1st MIBARS In Vietnam!


Flying With the FACs


Catching Rides With

The Forward Air Controllers

Photo: two Forward Air Controllers of the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, US Air Force, DaNang Main Air Base, DaNang, Vietnam, in 1966

Photo Credit: MIV

The USAF Lieutenant Colonel, at left in the photograph above, is the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron FAC who was inadvertently responsible for starting "B" Detachment's Hand-held Camera Program.  Unfortunately, his name is lost to this particular memoir, along with the identity of the other officer in this photograph, which was taken at DaNang Air Base in December, 1966, upon return from "B" Detachment's first Hand-held Camera Program mission.  


The 20th TASS Flight Line At DaNang Main Air Base

Photo: Flight line adjacent to Runway 17 Left, DaNang Main Air Base, showing US Air Force aircraft, including 0-1 Bird Dog reconnaissance aircraft and an AD-1 Skyraider

Photo Credit: David Andrew Sciacchitano

Above:  The U.S. Air Force Flight Line at DaNang Main Air Base in December 1966.  "B" Detachment observers who rode with USAF Forward Air Controllers departed from this area on the apron along Runway 17 Left.  In the photo, six 0-1 Bird Dog aircraft are shown in side view parked, with a Douglas AD-1 Skyraider facing outward on the left.  Other units of the USAF were located in adjacent areas of the apron, and many types of fighter-bombers and helicopters could be seen during a visit to the airfield.   

David Andrew Sciacchitano, U.S. Air Force, was assigned to the 20th TASS in DaNang during 1966 and 1967.  His photographs may be found on the Military (dot) com Photo Center, Wikipedia (dot) org, and Wikimedia Commons.


"B" Detachment Observers

Since the Hand-held Camera Program was "experimental" in nature and not a part of "B" Detachment's assigned mission, participants at the beginning were either ill-equipped or non-equipped for flight over hostile territory, having to borrow or scrounge items such as cameras, helmets, flak jackets, and survival radios.  The majority of flights were made in Cessna's O-1 Bird Dog observation aircraft, although the USAF began to fly the twin tandem-engine O-2 Cessna Skymaster in late 1967.  Unlike the 0-2, which sat pilot and observer side-by-side, the O-1 offered tandem seating, giving the observer clear views to each side of the aircraft from behind the pilot.  The rear windows opened inward and could be fastened to the cabin ceiling to allow an observer to hold his head or his camera out of the window and look directly downward. There was no instrument panel in the rear seat, but the pilot's basic flight instruments up front were readable.  Some variants of the 0-1 carried a demounted control stick in the back that slipped into a receptacle in the floor and were also equipped with a duplicate throttle quadrant to the left of the passenger's seat that allowed piloting from the rear station.  This fortuitous circumstance often led to impromptu flying lessons for the photographer-observer -- including free-form familiarization, wingovers, Immelman turns and air field location and approach.

Photo: "B" Detachment observer-photographer next to a US Army 0-1 Bird Dog aircraft wearing a flak vest with flight helmet and Pentax camera with normal and telephoto lenses

Photo Credit: John Ripper, "B" Detachment, Imagery Interpretation Section, 1968

Above:  This "B" Detachment observer is posing next to a U.S. Army 0-1 Bird Dog surveillance aircraft in 1968.  He is equipped with a helmet, flack vest, and camera with a normal and telephoto lens.


The U.S. Army Flight Line At Marble Mountain Air Base

Photo: 1st MIBARS Reproduction Section Officer from "A" Detachment next to US Army 0-1 Bird Dog aircraft at Marble Mountain Air Facility and posing with the AK-47 assault rifle that he carried on flights as his personal weapon

Photo Credit: MIV

Left:  This Reproduction Section Officer visiting from "A" Detachment, mindful of persistent reports of the U.S. Army's early standard issue M-16 rifle's tendency to jam, carried a scrounged Chinese version of a Russian assault rifle -- then reputed to be the best light infantry weapon in Vietnam -- on reconnaissance flights.   The Avtomat Kalashnikova designed in 1947 and attributed to Mikhail Kalashnikov, more popularly known perhaps as the AK-47, was simple in design and, having wide mechanical tolerances, and fitted with high-capacity magazines, was known for awesome firepower and ability to function reliably under the most adverse conditions of dirt and foul weather.  See Scenes From The Repro Shop for the story of a tragic accident involving a "B" Detachment trooper and the AK-47.  In addition to personal weapons, photo-observers also carried cameras, film, maps, pencils and notebooks and wore armored flak vests.  Photo taken at Marble Mountain airfield in 1967.

