Spooky gunships leave Central Command

AC-130U 90-0167 on final approach to RAF Mildenhall during its journey back to Hurlburt Field, Florida on July 3, 2019.
Bob Archer

The last two AC-130U Spooky gunships returned home from the US Central Command area of responsibility on July 8, 2019, at the completion of their combat deployment.

New AC-130J Ghostriders have assumed the tasking. The final pair to depart the Middle East were AC-130Us, serial numbers 89-1056 and 90-0167, which routed through Ramstein, Germany, and Mildenhall England on July 3, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Operated by the 4th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) ‘Ghostriders’ baseded at Hurlburt Field, Florida, the unit first flew the AC-130U in May 1995. The 4th SOS was active in the Balkans between 1996 and 2001 for Operations Joint Endeavour and Allied Force. Subsequently, AC-130Us have deployed to the US Central Command region for the last two decades to conduct close air support, armed reconnaissance and interdiction missions against various terrorist groups in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Air Force ordered 13 AC- 130Us between 1987 and 1992 from Rockwell, which performed the conversion programme at Palmdale, California. Deliveries to Hurlburt Field had commenced by July 1994 where U-models were initially assigned to the 16th SOS, flying alongside the AC-130H Spectre. Reassignment to the 4th SOS subsequently followed. Expectation is the majority of AC- 130Us will either be retained for training, or retired.

Considering the hazardous combat arena in which AC-130Us operate, it is a testament to the aircraft’s defensive measures and crew training that no aircraft have been lost during 24 years of operations. Bob Archer