AFM’s AC-47 is a rare chance for spectators and enthusiasts to see up close Vietnam-era Medal of Honor action. Out of 260 Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipients, only 14 served in the United States Air Force.
“What’s really special about the AC-47 is you can visualize, impact-wise, what happened on Sgt. Levitow’s mission,” American Flight Museum President Robert Rice said. “Visitors can see and touch what happened.”
On Feb. 24, 1969, Levitow’s Douglas AC-47 Spooky gunship was running night missions in southeastern Vietnam when a mortar blast severely damaged the plane, injured the crew and armed the fuse of a 27 pound, three-foot-long metal flare capable of burning at 4,000°. Despite sustaining significant injuries, Sgt. Levitow threw himself on the flare and managed to push it out of the plane seconds before it ignited. Had the flare ignited, the entire crew almost certainly would have been lost.
“The Congressional Medal of Honor is a major part of the theme of our museum,” said Rice. “It’s a privilege to help share these stories of WWII, Korea and Vietnam heroes that defended us.”
Though AFM’s AC-47 is not the original gunship on which Levitow served, it is one of only about 40 in the world that remain flyable. AFM came into possession of the plane as a C-47 that had initially served in combat during the final year of World War II. The United States Air Force developed the AC-47 concept at the onset of the Vietnam War, repurposing existing C-47s to deliver enhanced firepower for close air support.
AFM purchased the C-47 from private service and began researching potential paint design schemes. While most C-47s on the airshow circuit feature the iconic D-Day paint scheme, Rice and his team at AFM sought a less common scheme with a lesser-known story. After learning about Sgt. Levitow and the history of the AC-47 program, they chose to become one of few to fly air shows as a Vietnam-era AC-47.
Sherwin-Williams Aerospace coatings donated the paint necessary to recreate the historic scheme, including nine kits of CM0724933 military-spec primer along with military topcoats in tan, black and two shades of green.
“As a not-for-profit flying air museum, this kind of support from Sherwin-Williams is tremendous,” said Rice. “With this donation, we can continue to pay proper tribute to the gunship’s legacy.”
To conduct the painting of the plane, AFM called on Crider Aircraft Painting in Mena, AR. With experience painting other large warbirds including B-25s, C-46s, and C-54s, Rice says Crider was a natural choice to manage the unique challenges involved with refinishing large, historic aircraft.
“The plane has raised rivets, so it takes a little longer to remove paint,” said Rodger Crider, owner of Crider Aircraft Painting. “The camo scheme design requires painting three different colors at a time, so we have three different people with three different guns working simultaneously.”
Crider says the project is a three-week process altogether.
AFM’s AC-47 will be featured as a “Warbird in Review” at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh on Saturday, July 28. The plane will be on display with audio and video demonstrations and a presentation from individuals who flew similar craft in WWII and Vietnam discussing mechanics and their experience.