Gunship
Overview
 
The term "gunship" is used in several contexts, all sharing the general idea of a light craft armed with heavy guns.
In the Navy
Navy
A navy is the branch of a nation's armed forces principally designated for naval and amphibious warfare; namely, lake- or ocean-borne combat operations and related functions...

, the term originally appeared in the mid-19th century as a less-common synonym for gunboat
Gunboat
A gunboat is a naval watercraft designed for the express purpose of carrying one or more guns to bombard coastal targets, as opposed to those military craft designed for naval warfare, or for ferrying troops or supplies.-History:...

.
In fixed-wing aircraft
Fixed-wing aircraft
A fixed-wing aircraft is an aircraft capable of flight using wings that generate lift due to the vehicle's forward airspeed. Fixed-wing aircraft are distinct from rotary-wing aircraft in which wings rotate about a fixed mast and ornithopters in which lift is generated by flapping wings.A powered...

 category, a gunship is an aircraft having lateral
Lateral
Lateral may refer to:*Lateral , an anatomical direction*Lateral canal, a canal built beside another stream*Lateral consonant, an ℓ-like consonant in which air flows along the sides of the tongue...

ly-mounted heavy armaments (i.e. firing to the side) to attack ground or sea targets. Most often, a gunship attacks the target while circling over it, performing a constant pylon turn
Pylon turn
A pylon turn is a flight maneuver in which an aircraft banks into a circular turn, in such a way that an imaginary line perpendicular to aircraft's axis points to a fixed point on the ground...

.
Encyclopedia
The term "gunship" is used in several contexts, all sharing the general idea of a light craft armed with heavy guns.

In Navy

In the Navy
Navy
A navy is the branch of a nation's armed forces principally designated for naval and amphibious warfare; namely, lake- or ocean-borne combat operations and related functions...

, the term originally appeared in the mid-19th century as a less-common synonym for gunboat
Gunboat
A gunboat is a naval watercraft designed for the express purpose of carrying one or more guns to bombard coastal targets, as opposed to those military craft designed for naval warfare, or for ferrying troops or supplies.-History:...

.

In military aviation

In fixed-wing aircraft
Fixed-wing aircraft
A fixed-wing aircraft is an aircraft capable of flight using wings that generate lift due to the vehicle's forward airspeed. Fixed-wing aircraft are distinct from rotary-wing aircraft in which wings rotate about a fixed mast and ornithopters in which lift is generated by flapping wings.A powered...

 category, a gunship is an aircraft having lateral
Lateral
Lateral may refer to:*Lateral , an anatomical direction*Lateral canal, a canal built beside another stream*Lateral consonant, an ℓ-like consonant in which air flows along the sides of the tongue...

ly-mounted heavy armaments (i.e. firing to the side) to attack ground or sea targets. Most often, a gunship attacks the target while circling over it, performing a constant pylon turn
Pylon turn
A pylon turn is a flight maneuver in which an aircraft banks into a circular turn, in such a way that an imaginary line perpendicular to aircraft's axis points to a fixed point on the ground...

. This is in contrast to a standard attack aircraft equipped with forward-firing weapon, that flies at the target and then passes over it.

Rotary-wing aircraft (helicopters) can use a variety of combat maneuvers to approach target. In their case, the term gunship is synonymous with heavily armed helicopter
Armed helicopter
An armed helicopter is a helicopter equipped with weapons. Most commonly, it is used for attacking targets on the ground. Such helicopter could be either purposely designed for the ground-attack mission—in which case it would be more specifically categorized as an attack helicopter—or could be...

. Specifically, dedicated attack helicopter
Attack helicopter
An attack helicopter is a military helicopter with the primary role of an attack aircraft, with the capability of engaging targets on the ground, such as enemy infantry and armored vehicles...

s also fit this meaning.

In any of these cases, the gunship armaments include machine gun
Machine gun
A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm, usually designed to fire rounds in quick succession from an ammunition belt or large-capacity magazine, typically at a rate of several hundred rounds per minute....

s, autocannon
Autocannon
An autocannon or automatic cannon is a rapid-fire projectile weapon firing a shell as opposed to the bullet fired by a machine gun. Autocannons often have a larger caliber than a machine gun . Usually, autocannons are smaller than a field gun or other artillery, and are mechanically loaded for a...

, missile
Missile
Though a missile may be any thrown or launched object, it colloquially almost always refers to a self-propelled guided weapon system.-Etymology:The word missile comes from the Latin verb mittere, meaning "to send"...

s, etc.

