NEW:  "No Way to Treat A Lady" first hand account Combat Story!

This particular aircraft (Air Force Serial number 53-3129) was the first production Lockheed "Hercules" built. The "First Lady", as it is known, rolled out in Marietta, Georgia on March 10, 1955. Conversion to  AC-130A gunship began in the Spring of 1968. When complete, it was sent to Lockbourne AFB, Ohio for crew training. In December of 1968, it was sent to Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, where it arrived on 14 December. The First Lady served as an AC-130A in the 16 SOS, 415 SOTS and 711 SOS until she retired in 1995. Today, 53-3129 is prominently displayed at the USAF Armament Museum just outside of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida in the final AFRES configuration (grey paint, black markings, 4-blade Hamilton Standard props.) 

Download pdf of 1st Lady final in-flight photo

Cont. below...

 (A-Model Spectre

This is the local FWB area Organization that maintains our beautiful A-Model in this pristine condition.  There are a lot of chance for you to come out and pitch in to help in keeping our heritage in such a beautiful condition.  There are also get togethers and events regularly.  If you should have any questions or comments please e-mail us at: or call Dennis Rowell at: 850-758-1677

Crew of 129 Final Flight

129 Retirement Ceremony

Last True Static Display

Photos for this section courtesy of:
PJ Cook

129 Nose Art

129 Nose Art

SEA Crew of 129

129 with her Original "Roman Nose"

129 Nose Art

129 Nose Art

Engine Damage from 23MM in SEA

129 Inflight!

Beautiful Retirement
Brochure Cover

How She looks TODAY at the Armament Museum near Eglin AFB Front Gate.  Visit her soon!

129 Parked at
Eglin Armament Museum
(Thanks to Darren Cogen)

A1C Kenny Holmes. 
Duke Field Gunner
Check Ride Complete
Step Father was
Lt. Buckman, NAV 16th SOS

"The First Lady" 0129
AC-130A at her place
of honor Eglin Armament

Ken Moersher
(former 16 & 711 SOS Gunner)
proudly giving tours inside
"The First Lady"

129 First Flight
(Thanks to Darren Cogen)

I was visiting the Eglin Armament Museum and was lucky enough to catch some of the wonderful folks that work hard to keep the "First Lady" in the incredible shape that she is today.  There was also a AWESOME story printed in the local FWB paper Click on link to read it.   THANKS GUYS!!!

Had to take a few of

Photos for this section courtesy of:
Various Web Sources

At first glance, AC-130A "Spectre" Gunship, Tail Number 53129, resembles all the other A-model Hercules gunships that were assigned to the 919th Special Operations Wing (Air Force Reserve) at Eglin AFB Field 3 (Duke Field), Fla. But, she's different. She's The First Lady, the first production model C-130 Hercules aircraft manufactured for and later accepted by the U.S. Air Force. The First Lady went into production at the Lockheed-Georgia Aircraft Company, Marietta, GA in March 1953, the original prototype of what was to become a long line of C-130 Hercules designed and built by Lockheed.

According to Lockheed-Georgia's public relations officer, now retired Joseph Dabney, the First Lady's original tail number was LAC 3001. Air Force officials changed it to 33-129 and later, to 53129. Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin, with a bottle of Chattahoochee River water, christened "The First Lady", as Lockheed's first C-130 Hercules, during formal ceremonies March 10, 1955. She first lifted off the Lockheed-Georgia Co. runway on April 7, 1955. A week later on April 14, 1955 she suffered serious damage while returning from a test flight when an engine fire broke out. the fire continued to burn and burned the entire left wing off just after the crew evacuated on landing. The aircraft was accepted by the USAF on October 28, 1958. On July 17, 1961, she was redesignated as a JC-130A and modified by Temco Aerosystems and assigned to the 6515 Test Squadron at Patrick AFB, FL where she flew missions for NASA over the Air Force Eastern Test Range.

