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FAC in SEA: The Advisory Years

DAYTON, Ohio - Uniform worn by Col. William J. Fulton in the late 1960s. He was a USAF FAC from the 19th TASS assigned to the elite South Vietnamese Airborne Brigade headquartered at Tan Son Nhut AB. To avoid standing out and becoming a target for snipers, these FACs–call sign Red Marker–wore the Vietnamese uniform, but with USAF insignia. This item is on display in the A Dangerous Business: Forward Air Control in Southeast Asia exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Uniform worn by Col. William J. Fulton in the late 1960s. He was a USAF FAC from the 19th TASS assigned to the elite South Vietnamese Airborne Brigade headquartered at Tan Son Nhut AB. To avoid standing out and becoming a target for snipers, these FACs–call sign Red Marker–wore the Vietnamese uniform, but with USAF insignia. This item is on display in the A Dangerous Business: Forward Air Control in Southeast Asia exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Rudder from an VNAF O-1A Bird Dog damaged in a mortar attack on Jan. 9, 1968. This item is on display in the A Dangerous Business: Forward Air Control exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Rudder from an VNAF O-1A Bird Dog damaged in a mortar attack on Jan. 9, 1968. This item is on display in the A Dangerous Business: Forward Air Control exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In the early 1960s, the United States provided South Vietnam with increased military assistance and counterinsurgency training to resist the communist forces. At first, the USAF trained the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) to use older, propeller-driven aircraft for CAS missions. Although they were supposed to be advisors, American pilots soon began flying combat missions with the VNAF.

In 1961, the USAF sent five FACs to Bien Hoa Air Base (AB) to train the VNAF in conducting air strikes from Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs. The USAF FACs were required to be fighter pilots with experience in delivering air-to-ground ordnance, and they knew exactly how to use that ordnance in any given situation. American and South Vietnamese FACs flew combat missions together, but only the VNAF personnel could "control" air strikes. Also, all air strikes required the approval of the South Vietnamese government.

As the war escalated, the VNAF needed more FACs and ALOs. The USAF responded by activating the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS) at Bien Hoa AB in July 1963 to train South Vietnamese pilots in forward air control, visual reconnaissance, combat support, and observer procedures. After one year, the 19th TASS was to turn its O-1s over to the VNAF, but the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 changed everything.

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