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The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Members of the AC-119 Gunship Association Are Featured Speakers at MO Aviation Historical Society Meeting

By Carmelo Turdo

Members of the AC-119 Gunship Association (Vietnam War era) were the featured speakers at the November Missouri Aviation Historical Society Meeting held in the St. Louis area.  St. Louis native Everett Sprous, U.S. Air Force inflight weapons mechanic ("gunner") on AC-119K Stinger Gunship 1971-1972 and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, assisted in organizing and hosting the meeting presentation. Dr. Larry Fletcher, U.S. Air Force Captain and aircraft commander who flew 177 combat missions in AC-119G Shadow gunships and the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Medal with eight Clusters, led the presentation that traced the development of the AC-119 series gunships and the role of each crew member. Other AC-119 Gunship Association members who also shared their experiences in the aircraft:

U.S. Air Force Sgt. Wade Dunn, Gunner on AC-119G Shadow
U.S. Air Force CMSgt Ron Gilbert, Gunner and career NCO
U.S. Air Force Captain Ralph LeFarth, Pilot, AC-119G Shadow

Dr. Larry Fletcher poses with his books and sample gunship ammunition

Dr. Fletcher spoke about the two models of AC-119s used during the Vietnam War period, all aircraft eventually given to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force to replace the AC-47 Spooky gunships already in use. The AC-119G Shadow carried 8 crew and 4 7.62mm miniguns for anti-personnel operations in defense of friendly bases and in support of friendly troops. The AC-119K Stinger added 2 more crew and two 20mm cannon to the four miniguns for greater anti-armor firepower. It also added a Forward-Looking Infra-Red sensor and 2 J85 jets for added performance. The weapons pointed out of the left side of the aircraft, and the pilot had to keep a left bank angle of about 30 degrees to lay down a cone of fire on the target. Most missions were flown at night, with the "gunners" keeping the weapons operating and the pilot sighting and firing the guns from the cockpit.

AC-119G Shadow gunship with Lt. Larry Fletcher in photo

Dr. Larry Fletcher points out the weapons on the AC-119G

The aircraft were used by the 71st, 17th and 18th Special Operations Squadrons from 1968-1973.  Employing an AC-119 gunship in combat was a lesson in crew coordination. The pilot flew the aircraft, controlling the angle of bank with the yoke wheel and firing the weapons  while looking out the left side. The copilot controlled pitch with the yoke column and looked out the right side for anti-aircraft fire from the ground. The copilot actually used a bracket welded to the control yoke rather than the hand wheel so as to not interfere with the pilot's angle of bank inputs. The flight engineer leaned in between the pilots to adjust throttle settings and monitor engine instruments and fuel tank feeds. The "gunners" in the fuselage kept the guns loaded and ready for the pilot to use on command. There were additionally 2-3 navigators and an illumination (flare) operator on both models.  

Sgt. Wade Dunn

CMSgt. Ron Gilbert

Captain Ralph LeFarth

Wade Dunn, Ron Gilbert, Larry Fletcher, Ralph LeFarth, 
Dan O'Hara, and Everett Sprous

Gifts presented to the MO Aviation Historical Society

The MO Aviation Historical Society would like to thank the members of the AC-119 Gunship Association for speaking at the November meeting in St. Louis. Their story is inspiring, and their service honorable.  For more information about the AC-119 Gunship Association, please visit

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