Conversion to the AC-130A Gunship II configuration was completed December 2, 1968 by LTV Electrosystems at Greenville, TX. This configuration included four M-61 20mm cannons and four GAU-2B 7.62mm miniguns. The First Lady was one of the first four converted to AC-130As. The First Lady started flying combat missions from Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, assigned to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. During the next three years she flew over 3,000 hours of combat time with the 16th Special Operations Squadron on truck-kill missions along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During this time, she received damage from AAA on four different occasions, 27 March 1969, 19 February 1970, 18 April 1970, and 26 Mar 1971. During her last flirt with disaster she was hit by a 74mm shell which exploded just aft of her nose wheel, inflicting serious damage not only to the wheel but also to the area beneath her flight deck. Despite serious damage to her structure and to her hydraulic and electrical components, the venerable First Lady limped back to her home base to be patched up. In May 1971, she returned to LTV and was upgraded with Surprise Package configuration which deleted two of the 7.62mm miniguns, two 20mm cannons and added two 40mm Bofors  cannons. Following this modification, she was assigned to the 415th Special  Operations Training Squadron at Hurlburt Field for training gunship crews. On July 25, 1975, the first Lady was assigned to the 711th Special Operations Squadron at Duke Field. While at Duke Field, the First Lady participated in operation Uphold Democracy in Panama. The First Lady was retired in 1996 with over 13,600 flying hours. She now resides at the USAF Armament Museum at Eglin AFB, FL.

Her Final Day...

DUKE FIELD, Fla. -- Airplanes are not like a clock that is wound up and runs until the mainspring is fully unwound. Some, like the "First Lady," just keep on ticking.

The "First Lady" is the first production C-130, and the grand old plane of seven original C-130s converted to AC-130A gunships during the Vietnam war. Air Force records state that it was a Vietnam aircrew who, because of their affection for the plane, named tail number 33-3129 the "First Lady."

"These AC-130A's have stood the test of time. The "First Lady," in particular, has been flying for 40 years and 13,600 hours," said Col. Jack W. Blair Jr., commander of Duke Field's 919th Special Operations Wing.

Still, Blair said it was no great surprise that this version of the "Spectre" gunships should finally have to retire.

The AC-130A is retiring because it's not supportable," Blair explained under the shade of the "First Lady's" wing. "Our industrial base in this country is working with technology of the '80s and '90s now. And with the C-130, you're talking about technology that was developed in the '40s."

"There's just no way to legitimately support this airplane," Blair said.

Even with its age and need for regular maintenance, he said, the King of Jordan wanted to buy the "First Lady" a few years ago when he saw it at an air show.

Blair said it's sad about the retirement of the AC-130A's, but times change and so must aircraft.

The 919th SOW has already started actions to convert to the MC-130E Combat Talon 1 and the HC-130 Combat Shadow. Base officials said the Wing has already been flying Shadow tankers. The Talon 1 flies infiltration and resupply of special operations forces, while the Shadow is used to refuel special operations forces helicopters.

The 919th SOW will eventually have eight Talons and four Shadows to replace its AC-130A gunships.

As with the rest of the Air Force, change often means a drawdown. Duke Field will lose 12 reservist positions and 68 full-time positions, in part, say officials, because Talons and Shadows need fewer crew members than the AC-130A gunships.

The 919th SOW's 711th Special Operations Squadron is the only Reserve unit to fly the AC-130A's, and the only unit, active or Reserve, owning and flying the A-model gunships. On the active side, the 16th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., flies updated versions of the "Spectre" gunships.

"In a very real sense, this is the end of an era," said Master Sgt. Darrell Klein, who's worked as a flight engineer on the "First Lady" and other AC-130A's for nearly 20 years.

Prior to the Sept. 10 retirement ceremony at Duke Field, the "First Lady" and four other gunships were decked out in all their splendor so former and current Reserve crew members could make one last pilgrimage to be with their beloved airplanes.

