Air Force commandos are in the process of getting their brand new gunship, the AC-130J Ghostrider. These heavily-armed aircraft can loiter above the battlefield while unleashing a barrage of cannon and missile fire.
Now you can get a closer look at one of the prototype Ghostriders in official pictures War Is Boring obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
In January, we asked for documents related to a 2014 incident where a pre-production Ghostrider experienced what the flying branch called a “temporary departure from controlled flight.” In April, the Air Force Safety Center released the following photographs along with hundreds of pages of flight test data.
The information we received unfortunately didn’t go into any great detail about the so-called “Class E” incident — an event officials determine to have had a high potential to become an actual accident — or the aftermath. We’re still looking into it.
In the meantime, you can check out the early AC-130J up close.
This shot is the most mundane of the three. The Ghostrider’s right side lacks the array of weapons and sensors sticking out in the opposite direction.
One can see various antennas, airspeed probes and scoops to bring in cold air and help cool the aircraft’s electronics and other gear. The antenna visible to the right of the main landing gear is likely a radar receiver to warn the crew if enemy forces locked on before firing a surface-to-air missile.
Despite the bad lighting in the second photo, the AC-130J’s new 30-millimeter Bushmaster II cannon stands out. A sensor turret with cameras and lasers hangs from the enlarged landing gear sponson.
The Bushmaster II is the only gun currently available to Ghostrider crews. The Air Force hopes to mount a massive 105-millimeter howitzer or energy cannons onto the gunships eventually.
The last picture offers a relatively rare rear view of the gunship. Based on the C-130 transport plane, the AC-130J still has the rear ramp.
But Lockheed has modified the upper portion of the Ghostrider’s cargo door to fire small AGM-176 Griffin missiles. Raytheon’s weapon weighs less than 50 pounds and is only three and half feet long.
The crew — or teams on the ground — can guide the Griffins to their targets with laser beams or GPS coordinates. The Air Force expects the AGM-176 to be an important weapon for the AC-130J, along with the older Hellfire and the increasingly popular Small Diameter Bomb.
On July 29, the first Ghostrider touched down at Hulburt Field for operational tests. An Air Force Special Operations Command news item explained how the procedure would work and what air commandos could expect from their new gunships:
“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, 1st [Special Operations Group Detachment 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, this 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, 1st [Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron] 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 flying branch expects to buy nearly 40 of the new aircraft.