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Ron Nash shouted out of the cockpit's open window "clear prop" to warn any ground crew man. Then he turned the starter key switch to start the engine. The two radial, piston-powered machines roared to life. His AC-47 cargo plane, now converted to a gun ship, rolled out on to the taxiway. It was almost like every other night in this war. His aircrews would go out over the jungle and fly over a specified target and obliterate it with the Dragon's four 20 millimeter cannons. The six-barrelled gun which, in one minute, could cover every inch of a football field with hot lead, was called a "Vulcan". It's rate of fire was 6,000 rounds per minute and literally disintegrated anything it was aimed at. The only problem is that the guns were pointed out the left side of the AC-47 aircraft. This was a problem because the plane had to bank left 30 degrees for the gunner to aim the gun at a target on the ground. This exposed the plane's underside to a frightening amount of ground fire which might prove fatal to the 20 year-old World War II relic.
As he steered the AC-47 out to the runway, he eased the throttles to maximum power. Each of the 1,500 horsepower engines screamed and belched fire out the exhaust pipes into the night. The Dragon was on another search and destroy mission. About half-way down the runway, the plane reached 100 knots indication on the airspeed dial and Captain Nash gently pulled back on the flight control yoke. The enormous and old cargo plane felt its weight on its wings once again and lifted gracefully into the dark night.
Nash turned around to face his navigator, First Lieutenant Ramos, and gave him the coordinates for the assigned target area. Ramos then gave Captain Nash a compass heading which should deliver this weapon of war to meet its mission. Nash gave the Dragon left rudder pedal a steady push and banked the Dragon to the left. He waited as the arrow on the compass passed 200 degrees. Keeping the nose slightly below the artificial horizon, Nash knew the trick in holding level flight during the turn. He learned it in flight school a year earlier. Thinking back to flight school, he remembered all the stuggle he had trying to learn to fly the Air Force training planes. He also remembered the flight instructor who selflessly gave Nash more time in the simulator and extra flight time. The arrow of the magnetic compass came to 234 degrees and Nash applied right rudder and aileron pressure to roll out of the turn at a new heading of 240 degrees. He leveled the Dragon and prepared for a four hour flight over the dark jungles of Vietnam....Two hours later, Lt. Ramos called out over the intercom, "Thirty minutes until target." Nash donned his crash helmet and flack jacket.
Meanwhile, fifty miles ahead of Nash, Captain Megh of the people's army of North Vietnam was on night patrol. His mission was to cover the sky and watch for low flying enemy aircraft. He looked up into the dark sky waiting for the rumble of aircraft engines or the thump-thump sound of helicopters. He was watching the star-filled sky when he heard the Dragon approaching his position. The 1,500 horspower engines roared and spit fire into the black sky above Megh. What luck! The plane was on an approach path directly above him. Immediately, he ran to the two 4.5 millimeter light antiaircraft guns mounted on a tripod. He loaded the two guns with tracer ammunition which had a magnesium flare in every six rounds so the flight path of the bullets could be traced. The Dragon began its attack run 400 yards from Megh's position. Megh focused the sight ahead of the dark shadow flying over the jungle. He waited for the Dragon to bank to the left and reveal its underside to his two machine guns.
Ramos leaned over and tapped Captain Nash on the shoulder and said, "Our run starts in thirty seconds, Captain." Ron Nash nodded in response. The he pushed the two throttles all the way forward to maximum power. The Dragon's speed jumped 40 knots to 180 knots indicated airspeed. The small red light on his course indicator began to flash. This told him that he was on top of the target area. Gradually, he began to bank the airplane to the left. This caused the left side of the aircraft to sink and the right side to rise. Nash turned his head and spoke into the microphone "Gunner ready." The gunner, Staff Sergeant Leistner, nodded his head and pressed the buttons on his console for the four M61 Gatling guns. The once docile bars of steel sprang to life and moved to the command of the gunner's grip. The Dragon roared and spewed out 260 rounds in less than three seconds. This confirmed that the system was working correctly. The Dragon was now the beast in search of prey.
Megh watched as the AC-47 banked away from him. He heard the loud cannon and saw the red-hot metal bullets draw a continuous line into the jungle in front of him. Hold the aiming reticle on the gunship, he pulled the trigger. The tracers all lined up on the thin aluminum belly of the plane.
Nash's face turned into a desperate look as he heard the pinging bullets hitting his own plane. Then the pinging sound stopped and his face turned somber. Now, he was the target.
Megh had almost taken down the AC-47, or so he thought, when his guns jammed. Frantically, he tried to fix the problem as the plane above seem to level off and go away from him.
Nash had seen the where the tracer rounds had started in the jungle and made a mental note of the spot in his mind. He decreased the throttle settings and leveled the Dragon out. Then he turned to his flight engineer, Technical Sergeant Hall, and said, "Chief, how are the engines?". Hall, a veteran of two tours of duty on the Dragon, responded with a slow drawl, "Captain, Number one is shot up a little but still running. Number two is hummin' real good." Nash turned looked out the left side cockpit window towards the spot behind and to the left where he first saw the tracers. He turned to the left to start his attack run....
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