MARCH 2011 – In the Vietnam War the USAF used Forward Air Controllers to conduct reconnaissance missions, mark potential targets and provide control for inbound air strikes.

USAF FACs operated in South Vietnam, North North Vietnam, over the Ho Chin Minh Trail and in Laos (under CIA).

There were slow FACS used in South Vietnam, where light to medium AAA and rifle fire would be experienced. Aircraft used were O-1, O-2 and medium fastFACS such as OV-10.

O-2 Skymaster film clip in Vietnam war use –

For higher threat environments the USAF used FAST FACS, where rifle fire, AAA and SAMs were set up eg North Vietnam. The aircraft used were F-100F Super Sabres, F-4D and at times F-4E Phantoms. (Warbird note – in early 2011 in the US, a F-100F Super Sabre warbird will be flying soon restored as a tribute to the USAF Misty FAST FACS).

The US Marine Corp also used O-1 Birdogs , TF-9J Cougars and TA-4J Skyhawks for FAC roles.

More can be found on use of FACS and history in Vietnam War on –


In this article we examine USAF FAC O-1 Birdog from a variety of photos for reference on flightgear and operations.

Most O-1 pilots and crew wore HGU-2/P and HGU-2A/P and HGU-7/P flight helmets in Vietnam. At times APH-5 were used. All had a boom microphone added on the left side and adjustable. Sometime was placed on the right side of helmet.
They also wore K-2B flight suits, SRU-21/P survival vest, backpack parachute, flight boots, flak jacket and pistol.

These photos show pilots wearing APH-5 and HGU-2A/P helmets. Note how white stands out and is easy to see. This was a problem for the pilot/aircrew as it made them easier to spot from the ground in some cases.

Most FACS were either single crewed or carried at times observers as seen in some of the photos.
A FAC’s role was to liaise with ground troops in contact – TIC – and organise the air support with the DACs in each military region. They were the link between TIC / the pilots in the strike aircraft and the ground control base operations. So theFACs were a critical part of the daily operations in the war. No wonder they were feared by the enemy.


Birdogs pilots used smoke grenades, rifles and smoke rockets to mark and sometime attack a target.

M16 rifle been used in close air support – (Sorry to the Spooky/Puff crews obviously it just wasn’t your day….)

Rarer exceptions have seen O-1 Birdogs have M-60s Machine guns facing out the left window and been used as a “mini gunships”.
USAF HQs frowned upon this as FAC pilots should be spotting not attacking..

Randal McFarlane owns a ex USAF O-1G Birdog warbird aircraft in Australia that has Vietnam combat experience. His O-1 Birdog was one of these aircraft that had a M-60 machine gun mounted in it. See my 2009 flyin visit and meeting with famous Aussie RAAF FAC Garry Cooper who flew the aircraft that day –

The FACS operated at low and medium altitudes. Sometime as low as 20m and up to 5,000ft to avoid small arms fire in a CAS strike.

Marking smoke rockets were either Willie Pete or coloured for directing strike aircraft. The FAC would line up and release a rocket and then use the impact as a reference point for the inbound strike aircraft.

Strike aircraft saw the smoke marker and then listened to the FAC guidance such as run into target, where to drop, where friendlies and enemy was, was kind of ground fire to be expected and organising the other aircraft on the scene.

Here we see a film clip showing FACs over the Ho Chin Minh trail.

Here we see a Birdog peeling off to begin a strike. We also see the impact of a smoke rocket. Note how it stands out against the green jungle..

Flying down low after a air strike to do BDA – battle damage assessment. FACs could see dead bodies, destroyed buildings, craters and feeling troops.

FACS were targeted in doing these fly bys… it has been compared with hanging around a wasp nest after stirring up the deadly and painful wasps.. not safe or smart one would think… except theNVA and VC had guns that could easily kill the pilot and damage the aircraft.

The FACs notepad was literally his windscreen or side windows. Seen here is the flight data and notes recorded with a grease pencil.

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