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forward air controller

By the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the U.S. and its allies had dropped about six times as many tons of bombs as had been dropped in the entirety of World War II. A considerable proportion of this tonnage had been directed by forward air controllers.

The Forward Air Controller's operating environment[edit]

The operating terrain[edit]

Forward Air Controller

FAC aircraft used[edit]

A wide variety of aircraft were used in the forward air control role.

Propeller-driven aircraft[edit]

Common propeller-driven FAC aircraft were:

  • Cessna O-1 Bird Dog: This two-seater served as the original FAC aircraft. Slow, unarmed and unarmored, its small size limited its payload and it did not have instrumentation for night operations. Although it carried three radios for air strike coordination—Frequency Modulation, High Frequency, and Very High Frequency—only one radio channel was available at a time.[5][6]
  • Cessna O-2 Skymaster: 510 were modified for military service. A businessman's aircraft, it was adapted for interim use by FACs, to replace the O-1. It was a faster airplane, with two engines in a tractor/pusher arrangement, four hard points for ordnance, and a seven-hour linger time. Its side by side seating limited the pilot's line of vision to the right and to the rear.[7]
  • OV-10 Bronco: The first American airplane designed for FAC work; entered combat service on 6 July 1968. With double an O-1's speed, excellent all-around sight lines for observation, an armored cockpit, and an avionics suite that included eight secure radios along with the flight instruments, the OV-10's five ordnance hard points made it a potent combination of FAC and light strike aircraft.[8][9] By 1972, the Bronco was responsible for laser illuminating targets for about 60% of the "smart bombs" dropped in Vietnam.[10]
  • Cessna U-17 Skywagon
  • North American T-28 Trojan
  • A-26 Invader
  • A-1 Skyraider
  • OV-1 Mohawk
  • Fairchild AC-119
  • C-123 Provider: Call sign "Candlestick"
  • C-130 Hercules: Call sign "Blindbat"[11]
  • Douglas RC-47P[12]
  • C-7 Caribou[13]

Fast FAC jet aircraft[edit]

Jet aircraft were also used for FAC duties:

  • Grumman F-9 Cougar: Used by U.S. Marine Corps as original Fast FAC experiment[14]
  • F-100 Super Sabre: Call sign "Misty"
  • McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II: Call signs "Stormy", "Wolf", "Night Owl", "Whiplash/Laredo"[15]
  • Martin B-57 Canberra[16]

The Rules of engagement[edit]

The forward air control system[edit]

Operations within Vietnam[edit]

FAC operations in South Vietnam[edit]

Before the Tonkin Gulf Incident[edit]

After the Tonkin Gulf Incident[edit]

  • 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron: Bien Hoa Air Base, Republic of Vietnam (RVN)
  • 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron: Da Nang Air Base, RVN
  • 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron: Pleiku Air Base, RVN
  • 22d Tactical Air Support Squadron: Binh Thuy Air Base, RVN
  • 23d Tactical Air Support Squadron: Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Kingdom of Thailand[50]

The Mekong Delta and the Cambodian incursion[edit]

FAC operations against North Vietnam[edit]

FAC operations in Laos[edit]

FAC operations in northern Laos[edit]

FAC operations against the Ho Chi Minh Trail[edit]

In the beginning[edit]
Advent of sensor intelligence[edit]
The war on trucks[edit]
Campaign results[edit]

At the time, the 16th SOS had developed its own damage assessment criteria, given that visual observation of strike results was infrequent. According to the 16th:

  • A vehicle that exploded and/or caught on fire was considered destroyed;
  • A vehicle hit by a 40mm shell was considered destroyed;
  • If a 40mm shell exploded within 10 feet of a vehicle, it was reported damaged;
  • A vehicle hit by 20mm fire was considered damaged.[108]

Notable Forward Air Controllers of the Vietnam War[edit]

  • Steven L. Bennett: Medal of Honor winner
  • Hilliard A. Wilbanks: Medal of Honor winner
  • Craig W. Duehring: Assistant Secretary of the Air Force in later years


See also[edit]

  • Raven Forward Air Controllers
  • 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron
  • 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron
  • 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron
  • 22nd Tactical Air Support Squadron
  • 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron

External links[edit]

  • List of Australian RACs who served in Vietnam at [115]
  • Australian FAC history at [116]



