Final AC-130W training flight for 551st SOS

As part of the drawdown of US Air Force Special Operations Command’s (AFSOC’s) 551st Special Operations Squadron (SOS) at Cannon Air Force Base (AFB), New Mexico, the unit has ceased training with its Lockheed AC-130W Stinger II gunships.

The final training flight, with AC-130W – serial 90-1058 (c/n 382-5241) – took place on April 29, marking the end of mission qualification training operations for the 551st SOS. The unit will be officially deactivated on June 15, 2021.

AC-130W [USAF/Senior Airman Vernon R Walter III]
A USAF-operated Lockheed AC-130W Stinger II - serial 90-1058 (c/n 382-5241) - piloted by members of the 551st SOS, taxies in after their final flight at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, on April 29, 2021. USAF/Senior Airman Vernon R Walter III

The 551st is a geographically separated component of the 492nd Special Operations Wing, which is headquartered at Hurlburt Field in Florida, and has been at Cannon since July 24, 2009, following its last reactivation. The unit has a long legacy of training AFSOC personnel, having previously trained Sikorsky MH-53 Pave Low aircrews at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico. Since it’s reactivation at Cannon, the 551st has provided aircrew training on the AC-130W and a wide array of other aircraft to ensure Cannon can carry out its specialised mission.

Lt Col Kris Aikens, commander of the 551st SOS, said: “The AC-130W is going to be retiring in the next couple [of] years, so our mission to train new AC-130W crew members is done. Now, our personnel will be focused on refresher and continuation training for the wing’s operational units.”

The Stinger II is one of the more recent variants of Lockheed’s AC-130 family to have served in the USAF’s ranks. AirForces Intelligence data states that the platform entered operational service with the air arm in 2012, with 12 aircraft having been delivered in total - two of which are now confirmed to be in storage. By the end of 2021, six aircraft will have been withdrawn from service and placed into long-term storage, ahead of the type’s full retirement later this decade.