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Gunship I: Spooky

AC-47 firing one gun during a rare daylight mission. Typically, every fifth round was a tracer -- what is not seen are the four rounds between each red streak. (U.S. Air Force photo)

AC-47 firing one gun during a rare daylight mission. Typically, every fifth round was a tracer -- what is not seen are the four rounds between each red streak. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Spooky minigun firing during a night mission. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Spooky minigun firing during a night mission. (U.S. Air Force photo)

AC-47 crewmember preparing to throw a flare out of the open fuselage door. These flares helped expose enemy night attacks. (U.S. Air Force photo)

AC-47 crewmember preparing to throw a flare out of the open fuselage door. These flares helped expose enemy night attacks. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Two Spooky missions -- close air support and flare dropping -- are shown here. In this May 1969 battle, a large North Vietnamese force had surrounded a unit of the US Army 1st Cavalry Division. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Two Spooky missions -- close air support and flare dropping -- are shown here. In this May 1969 battle, a large North Vietnamese force had surrounded a unit of the US Army 1st Cavalry Division. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Many AC-47s had Spooky nose art. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Many AC-47s had Spooky nose art. (U.S. Air Force photo)

AC-47 crew underneath the guns of their aircraft. A typical Spooky crew included the aircraft commander, pilot, navigator, flight engineer, loadmaster and two gunners. (U.S. Air Force photo)

AC-47 crew underneath the guns of their aircraft. A typical Spooky crew included the aircraft commander, pilot, navigator, flight engineer, loadmaster and two gunners. (U.S. Air Force photo)

South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) AC-47. In the late 1960s, the USAF turned over its AC-47s to the South Vietnamese and Royal Laotian Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo)

South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) AC-47. In the late 1960s, the USAF turned over its AC-47s to the South Vietnamese and Royal Laotian Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Enlargement of “business card” carried by AC-47 crewmen. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Enlargement of “business card” carried by AC-47 crewmen. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Spooky -- the first operational Air Force gunship -- was based on the World War II-era Douglas C-47 cargo aircraft. Armed with three side-firing 7.62mm miniguns, Spooky gunships dropped flares and stopped enemy ground attacks against airfields, bases and villages. They also provided road convoy escort and close air support for troops in contact with the enemy.

The first AC-47 combat missions took place in December 1964. Within a year, they were in action throughout South Vietnam providing local defense at night. On thousands of occasions, Spooky crews prevented friendly ground positions from being overrun.

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