AC-130H Spirit 03 Memorial
Lockheed AC-130H Spirit 03 Memorial
- Bronze Sculpture
- Located on the Honor Court by the Cadet Chapel
- USAF Academy, Colorado
- Dedicated 5 May 2023
The USAF Academy class of 1979 has commissioned James Nance ’71 to sculpt a 1/10th scale bronze AC-130H as a memorial to Spirit 03 which was shot down on January 31st during the battle of Khafji during Desert Storm in 1991. All 14 crew members perished in the crash including their classmate Major Paul Weaver ’79.
The Memorial dedication ceremony was sponsored by the USAF Academy Association of Graduates and Foundation. The event was held May 5th 2023 on a beautiful Colorado day with over 300 people in attendance. The Ceremony was officiated by 79 class president Michael Van Hoomissen (Col ret) with guest speakers including Academy Superintendent Lt General Richard Clark ‘86 and Lt Col Colin Lafavor ’07 who is the commander of the 16th Special Operations Squadron based in Cannon AFB, Clovis NM, the home base of Spirit 03. Major Weaver’s sisters, Jennifer Lavery-Weaver and Karen Roberts, were also present. Karen Roberts also spoke. The moving ceremony was concluded with a flyover of an AC-130H Spectre gunship from the 16th SOS.
The full crew list:
- Major Paul Weaver
- Captain Thomas Bland
- Captain Arthur Galvan
- Captain William Grimm
- Captain Dixon Walters
- Senior Master Sgt Paul Buege
- Senior Master Sgt Jim May
- Tech Sgt Robert Hodges
- Tech Sgt John Oelschlager
- Staff Sgt John Blessinger
- Staff Sgt Tim Harrison
- Staff Sgt Damon Kanuha
- Staff Sgt Mark Schmauss
- Sgt Barry Clark
Spirit 03 is a revered name in the AFSOC community, often spoken of in hushed and pained tones. It was the call sign of the last AC-130 gunship shot down in combat.
The story of Spirit 03, whilst sad, was also one of heroism — the kind you’d find in the US Air Force Special Operations Command community. It was a story of American airmen putting the lives of their brothers in arms engaged in grueling ground combat above their own.
On January 29, 1991, over 2000 Iraqi troops under the direction of Saddam Hussein streamed into the Saudi Arabian city of Khafji in an attempt to draw American, British, and Saudi forces into a costly urban battle which would tie up Coalition troops until the Iraqi military had time to reorganize and get themselves back in the fight.
Just days before Khafji fell, American surveillance jets had detected large columns of mechanized Iraqi units pouring through Kuwait’s border in a mad dash towards the city. Though the warning was passed on, Coalition commanders were far more focused on the aerial campaign, which had seen the virtual annihilation of the Iraqi Air Force.
Thus, Khafji fell… but it wouldn’t be long until Saudi forces scrambled to action, barreling towards their seized city to drive the occupiers out. American and British aerial units were soon called into the fight, and in record time, engines were turning and burning at airbases within reach of Khafji while ground crew rushed around arming jets for the impending fight.
Among the aerial order of battle was a group of US Air Force AC-130H Spectre gunships — converted C-130 tactical transport aircraft that were armed to the teeth with a pair of 20 mm M61Vulcan rotary cannons, an L60 Bofors 40 mm cannon, and a 105 mm M102 howitzer. These Spectres, based out of Florida, were eager to be turned loose, planning on adding any Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles they caught around Khafji to their kill tallies.
On the 29th, Iraqi mechanized units moved towards the city under the cover of night, repeatedly engaging Saudi elements set up to screen inbound enemy ground forces coming in from Kuwait. The Spectres were already in the air, racing towards the fight and running through checklists in preparation for the destruction they were about to dish out on Saddam’s armored column.
Within minutes of appearing on station, the AC-130s leapt into action, tearing into the Iraqi column with impunity. What the enemy forces had failed to realize was that Spectres — living up to their name — operated exclusively at night so that they were harder to visually identify and track, and the gunners aboard these aircraft were incredibly comfortable with that. Spectres began flying race track patterns in the sky, banking their left wing tip towards the ground as their cannons opened up.
Despite the AC-130s inflicting casualty after casualty, the resilient Iraqi invasion force continued to advance to Khafji and managed to briefly take over and lay claim to the city. American and Saudi ground combat units, including Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and Marine artillery and infantry elements responded in kind, and launched a blistering offensive against the Iraqis as night turned to day and the AC-130s returned to base to rearm, refuel and wait for nightfall to resume hunting.
