The Douglas AC-47: Puff the Magic Dragon, Vietnam Gunship

AC-47 Vietnam Call Sign: “Spooky”


In the early-1960s, the Air Force Systems Command began experimenting with fixed-wing, side-firing weapons systems for possible use in Vietnam. By 1964, the first gunship conversion of a World War II Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport was completed under the Project Gunship I program. Initially designated FC-47D (Fighter-Cargo), it was later changed to AC-47D (Attack-Cargo).

On 15 December 1964, the AC-47D, using the call sign “Spooky”, was introduced into combat in Southeast Asia. It was an instant success in breaking up enemy attacks on hamlets and other defensive positions, and within a year, substantial numbers of the rehabilitated “Gooney Birds” were in action throughout the region.

Following the highly successful Project Gunship I combat test program, the U.S. Air Force created the 4th Air Commando Squadron (ACS) in August 1965 as the first operational unit equipped with “Spooky” gunships. Although the 4th ACS was based at Tan Son Nhut AB, it deployed from several forward operating locations throughout South Vietnam (Bien Hoa, Pleiku, Na Trang, Da Nang and Can Tho). In November 1965, the 4th ACS (tailcode EN) was assigned 16 operational aircraft with four more assigned as “advanced attrition” aircraft. Within two years, the 4th ACS and the newly formed 3rd ACS (tailcode EL) were serving under the 14th Air Commando Wing (ACW). In August 1968, the unit designations were changed from “Air Commando” to “Special Operations” (SOS/SOW).

A total of fifty-three C-47Ds were converted for use as gunships during the Vietnam War. Although the AC-47D “Spooky”, commonly referred to as “Puff” (as in “Puff the Magic Dragon”), was an effective attack system, it was also vulnerable to enemy fire. Fifteen aircraft were lost between December 1965 and September 1969.


The AC-47D was equipped with three 7.62mm SUU-11A Gatling Miniguns mounted in the fifth and sixth windows on the port side of the fuselage and in the aft passenger/cargo door area. Approximately 16,500 rounds of ammunition was carried on a typical mission. Note: The SUU-11As were later replaced by specially designed 7.62mm General Electric MXU-470/A Gatling Miniguns.

For night missions, the aircraft carried approximately 48 MK-24 Mod 3 flares. Each flare could last up to three minutes and produce a light magnitude of two million candlepower. The delivery system was extremely simple, the loadmaster armed and dropped each flare out the cargo door when the pilot signaled by flashing a cargo compartment light. Note: Initially, 30 MK-6 flares of 750,000 candlepower were carried before the MK-24 flares were available.

Airspeed during attack maneuvers was normally 120 knots indicated air speed (KIAS). With the Miniguns firing at a rate of 6,000 rounds per minute, aerial coverage was provided over an elliptical area approximately 52 yards in diameter, placing a projectile within every 2.4 yards during a three-second burst.

A modified adaption of the Douglas C-47 Cargo plane by fitting it with 7.62 mm mini guns that could fire up to 6,000 rounds per minute. The convenience of cargo space allowed for the gunship to carry 54,000 rounds.

While other aircraft would eventually succeed the C-47, such as the C-119 and C-130 with their larger capacity and features, the C-47 pioneered the development of gunships with the first AC-47 during the Vietnam war. It’s Call Sign was “Spooky”.

The AC-47 was capable of putting a highly explosive bullet into every square yard of a football field size target in 3 seconds, and it could do this intermittently while loitering over its same target for hours as long as it had the ammo on board.

It didn’t take long for it to earn the nickname “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, or “Dragonship”. Impressive from a distance, it appeared to roar as never-ending blazes of bright red tracer rounds from its mini guns shot to the ground against a dark background of night.

Enduring and Deadly

In early February of 1965, one Spooky fired 20,500 rounds into a Vietcong position while flying over the Bong Son area, killing some 300 Vietcong troops during a four-hour period.

From the ground at night, the sight resembled that of a fire-breathing dragon, to which the enemy began to refer to as “dragonship”,  and our US troops affectionately nicknamed “Puff the Magic Dragon” or just “Puff”.

