In the early 1960s, Air Force Systems Command began experimenting with side-firing weapons systems for possible use in Vietnam in point defense and night Close Air Support (CAS) roles. In late 1964, the first gunship conversion of a World War II Douglas C-47D was done. The gunship version of the C-47D was initially designated FC-47D (Fighter-Cargo), but was changed to AC (Attack Cargo) primarily because of complaints by traditional fighter pilots. The aircraft had several nicknames: "Spooky", Puff the Magic Dragon", and "Puff".

The AC-47D(S/N 43-48579) was equipped with three SUU-11A 7.62 mm "miniguns" with a 6,000 round per minute rate of fire. The miniguns were mounted in the aft left fuselage, one gun was installed in the aft passenger door area. The other two guns were mounted just forward of the passenger door with the gun barrels pointed out window ports. The AC-47D carried about 16,500 rounds of ammunition on a typical mission.

For night missions, the aircraft carried approximately 48 MK-24 flares. Each flare would last up to three minutes (Mod 3 version) and produced a light of 2 million candlepower. The delivery system was extremely simple, the loadmaster armed and dropped the flare out the cargo door when the pilot signaled by flashing a cargo compartment light.


AC-47 Operations Bulletin #56 - 13 Feb 67 (PACAF)
As employed in Southeast Asia, the flight crew consisted of seven USAF personnel, as well as a Vietnamese observer assigned to aid in the "delta" missions. The aircraft commander (pilot) fired the gun while the copilot performs the normal piloting duties and coordinated the activities of the crew. In the target area the navigator and Vietnamese Air Force observer (8th crewman if assigned) collaborate to accurately pinpoint objectives and coordinate with the ground forces. Two gunners accomplish the preflight, gun loading and in-flight troubleshooting of the SUU-11 guns. The loadmaster arms and manually drops the flares from the rear entrance door upon a light signal from the aircraft commander. A flight mechanic rounds out the crew and is responsible for aircraft systems operation.

  • The basic missions on which the AC-47 was employed were:
  • Defense of ground positions (friendly forts and outposts).
  • Escort and patrol.
  • Pre-planned strikes against suitable targets.
  • Forward air controlling for fighter strikes.
  • Initial attack procedures began with the aircraft in straight and level flight, and the target just outside and forward of the left prop dome. Usual altitude is between 2500-3000 feet above ground level (AGL); however, this could be adjusted to allow for such variables as weather, ground fire and target identification difficulties. As the target passed under the engine cowling, the aircraft was rolled into a level 30° bank turn. When the (gun site) pipper came on target, firing was commenced in bursts of 3-7 seconds, as required. When the pipper moved off the target to the rear, the firing was ceased and a slight turn was made away from the target for repositioning and subsequent firing passes. If the pipper moved off the target to the front, the degree of bank was increased to realign on target. Airspeed during the maneuver was normally 120 knots indicated air speed (KIAS). Each minigun fired at a rate of 6000 rounds per minute. This provided a coverage over an elliptical area approximately 52 yards in diameter, placing a projectile within every 2.4 yards during a 3 second burst.
  • The guns were configured for a 12° declination to allow shallower bank angles and more precise aircraft control.



    The combat use of the C-47 in Vietnam began in February 1962 when the aircraft was used to drop flares to illuminate outposts and small villages under night attack by Viet Cong (VC) forces. These C-47 flareships were based at Bien Hoa Air Base and were part of the Operation Farmgate (initially Jungle Jim) program to train VNAF forces in counterinsurgency operations.

    When Operation Farmgate ended on 28 July 1963, the C-47 flareships were transferred to the 1st Air Commando Squadron (ACS) at Bien Hoa AB. The first test use of the AC-47 gunship (initially FC-47) in combat occurred on 15 December 1964 with testing continued into early 1965. One early and significant success happened on the night of 23-24 December 1964. The AC-47 defended a small outpost at Tranh Yend just 37 minutes after the request was issued. The "Spooky" fired 4,500 rounds of ammunition and broke the Viet Cong attack, forcing a retreat. The AC-47 was then called to defend another outpost (Trung Hung) about 20 miles away. The aircraft again broke the VC attack forcing a retreat.

    The AC-47D combat test program was very successful and the Air Force created the 4th Air Commando Squadron in August 1965 as the first operational unit equipped with the “Spooky” gunship. Although the 4th ACS was based at Tan Son Nhut AB, it operated several forward operating locations throughout South Vietnam (Bien Hoa, Pleiku, Na Trang, Da Nang & Can Tho). In November 1965, the 4th ACS was assigned 16 operational aircraft with 4 more assigned as "advanced attrition" aircraft. Because of a shortage of SUU-11A gun pods, the AC-47D's were fitted with only two miniguns rather than three. A few aircraft were temporarily fitted with 8 or 10 .30-cal. M2 machine guns, but all were later refitted with miniguns. By early 1966, production of the minigun increased so each of the 16 AC-47D's was equipped with all three guns.

    With the success of the AC-47 gunship, two more squadrons were created: the 3rd and 5th ACS, all under the 14th Air Commando Wing (ACW). In August 1968, the unit designations were changed from Air Commando to Special Operations.

    The US Air Force converted 53 C-47's for use as gunships during the Vietnam War. Although the AC-47 was an effective attack system, it was also vulnerable to enemy fire. Fifteen aircraft were lost between December 17th, 1965 when the first AC-47 was lost due to ground fire and 5 September 1969 when an VNAF AC-47D crashed due to pilot error. In 1969, the USAF turned over its AC-47D's to the VNAF under the "Vietnamization" program.


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