The US Air Force (USAF) has successfully completed the first test flight of the newly created AC-130J Ghostrider gunship aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) in Florida, US. Carried out by the 413th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) following a one year modification programme, the three and a half hour flight fulfilled the primary objective, which was to clear the envelope sufficiently to allow for a safe landing. During the flight test, the aircrew left the landing gear and flaps down until reaching a safe altitude after takeoff, and incrementally slowed the aircraft to touchdown speed, simultaneously checking the flying and handling qualities at each speed. In addition to this, the aircrew completed multiple swings of the landing gear to ensure proper clearance with the new modifications, and performed flying and handling quality assurance tests. The AC-130J Ghostrider is a hybrid C-130 model having flying proficiencies of the MC-130J Commando II and the combat capabilities of an AC-130, and is primarily designed for close air support and air interdiction missions. The aircraft has been equipped with the precision strike package, which was developed by the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to support ground forces in overseas contingency operations.
The precision strike package features a 30mm cannon, AGM-176A Griffin missiles, all-weather synthetic aperture radar, GBU-39 small diameter bomb and electro-optical infrared sensors, which allow the aircraft to visually or electronically identify friendly ground forces and targets at any time, even in adverse weather. USSOCOM Detachment 1 commander major Eric Ripple said, "These new weapon systems and small diameter bombs provide over watch and further standoff distance to cover a wider range of space for our warfighters on the ground." USSOCOM Det. 1 AC-130J on-site programme manager captain Greg Sullivan said a total of 32 MC-130Js will be modified for Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) as part of a $2.4bn AC-130J programme to grow the future fleet.
Image: USAF’s new AC-130J Ghostrider aircraft takes to the air during its first official test flight at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, US. Photo: courtesy of USAF Sara Vidoni.