The Fairchild AC-119 "Shadow" / "Stinger" aircraft series was nothing more than converted forms of the successful Korean War-era (1950-1953) Fairchild C-119 "Flying Boxcar" transport. During the Vietnam War (1955-1975), the United States Air Force (USAF) found itself woefully short of capable C-130 "Hercules" transports for conversion to fixed-wing gunships and therefore set its sights on the C-119 which was still available in useful numbers. The result of this initiative became the AC-119G "Shadow" and the related AC-119K "Stinger" variants.
By this point in military history, it became apparent to American warplanners that slow-moving, low-flying, loitering aircraft mounting considerable war loads were an important part of fighting a drawn-out war in Southeast Asia. As such, the side-firing gunship was developed, typically from converting existing fixed-wing, prop-driven military transports to the role. When properly armed and outfitted with sensors and applicable equipment, these aircraft could remain on station and supply considerable firepower against targets or target areas. As such, the converted Fairchild AC-119G and K-models were used - and excelled - in the Close-Air Support (CAS) role where their tremendous firepower could be brought to bear, laying waste to anything unlucky enough to find itself within the crosshairs of their guns.
AC-119G (Shadow) models were taken into service to succeed an aging line of converted C-47 transports (as the AC-47 "Spooky") and were outfitted with 4 x 7.62mm electrically-powered GAU-2/A miniguns (afforded a total of 1,500 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition) as well as armoring along the critical sections of the airframe. K-models were notable in their expanded armament suite - 4 x 7.62mm miniguns to go along with 2 x 20mm "Vulcan" six-barreled Gatling-style automatic cannons (a total of 4,200 rounds of ammunition) - as well as being outfitted with auxiliary jet engines under the wings for increased performance.
Each aircraft carried 60 x Mk 24 flares fired from an LAU-74/A series launcher.
Though similar aircraft in many respects, Shadows were typically operated in the CAS role while Stingers were deployed for "Search-and-Destroy" sorties. In either case, both models were put to good use in targeting enemy convoys, especially along known supply routes in and around the Ho Chi Minh Trail, as well as engaging other called targets.
G-models had a crew of six (one pilot, two navigators, a flight engineer, a dedicated gunner, and an illuminator operator) for daytime missions and, for night missions, two additional specialists were added. The aircraft retained its overall length of 86.f feet and had a wingspan of 109.3 feet with a height reaching 26.7 feet. Empty weight was 40,125lb against an MTOW of 62,000lb when fully-loaded. Power was from 2 x Wright R-3350-85 "Duplex Cyclone" air-cooled radial piston engines developing 3,500 horsepower each driving four-bladed propeller units. Performance included a maximum speed of 210 miles-per-hour, a cruising speed near 150 mph, a range out to 1,950 miles, and a service ceiling up to 23,300 feet.
The aircraft retained its general form from the original C-119 transports. The fuselage was centrally located with the high wing mainplane carrying an engine. Twin booms extended from the trailing edges of the wings and were joined by a shared horizontal plane. Each boom terminated with a vertical tailplane. A tricycle undercarriage (retractable) was used for ground-running.
Service entry began during November 1968 and operating squadrons were part of the 14th Special Operations Wing and 56th Special Operations Wing (Thailand) - all serving under the banner of the United States Air Force's Tactical Air Command (TAC) service. In 1972, control of at least sixteen AC-119K models was given to the South Vietnamese Air Force and limited numbers operated from Thai airfields during the year but the line had more or less seen its end by then.
The USAF formally gave up use of the type in 1971 and a total of 52 airframes were converted for the role - just five being lost in combat.