On Wednesday, Oct. 12, a large crowd gathered in the auditorium of the Davis Learning Center (DLC) for October’s Aviation History Night presentation. The speaker was Captain Ron Carr, who flew the OV-10 with the Air Force in Vietnam, and now works as an associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Carr titled his presentation ‘The FAC, the Secret War, and the Trail’ – defining the FAC (Forward Air Controller) as “A specifically trained and qualified aviation officer who exercises control from an airborne position of aircraft engaged in close air support of ground troops.”
“In order to be a FAC, you had to be fighter-qualified,” Carr said. He explained how a shortage of volunteers led the Air Force to set up an “Instant Fighter Pilot School” at Cannon Air Force Base with the job of turning bomber, cargo, and tanker pilots into fighter pilots from September to December of 1968. After learning to fly as a fighter pilot, Carr advanced to Forward Air Control training at Hurlbut Field in Florida, where he learned to fly the OV-10. “It was actually called a LARA,” Carr said, “a light armed reconnaissance aircraft.”
Captain Carr went on to describe, in great detail, the aircraft from which he would help direct the secret war over Laos, leading surveillance, command, and attack aircraft as they searched out and destroyed irregular North Vietnamese forces on the Ho Chi Minh trail. The OV-10 had counter-rotating propellers, lateral control spoilers, and a unique landing gear. Carr also described the plane’s unusual ejection procedure: “there’s no blasting off of the canopy – you blast off through the canopy.”
The OV-10 was equipped with four M-60 machine guns, but could also carry bombs, missiles, rockets, cargo, or paratroopers, though the latter would have to slide out the back end of the small plane. As a Forward Air Controller, Captain Carr was especially dependent on the aircraft’s radios, of which there were eight.
“Vietnam was a three front war,” said Carr. “The Trail was Vietnam’s way of getting supplies into the south.” Laos, desiring to maintain neutrality, gave permission for United States interdiction, but with very stringent rules of engagement. Carr described “a whole new book of what to do and especially what not to do.”
“The secret war began for us in 1964,” said Carr. “The trail was like a spiderweb of activity – it wasn’t just one road.… The trucks just rolled south.… when the Air Force began bombing in 1964, they were using O-2s and O-1s.” After taking a beating, the North Vietnamese switched from daytime to nighttime operations, and the Air Force’s task became harder.
Seeing through the enemy’s attempts at concealment was only a part of Captain Carr’s mission; he also had to clear his actions with twelve officials working in nine different capacities. “Authorization was very complicated.” Carr recalled that, on one occasion, he successfully destroyed a target by encircling it with a wagon wheel formation, in which the aircraft could come in for the strike at any angle. Only afterward did he discover that what he had done was illegal – he wasn’t allowed to put dissimilar aircraft in the same formation. Another time, when the use of the 20 mm cannons had been prohibited, his formation was constrained to make sixteen unsuccessful bomb attacks against an enemy truck – “You just can’t bomb a single truck!”
In conclusion, Professor Carr described his position as a Forward Air Controller as something combining the tasks of an “intelligence sleuth, jailhouse lawyer, initial combat search and rescue coordinator, communications specialist, munitions expert, on-scene commander of strike forces, and air strike coordinator,” – no small role in the secret air war for Vietnam.

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