Military Aviation

USAF retires AC-130U that sank Iraqi patrol boat during Operation Iraqi Freedom

The AC-130U had the honor of being “the first Air Force aircrew and aircraft to sink a maritime combat surface vessel during a war effort since World War II”

AC-130U, # 89-0511, was retired to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB) on May 8. The gunship had the honor of being “the first Air Force aircrew and aircraft to sink a maritime combat surface vessel during a war effort since World War II.”

That feat took place on Mar. 21, 2003, in the Arabian Gulf when, the “The Lost Boys,” as the AC-130U crew on board that day called themselves, engaged and destroyed an Iraqi fast-attack patrol boat after the vessel had been spotted and tracked by a U.S. Navy patrol aircraft.

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.”

Built in 1989 at Lockheed Martin’s Marietta, Georgia plant, # 89-0511 is bound for Davis-Monthan’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (309 AMARG). Known unceremoniously as “The Boneyard,” the 309 AMARG now houses more than 4,400 retired military and other federal aircraft.

According Crestview News Bulletin, the retired gunship — the “Spooky” version of the AC-130U — had been assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron, part of the Hurlburt Field-based 1st Special Operations Wing, since 1995.

# 89-0511 also held the record “for the highest altitude ever flown by an AC-130U at 31,000 feet,” a feat the aircraft claimed during its early test flights.

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 U.S..

“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.

The Spooky is the third generation of C-130 gunships. All gunships evolved from the first operational gunship, the AC-47, to the AC-119, and then the AC-130A which was the basis for the modern C-130 gunship. The AC-130H “Spectre” gunships were fielded in 1972 and retired in 2015.

A handmade sign tells the story of The Lost Boys’ sinking of an Iraqi patrol boat.

The AC-130U “Spooky” gunships’ primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. Close air support missions include troops in contact, convoy escort and point air defense. Air interdiction missions are conducted against preplanned targets or targets of opportunity and include strike coordination, reconnaissance, and armed overwatch mission sets.

This heavily armed aircraft (its armament includes 40 mm and 105 mm cannons and a 25 mm Gatling gun) incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation, and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended loiter periods, at night and in adverse weather. The sensor suite consists of a multispectral television sensors, high definition infrared sensors, and radar. These sensors allow the gunship to visually or electronically identify friendly ground forces and targets anytime, anywhere.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. AC-130U Spooky II 1st SOW, 4th SOS, 88-0163

Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Rachel Yates and Hurlburt Field / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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