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FAC in SEA: Forward Air Control Aircraft

The limited ability of the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog to carry weapons convinced the Air Force to seek a replacement FAC aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The limited ability of the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog to carry weapons convinced the Air Force to seek a replacement FAC aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

O-2A in flight near Pleiku in 1968. Faster than the O-1 Bird Dog, the O-2A could respond to calls for air support more quickly and could stay over the target longer. (U.S. Air Force photo)

O-2A in flight near Pleiku in 1968. Faster than the O-1 Bird Dog, the O-2A could respond to calls for air support more quickly and could stay over the target longer. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Cessna O-2A Super Skymaster was used as an interim FAC aircraft and for psychological warfare missions. Here, an O-2A FAC fires a smoke rocket (indicated by the arrow) to mark an enemy stronghold for strike aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Cessna O-2A Super Skymaster was used as an interim FAC aircraft and for psychological warfare missions. Here, an O-2A FAC fires a smoke rocket (indicated by the arrow) to mark an enemy stronghold for strike aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

After identifying a target, the FAC called for attack aircraft and marked the target.  Here, an O-2 FAC fires a white phosphorus rocket (just to the right of the gunsight’s crosshairs) near Phan Rang in 1969. (U.S. Air Force photo)

After identifying a target, the FAC called for attack aircraft and marked the target. Here, an O-2 FAC fires a white phosphorus rocket (just to the right of the gunsight’s crosshairs) near Phan Rang in 1969. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Smoke from a white phosphorus rocket marking the target. The FAC used this smoke to guide the strike aircraft and direct the attack. When certain that the fighter pilot was attacking the correct target, using the right weapons, and not threatening friendly troops or civilians, the FAC gave permission to attack. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Smoke from a white phosphorus rocket marking the target. The FAC used this smoke to guide the strike aircraft and direct the attack. When certain that the fighter pilot was attacking the correct target, using the right weapons, and not threatening friendly troops or civilians, the FAC gave permission to attack. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Strike aircraft could only attack after being “cleared hot” by the FAC. This F-100 from the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, with the call sign Yellow Jacket 11 has been cleared hot to attack an enemy target in September 1969. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Strike aircraft could only attack after being “cleared hot” by the FAC. This F-100 from the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, with the call sign Yellow Jacket 11 has been cleared hot to attack an enemy target in September 1969. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The impact of a 500 lb. bomb dropped by Yellow Jacket 11. Battle damage assessment (BDA) afterward indicated that the air strike killed 12 enemy soldiers, destroyed 44 bunkers and uncovered 3 tons of rice and 5 bunkers. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The impact of a 500 lb. bomb dropped by Yellow Jacket 11. Battle damage assessment (BDA) afterward indicated that the air strike killed 12 enemy soldiers, destroyed 44 bunkers and uncovered 3 tons of rice and 5 bunkers. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The OV-10 Bronco making its maiden flight in Southeast Asia in August 1968 during its 90-day period of combat evaluation with the 19th TASS. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The OV-10 Bronco making its maiden flight in Southeast Asia in August 1968 during its 90-day period of combat evaluation with the 19th TASS. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An OV-10A firing a smoke rocket in the area north of Saigon in February 1969 to show where the F-100 should drop its bombs. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An OV-10A firing a smoke rocket in the area north of Saigon in February 1969 to show where the F-100 should drop its bombs. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - FACs flying night missions often used Starlight scopes to find the enemy hiding under the cover of darkness, but the USAF continued looking for better night vision systems. In 1971, the USAF equipped the OV-10 Broncos flown by the 23rd TASS with the AN/AVQ-13 PAVE NAIL, a stabilized periscopic night sight and laser designator. Not surprisingly, the 23rd TASS took the call sign of Nail. This patch shows an OV-10 over a red nail, and the black patch indicates the darkness of night. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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DAYTON, Ohio - FACs flying night missions often used Starlight scopes to find the enemy hiding under the cover of darkness, but the USAF continued looking for better night vision systems. In 1971, the USAF equipped the OV-10 Broncos flown by the 23rd TASS with the AN/AVQ-13 PAVE NAIL, a stabilized periscopic night sight and laser designator. Not surprisingly, the 23rd TASS took the call sign of Nail. This patch shows an OV-10 over a red nail, and the black patch indicates the darkness of night. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Although easy to maintain, highly maneuverable, and capable of operating from small airstrips, the O-1 Bird Dog first flown by the FACs had many shortcomings. Its slow speed left it vulnerable to enemy small arms fire, its small size limited the amount of ordnance and radios it could carry, and it could not operate effectively in bad weather or at night. Also, the FACs often saw a few communist troops who disappeared into the jungle before strike aircraft could be summoned. Sometimes they shot at the enemy with M-16 rifles, but the FACs wanted to arm their aircraft with light weapons. Their O-1s lacked the power to carry heavier weapons, and the Air Force began looking for an aircraft specifically designed for FAC operations.

An interim solution was the Cessna O-2 Skymaster. With twin engines, the O-2 had greater speed, could carry more equipment and ordnance, and could survive ground fire better than the Bird Dog. Nevertheless, this aircraft also had limited capabilities.

The Rockwell OV-10 Bronco provided the solution when the FACs first received them in 1968. Faster than the Skymaster and able to climb out of a dangerous situation quickly, the Bronco also carried 7.62 mm machine guns and rocket pods for attacking small enemy units. It could also carry a range of other weapons, making it suitable for providing light strike support.

Each FAC aircraft carried three different radios for coordinating with everyone involved in an air strike: an FM radio for the ground forces, a UHF radio for the fighter aircraft, and a VHF radio for contact with the Air Force Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) to coordinate approvals and requests for air support.

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Cessna O-1G Bird Dog
Cessna O-2A Skymaster
North American Rockwell OV-10A Bronco
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