The Lockheed AC130A Spectre gunship first made its trial appearance in Vietnam in late 1967. Because it was highly maneuverable at low speeds and could spend hours in an operational area while delivering a
precisely placed stream of fire on a target, it immediately proved its worth in combat. The AC130A was armed with 4 M61 Vulcan cannons,4 miniguns or a combination of both and could deliver accurate fire from each gun at a rate of 100 shells per second. These aircraft also had a array of electronic instruments, including infrared and starlight scopes(NOD) that where used to aid in the mission.
Beginning in Mid 1970 the AC-130's at Ubon where rotated to the states for configuration similar to Thor's, including 2 M61 and 2 Bofors, a LLTV, video recorder, and infrared equipment.
Beginning around 1972 some AC130s were armed with 105mm Howitzers mounted in place of the rear Bofors cannons. Others had a pair of 40mm Bofors cannons that were mounted in the aft section that could deliver a steady stream of 150 rounds of ammunition per gun per minute. However, they where usually fired only two or three rounds at at time to improve accuracy.
This modification made the gunship an extremely affective tank killer.
The Brave Crew of FT54-1625
Major William Brooks, aircraft commander
1st Lt. John C. Towle, pilot
Lt. Col. Charles S. Rowley, navigator
Lt. Col. Charlie B. Davis, navigator
Maj. Donald G. Fisher, navigator
Master Sgt. Robert N. Ireland, flight engineer
SSgt. Thomas Y. Adachi, aerial gunner
SSgt. Stephen W. Harris, aerial gunner
A1C Donald M. Lint, aerial gunner
SSgt. Eugene L. Fields, aerial gunner
SSgt. Ronnie L. Hensley, illuminator operator.
On 22 April 1970, an AC130A Spectre gunship, call sign "Adlib," with its name "War Lord" boldly scrawled across its side below and slightly behind the
cockpit windows (tail number FT54-1625), departed Ubon Airbase on a "Commando Hunt" mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Saravane Province, Laos. They were conducting an armed reconnaissance mission over the mountains near Ban Tang Lou, Laos. That night Warlord relieved Thor and was joined near its destination by two escort fighters, call signs "Killer 1" and "Killer 2". The weather was nearly perfect with visibility of two to five miles with some haze and a full moon. Unfortunately these weather conditions where also an AC130 crew's worst nightmare, as it allowed for extremely accurate AAA.
At approximately 0150 hours, a number of enemy 37mm anti-aircraft artillery shells burst around the aircraft. The gunship immediately initiated an
attack against the AAA position. At 0159 hours, while in its fourth pass over the target and at an altitude of nearly 7,500 feet, the gunship was struck in the left lower rear section of the fuselage near the tail. MajorBrooks radioed, "I've been hit, babe." No further transmissions were heard from the crew while the aircraft was still airborne.
During pull off from its own attack pass against the AAA emplacement, one of the fighter crew's observed the AC130A on fire, but under control. Moments
later, Sgt. Fields reported this fact over the intercom and heard Lt. Col. Fisher report that he and his position were OK. SSgt. Fields and SSgt.
Hensley attempted to extinguish the fire that was being fed by flammable flare markers. However, both men forced to retreat because of the intense
heat and thick smoke. They collided in the thick black smoke, before Eugene Fields continued to feel his way forward to the right scanner window, Thomas
Adachi's position. Finding the position empty, Eugene Fields exited through the open scanner window.
As the aircraft descended in a shallow straight line, the intensity of the fire increased and burning pieces of the AC130A were seen falling away from the gunship by their fighter escort. About five to ten seconds prior to the aircraft contacting the ground, a large unidentified object, suspected to be the left wing, was seen to separate from it. The aircraft exploded upon impact just east of a primary road and 2 miles northwest of a "Y" shaped road junction in densely forested mountains under enemy control approximately 31 miles northwest of Chavane, 25 miles due west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border and 59 miles west-northwest of Kham Duc, South Vietnam. From the time of initial emergency call to impact, the aircraft remained airborne for roughly 90 seconds and covered almost 3 1/2 miles.
