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Early Years, 1961-1964

At first, the U.S. Air Force trained and equipped the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) with slow, propeller-driven combat aircraft. Flying O-1 Bird Dogs, forward air controllers (FACs) directed airstrikes by T-28s, B-26s and later A-1 Skyraiders.

Growing American military involvement increased the number of South Vietnamese, USAF, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps fixed-wing aircraft flying over the battlefield at the same time. The U.S. Army's armed helicopters added to the congestion. This situation needed a better control system to provide support, to avoid duplicating attacks on the same target and to keep the aircraft from running into each other. Eventually, the USAF and the Army reached agreements about preplanning missions, keeping armed USAF strike aircraft on alert and using armed Army helicopters to meet close air support requirements.

Since the communists often attacked under the cover of darkness, C-47 and C-123 flareships circling overhead dropped flares to light the battlefield for strike aircraft. In December 1964, the first AC-47 gunships arrived to cope with the increasing number of attacks on hamlets and outposts.

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