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    From boring to unimaginable: Vietnam-era crew recalls famed Spectre 17 flight

    AC-130A Gunship crew reunites for 50th Anniversary

    Photo By Senior Airman Jonathan Valdes | Aircrew from the AC-130A Gunship, call sign “Spectre 17,” assigned to the 16th...... read more read more



    Story by Airman 1st Class Natalie Fiorilli 

    1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

    Collectively, members of the “Spectre 17” aircrew would say March 4, 1972, was both the luckiest and unluckiest day of their lives.

    “I’ve lived most days of my life since then just being happy that I’m alive,” Gary Chandler recalled.

    Chandler, a retired U.S. Air Force Col., served as an infrared sensor operator on board the AC-130A Spectre Gunship, now referred to as ‘Spectre 17’ for its call sign. The crew, assigned to the 16th Special Operations Squadron, were operating a combat mission supporting Operation Commando Hunt, a campaign of the Vietnam War.

    Compared to other missions they had flown, the night of March 4 started as a slow night, Chandler said.

    “It went from boring to unimaginable in about a split second,” said Chandler.

    The crew saw two large flashes illuminate the ground below. Enemy anti-aircraft artillery had struck their gunship, causing severe damage to the structure of the aircraft.

    “I never saw anything like it,” said Lee DeRosa, an electronic warfare officer on board Spectre 17. “It looked like the Fourth of July.”

    In the moments following the explosion, the cockpit filled with smoke and heat.

    “I could barely see the copilot,” noted David Hobgood, aircraft commander of Spectre 17.

    Likewise, the blast left the crew members in the back of the aircraft disoriented.

    “Out of nowhere, there was this blinding light,” said Chandler. “I thought maybe the whole aircraft had blown up. I had no idea what happened.”

    Along with the structural damage, the 57 mm also created a three-foot hole in the weapons control booth – and Chandler was falling through it.

    “I opened my eyes just a bit to try and see what was going on, and realized that I was looking at floor level, and I couldn’t quite figure out why,” Chandler said.

    Crew members near the booth quickly worked to respond to Chandler, pulling him from the hole and using rags and rope they found nearby to apply tourniquets to his injuries.

    The infrared sensor operator had injuries to both legs and feet and also had several broken bones.

    Unsure of the aircraft’s ability to land, the aircrew would go on to secure themselves after treating Chandler’s wounds.

    Inside the cockpit, Hobgood remembers preparing for a crash landing.

    “I was absolutely shocked that the gear came down and held,” Hobgood said, adding that it was a surprisingly smooth and uneventful landing.

    Following their arrival at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, injured crew members were transported for medical care.

    However, the majority of the Air Commandos would take to the skies in the next hours and days following the incident.

    “We all flew,” said Hobgood. “That’s what we did.”

    This year marks the 50th anniversary of the famed flight.

    To commemorate the event, the crew reunited on March 3, 2022, by revisiting the aircraft, which is now on display at the Hurlburt Field Memorial Air Park at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

    In discussing their memories of Spectre 17, the aircrew agreed that their lives changed forever on that day.

    In the past decade, a number of the crew members have taken the steps to seek mental health support.

    “I never really saw anyone about it until about the last 10 years,” DeRosa said. “I’m sure I wasn’t as nice to live with as I could have been.”

    However, DeRosa added that while it was a traumatic experience, it gave him a great appreciation for the U.S. military.

    “People selflessly did their jobs,” he said. “No matter what.”



    Date Taken: 03.25.2022
    Date Posted: 03.25.2022 13:29
    Story ID: 417174
    Location: HURLBURT FIELD, FL, US 

    Web Views: 1,527
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