National Museum of the USAF   Right Corner Banner
Join the Air Force

Home > Fact Sheets > Lockheed AC-130E “Pave Aegis”


Posted 10/23/2009 Printable Fact Sheet

The "Pave Aegis" development program started in early 1971 and was designed to test the feasibility of adding a large caliber weapon to the AC-130 gunship. A variety of weapons between 75mm and 105mm were considered with the 105mm M102 Howitzer finally selected.

The prototype AC-130A S/N 54-1626 was selected for proof of concept testing. The aircraft was modified for the cannon during the summer of 1971 and initial firing tests were done from Sept. 11-17. On a typical sortie, the cannon was fired from 8,000 feet above ground level using a standard left banking attack pattern at a speed between 150-160 knots. Testing was successfully completed and the Aeronautical Systems Division proposed the modification of the AC-130E. The operational units in Southeast Asia initially opposed the program since the "Pave Spectre" AC-130Es were badly needed for the Commando Hunt VII campaign -- an air interdiction campaign to impede the overland flow of supplies from North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the "dry" season from October through April. An agreement was reached in early November, however, to convert the sixth AC-130E (S/N 69-6572) to the Pave Aegis configuration for operational combat testing.

The prototype Pave Aegis AC-130E was scheduled for completion of its Pave Spectre modifications by the end of December 1971. In January 1972, it was flown to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. for modifications to add the M102 cannon. To make room for the 105mm weapon, the aft 40mm cannon and beacon tracking radar were removed and two 105 mm ammunition racks were installed (72 and 24 round capacity). The gun had a three-foot blast deflector added to the cannon muzzle to protect the left wing from blast damage when the gun was fired. The 105mm cannon had a travel range between 0 degrees and 20 degrees azimuth (aft) and between 0 degrees and -40 degrees elevation. The cannon had a safety cage installed to protect the gunners from the 4-foot recoil when the gun was fired. Each 105mm shell weighed 42 pounds and was 31 inches long. The total modification program added about 5,000 pounds to the aircraft gross weight. The engineers and maintenance personnel determined the 105mm cannon modification could be completed at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, home the 16th Special Operation Squadron, in about 12 to 15 hours.

The Pave Aegis AC-130E flew two combat training missions from Ubon RTAFB on Feb. 22-23, 1972. The missions allowed the crews to become familiar with the new weapon system and solve any operational problems encountered. The first actual combat mission was flown on Feb. 24. The AC-130E flew a Commando Hunt VII armed reconnaissance mission, spotted 12 trucks, destroyed three and damaged four more with the 105mm cannon. The 40mm cannon damaged or destroyed the other five trucks. On March 15, the Pave Aegis aircraft was hit and damaged by a 57mm antiaircraft round. Maintenance personnel at Ubon RTAFB removed the 105mm cannon from the damaged aircraft and reinstalled it on another AC-130E (S/N 69-6571).

The initial combat test period ended on March 30 with a total of 32 combat sorties flown. Of the 239 trucks sighted, 229 were attacked and 218 were damaged or destroyed. The 105mm cannon was credited with 76 percent of the damaged or destroyed trucks. On March 30, the Pave Aegis AC-130E was shot down after being hit be 57mm AAA fire. Another AC-130 gunship provided close air support for the combat search and rescue effort to rescue the crew. The forward looking infrared system was used to "see" the crew members and direct them to protective cover. The entire crew was rescued on March 31.

The 7th Air Force had approved the installation of a 105mm cannon on a second AC-130E before the loss of the first Pave Aegis AC-130E. Consequently, the 16th SOS maintenance personnel completed the conversion on AC-130E S/N 69-6570 to keep the Pave Aegis strength at one aircraft. The second aircraft conversion was delayed until May 1, 1972, waiting for the replacement (third) 105mm conversion kit to arrive at Ubon RTAFB.

Because of its awesome destructive power, the Pave Aegis AC-130E quickly earned several unofficial nicknames including "Big Gun" and "Big Bertha."

Type Number built/
AC-130A 1 (cv) Prototype AC-130 gunship
AC-130A 7 (cv) "Plain Jane" initial conversion
AC-130A 1 (cv) "Surprise Package" test aircraft
AC-130A 10 (cv) "Pave Pronto" version
AC-130E 11 (cv) C-130E conversions

Armament: Two 20mm M61A1 Vulcan cannons firing at 2,500 rpm (3,000 rounds typically carried onboard), one 40mm M1 "Bofors" cannons with a selectable firing rate of single shot or 120 rpm (approx. 250 rounds typically carried onboard), and one 105mm M-102 Howitzer cannon (96 rounds typically carried onboard)
Engines: Four Allison T-56-A-15 turboprops of 4,910 hp
Attack speed: 145+ knots
Cruising speed: 180+ knots
Duration: 3-5 hours for a typical combat mission (6 hours maximum with 30 minutes reserve fuel); most missions were about 5 hours in duration
Attack altitude: Between 5,500 and 10,500 ft. above ground level depending on the threat environment
Span: 132 ft. 7 in.
Length: 97 ft. 10 in.
Height: 38 ft. 6 in.
Weight: 160,000 lbs. maximum
Crew: 14 (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, fire control officer, low light level television operator, forward looking infrared operator, illuminator operator, electronic warfare officer, flight engineer, loadmaster, master armorer, and four gunners/armorers)
Serial numbers: (Prototype) 54-1626; (Initial conversions [from JC-130A]): 53-3129, 54-1623, 54-1625, 54-1627 to 54-1630; ("Surprise Package") 56-0490; ("Pave Pronto") 55-11, 55-14, 55-29, 55-40, 55-43, 55-44, 55-46, 56-469, 56-471, 56-509; ("Pave Spectre" [from C-130E]) 69-6567 to 69-6577

Click here to return to the Attack Aircraft index.

 Inside the Museum

ima cornerSearch

ima cornerAircraft


tabRelated Links

Museum Virtual TourMuseum Facebook PageMuseum Twitter PageMuseum Instagram
Museum Google Plus PageMuseum Pinterest PageMuseum YouTube ChannelMuseum Flickr Page
Museum PodcastsMuseum E-newsletter Sign-upMuseum RSS Feeds

Site Map      Contact Us     Questions     Security and Privacy notice     E-publishing  
Suicide Prevention    SAPR   IG   EEO   Accessibility/Section 508   No FEAR Act