proposed alternatives for its use in the War on Terror, Night Hunters offers a clear view of the role of gunships and of close air support in US wars. In today's never-ending brushfire wars, the AC-130s continue to uphold their reputation for excellence.


Over the past decade I have written three accounts of fixed-wing gunships. the first, on the AC-47, appeared as an article in a scholarly military history journal. the second, on the AC-119G/Ks, was published in 2007 by Texas A&M University Press. Both were long, exhausting projects that left me ready to move on to something besides gunships. Then, in January 2008, I was honored to be invited by the 4th and 16th Special Operations Squadrons (4th sos and 16th SOS), then both stationed at Hurlburt Field, Florida, to fly training missions with them. Although severe weather prevented or shortened the three missions I was scheduled to fly, I got to know the excellent young people who operate Air Force Special Operations Command’s (AFSOC’s) AC-130Hs and Us. It was following this enriching experience, and some initial research undertaken at Herb Mason’s afsoc History Office and Archives at Hurlburt Field, that I felt compelled, by respect for all those who have flown or continue to fly gunships, to complete the trilogy of the major us fixed-wing gunship models built by this nation since 1965.

I should mention that some information on the AC-47 and AC-119 gunships has been essentially repeated from my previous works and placed in the early chapters of this book. I did this in an effort to introduce the AC-130s and to make this text capable of standing alone as a general study of all American gunships. in this way readers will not have to have read my previous works in order to know how I got to this point. This seems only logical, since the AC-130U are currently the last reality of a long progression of new concepts and ideas begun by remarkable airmen such as Ron Terry beginning in the early 1960s.

No one completes a study of this magnitude without a lot of support, and I am no exception. Among the many who I need to thank are Herb Mason and Randy Bergeron of the afsoc History Office; Lt. Gen. Tom Owen (then WR-ALC commander), who arranged my trip to Hurlburt Field; Maj. Gen. Clay T. McCutchan, usaf Reserve retired, chief of the Air Armament Center History Office (AAC HO); and Gen. Mike Wilson, who provided me with an extensive interview about the history of the AC-130s. These men are not only experts on the aircraft and how to use them, but General McCutchan is also a historian for the usaf. of equal importance, he provided valuable editing and sage advice.

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