After the gunship was hit, Killer 1 reported seeing no crewmen exiting the crippled aircraft and no parachutes deploying while Killer 2 reported the
crew was bailing out. Just before Killer 1 departed the area to refuel from an airborne tanker, its crew heard one emergency beeper signal from the ground. Killer 2 established voice contact with a crewman who identified himself as "Adlib 12," Donald Fisher's identifier. He reported that he had burns on his face and hands, but was otherwise okay. Killer 2 also left to refuel shortly thereafter and turned command control over to Covey 246, the Forward Air Controller (FAC), who continued to monitor the situation.
The following morning search and rescue (SAR) operations commence shortly after daybreak. Adlib 11, Eugene Fields, was rescued shortly thereafter and
was treated for minor injuries. SAR efforts continued throughout the day for the rest of the aircrew. Because of heavy enemy activity in the area, no
ground search was possible. At the time formal search efforts were terminated, William Brooks, Ronnie Hensley, Robert Ireland, Stephen Harris,Donald Lint, Thomas Adachi, Charlie Davis, Donald Fisher, John Towle and Charles Rowley were declared Missing in Action.
The following day, a Catholic Chaplain conducted a beautiful and somber memorial service for the crew.
Reportedly there was a total blackout of news, restrictions on Spectre crews, and mail stoppage put into place for a period of time.
Because of the information reported several procedures were changed. Rather than call signs and alpha letters crews were assigned Spectre numbers which each crew member could pick. Pilots 1-99, Navs 100-199 etc. An example of this would be Spectre 126. These numbers lasted for a members tour. Smoke masks were put on the aircraft in each position crews were beginning to be issued nomex flight suits.
In 1993 the United States Government conducted a joint US-Lao crash site excavation of the AC130A. The team found a few teeth and bone chips, and concluded that this was the successful recovery of all 10 crewmen. They also claim to have found a dogtag belonging to Lt. Col. Rowley.
On 8 November 1995, a group burial of the unidentifiable remains of the AC130A Spectre gunship crew was held at Arlington National Cemetery.
Based on the information received during and after the War,the families do not believe that all of the men aboard have been accounted for.
The Fisher family was shown a photograph of a captive airman with burn bandages on his hands. Each family member identified that photo as Donald Fisher. The Air Force assumed at the time of the incident that Eugene Fields had incorrectly identified himself to Killer 2 and dismissed the report of Adlib 12 being the one in contact. Major Fisher's son located SSgt. Fields 18 years later and questioned him about that communication. Eugene Fields told him that he, Fields, had not been in radio contact with anyone before
being rescued, therefore, it was not him, proving that at least one other man safely reached the ground.
In 1987 Life Magazine published a recently taken photograph of an American POW that had been smuggled out of Laos with the caption: "The mysterious Mr.
Roly". Lt. Col. Rowley's family had that photo analyzed and compared to pre-capture family photos by noted forensic experts. The results prove the
man in the 1987 photo is Charles Rowley.
Lt. Col. Rowley's dogtags were returned to his family with the rest of his personal possessions shortly after being shot down, the United States Government discovery of his dogtag at the crash site is both miraculous and suspicious.
The families of all the men aboard this aircraft requested that an independent examination be made,
including DNA testing. The Pentagon's reply was very specific : "they cannot release remains to family members unless the remains can be positively identified". Each family requested the remains that were attributed to their man be turned over to them. Each request was DENIED.
The crew of the Adlib flight are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Laotian Government admitted holding "tens of tens" of American POWs, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through
the Paris Peace Accords which ended the war in Vietnam since, Laos was not a party to that agreement.
While the United States Government considers these men accounted for, the families do not. They ask that Americans continue to wear their men's POW/MIA bracelet
and help them fight for an honorable accounting of them.