WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — More than 20 years ago, two leaders now serving in Air Force Reserve Command spent a harrowing night on a C-130 gunship that is now at the Museum of Aviation.
On Thursday, the museum opened up the AC-130A for Maj. Gen. Richard “Beef” Haddad and Col. Randal Bright. The two men flew the plane in Desert Storm, destroying 20 enemy vehicles in one night. Camels on the side of the plane signify their kills that night.
Today, Haddad is vice commander of Air Force Reserve Command, which is headquartered at Robins. Bright is chief of the plans division in the Directorate of Strategic Plans and programs.
But in Desert Storm, during which the U.S. swept Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, Haddad was a captain and pilot of the plane. Bright, a first lieutenant, was his co-pilot.
They had long known the plane was at the museum, but Thursday was the first time it was opened up for them and they could sit in the cockpit again. They recalled their biggest night, in which they were sent into battle after another gunship ran low on fuel.
The crew was made up of reservists — most going into combat for the first time. On top of that, their autopilot malfunctioned.
That’s critically important because the job of an AC-130 is to orbit over a combat area and fire side guns down on the enemy. The autopilot is needed to keep the plane flying correctly while the pilot focuses on targeting and firing.
So Haddad and Bright were suddenly having to do some serious multitasking, but they managed to make it work.
“With that malfunction, now you’ve got somewhat of an unstable platform, but we weren’t turning back,” Haddad said as he sat in the cockpit for the first time since 1995. “This was combat and we weren’t turning around to get this thing fixed.”
They stayed over the target area for almost an hour and left only after they had used all their ammunition.
Their visit to the plane was an unlikely event. Haddad pointed out that Desert Storm happened so long ago that there probably aren’t many who flew in it who are still serving. To have the pilot and co-pilot of a museum plane serving at the same adjacent base makes it unique, he said.
Bright said one of the things he remembers from that first night in combat was worrying whether they were in the right location so that they weren’t firing on their own troops.
He first saw the plane at the museum when he was stationed at Robins in 1997. He noticed the combination lock on the sensor door and tried it.
“I was able to open it, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to,” he said. “I still had that memory.”
Although the C-130 is most commonly used as a cargo plane, with the ability to land and take off on dirt strips, it is a fearsome gunship. The gunships have become much more advanced than the museum plane that Haddad and Bright flew, which was built in 1955.
“Everybody wants a gunship,” Haddad said. “It’s an incredible platform with incredible capability.”