Misty FAC F-100Fs carried two large external fuel tanks under the wings. The bent tube on the aircraft’s right wing is the aerial refueling probe. The openings for the two 20mm cannons can be seen on either side of the nose landing gear door. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Misty FACs in 1969. Standing second from the left is Maj. Tony McPeak, who became the USAF Chief of Staff from 1990-1994. Standing third from the left is Capt. Ron Fogleman, who became USAF Chief of Staff from 1994-1997. Kneeling second from the right is 1st Lt. Charles Lacy Veach, who became an astronaut and logged more than 400 hours in space. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Misty FACs (forward air controllers) flew at low altitude, spotting and marking enemy targets in heavily-defended areas in Laos and North Vietnam. This all-volunteer group had a quarter of their number shot down during these extremely hazardous missions.
U.S. Air Force FACs normally flew slow, propeller-driven aircraft to locate North Vietnamese personnel and supplies moving south along the "Ho Chi Minh Trail." As the communists reinforced their infiltration routes with antiaircraft artillery (AAA) and surface-to-air missiles, the loss rates over certain areas became unacceptable.
To resolve this problem, the U.S. Air Force decided to use faster, two-seat, jet-propelled F-100F FACs over the most heavily-defended spots under the code name COMMANDO SABRE. In June 1967 Detachment 1, 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, commanded by Maj. George "Bud" Day, began operations. The all-volunteer aircrews of this unit quickly became known by their radio call sign Misty.
During their missions, Misty FACs often flew against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, focusing on its key passes from North Vietnam into Laos. They operated at relatively low altitude, constantly turning their aircraft to throw off the aim of enemy anti-aircraft gunners. Misty FACs located and marked targets for other aircraft to hit, and they occasionally used their 20mm cannon to attack targets themselves. Misty FACs also spotted targets in southern North Vietnam and supported rescue forces to recover downed aircrew, often being the first aircraft on the scene.
In addition to being extremely hazardous, Misty FAC missions were exhausting for the aircrews. They remained on station for four to six hours, during which they left North Vietnamese air space multiple times to refuel from an aerial tanker.
In spite of their skill, specialized tactics, and fast aircraft, they paid a high price for striking at the vital, well-defended lifeline of the communists. Enemy ground defenses shot down nearly a quarter of the 155 Misty FAC pilots (and two were shot down twice).
COMMANDO SABRE ended in May 1970, as F-4 Phantom IIs took over the role of "Fast FAC." Even so, the aircrews remained a select group in the following years. Their ranks include one Medal of Honor recipient (Col. George "Bud" Day), two USAF chiefs of staff (Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak and Gen. Ronald Fogleman), two astronauts (Maj. Gen. Roy Bridges and Col. Charles Lacy Veach), five other general officers (Lt. Gen. Donald Snyder, Maj. Gen. Donald Sheppard, Maj. Gen. John Dickey, Brig. Gen. Ross Detwiler and Brig. Gen. Walter Bacon), and the chief pilot of the first around-the-world unrefueled flight (Lt. Col. Richard Rutan).
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