-An AC-119G in a revetment during the Vietnam War. | Photo: USAF
FLIGHTLINE: 127 - FAIRCHILD AC-119 SHADOW/STINGER
The USAF directed the conversion of a number of C-119 Flying Boxcars into gunships to replace the AC-47 and supplement the AC-130 during Vietnam.
The success of the Project GUNSHIP AC-47s led to the USAF opening GUNSHIP II to convert C-130 Hercules to AC-130s. The Spectres were mostly used over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, however, and production of the AC-130 was hampered by the fact that the C-130 was in high demand for transport, and thus was in short supply. A ready supply of Fairchild C-119s existed, as they were being recalled from front line service in favor of C-123s and C-130s. The USAF awarded a contract to Fairchild under Project GUNSHIP III to convert 26 C-119Gs into AC-119Gs.
BUT I'M A CREEP....
Taking advantage of technology developed for the AC-130, the AC-119Gs were armed with four GAU-2A/A miniguns (in SUU-11A/A pods) , as well as electronic countermeasures and radar warning gear, a night vision device, flare launchers and an AVQ-8 20 kW xenon light. The aircraft could carry 35,000 rounds of ammunition for night missions, along with flares, and an astounding 50,000 rounds for day missions.
-Schematics of the AC-119G, showing weapons and other additional equipment. | Illustration: USAF
The first AC-119G sortie took place on 5 January 1969 under the call-sign "Creep". By February 1969 all 26 aircraft were located at Tan Son Nhut, Phan Rang and Nha Trang air bases, operating under the 17 Spec Ops Squadron, 14th Spec Ops Wing. By this time, the call sign had switched to "Shadow", which stuck with the AC-119G throughout its service.
-An AC-119G Shadow in flight over Nha Trang AB in 1969. | Photo: USAF
As befitting their missions, the Shadows were painted the SEA camo of FS34079 Dark Green, FS34102 Medium Green and FS30219 Dark Tan, with glossy black undersides, which were found to hide aircraft from searchlights. Later on in their service life the initial SUU-11A/A pods were replaced by the same MXU-470/A gun posts that the AC-47 used.
The USAF opened a second stage of Gunship III, with Fairchild-Hiller being contracted to modify a second batch of 26 C-119G aircraft into specialized truck hunters for interdiction missions against the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The aircraft were upgraded to C-119K standards: two J85 turbojets were added on pylons under the wings, increasing the available power at take-off and allowing a heavier load. Owing to their truck-hunting mission, the AC-119K were fitted with an AN/APN-147 forward-looking Doppler radar, an AN/AAD-4 Forward-Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), and an AN/APQ-136 search radar. Needing a heavier punch, the four 7.62mm cannon were augmented by the addition of two 20mm M61A1 cannons.
The first of the AC-119Ks, known as "Stingers", arrived in Vietnam at the end of 1969, being assigned to the 18th SOS of the 14th SOW, based at Phan Rang, Da Nang and Phu Cat air bases. With the addition of the Shadow and Stinger, the 14th SOW was operating eight aircraft types from up to ten fields in South Vietnam.
-AC-119K from the front, showing the cannon and auxiliary jet engines. | Photo: USAF
-An AC-119K opening fire on the Ho Chi Minh Trail early in 1970. | Photo: USAF
-Close-up of the two Vulcan and four 7.62mm cannons of an AC-119K, along with the protective dome over the tracking radar. | Photo: Walter V. Chapman Jr.
-AC-119K #53-7830, known as the "Black Killer Duck", taxiing out to depart on a mission from Nakhom Phanom RTAFB. | Photo: USAF
The Shadow and Stinger proved to be effective CAS and interdiction aircraft, though their relatively slow speed and pylon turns made them vulnerable to AAA. Though the AC-119s proved to be successful, with only five lost to all causes, they were not a massive improvement over the AC-47s that they had replaced, and both were phrased out of USAF service by 1971. The remaining aircraft were turned over to the South Vietnamese Air Force, but by the Fall of Saigon they were out of service.
Only one AC-119 remains on display; AC-119G (#53-3144), converted back to a C-119L, is on display at Hurlburt Field, FL
-Photo: Glenn Chatfield