Peyton Cole

Retired Brig. Gen. Peyton Cole holds a bookend that commemorates his last assignment in the Air Force as Commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale.

You may know retired Brigadier General Peyton Cole as a former commander at Barksdale Air Force Base, and a go-to expert for us when it comes to military analysis.

But we wanted to find out about his combat experience as a young pilot. And we learned something new.

"I was fighter recommended, fighter qualified," Gen. Cole said after earning his wings in 1968.

But there would be no F-4 Phantom, F-111 Aardvark, or F-105 Thunderchief for Peyton Cole. There were no slots for fighter pilots when he got his wings.

"So I decided, well, if we're going to go to Vietnam, let's go and shoot back at 'em. So I selected that airplane and was fortunate enough to get it," Cole says.

That airplane was nicknamed Spooky. An AC-47 Gunship. A combination of old technologies to meet a new challenge -- provide close air support for ground troops.

The AC-47 was a converted, old propeller-driven DC 3, modified with three Gatling style machine guns -- firing out the side door and windows. Cole, as the pilot, had the gunsight on his left.

"In the side glass of the airplane, would light up when I turned it on. And that would be my aiming device. It was an amazing piece of equipment. So you just roll into a 30 degree bank and the guns would fire down.

"And I would fly over the target, roll in, and put that dot on the target at 3,000 feet above ground -- at night," Gen. Cole says.

The combat missions were at night because in the day, the lumbering plane that loitered over the enemy would be easy to shoot down. Each gun could fire up to 6,000 rounds per minute.

"I'd say, 'Give me one gun, two guns or three guns.' And the gunners in the back would keep the guns hot. And then I had a button on the yoke of the airplane while I was flying. I could roll in and fire"

"Every 7th round was a tracer," Cole continued."And so at night it would look like you were pouring lead over the side of the airplane.

"I loved it. It was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment because you could literally save the good guys," he says.

Gen. Cole rose through the ranks, with the other bookend of his career being commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale. He closed out his career with a bang, leading the first 'round-the-world non-stop flight that included a bomb drop.

Two B-52's destroyed seized enemy tanks in Kuwait to mark five years since Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces invaded the country.

"I feel proud of the capability that we just demonstrated to everybody that thinks this is a dinosaur and ready to retire," Gen. Cole said on that day of the B-52. "It certainly isn't."

That was just about this time 25 years ago, August 3, 1994, when Gen. Cole and his crews celebrated upon landing after the 47-hour trip that took five mid-air refuelings.

"It felt like going out in a blaze of glory," Gen. Cole now says.

It's a big week for Gen.Cole. Not only did he enjoy a reunion with those crew members from the 'round the world mission. It was also his 75th birthday.

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