History

As the first notable case of the now-standard use of "gunship", in 1964, during the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

, a popular C-47 Dakota transport was successfully modified with side-firing guns for circling attacks. At the time the aircraft was known as "dragonship" or "Puff, the Magic Dragon" (officially designated FC-47, later corrected to AC-47). It was the later and larger AC-130 Gunship II design that became the origin of the term "gunship" in military aviation.

These gunships were configured to circle its target instead of performing strafing
Strafing
Strafing is the practice of attacking ground targets from low-flying aircraft using aircraft-mounted automatic weapons. This means, that although ground attack using automatic weapons fire is very often accompanied with bombing or rocket fire, the term "strafing" does not specifically include the...

 runs. Such aircraft have their armament on one side harmonized to fire at the apex of an imaginary cone formed by the aircraft and the ground when performing a pylon turn
Pylon turn
A pylon turn is a flight maneuver in which an aircraft banks into a circular turn, in such a way that an imaginary line perpendicular to aircraft's axis points to a fixed point on the ground...

 (banking turn). The Douglas AC-47 Spooky, the AC-130 Spectre/Spooky, and the Fairchild AC-119
Fairchild AC-119
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Hobson, Chris. "Vietnam Air Losses, USAF/USN/USMC, Fixed-Wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973." North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 2001. ISBN 1-85780-1156....

 were vulnerable, and meant to operate only after achieving air superiority.
Early helicopter gunships also operated in the side-firing configuration, an example being the Aérospatiale Alouette III
Aérospatiale Alouette III
The Aérospatiale Alouette III is a single-engine, light utility helicopter developed by Sud Aviation. It was manufactured by Aérospatiale of France, and under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in India as Hal Chetak and Industria Aeronautică Română in Romania.The Alouette III is the...

 used during the South African Border War
South African Border War
The South African Border War, commonly referred to as the Angolan Bush War in South Africa, was a conflict that took place from 1966 to 1989 in South-West Africa and Angola between South Africa and its allied forces on the one side and the Angolan government, South-West Africa People's...

 and Rhodesian Bush War
Rhodesian Bush War
The Rhodesian Bush War – also known as the Second Chimurenga or the Zimbabwe War of Liberation – was a civil war which took place between July 1964 and December 1979 in the unrecognised country of Rhodesia...

.

During the Vietnam War, ubiquitous UH-1 helicopters were modified into gunships by mounting the U.S. Helicopter Armament Subsystems
U.S. Helicopter Armament Subsystems
The United States military has developed a number of Helicopter Armament Subsystems since the early 1960s. These systems are used for offensive and defensive purposes and make use of a wide variety of weapon types including, but not limited to machine guns, grenade launchers, autocannon, and rockets...

 - these were fixed, forward-firing weapons, such as rockets, cannon, etc.

Examples of gunships

  • Aérospatiale Alouette III
    Aérospatiale Alouette III
    The Aérospatiale Alouette III is a single-engine, light utility helicopter developed by Sud Aviation. It was manufactured by Aérospatiale of France, and under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in India as Hal Chetak and Industria Aeronautică Română in Romania.The Alouette III is the...

     variants
  • Boeing AH-6
    Boeing AH-6
    The Boeing AH-6 is a series of light helicopter gunships based on the MH-6 Little Bird and MD 500 family. Developed by Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, these include the Unmanned Little Bird demonstrator, the A/MH-6X Mission Enhanced Little Bird , and the proposed AH-6I and AH-6S.-Design and...

  • Bell OH-58 Kiowa variant
  • Bell UH-1 Iroquois variant
  • Lockheed AC-130
    Lockheed AC-130
    The Lockheed AC-130 gunship is a heavily-armed ground-attack aircraft variant of the C-130 Hercules transport plane. The basic airframe is manufactured by Lockheed, while Boeing is responsible for the conversion into a gunship and for aircraft support...

  • Mil Mi-24
    Mil Mi-24
    The Mil Mi-24 is a large helicopter gunship and attack helicopter and low-capacity troop transport with room for 8 passengers. It is produced by Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant and operated since 1972 by the Soviet Air Force, its successors, and by over thirty other nations.In NATO circles the export...

  • MH-60L Direct Action Penetrator (DAP)
  • HAL LCH
  • Boeing AH-64 Apache
  • AH-1Z Viper
    AH-1Z Viper
    The Bell AH-1Z Viper is a twin-engine attack helicopter based on the AH-1W SuperCobra, that was developed for the United States Marine Corps. The AH-1Z features a four-blade, bearingless, composite main rotor system, uprated transmission, and a new target sighting system. The AH-1Z is part of the...



Sources

  • Dunstam, Simon, Vietnam Choppers: Helicopters in Battle 1950-1975, Osprey Publishing, 2003.
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