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FAC in SEA: Forward Air Control Aircraft

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