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Gunship III: Shadows and Stingers

Capt. William Groves, AC-119 navigator, gets the coordinates of enemy positions from an allied ground commander. With such devastating firepower, accurate positioning was essential. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capt. William Groves, AC-119 navigator, gets the coordinates of enemy positions from an allied ground commander. With such devastating firepower, accurate positioning was essential. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Most gunships, like this AC-119G, were painted black on the bottom. It made them less visible from the ground at night. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Most gunships, like this AC-119G, were painted black on the bottom. It made them less visible from the ground at night. (U.S. Air Force photo)

U.S. Air Force gunships, like this AC-119K, were potent weapons against communist supply lines. (U.S. Air Force photo).

U.S. Air Force gunships, like this AC-119K, were potent weapons against communist supply lines. (U.S. Air Force photo).

Staff Sgt. Harry R. Watters, AC-119 gunner, loads 1,500 rounds into a 7.62mm minigun. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Staff Sgt. Harry R. Watters, AC-119 gunner, loads 1,500 rounds into a 7.62mm minigun. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Shadow “business card.” (U.S. Air Force photo)

Shadow “business card.” (U.S. Air Force photo)

Maj. Herman “Al” Heuss, chief pilot in the 71st Special Operations Squadron, an Indiana-based Air Force Reserve unit called to active duty in Southeast Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Maj. Herman “Al” Heuss, chief pilot in the 71st Special Operations Squadron, an Indiana-based Air Force Reserve unit called to active duty in Southeast Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Stinger “business card.” (U.S. Air Force photo)

Stinger “business card.” (U.S. Air Force photo)

With few C-130s available for gunship conversion, the Air Force turned to the Korean War-era C-119 transport. The Gunship III program had two versions, the AC-119G Shadow and the AC-119K Stinger.

The AC-119G Shadow replaced the AC-47, and it entered combat in January 1969 with the 71st Special Operations Squadron. Armed with four 7.62mm miniguns and additional sensors, the Shadow gunship was more capable than its Spooky predecessor.

AC-119K Stinger crews destroyed trucks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and performed close air support, especially during large enemy offenses. The first combat mission took place in November 1969. Armed with four 7.62mm miniguns and two 20 mm cannons, the AC-119K carried many of the same sophisticated sensors as the larger AC-130. To provide additional power, the AC-119K also had two underwing-mounted jet engines.

As the war came to a close, the USAF transferred its AC-119Gs and AC-119Ks to the South Vietnamese Air Force.

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