Right:  "B" Detachment's Reproduction Section Officer, although shown here with the AK-47 above, carried an M-14 A-1 when flying over tactical areas.  He also carried a second flak vest to sit on, a common practice for O-1 back-seaters who, unlike the pilots, did not enjoy the protection of an armored steel "chicken plate" welded under their canvas seats and were therefore more vulnerable to ground fire.   Other items: water, a shoulder bag with loaded M-14 magazines, a .45 caliber pistol, and a survival knife.   The aircraft is parked on a "hard stand" of perforated steel planking, or "PSP" for short, similar to the Marston matting used in WW 2.  

Photo: "B" Detachment Reproduction Section Officer at Marble Mountain Air Facility with the AK-47 rifle

Photo Credit: MIV

On the Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947

". . . [T]he AK-47 marked the maturation of the assault rifle concept: a rifle with high magazine capacity and selective fire that allowed one shot to fly with each pull of the trigger or, with the flip of a switch, ammunition to be discharged in fully automatic mode.  The chambering, neither an overpowered full-size rifle nor a smaller submachine cartridge but somewhere in between, was the M-1943 -- later the 7.62x39mm.  The intermediate-size M-1943 cartridge allowed that handheld firepower to be controllable.  The AK caught Western ordnance officials asleep at the switch, technologically and tactically.  After samples of the AK became available, they missed the point of the gun.  Because of a series of missteps . . . the United States fielded a rifle initially inferior in reliability to the AK, resulting in needless American deaths in Vietnam.  It was so bad that some such as Marine Gunnery Sgt. Claude Elrod, carried an AK-47 instead of an M-16 in combat."

Mark A. Keefe, IV, "A History of the Gun That Made History," The Washington Post, October 31, 2010, a newspaper book review of C.J. Chivers, The Gun, Simon & Schuster.


From the World Wide Web

"Actually, the introduction of O-2s was viewed as a mixed blessing.  Had greater loiter time and speed to get on station and more radios, etc, but the viz [visibility] wasn’t as good as the O-1 and it couldn’t operate from every short, dirt strip that the O-1 could, either.  The O-2 kinda likes hard strips.  And with full flaps and max power you could practically make the O-1 "hover" if you really wanted to look at something in a relatively benign environment.   Nice to have two engines tho . . .   Could also hang on more Willy Pete’s [NOTE: 2.75-mm white phosphorous ("WP" or "willy pete") marker rockets - Site Administrator] which was also helpful.  

SOP/ROE [standard operating procedure/rules of engagement] said keep everything above 1500' AGL [above ground level] to avoid small arms gnd [ground] fire. Obviously "some guys" occasionally bent the minimums – especially with TIC [target information center] and low ceilings which was often.  Wx [weather] was often so dicey – especially in the mountains in the rainy season (Monsoons came in winter in DaNang area) that you ended up talking guys down to release on tgt [target] in a TIC sit. almost as soon as they broke out, putting a premium on WP [white phosphorus] placement. Best tactic in WP placement was circular, rather than st. [straight] approach, letting sling as the nose came around – messed up the bad guys’ tgt solution a bit . . .

We usually flew with Shorty M-16, lots of ammo, side arm of choice and a bag of grenades (Could toss em out of window of an O-1).  Two flack vests – one to sit on and one to wear.  Biggest stuff we faced while I was over there was 14.75mm in a very few places – nasty enough – but they had quad 23mm zsu-23s up in Ashau Valley – pucker factor rather higher there…."

