The 14 crewmembers of Spooky 43, an AC-130U gunship that fought a ferocious battle in Kunduz province, Afghanistan, last November were honored Wednesday with the Mackay Trophy for the “most meritorious flight of the year.”
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson presented the trophy to the crew during the Arlington, Virginia, ceremony, the Air Force said in a Friday release.
Spooky 43 fought an intense, two-hour battle over Boz Kandahari, Afghanistan, on Nov. 2, 2016, to support a team of Army Special Forces soldiers, Afghan Army commandos and combat controller Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter, who were on a late-night mission to capture or kill Taliban leaders. In an August interview with Air Force Times, several members of Spooky 43 described fighting through smoke and overheating, malfunctioning weapons to keep their comrades on the ground safe.
In that interview, Maj. Aaron Hall, the fire control officer for Spooky 43, described how the gunners acted fast to keep loading the severely overheating 105mm cannon immediately before firing. If the shells stayed in the hot cannon too long, he said, they could have “cooked off” and exploded, destroying the plane.
Hall praised his fellow air commandos during the ceremony.
“There are air commandos out there taking the fight to the enemy this very moment across the globe, ordinarily doing extraordinary things,” Hall said. “The night of Nov. 2, our 14-man team of air commandos did what Spooky crews have done and continue to do. We rode our war chariot into battle and that mighty chariot is an AC-130 known as Spooky.”
The Mackay Trophy is awarded annually by the National Aeronautic Association to honor the most meritorious flight of the prior year conducted by an Air Force person, persons or organization. It was first awarded in 1912 to 2nd Lt. Hap Arnold — who later went on to lead the Army Air Forces during World War II and became the only five-star general of the Air Force in U.S. history — for his performance during a reconnaissance competition in the early days of aviation. It has been awarded to such legends as World War I ”Ace of Aces” Eddie Rickenbacker, World War II Army Air Forces deputy commander Gen. Ira Eaker, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle and Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager.
Five crew members from Spooky 43 received the Distinguished Flying Cross in October for their actions during that battle, and four others received Air Medals with valor. Hunter, the combat controller, received the Air Force Cross — a decoration second only to the Medal of Honor — for his actions that day.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.