HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — The first AC-130J Ghostrider landed here July 29, making it Air Force Special Operations Command’s first AC-130J.
After completing the initial developmental test and evaluation by the 413th Flight Test Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, the aircraft will be flown by the 1st Special Operations Group Detachment 2 and maintained by the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron during its initial operational tests and evaluations at Hurlburt Field.
“Putting it through these tests will allow us to wring out the AC-130J in a simulated combat environment, instead of the more rigid flight profiles in formal developmental testing,” said Lt. Col. Brett DeAngelis, the 1st SOG Det. 2 commander. “Now that we know the equipment works when we turn it on, it’s our task to determine the best way to employ our newest asset.”
For most, the new gunship is the future.
“The AC-130J brings new technology to the table for AFSOC with more efficient engines, improved fuel efficiency and the ability to fly higher, further and quieter,” said Master Sgt. Michael Ezell, the 1st SOAMXS production superintendent. “Additionally, the modified weapons system it possesses is a precision strike package that was collected from the older models, such as the laser-guided bombs and AGM-176 Griffin bombs, and combined to give us all the capabilities of the AC-130W Stinger II and AC-130U Spooky all in one package.”
The AC-130J is a modified MC-130J Commando II, containing advanced features that will enable it to provide ground forces with an expeditionary, direct-fire platform that is persistent, suited for urban operations and capable of delivering precision munitions against ground targets.
“This is an exciting transition as we move the AC-130J from the test community to the operational community,” DeAngelis said. “While we still have initial operational testing in front of us to accomplish, it will now be done by aircrews selected for their combat expertise, instead of their testing background.”
A cadre of 60 aircrew and maintainers were selected by the Air Force Personnel Center to stand up the program, and there will be an additional 30 contractors to help work on the new gunship.
“We will be training on the airplane, getting all the qualifications and hands-on experience we need to be able to perform operational testing in order to give an exact picture of how this plane will operate in a real-world environment,” Ezell said. “Our focus right now is to learn how to maintain the aircraft and the operators will learn how to fly it and get ready for (initial operational test and evaluation), which should start later this year.”
Airmen were hand-selected to work on the new AC-130J; they encompass a solid background and level of expertise on C-130Js. The maintenance team cadre came from Little Rock AFB, Arkansas; Dyess AFB, Texas; Kirtland AFB, New Mexico; Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona; and Cannon AFB, New Mexico.
“As more AC-130Js are produced and delivered, the older models will slowly be retired,” DeAngelis said. “Until then, we’ll hold on to them while the AC-130J completes operational tests and the fleet becomes abundant in numbers.”
Operational testing is expected to be complete in spring 2016.
“Det. 2’s mission is simple; ‘Get it right,’ ” DeAngelis said. “And we have the right group of people to do just that.”