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16th Special Operations Squadron
16th Special Operations Squadron.jpg
16th Special Operations Squadron Patch
Active 16 April 1942 – 1 April 1944
13 June 1944 – 29 December 1945
30 October 1968 – present
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
Type Special Operations
Part of Air Force Special Operations Command
27th Special Operations Wing
27th Special Operations Group
Garrison/HQ Cannon AFB
Motto(s) Spectre
Decorations Streamer PUC Army.PNG DUC
Streamer PUC Army.PNG PUC
GUC Streamer.JPG GUC
AFOUA with Valor.jpg AFOUA w/V Device
VGCP Streamer.jpg RVGC w/ Palm

The 16th Special Operations Squadron (16 SOS) is part of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. It operates AC-130H Spectre aircraft in support of special operations.


Train and maintain its combat-ready force to provide highly accurate firepower in support of both conventional and unconventional forces.[1]


The 16th ferried aircraft from factories to units in US and Canada and conducted pilot training from April 1942 – April 1944. It flew combat aerial transportation missions from India into Burma and China from December 1944 – October 1945.[2]

Lockheed C/AC-130A-LM Hercules Serial 55-0029 of the 16th Special Operations Squadron, May 1974. This aircraft survived the war and eventually was sent to AMARC for scrapping 15 November 1994

The 16th flew combat missions in Southeast Asia where it was charged with attacking convoys on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the defense of hamlets and fire bases, providing close air support to troops in contact with the enemy, providing convoy escort, and battlefield illumination, November 1968 – July 1974. As the war drew to a close the squadron supported Operation Eagle Pull, the evacuation of Phnom Penh, Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Saigon and figured prominently in the rescue of the Mayagüez. In all 53 members of the 16 SOS were killed in action during the Vietnam War.[1]

In November 1979 the 16th set a flight endurance record of 29.7 hours, flying non-stop from Hurlburt Field, Florida to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.[1]

The 16th supported the multi-national assault on Grenada on 25 October 1983. It provided last-second surveillance and intelligence to the air assault forces, silencing anti-aircraft artillery emplacements, knocking out enemy armored personnel carriers, defending political dignitaries surrounded by enemy troops, and relieving troops in combat.[1]

From late December 1989 to 14 January 1990, the squadron participated in the invasion of Panama during Operation Just Cause. 16 SOS aircrews received the MacKay Trophy and the 1989 Military Airlift Command Aircrew of the Year, for their actions destroying the headquarters for the Panamanian Defense Force, and providing fire support for the Army Ranger assault on Rio Hato Air Base.[1]

On 12 September 1990 The 16th arrived in Saudi Arabia to support Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the protection of Saudi Arabia and liberation of Kuwait. The squadron flew 50 combat missions in Desert Storm and lost one aircraft and 14 airmen on 31 January 1991, while supporting coalition forces engaged in the Battle of Khafji.[1]

During 1993 and 1994, the 16th deployed to Africa in support of Operation Continue Hope, the United Nations relief effort in Somalia. Squadron crews based out of Djibouti struck targets in Mogadishu, and later deployed to Kenya to ensure security for UN forces. During this deployment, a gunship was destroyed due to an in-borne detonation of the 105mm gun while airborne. Eight of the 14 aircrew members lost their lives in this accident.[1]

The 16 SOS deployed to Italy in support of Operation Deny Flight periodically from July 1993 until its termination on 28 August 1995. 16 SOS aircraft actively patrolled the skies over Bosnia and Herzegovina, providing protective air cover and close air support to UN protection forces.[1]

While maintaining the Operation Deny Flight mission, the 16 SOS also deployed to other parts of the world for 184 days. From 18 September-19 October 1994, it deployed to Cuba in support of Operation Uphold Democracy and provided air support to coalition forces during the ouster of General Raoul Cédras and restoration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti. Additionally, from 30 January −2 March 1995, the 16th SOS returned to Africa in support of Operation United Shield, the withdrawal of UN forces from Mogadishu, Somalia. On the final night of this operation, the gunships provided real time intelligence to ground commanders via armed reconnaissance and surveillance during the U.S. Marine amphibious withdrawal from Mogadishu.[1]

Operation Deliberate Force began on 19 August 1995. It was the largest NATO air operation in history. The 16 SOS flew multiple combat search and rescue sorties from 6–8 September in support of the rescue attempt of a French Mirage aircrew downed by a surface-to-air missile near Pale. During the operation, which lasted until 15 September, the 16th expended 268 rounds of 105MM and 125 rounds of 40MM against early warning radar sites and command and control facilities. The 16th also participated in Operations Decisive Endeavor, Joint Endeavor, Assured Response, Deliberate Guard, Joint Guard, Goal Keeper, and Wintering Over.[1]

Following the 11 September terrorist attacks the 16th deployed on 11 November 2001 to an undisclosed location near Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. The day after arriving in Afghanistan, the 16th attacked Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces near the city of Konduz in support of Northern Alliance forces, and was directly responsible for the city's surrender the next day. On 26 November the squadron supported the suppression of a rebellion at the prison fort of Qual-a-Jinga. While supporting the beleaguered U.S. and allied forces throughout the night with withering 40mm and 105mm fire, Spectre succeeded in ending the rebellion of Taliban and Al-Qaeda POWs.[1]

An AC-130 fires its flares off, 2007.

The 16th also flew missions over Mazār-e Sharīf, Kunduz, Kandahar, Shkin, Asadabad, Bagram, Baghran, Tora Bora, and nearly every other part of Afghanistan. the squadron has participated in a number of operations within Afghanistan including Operations Full Throttle, Roll Tide, and Eagle Fury. It also performed on-call close air support and armed reconnaissance over Kandahar after an assassination attempt against Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai.[1]

In March 2002, the 16th flew 39 combat missions in support of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. With only 3 aircraft and 3 crews, the squadron amassed 322 combat hours over 12 days, resulting in 45 enemy killed in action, nine vehicles destroyed, 11 damaged vehicles, and 12 destroyed and 25 damaged buildings. During the intense fighting, the squadron expended more than 1,300 40MM and 1,200 105MM rounds. Their actions earned them the 2002 Mackay Trophy, and 2002 Air Force aviator valor awards. In addition, in 2002 the 16th SOS was the third most deployed unit in the Air Force.[1]



  • 16th Air Corps Ferrying Squadron (1942–1943)
  • 16th Ferrying Squadron (1943–1944)
  • 16th Combat Cargo Squadron (1944–1968)
  • 16th Special Operations Squadron (1968 – present)


Bases stationed[2]

Aircraft Operated[2]

AC 130H 16th SOS




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