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Gunships: The Story of Spooky, Shadow, Stinger and Spectre by Wayne Mutza, Specialty Press, North Branch, Minn., 2009, $34.95.

Wayne Mutza writes for the expert as well as the casual reader. His latest effort, Gunships, is loaded with photos and tells the story of one of the most interesting weapon systems of the 20th century.

Mutza starts with the earliest efforts to provide maximum aerial firepower to defend hard-pressed outposts. He acknowledges the many individuals who contributed to the process, and includes photos of the earliest experimental examples and the aircrews, mechanics and project managers who literally sweated the whole concept into existence.

Mutza’s main chapters chronicle the major types of aircraft in the Gunship, Gunship II and Gunship III programs: the Douglas AC-47 Spooky; the Fairchild AC-119 Shadow (called here “Spooky’s Big Dumb Brother”); the AC-119K Stinger, boosted with the addition of two GE J85 jet engines; and the Lockheed AC-130A Super Spooky and awe-inspiring AC-130H Spectre. But he also examines a lesser-known effort, Project Little Brother, with which the U.S. Air Force flirted for a time. He details improvements incorporated into each aircraft as well as teething problems, training and combat experience. Bonuses include everything from tech order drawings to shots of unit insignia. Mutza also uses crew narratives to break up and enliven sections of technical material.

The primary emphasis here is on Vietnam operations, but the author also covers AC-130 service in the Middle East. He includes some gunship exotica as well, such as the Black Spot NC-123Ks and the strange variety of gunships used by the South Vietnamese, Thai and Khmer air forces. One chapter details the fantastic Basler turboprop conversion of the C-47, used by El Salvador, Colombia and the U.S. Air Force’s 6th Special Operations Squadron. Given its scope and great detail, Gunships is sure to be one of those books you’ll eagerly read before placing it in the “to keep” portion of your library.


Originally published in the May 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.