Maintaining deadliest cargo plane in Air Force

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Few aircraft in the Air Force inventory truly embody the Air Force Air Power motto as the AC-130U "Spooky" gunship.

Approaching this aircraft from the right side belies its lethality; it appears as nothing more than another C-130 cargo transport aircraft. However, on the opposite side of the aircraft sit three cannons capable of raining 25 mm, 40mm, and 105mm fire down on any target on the ground.

This deadly cargo plane, assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron, takes a special team of dedicated Air Commandos from across the maintenance career field to keep it vigilantly patrolling the skies.

"There are a lot more specialties involved with the gunships and a lot of integration between the different specialty shops to make sure that the aircrew is able to put the rounds on the ground," said Tech Sgt. Taylor Miller, 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. "We have our friendly rivalries between the different maintenance units, but we all pull together to make sure the gunships are ready to go anytime, anyplace."

More than a dozen Airmen work together to track targets with the aircrafts onboard electronics and sensor suites. They keep the cannons loaded and in working order, communicate with ground forces, and fire on hostile targets while conducting armed reconnaissance and interdiction missions.

Allowing this aircraft to perform such a diverse mission takes thousands of feet of electronic wire and more than 600,000 lines of software throughout its mission computers and avionics systems. The fire control system also provides the unique capability for two sensors to simultaneously track and engage separate targets a kilometer apart with two different weapons.

"This is one of the most advanced systems that my field works on as far as the mission computers go, and the gunship has four systems that work together to control the various systems onboard," said Senior Airman Nick Cardiges, 1st SOAMXS guidance and control technician. "There are so many different missions and jobs coming together trying to fix one little problem all for the sake of the mission. I don't think there is anything else like it other than here in Air Force Special Operations Command."

When deployed, the constant alert status needed to keep the aircraft ready to go at a moment's notice is definitely a challenge, said Senior Airman Kyle Broadwell, 1st SOAMXS weapons loader. But the feeling when the aircraft returns from a mission is worth it.

"Hearing the feedback from the aircrew and what they were able to do on the mission, or the Soldiers that were covered by the gunship you helped put in the air, you feel like you're making a difference," he said.

To keep them ready for these short-notice deployments, all operations at home station are performed as they would be in deployed locations, and frequent unit recalls test the unit's ability to deploy at a moment's notice.

Airmen like the maintainers of the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron help ensure that the AC-130U gunship is able to respond "Any time....Any place."

"I keep a bag packed so when I get that call I will be ready to go without a moment's hesitation," said Airman Cardiges. "For AFSOC Airmen, I think this is the mindset most of us are in, and we and all our families are prepared for whatever the Air Force needs us to do."