PILOT – USAF – “FATHER OF THE GUNSHIP”
Colonel Ronald W. Terry is described in official Air Force archives as a “subtle blending of tact and tenacity, self-confidence and openness, intelligence and common sense, and most significantly…an uncommonly convincing salesman.” Over the course of a remarkable career spanning 31 years, Col Terry would draw upon these attributes to bring together teams of creative people and ideas to come up with unconventional solutions to inconceivable problems. Terry and his team defied bureaucracy, persuaded generals, and ultimately sold the United States Air Force on a revolutionary air weapons system concept that would save countless lives and forever change the character of close air support and air interdiction.
Colonel Terry was born on August 26, 1933 in Vinton, VA where his passion for flight began flying model airplanes. In 1952, he enlisted and attended basic training at Samson Air Force Base (AFB) in Lake Seneca, New York. As an aviation cadet, Terry attended pre-flight training at Lackland, AFB in San Antonio, Texas followed by Primary Pilot Training School at Hondo AFB in Hondo, Texas. Shortly thereafter, Terry attended Jet Pilot Basic Training school at Laredo AFB in Laredo, Texas where he earned his wings and commissioned into the Air Force as a second lieutenant. Upon graduation in 1954, Terry attended Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada. Upon completion of his training, 2LT Terry was assigned to the 312th Fighter Bomber Wing, where he served in the 386th Fighter Bomber Squadron located at Clovis AFB in New Mexico. There he piloted the F-86H and the F-100D and certified in the transport and delivery of special weapons and payloads. Following his assignment at Clovis, In 1958 Terry was assigned to the Icelandic Defense Force at Naval Air Station Keflavík, Iceland, where he played a role in NATO Air Defense. Shortly thereafter, Terry, now a captain, was reassigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio, where Capt Terry served as aide to General Robert G. Reugg, commander of the Aeronautical Systems Division (ASD), Air Force Systems Command (AFSC). In 1963, Capt Terry was internally reassigned to an assessments team within the AFSC’s Limited War Office. In the Spring of 1963, Terry traveled to South Vietnam with the mission to assess problems in the field. After seeing firsthand, the unique problems that Vietnam presented specifically in the delivery of close air support he returned to Wright-Patterson with a purpose. In search of solutions, Capt Terry combed through the archives of ASD, where he discovered a concept for a lateral firing aircraft known as PROJECT TAILCHASER. In what some considered unofficial testing, Capt Terry and his team drew upon the resources at-hand to design, build, and test the viability of the lateral firing gunship. Funding in part out of his own pocket, Terry and his crew outfitted a C-131 with the General Electric SUU-11A, 7.62 mm gun pod and flew it from Wright-Patterson to Eglin Air Force base in Florida. Once at Eglin, Terry and his team successfully demonstrated the lateral firing concept. Despite gaining proof, PROJECT TAILCHASER faced opposition throughout the Air Force chain of command. Capt Terry refused to accept no for an answer. In a career risking move, Capt Terry traveled to Washington, D.C. and managed to cajole his way into an meeting with Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay. Terry sold LeMay on the concept and was given the highest endorsement to begin testing in Vietnam. In its first outing, Capt Terry’s AC-47 gunship dropped seventeen flares and 9,000 rounds of 7.62 ammunition, repelling two assaults on friendly outposts in the Mekong River Delta region -and thus “Spooky” was born. From 1964 to 1973 Captain Terry built upon the AC-47’s success and further developed the AC-130A “Spectre”, 119G, and 119k. Over the course of the Southeast Asian conflict, Terry traveled back and forth over ten times, compiling over 200 combat missions and earning two Distinguished Flying crosses in Southeast Asia. In 1973, Major Terry was reassigned to Headquarters Air Force Systems Command at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. At Andrews, Maj Terry briefly served as an advisor for the Southeast Asian region, before being asked to return to the Aerospace Systems Division. Back at ASD, Maj Terry served as project manager for the AC-130A, E, H models, and assisted in the revitalization of the MH-53 Pave Low program. In 1977, Lt Col Terry attended the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF) at Fort McNair, Virginia. Upon completion his professional military education, Lt Col Terry was assigned to the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory (AFHRL) at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas where he would serve as its commander. In 1980, while still in command of AFHRL, Colonel Terry was called away to take part in OPERATION CREDIBLE SPORT, for his extensive knowledge of the C-130 platform. Colonel Ronald W. Terry retired from active-duty service in 1983, though he remains active in the military community, mentoring service members, sharing his ideas, and advising on projects such as the AC-130U and other next-generation systems. He resides in San Antonio, Texas with his wife Carole who together share six children and 10 grandchildren.