The Air Force’s AC-130 gunships are among the most powerful weapons in the Pentagon arsenal. But for 50 years the flying branch’s gunships — lumbering, propeller-driven transports bristling with high-tech sensors and batteries of side-firing cannons — flew only at night in order to avoid enemy air defenses.
Not any more. New weapons and sensors are freeing the expanding Air Force gunship fleet to fly and fight in daytime, heralding far-reaching changes in U.S. air power. But how far-reaching depends on the willingness of commanders to use the improved, more flexible warplanes, says one ex-gunship pilot.
“They are currently flying during the day,” Air Force Special Operations Command chief Lt. Gen. Eric E. Fiel said of his AC-130s at a recent industry conference.