On January 30th, Spirit 03, one of the AC-130s, was loaded for bear and launched with the intent of providing Marine forces with heavy-duty close air support. Spirit 03 arrived on station and started hacking away at targets. In the hours around dawn on the 31st, the AC-130s were recalled to base when radios lit up with numerous calls for fire support from the beleaguered Marines on the ground.
An Iraqi rocket battery needed to be dealt with quickly.
The crew of Spirit 03 took charge of the situation immediately, judging that they had enough fuel and ammunition left for a few more passes. Not quite out of the combat zone, the aircraft turned around and pointed its nose towards its new target. It was then that all hell broke loose. A lone shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile arced towards the AC-130, detonated and brought down the aircraft.
There were no survivors.
In the months and years that followed, the loss of Spirit 03 was investigated and then quickly hushed up. Some indicated that the official report blamed the crew for knowingly putting themselves in danger by continuing to fly in daylight, allowing themselves to be targeted.
Others knew that the story was vastly different—that the 14 men aboard the AC-130 knew that they were the only ones in the area able to provide the kind of fire support the Marines needed, and so paid the ultimate sacrifice while trying to aid their brothers in arms.
Sculptor: James J. Nance
Cast: Cast at Bronze Services foundry in Loveland Colorado utilizing the “Lost Wax” technique of casting.
Dimensions: Length 10 feet Wingspan 13 feet
Material: Silicon Bronze with a stainless steel interior framework.
Weight: 2,000 pounds
Orientation: Normal firing position, level flight 45 degree left wing low.
Height: Belly of aircraft 10 feet, left wing tip 7 feet from ground.
Pedestal: Mounted on a 7,500 pound polished granite stone pedestal.
Plaques: Two bronze plaques, first of Paul Weaver’s Silver star citation and a second dedication plaque describing their bravery and listing all crew members.
Sculpting this aircraft required a year of effort referencing flight manuals, technical drawings and hundreds of images. The first step was to create an accurate model or maquette which measured 4 feet long. The maquette was then painstakingly refined by hand to ensure all the correct panel lines and flight controls were accurately depicted. Once that maquette was complete it was enlarged to the full size and re-sculpted. Finally, waxes were created and cast at the foundry in approximately 40 pieces.
The reassembly and welding of the AC-130H was several times more difficult than a normal human figure. Bronze casting always creates some distortion in the metal as the molten bronze cools. Usually on an organic figure with clothing these distortions are very minor and not noticeable. However, on a mechanical surface like the flat wing of an aircraft these distortions become noticeable and extreme care must be taken in welding and finishing. Thanks to the experienced professionals at Bronze Services Foundry the end product turned out beautifully.
Visit the USAF Academy Foundation webpage for the Spirit 03 dedication and watch the entire ceremony and view more photos of the dedication.
Spirit 03 Dedication Plaque
IN MEMORY OF SPIRIT 03’s GALLANTRY AND DEVOTION TO DUTY
DEDICATED TO HONOR OUR CLASSMATE PAUL J. WEAVER AND HIS CREW AND TO CELEBRATE THEIR SELFLESS SERVICE AND GALLANTRY IN BATTLE DURING OPERATION DESERT STORM. MAY GOD LOOK UPON THEM WITH FAVOR AND GRANT THEM PEACE. MAY THEIR WARRIOR SPIRIT AND SACRIFICE FOREVER INSPIRE FUTURE CADETS TO SIMILAR LEADERSHIP AND SERVICE TO OTHERS. USAFA CLASS OF 1979
THIS HERITAGE MEMORIAL COMMEMORATES THE HEROIC, SELFLESS SERVICE DEMONSTRATED BY THE CREW OF AC-130H SPECTRE GUNSHIP “SPIRIT 03” DURING THE
BATTLE OF KHAFJI TO LIBERATE KUWAIT IN OPERATION DESERT STORM. ON 31 JANUARY 1991,
MAJOR PAUL JENNINGS WEAVER WAS AIRCRAFT COMMANDER OF AC-130H SPECTRE GUNSHIP
CALL SIGN "SPIRIT 03" FLYING IN SUPPORT OF U.S. MARINE CORPS GROUND OPERATIONS IN ACTION AGAINST IRAQI FORCES NEAR THE KUWAITI BORDER. DURING THE MISSION, AN
IRAQI SHOULDER FIRED, SURFACE TO AIR MISSLE STRUCK SPIRIT 03 IN THE LEFT WING, RESULTING IN LOSS OF THE AIRCRAFT AND KILLING ALL ABOARD. FOR THEIR GALLANTRY AND DEVOTION TO DUTY, MAJOR WEAVER AND HIS CREW WERE EACH POSTHUMOUSLY AWARDED
THE SILVER STAR, OUR NATION’S THIRD HIGHEST MILITARY DECORATION FOR HEROISM. PAUL WEAVER, NICKNAMED “DREAM WEAVER”, WAS A NATIVE OF ALAMOSA, COLORADO. HE WAS A MEMBER OF CADET SQUADRON ELEVEN AND A GRADUATE OF THE USAFA CLASS
OF 1979. HE IS BURIED AT THE USAFA CEMETERY. WE HONOR AND CHERISH THE MEMORY OF
PAUL AND HIS CREW, THEIR SACRIFICES, AND THE MANY UNSUNG HEROES IN THE GUNSHIP
AND AIR FORCE SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES COMMUNITY.