  • Ahern, Thomas L. Jr. (2006), Undercover Armies: CIA and Surrogate Warfare in Laos. Center for the Study of Intelligence. Classified control no. C05303949.
  • Anthony, Victor B. and Richard R. Sexton (1993). The War in Northern Laos. Center for Air Force History, OCLC 232549943.
  • Anthony, Victor B. (1973). The Air Force in Southeast Asia: Tactics and Techniques of Night Operations 1961-1970. Office of Air Force History. (2011 reprint). Military Bookshop. ISBNs 1780396570, 978-1780396576.
  • Castle, Timothy N. (1993). At War in the Shadow of Vietnam: U.S. Military Aid to the Royal Lao Government 1955–1975. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-07977-X.
  • Churchill, Jan (1997). Hit My Smoke!: Forward Air Controllers in Southeast Asia. Sunflower University Press. ISBNs 0-89745-215-1, 978-0-89745-215-1.
  • Conboy, Kenneth and James Morrison (1995). Shadow War: The CIA's Secret War in Laos. Paladin Press, ISBNs 0-87364-825-0, 978-1-58160-535-8.
  • Dunnigan, James F. and Albert A. Nofi (2000). Dirty Little Secrets of the Vietnam War: Military Information You're Not Supposed to Know. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBNs 031225282X, 978-0312252823.
  • Gooderson, Ian (1998). Air Power at the Battlefront: Allied Close Air Support in Europe 1943-45 (Studies in Air Power). Routledge. ISBNs: 0714642118, 978-0714642116.
  • Harrison, Marshall (1989). A Lonely Kind of War: Forward Air Controller Vietnam. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-70347-1.
  • Hooper, Jim (2009). A Hundred Feet Over Hell: Flying With the Men of the 220th Recon Airplane Company Over I Corps and the DMZ, Vietnam 1968-1969. Zenith Imprint. ISBNs 0-7603-3633-4, 978-0-7603-3633-5.
  • Kelly, Orr (1996). From a Dark Sky: The Story of U.S. Air Force Special Operations. Pocket Books. ISBNs 0-671-00917-6, 767140059900917.
  • LaFeber, Walter (2005). The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBNs 0742543927, 978-0742543928.
  • Lester, Gary Robert (1987). Mosquitoes to Wolves: The Evolution of the Airborne Forward Air Controller. Air University Press. ISBNs 1-58566-033-7, 978-1-58566-033-9.
  • Mahnken, Thomas G. (2010). Technology and the American Way of War Since 1945. Columbia University Press. ISBNs 0231517882, 9780231517881.
  • Nalty, Bernard C. (2005). War Against Trucks: Aerial Interdiction in Southern Laos 1968- 1972. Air Force History and Museums Program, United States Air Force. ISBN 9781477550076.
  • Prados, John (1998). The Hidden History of the Vietnam War. Ivan R. Dee. ISBNs 1566631971, 978-1566631976.
  • Robbins, Christopher (1987) The Ravens: The Men Who Flew in America's Secret War in Laos. Crown, ISBN 0-517-56612-5, ISBN 978-0-517-56612-1
  • Rowley, Ralph A. (1972). The Air Force in Southeast Asia: US FAC Operations in Southeast Asia 1961-1965. U.S. Office of Air Force History. (2011 reprint). Military Studies Press. ISBNs 1780399987, 9781780399980.
  • — (1975). The Air Force in Southeast Asia: FAC Operations 1965-1970. U.S. Office of Air Force History. Military Bookshop (2011 reprint). ISBNs 1780396562, 978-1780396569.
  • Schlight, John (1969). Project CHECO Report: JET FORWARD AIR CONTROLLERS IN SEASIA." Headquarters Pacific Air Force. ASIN B00ARRLMEY.
  • Staff (1969). The ABCCC in Southeast Asia (Project CHECO Reports). U.S. Air Force. ASIN: B005E7KAQS.
  • Summers, Col. (Ret) Harry G. Jr. and Stanley Karnow (1995). Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBNs 0395722233, 978-0395722237.
  • Walton, Andrew R. (2014). The History of the Airborne Forward Air Controller in Vietnam. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform reprint of U.S. Army Command and General Staff College publication. ISBNs: 1500830917, 978-1500830915.
  • Warner, Roger (1995). Back Fire: The CIA's Secret War in Laos and Its Link to the War in Vietnam. Simon & Schuster. ISBNs 0-68480-292-9, 978-06848-0292-3.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cooper, Garry and Robert Hillier (2006). Sock It to ’Em, Baby: Forward Air Controller in Vietnam. Allen & Unwin. ISBNs 1741148499, 978-1741148497.
  • Diller, Richard (2013). Firefly: A Skyraider's Story about America's Secret War Over Laos. Dogear Publishing. ISBNs 1457519690, 978-1457519697.
  • Lerner, Joe (2006). In the Black. iUniverse. ISBNs 0595407145, 978-0595407149.
  • Polifka, Karl (2013). Meeting Steve Canyon: ...and Flying with the CIA in Laos. CreateSpace. ISBNs 1490979859, 978-1490979854.
  • Webb, Billy G. (2010). Secret War. XLibris. ISBNs 1453564853, 978-1453564851.


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