Klein climbed into the "First Lady's" cockpit to sit in silence for a while. And then he said -- with more tears than sweat on his face -- that there's a "simple joy" in just being with it.

For others who paid homage, there has been one constant at Duke Field -- stars, stripes and the "First Lady." Many of these reservists can say the "First Lady" was their "first" aircraft because the plane was assigned to the 711th SOS 20 years ago -- back in July 1975.

Not often, however, does an Air Force unit get to have closure with either fellow workers or any aircraft. Because of the nature of their job -- often being assigned to one base for their entire Air Force career -- some reservists at Duke Field had the opportunity to have a beginning, middle and an end -- to have closure when the "First Lady" and the other AC-130A gunships retired.

After the "First Lady" made one final flyover of Duke Field on Sept. 10 -- and then landed in the middle of four other AC-130A's -- its engines roared and suddenly stopped. With a last breath, its propellers whipped the balmy Florida air, cooling the people who were cheering it.

Offering his own personal testimony, Maj. Gen. Robert A. McIntosh, chief of Air Force Reserve, told more than 1,000 people during the retirement ceremony that he greets the "First Lady" each morning in his office at the Pentagon. He explained that a painting of the "First Lady" hangs on his wall.

Because of the nature of the 919th SOW's mission at Duke Field, McIntosh said he couldn't give all the details of what these gunships did during Vietnam, and more recently in Desert Storm and Operation Uphold Democracy. But he did say they are legend.

Suffice it to say the "First Lady," "Ghostrider," "Exterminator," "Azrael-Angel of Death" and "Jaws of Death," have good reason for their nicknames. The AC-130A was an awesome flying machine in its day. An aerial "tank," the gunship had a potential firepower of 11,200 rounds per minute. Armament capability includes two 20mm Vulcan cannons, two 40mm Bofur cannons and two 7.62mm mini-guns.

There were 14 crew positions on the AC-130A: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight engineer, fire control officer, electronic warfare officer, two sensor operators, illuminator operator and five gunners.

Officials explained how the gunships were developed during the 1960s for close air support and vehicle interdiction, supporting the Army and other ground troops. As the gunship evolved into the present-day sophistication, it also became useful in armed interdiction and reconnaissance, armed escort, forward air control and search-and-rescue operations.

Not surprisingly, these gunships and their crews were often placed in harm's way.

Maj. Gen. James L. Hobson, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, praised the reservists and the AC-130A's who flew in Vietnam and recent conflicts. Hobson said they were "always dependable and ready for action in any place." High praise coming from the man who commands one the most exacting fighting forces in the world.

Because these planes and their crews have been through some very tough fights in their day, there are scars.

The "First Lady," for example, had her nose shot off in Vietnam when a 37mm shell destroyed everything below the crew deck. Blair said all the hardware in the front of the aircraft had to be repaired. Afterward it was 100 percent, except for a "shimmy."

"She said doggone-it, my nose gear got blown off, so I'm going to shimmy forever," Blair said.

While its days to shimmy in flight may be over, the sons and daughters of the "First Lady," and generations of Air Force people to come, can see it in the near future at the Eglin Air Force Base Armament Museum. The "First Lady" will rest beside the B-52 and other planes that proved their mettle during Vietnam.

An era ended when the "First Lady" made its last flight before retiring at Duke Field, Fla., Sept. 10. The "First Lady" has flown for 40 years, and is the first production C-130. It was converted to an AC-130A gunship during the Vietnam War. The retirement also marks the formal end of the Air Force Reserve flying the AC-130A gunships.

After the "First Lady" made one final flyover of Duke Field, Fla., on Sept. 10 -- and then landed next to its Reserve aircrew -- its engines roared and suddenly stopped. With a last breath, the "First Lady" retired after 40 years of continuous flying for the Air Force. The "First Lady" is the first production C-130.


Copyright 2008. Spectre-Association. All rights reserved.