Warplanes: September 15, 2004


Spooky just got lighter and tighter. The U.S. Air Force AC-130H gunship (nicknamed Spooky) is a 69 ton, four engine aircraft armed with two 20mm machine-gun, a 40mm cannon and a 105mm howitzer. While the aircraft can stay in the air for six hours (or more, if it refuels in the air), what really makes a difference is how well the weapons operate. Flying low (often under 10,000 feet) and at night, the gunship relies on night vision devices and well trained gunners to take out targets that are giving the troops on the ground a hard time. Four decades of little improvements have made the gunships increasingly lethal. The latest little improvement is a good example. A new ammo rack for the hundred 105mm shells carried was designed and installed on the twenty AC-103H aircraft. The new rack weighed half a ton less than the old one, put all the shells near the gun (the old rack had 24 of the shell stored near the front of the aircraft) and basically worked better than the old rack. The lighter weight made the aircraft more nimble, a useful thing when flying in hot climates. Putting all the shells in the back meant less work, and less delay, when the gunners were down to their last two dozen shells. There were also fewer delays because the new shell compartments are less liable to jamming, as the old ones were. The air force began installing the new racks two years ago. It was not done all at once, so that there was time to see how the new racks did in actual use. The last AC-130H just got its new racks. 


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