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The Spooky Gunship
The Last Broadside

In outback Australia they delivered the mail to far-flung ranches and homesteads by small plane. Landing and taking off again at each drop would have burned up fuel too fast, so a clever trick was developed. The pilot picked a clear spot near the main house and circled it as evenly as he could. He lowered the mail bag on a long rope until it hovered a few feet off the ground. If the flight circle was even enough the bag would stay stationary. The people on the ground extracted their mail, stuffed the outgoing mail into the bag, and sealed it back up. Off flew the plane to the next drop.

We Americans were fighting in Vietnam at this time and when we saw a neat trick somewhere else in the world we liked to weaponize it. The product of this brainwave was called the “Spectre”. We stuffed guns in one side of an oversized transport plane called the Hercules so that it fired broadside like an old wooden warship. The plane found a target, circled it, and instead of delivering mail, shot it to pieces. No other nation used a system like this, or does now.

Today’s Spooky Gunship is an updated version of the old Spectre. The flying and targeting system is computerized and far more accurate than the old Vietnam-era ships. Equipped with night vision the new ships can fight under cover of darkness. They carry a 25mm Gatling gun, a 40mm Bofors cannon (those pistoning anti-aircraft cannon you see on ships in WWII movies), and a 105mm howitzer capable of destroying tanks and buildings. The ship is slow and vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. Worse, since they circle close to the ground and parachutes require altitude, a Spooky crew is likely to be wiped out by a hit.

On the plus side the targets on the ground really hate the gunship. Fast-moving jets never see their targets. Gunships not only see the target, they loiter around for 20 minutes, make a loud droning noise, and follow people as they run for their lives - a very demoralizing effect. A man on donkey-back is invisible to a jet, and if he were visible, he still is not worth a $270 bomb with $18,000 guidance fins. But we can spare him a cheap burst from a Gatling cannon, and throw in another to be sure of his donkey. Spookies are hunting Taliban and Al-Queda in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, they have also broken up a few weddings.


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