Major Paul Weaver Silver star Citation
SILVER STAR CITATION
MAJOR PAUL JENNINGS WEAVER, USAFA 1979
THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AUTHORIZED BY ACT OF CONGRESS,
JULY 9, 1918 (AMENDED BY ACT OF JULY 25, 1963), TAKES PRIDE IN PRESENTING THE
SILVER STAR (POSTHUMOUSLY) TO MAJOR PAUL JENNINGS WEAVER, UNITED STATES AIR
FORCE, FOR GALLANTRY IN CONNECTION WITH MILITARY OPERATIONS AGAINST THE
FORCES OF THE REPUBLIC OF IRAQ, WHILE SERVING AS AIRCRAFT COMMANDER OF
AC-130H SPECTRE GUNSHIP "SPIRIT 03", OF THE 16TH SPECIAL OPERATIONS SQUADRON,
U.S. AIR FORCE SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND, IN ACTION NEAR THE KUWAITI BORDER
WHILE SUPPORTING U.S. MARINE CORPS OPERATIONS DURING THE FIRST IRAQ
OFFENSIVE, ON 31 JANUARY 1991.
ON THAT DATE, WHILE PERFORMING AN OPERATION DESERT STORM AC-130H ARMED RECONNAISSANCE MISSION, MAJOR WEAVER WAS TASKED TO ENGAGE A FREE ROCKET
OVER GROUND MISSILE SITE. AS THE GUNSHIP AIRCRAFT COMMANDER, MAJOR WEAVER
LED HIS AIRCREW TO THE POSITION OF THE MISSILE SITE AND BEGAN FIRING 40 AND 105
MILLIMETER MUNITIONS AT THE TARGET. WHILE ENGAGING THE TARGET, MAJOR WEAVER
RECEIVED HEAVY FIRE FROM NUMEROUS ANTI-AIRCRAFT ARTILLERY SITES. HIS
COURAGEOUS AND AGGRESSIVE ATTACK CONTINUED WHILE UNDER UNCEASING
ANTI-AIRCRAFT ARTILLERY FIRE PREVENTING A MISSILE ATTACK ON
ALLIED COALITION FORCES.
THE ACTIONS OF MAJOR WEAVER AIDED THE ALLIED FORCES IN REPELLING THE IRAQI
ARMY INCURSION SOUTH INTO THE SAUDI ARABIA BORDER TOWN OF KHAFJI. THE
PROFESSIONAL COMPETENCE, AERIAL SKILL, AND DEVOTION TO DUTY DISPLAYED BY
MAJOR WEAVER IN THE DEDICATION OF THIS SERVICE TO HIS COUNTRY REFLECT GREAT
CREDIT UPON HIMSELF AND THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE.
DEDICATED BY THE USAFA CLASS OF 1979 ON THE OCCASION OF THEIR 40TH CLASS REUNION SO THE
SELFLESS SERVICE AND WARRIOR SPIRIT OF THE SPIRIT 03 CREW WILL ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED AND EMULATED BY THE OFFICERS WHO GRADUATE FROM THIS ACADEMY.
FREEDOM IS NEVER FREE