Virgil Xenophon, www (dot) NeptunusLex (dot) com, February 8, 2009

In most cases, the photo-observers "rode along" with a FAC who was assigned to conduct a routine patrol over the geographic area of interest.  In other instances, flights over specific areas were requested.  In most target areas, flights were conducted at about 1,500 feet -- just outside the maximum effective range of small arms fire.  Random potshots from the ground were an everyday occurrence and the sound of gunfire -- which rose vertically from the ground and could be heard distinctly in spite of the rearward roar of the aircraft's engine -- could well increase one's "pucker factor," a whimsical, widely-used military colloquialism that provided an instant visualization of involuntary anal contractions -- a reaction to the sudden onset of fear or stress.  While on patrol, the FAC was always subject to being diverted to direct air strikes or artillery fire missions requested by troops on the ground.  In such instances, the photo-observer would be "along for the ride," but could assist the pilot in spotting targets and doing "BDA" -- bomb damage assessment -- a tally of structures destroyed and enemy killed.  With a BDA, the FAC essentially gave the fighter-bomber pilot a grade on the accuracy and effectiveness of the dropped munitions.  Many FACs were generous in this regard, reporting destruction and body count even though little was visible through the triple-canopy jungle besides split tree trunks and whiffs of smoke.  It was eventually learned that the length of a USAF fighter pilot's assignment to the combat zone was based on the completion of a specified number of "combat missions."  Missions lacking enemy contact did not count toward this total; therefore, enemy activity seemed to be observed by brother pilots in most instances.   Photo-observers sometimes did help out in identifying suspected enemy positions on the ground by conducting a "reconnaissance by fire," i.e., spraying a suspect area with small arms fire from the back seat.  Results were generally questionable at best, and the short-stock M-16s (also known as the CAR-15) carried by FACs, the weapon most practical for use out of the O-1's rear window, had a real tendency to jam.


The 0-2 Oscar Deuce --  Offering More of Everything, Except Downward Visibility

Photo: interior view of a US Air Force 0-2 Oscar Deuce twin-engine Forward Air Controller aircraft showing pilot with 7-round rocket pod on the wing in the background

Photo Credit: MIV

Left:  Interior photo of a Cessna 0-2, showing a US Air Force FAC.  A twin-engined aircraft of the so-called "push-pull" design, the 0-2 offered considerable power for pull-out after making low passes and also carried significantly more ordnance.  While the 0-1 carried four marker rockets -- two rocket tubes underneath each wing -- the O-2 utilized a pod on each wing -- one of which is visible in the background of this picture -- that could carry seven rounds of 2.75-in rockets with either white phosphorus or high explosive warheads.  Most FACs seemed to enjoy talking about their work, one young lieutenant so intent upon describing his training and experience to the MIBARS observer that he allowed both engines of his 0-2 to run dry of fuel while flying near the Laotian Border.  After a few moments -- during which fuel tanks were hurriedly switched and primers frantically pumped -- the engines restarted.


The US Air Force's Misty Pilots Up the Ante - At 450 MPH Using the Two-Seat North American F-100F For Ground Obseration!
“Before the Misty F-100s started flying as forward air controllers, the mission was flown by slow-moving propeller driven aircraft (the Cessna 0-1 Bird Dog and the Cessna 0-2 Skymaster), which were getting shot at and, as North Vietnamese anti-aircraft weapons improved, hit with increasing frequency. “Neither aircraft was suitable for a dense automatic-weapons environment . . .’ . . . one recommendation: we get some of the slow-FAC pilots who could ride in the back and take advantage of their experience as spotters.”

“Once airborne, the Mistys set about looking for targets for the strike aircraft: at the top of the list were supply trucks and anti-aircraft-artillery sites. A key technique was to look for signs of man-made objects in the jungle below. ‘If you found a square bush, a rectangle, or a circle, that was a target . . .’

[The enemy fighters] on the ground did not know what things looked like from the air . . . all leaves have a slightly different shade on one side so you’d look for clusters of variegated leaves – evidence that branches has been overturned for camouflage. Two of the most important attributes for Misty pilots were good eyesight and deductive reasoning. If treetops were covered with a layer of dust, for example, something was happening below those trees.”
Mark Bernstein, "The Misty Mistique", Air and Space/Smithsonian, February/March 2013, Vol. 27, No. 7
Photo: F-100F Super Sabre jet fighter aircraft used by the US Air Force for fast FAC operations over the Ho Chi Minh train.
Photo Credit: Clifford Bossie

Above:   This North American Aviation F-100F, airframe No. 56-3837, is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.  It was converted by the US Air Force for use in the Misty forward air control mission during the Vietnam War and assigned to the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing.  From angelfire.com/dc/jinxx1/Huns/Huns.html.

 

Hand-Held Camera ORIGINS

First Mission

First Results

Instructions From the Pilot

On Patrol With the 21st RAC

Wings Over DaNang

The A  Shau Valley

Recollections From the Back Seat


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