Gunships move to Cannon

U.S. Air Force photo: Airman 1st Class James Bell One of two 16th Special Operations Squadron AC-130H Spectre gunships taxis onto the flightline May 19 at Cannon Air Force Base. The base is expecting six more of the gunships to move to Cannon as the squadron makes its move from Hulburt Field, Fla.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Two AC-130 Spectre gunships left Hurlburt Field, Fla., on May 19. They never returned.

Instead, they flew to Cannon Air Force Base, becoming the first of
as few as four and as many as seven deployments of Spectres to the base.

It’s all part of the base continuing its transition into an Air Force Special Operations wing.

“It was satisfying to see the big pieces of the move getting prepped
and ready for their formation departure,” said Lt. Col. Sean Farrell,
commander of the 16th Special Operations Squadron, which has been at
Hurlburt since December 1975.

“It marked another milestone (in the move) as it was one of first
tangible things to demonstrate that yes, we are actually moving,” he
said.

Eight of the gunships are expected to be at Cannon within the next
few months. Second Lt. Raymond Gobberg of Cannon’s Public Affairs
Office said there are no particular dates when all of the gunships will
be in, but the plan is to phase them in over the summer and into the
fall.

“We built our aircraft and personnel migration around a phased
execution that allows the squadron to remain in support of combat
operations overseas for the duration of the unit move,” Farrell said.

Farrell said Air Force Special Operations Command looks at two
primary factors when AC-130s are sent to Cannon, and whether they are
sent one or two at a time.

First, AFSOC looks at aircraft availability with maintenance and
modification schedules considered. Also, Farrell said, where the
aircraft is going must have the same number of maintenance and aircrew
members the aircraft’s previous location held.

“As more aircrew PCS (make a permanent change of station) to Cannon
after their overseas contingency tour,” Farrell said, “we need to match
the number of crews with more aircraft.”

The AC-130H Spectre gunship is a modified Lockheed airplane
configured with side-firing weapons, including a 105-millimeter
Howitzer and a 40-millimeter Bofors cannon. The aircraft is used for
close air support, armed reconnaissance, interdiction, night search and
rescue, and airborne command and control.

Col. Timothy Leahy, who was succeeded as Cannon’s commander last
week by Col. Stephen Clark, told Clovis city commissioners he recently
took a test flight with the newest AC-130s at Cannon.

However, Farrell said the aircraft do not need to be tested once
they arrive, and only require basic acceptance checks from maintenance
crews that take a day or two.

The next two gunships are expected to come around mid-July and the end of July at the latest, Farrell said,

The squadron, first operational in 1968 in Thailand, remains at
Hurlburt and the flight and maintenance crews at Cannon are now a
detachment unit. That changes June 19, when a flag transfer officially
puts the squadron at Cannon and designates the crew finishing up the
move at Hurlburt as the detachment unit.

Nearly six weeks later, on July 30, Farrell will relinquish squadron command to Lt. Col. Jason Miller.