HURLBURT FIELD — Taking off with the rising sun, an AC-130U gunship took its final flight Tuesday, trailing history in its wake during a near-cross-country voyage from Hurlburt Field to Arizona's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Built in 1989 at Lockheed Martin's Marietta, Georgia plant, the gunship is bound for Davis-Monthan's 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. Known unceremoniously as "The Boneyard," the 309th AMARG now houses more than 4,400 retired military and other federal aircraft.
The retired gunship — the "Spooky" version of the AC-130U, officially known by the number 89-0511 — had been assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron, part of the Hurlburt Field-based 1st Special Operations Wing, since 1995. Its armament includes 40 mm and 105 mm cannons and a 25 mm Gatling gun.
During its nearly 30 years of service, the AC-130U gunship retired Tuesday had a handful of claims on aviation history, beginning early in its service life.
During testing, 89-0511 "set the record for the highest altitude ever flown by an AC-130U at 31,000 feet," according to the public affairs office at the Hurlburt Field-based 1st Special Operations Wing.
In 2001, the gunship retired Tuesday was among the aircraft involved in "hit night," the first night of attacks on Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"Hit night" — Oct. 7, 2001 — marked the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, the effort to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists including al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Two years later, the AC-130U gunship and its crew would become "the first Air Force aircrew and aircraft to sink a maritime combat surface vessel during a war effort since World War II," according to the 1st SOW public affairs office.
The crew on board that day called themselves "The Lost Boys," and the aircraft was emblazoned with that name for some of its service life.
According to a Navy account, the sinking occurred on March 21, 2003, in the Arabian Gulf. A Navy patrol aircraft spotted and tracked an Iraqi fast-attack patrol boat and relayed the information to the AC-130U gunship and its crew.
The boat's crew fired on the AC-130U gunship, and in dry official language, a Navy officer noted that the Navy aircraft's crew "coordinated with the AC-130 to have the boat destroyed."
The AC-130U gunship retired from Hurlburt Field on Tuesday is one of 2,500 C-130s that have been ordered by or delivered to 63 different nations, according to Lockheed Martin. The aircraft has been produced in more than 70 different versions, for missions ranging from combat to transport to humanitarian relief.