What is a Forward Air Controller?
A Forward Air Controller, often referred to as a FAC, is a specially trained and qualified pilot. The FAC flys his aircraft in the immediate area of friendly ground forces for the support purposes of reconnaissance and delivery of air ordinance when requested by ground commanders. Just about any type aircraft can be used for FAC operations. However, the Night Rustic FACs were given the military Cessna O-2A, the civilian version of which was the Cessna Skymaster 337 (see O-2A picture on the home page).
The night FAC was the O-2A aircraft commander and directed each fighter’s ordinance drops, adjusting the target from each previously dropped bomb. From time to time, the FAC would fire one of seven carried 2.75” folding fin White Phosphorus rockets from his O-2A onto the target for marking purposes to the jet fighters. Upon striking the ground, the “Willy Pete” (nickname) rocket would produce a puff of smoke from the burning phosphorus and the FAC would then instruct the fighters to “Hit my smoke” with their bombs or machine guns. As on-scene battle commander, the FAC had to give clearance to each fighter for each bomb delivery or strafing run. That command to the fighter pilots was “Cleared in hot”, meaning they were approved to expend their ordinance precisely as directed by the FAC.
What is a Night Rustic?
The call sign for our squadron flying the FAC mission over Cambodia was assigned as “Rustic” and because a different aircraft (OV-10A) and different Rustic pilot group flew our area of operation in the daytime, and that aircraft was not suitable for night fighting, our group flying the O-2A became known as the Night Rustics.
If a Cambodian Army ground commander came under attack at night from the enemy and needed help in the form of close air support, he would radio a Rustic aircraft in the area.
The Night Rustic FAC (left seat aircraft commander) would immediately fly to the ground commander’s location from map coordinates given to him by the commander over the radio. Enroute, the FAC would radio in an order for fighter jets or gun ships to help halt the ground attack against the friendly troops. As soon as the Rustic FAC would arrive near the enemy target, he would drop one of his four carried 3 million candlepower flares to illuminate the target and temporarily cease the enemy’s ground attack. The FAC would then begin to plan his air attack based upon verifying exactly where the Cambodian troops were and where the enemy position was reported to be.
Often times at night, the firefight in the jungle could be seen by the FAC, and even more often, the FAC aircraft was fired upon by the enemy as well. This became very obvious when colored tracer bullets streaked through the sky toward the aircraft. Usually by this time, the flight of jet fighters would be calling the FAC to “check in” and get steered to the FACs location to be put into action.
Taking on his designated job as the on-scene battle commander, the FAC in the left seat would then obtain the ordinance types that each fighter carried, carefully decide which types to use in order to not accidentally drop a bomb on the friendlies, brief the fighter pilots on the situation and plan of attack. Since the friendly armies were always in such close proximity to the enemy attackers, precision, planning, and execution became critical as it was the sole responsibility of the FAC to avoid a “short round”, or “friendly fire” accident. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, the O-2A Rustics did it in the dark!! Because of the added difficulty of darkness, a second fully qualified Rustic FAC pilot was assigned to the right seat on each night mission, his duties being to use the Starlight scope, plot the map coordinates, and operate the FM radio as liaison with the ground commander during air support attacks. No GPS in 1970….everything was plotted by hand on maps, with targets and terrain features viewed by leaning out the right seat open window of the aircraft using Starlight scopes that magnified the sky’s ambient light by thousands of times. This light amplification resulted in a daylight-like green-screen realtime image similar to the night-vision goggles used by the military today.