The AC-130 gunships are a devastating display of force and firepower. Through the years the gunships have been equipped with an array of side-fired canons, howitzers, mini-guns, wing mounted missiles and bombs and laser-guided missiles launched from the rear cargo door, earning the moniker the “Angel of Death.” (Air Force)

What do you get when you mix an aircraft with side-fired cannons, howitzers and mini-guns together?

Not sure?

What if you toss in some wing-mounted missiles and bombs, laser guided missiles and the ability to loiter over a battlefield for a prolonged period?

If you said the AC-130, you’re right. For about 50 years, versions of the aircraft, known as the “Angel of Death” for its lethality, have been providing close-air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance to troops throughout the world.

As the Air Force gets ready to transition in the next few years to the latest version of the aircraft ― the AC-130J ― here’s a look at its history, future and some really cool details from Airman Magazine.