Through the years, the military has updated, modified, recreated, and devloped more efficient Gunships.  Modern technology will continue to change, replacing yesterday’s “outdated” machines, but in my mind, “Puff” will never be forgotten and no other gunship will have the pulse racing, fear inducing, state of mind to an enemy that it did, nor the chest swelling pride from people like me.

Spooky saved our butts several times.  It was a fantastic spectacle with its cone of light.  It looked like a stairway.  When we were really in a sh**storm it was comforting to see Spooky in the sky above.

Below are two great videos of “Spooky”

My AC-47 Gunship (Spooky13) Aircraft and Crew

Douglas AC-47 Spooky aka Puff, the Magic Dragon

Now, here are some pictures

14 thoughts on ““Spooky”

    • Hi Tom, I was part of the Ground Crew, at Pleiku, from March of 1969, until it was disbanded in December, of 69, SSGT Bob Huntley. Not sure if you know, there is a Spooky site, on face book. Just do a search for it, on FB.


  1. SSgt. Harvey L. Wasserman;
    Spooky Gunner 1968 – 1969 Nha Trang / Da Nang.
    Proud Member of the “Spooky Brotherhood”


    • Hello Mr. Wasserman,
      My name is Donna Davis Bullard. My father, T.K. Davis was stationed at NhaTrang/Da Nang from approximately Aug. 1968 – Aug. 1969. He was a loadmaster on Spooky. We lost dad 11 years ago to non-hodgkins lymphoma and we still miss him everyday. Just curious if you knew him and if so I’d love to hear any stories or even better pictures you may have.
      Donna Davis Bullard


      • Howdy Donna,, I, like Harvey Wasserman, spent some time at Danang with the 4th SOS Spooky Gunships. I was there from November 1968 through November 1969. Unfortunately, I was aircraft maintenance and didn’t get to know the flight crew members very well. However, a good place to post your message would be in the Facebook Spooky AC-47 Gunship group.
        The link for the group is “https://www.facebook.com/groups/125796414207963/”
        Just an FYI, as family members of one of our Spooky brothers, you might be interested in attending the annual Spooky Brotherhood reunion. The reunion for 2017 will be in Nashville, TN. Information on the reunion can be found on the Spooky Reunion website (link http://www.spookyac47gunship.com/) and also in the Facebook Spooky group.
        The reunion will be September 6 – 10, 2017.
        I will post your message in the Facebook Spooky group, might get more exposure there.

        Don Luke
        Crew Chief / Maintainer
        4th SOS
        Danang Airbase, RVN


      • Hi Donna;
        I was at Nha Trang from Apr. 68 to Oct. 68, I was a gunner, I do remember TK, I flew with him several times, another person that will remember TK is Billy Clark, he was a Flight Engeneer, I flew with Bill many times, and I am sure we all flew together at times. We were not hard crews, meaning we flew according to the schedule posted on the crew board in Base Op’s.
        There are many stories, now that come to mind with TK but, I will go thru my photos and stuff and see what I can come up with. Another person from our Brotherhood is Junior Skinner, he was crew chief, on Aircraft 499, there weren’t that many aircraft, so I am sure we must of hooked up from time to time.


      • Donna I new TK very well.We were in the same barracks.We flew many missions together and At the end of mission returned to my refrigerator and drank a few beers with the rest of the crew.When we returned to the states I tried to find him but he was on the east coast and I was at McChord both assigned to C-141’s.I don’t have any pictures but Bruce Maine said he sent you some.As far as stories go I could tell you plenty since we were off duty together as well as on duty.If you can make a reunion we can get together.I think you are probably in Washington state, if so Sonny Basher lives there.He was another engineer and the 3 of us ran around together, also a good friend of your dads.Contact me and I can give you his phone number.


  2. Was Service Club girl with 3rd Bde, 101st Abn. in Phuoc Vinh in ’68. One night Charlie was coming through the motorpool and about to overrun us. It was dire enough that I was given a pistol (even though I didn’t have the slightest idea how to use it) and could see the figures from the bunker outside our hootch. Then “Puff” showed up. It was the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen – all those red tracers in the night. I dearly love all you Spooky guys even though we never knew who you were! Thank you…Thank you!!!


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