The American Flight Museum, a flying museum located at Topeka, Kansas, operates "Spooky" which is restored as John Levitow's Medal of Honor Douglas AC-47 gunship. Airmen 1st Class John L. Levitow was a AC-47 loadmaster who won the Medal of Honor on a February 24, 1969 mission.
The Douglas AC-47 "Spooky" was the first in a series of gunships developed by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. It was felt that more firepower than could be provided by light and medium attack aircraft was needed in some situations when ground forces called for close support.
The AC-47 was a United States Air Force C-47 Skytrain that had been modified by mounting three 7.62 mm General Electric miniguns to fire through two rear window openings and the side cargo door, all on the left (pilot's) side of the aircraft. (However, first prototypes had a group of up to ten Browning .50 machine guns instead.) The guns were actuated by a control on the pilot's yoke, where he could control the guns either individually or together. Its primary function was for close air support for ground troops, both U.S. and South Vietnamese. Once called into action, it could loiter, orbiting the designated target, sometimes for hours, providing suppressing fire. A three second burst from all guns, according to Air Force reports, would put one round in every square foot of a football field sized target. As it carried over 24,000 rounds of ammunition, it was highly unpopular with those on the receiving end of its fire and extremely popular with the troops it flew in support of who gave it the nickname ofPuff the Magic Dragon. In addition to the miniguns, it also carried flares, which it could drop at will to light up the battleground.
Due to the age of its base airframe, the aircraft was very vulnerable to ground fire. Consequently, further gunship designs, the AC-119 gunship and the AC-130 gunship were developed, based around newer cargo airframes.
In August 1964 years of fixed wing gunship experimentation reached a new peak with the intiation Project Tailchaser. This test involved the conversion of a single Convair C-131B to be able to fire a single GAU-2/A Minigun at downward angle out of the left side of the aircraft. It was disovered that even using crude grease pencil crosshairs it was very easy for a pilot flying in a pylon turn to hit stationary area targets with relative accuracy.
By October, a C-47D under Project Gunship was converted to a similar standard as the Project Tailchaser aircraft, but instead with a total of 3 Miniguns. These weapons were initially mounted on locally fabricated mounts, which essentially strapped gun pod versions of the guns (SUU-11/A) onto a mount that allowed it to be fired remotely out of the left side of the aircraft. This aircraft was sent for use by the 4th Air Commando in the Republic of Vietnam for operational testing. By Mid-1965, a total of 6 aircraft were operating with the 4th Air Commando, and by fall of 1965, there were 20 more. The original gunships had been designated FC-47D by the United States Air Force, but with protests from fighter pilots, this designation was changed to AC-47D during 1965. Eventually the 4th Air Commando was absorbed into the 14th Special Operations Wing (SOW), and AC-47Ds were assigned to the 3rd and 4th Special Operations Squadrons (SOS), as well as, later to the 432nd Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Udon Royal Thai Airbase (RTAB).
As the United States began Project Gunship II and Project Gunship III, many of the remaining AC-47Ds were transferred to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF), the Royal Lao Air Force (RLAF), and to Cambodia, after Prince Sihanouk was deposed in a coup by General Lon Nol.