June 26, 2020 (by A1C Hailey Ziegler) - An AC-130U Spooky gunship named ‘Big Daddy’ made history by being the first Spooky to ever receive a black letter initial on its status page before a flight, June 18, 2020.
The last AC-130U Spooky gunship to retire, aircraft #87-0128, also known as ‘Big Daddy’, is parked on the flightline at Hurlburt Field, Florida, June 26, 2020. On June 18, 2020, Big Daddy made history by becoming the first Spooky to ever receive a black letter initial. A black letter initial means that before a flight there were no discrepancies on Big Daddy’s status paperwork. [USAF photo by A1C Hailey M. Ziegler]
This was a momentous accomplishment for Air Commandos in the 4th Special Operations Squadron and the 4th AMU.
“A black letter is significant because it means there are absolutely no discrepancies whatsoever on the plane,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark Lennon, a section chief with the 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. “A black letter is when there’s no discrepancies on the status page. The crew chief’s last name and first initial goes in that place. It shows that aircraft has really been maintained with excellence.”
This standard of excellence is only achieved through teamwork.
“It’s a huge teamwork effort and accomplishment for everyone,” said Lennon. “It takes a lot of hard work and pride to make this happen.”
The last Spooky named ‘Gunslinger’ retired to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, June 26, 2020. However, Big Daddy will be the last to retire and will be placed in the Hurlburt Field Air Park.
Any time an aircraft flies, it could come back with any number of discrepancies, or those discrepancies which can be found when maintainers do their inspections.
“Aircraft across the Air Force usually fly with discrepancies, so it’s really rare to see a black letter initial,” said Lennon. “In my 11 years in service, I’ve only seen it one other time.”
The Spookys have been operational since 1995, providing combat overwatch for 18 of those years. The heavily armed aircraft incorporates side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation, and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended loiter periods, at night and in adverse weather.
The mission down range has been taken over by the AC-130J Ghostrider gunships since July 2019. The same aircraft the 4th SOS and AMU will now be working with.
“After 25 years of service, we’re closing one chapter and starting another with the AC-130Js,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Hannah Boeman, officer in charge with the 4th AMU. “Talking to a lot of the maintainers at the 4th AMU, it’s kind of a bittersweet moment for them. Since most of them have spent a majority of their career working with these aircraft, I know it’s sad to see them go.”