Title RAAF FAC History
Date Oct, 2001
Author's Name Pete Smith
Call Signs 'Sidewinder 33/Drama 05, 19th TASS, 1967-68'

RAAF FAC History

Pete Smith

By the 1960s the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was very much aware of the role and advantages of forward air control. During the Second World War the RAAF Order of Battle included several Army Co-operation Squadrons specializing in target identification and reconnaissance, and by war's end some experience had been gained with the Royal Air Force (RAF) liaison officers attached to British land formations in Europe and the Middle-East. Further experience was gained through working with the Mosquito FACs in Korea, and again during the long Malayan Emergency, where a limited number of RAAF officers were trained as ground FACs by the RAF.

In 1961 the RAAF began training its own FACs. Eligibility for this training was restricted to experienced fighter pilots who had also completed the Australian Joint Warfare Course. Initially concentrating on producing ground FACs, the training syllabus was progressively developed to include airborne techniques using the CA-25 Winjeel trainer aircraft.

Between 1966 and 1971, 36 of these experienced fighter pilots served as FACs in various units of the USAF throughout South Vietnam.

RAAF participation in USAF FAC operations was an incidental by-product of Australia's general involvement in the Vietnam conflict and was the result of the personal initiative of a series of three individual officers initially sent into the theatre on other duties.

In 1965, as a result of bilateral discussion beginning as early as August 1962, an RAAF pilot, Wing Commander Vance Drummond, joined the Strike Plans Branch of the USAF 2nd Air Division's Tactical Air Control Centre at Tan Son Nhut. After some months with the TACC, this officer, with the support of the Deputy Director, sought opportunities to expand his knowledge of the Tactical Air Control System by working at the DASC at Bien Hoa, and after checking out in the O-1, by flying VR and FAC missions. After gaining further experience, he was transferred to the 19th TASS and spent the remainder of his tour as the ALO attached to the 25th ARVN Division in the Delta.

His replacement, Wing Commander Tony Powell, arrived in Vietnam in December 1966 and followed a similar path, beginning in the TACC at the now HQ 7th Air Force, progressing via DASC Alpha to the 504th TIS (Theatre Indoctrination School) at Binh Thuy and then into the FAC business for the last half of his tour, flying with the ROK 9th Division and finishing as ALO to the Australian Task Force (1ATF). While serving with the ATF, Powel proposed through channels that one of the FAC positions in the TACP be filled by a suitably experienced RAAF officer.

At about the same time, Squadron Leader Rex Ramsey, who had been posted to the Headquarters 1ATF as Officer in Charge of the Air Transport Operations Centre, found himself redundant after an establishment review reduced his position to Flight Lieutenant rank. Based on his earlier fighter experience, he volunteered through HQ RAAF Vietnam to serve the remainder of his tour as a FAC, and after the usual staff level consultations, his offer was gratefully accepted by the USAF. He completed the TIS and was assigned to 22nd TASS, flying with the TACP at Tra Vinh in the Four Corps area.

Meanwhile, RAAF HQ in Australia directed The Commander RAAF Forces in Vietnam (COMRAAFV) to informally approach the USAF about the possibility of attaching three RAAF pilots exclusively for FAC duties. HQ 7th Air Force welcomed this approach and formal agreement was quickly reached. In mid October 1967 the first group of three RAAF dedicated FACs, Flight Lieutenants Pete Smith and Tony Ford and Flying Officer Brian Fooks, arrived in country. Shortly thereafter, Tony Powell was replaced by Wing Commander Barry Thomas, who followed the TACC/DASC/FAC pattern of his predecessors.

As the table below indicates, eight more groups were to follow over the years until 1971, when all Australian forces and personnel withdrew from Vietnam.






Call Sign

Units Supported

Wing Commander Vance Drummond (decd) Jul 66- Nov 66 19 Unk. 25th ARVN
Wing Commander Tony Powell (deceased) Dec 66- Dec 67 19,21 Jade 01
Squadron Leader Rex Ramsey Jan 67-May 67 19 Ascot 09/Bart 97
1st Group
Flight Lieutenant Pete Smith Oct 67-Apr 68 19 Sidewinder 33/Drama 05
Flight Lieutenant Tony Ford Oct 67-Apr 68 19 Tamale 17
Flying Officer Brian Fooks Oct 67-Apr 68 19 Issue 05/Jade 0
Wing Commander Barry Thomas Dec 67-Nov 68 19 Thirsty 07/Rod 01
2nd Group
Flight Lieutenant Garry Cooper Apr 68 - Oct 68 19 Tamale 35
Flight Lieutenant Roger Wilson Apr 68 -Oct 68 19 Jade 07/Sidewinder 32
Flying Officer Mac Cottrell Apr 68 - Oct 68 19 Sidewinder 34
3rd Group
Flight Lieutenant Arthur Sibthorpe Oct 68-Apr 69 19 Issue 37/Tamale l5
Flight Lieutenant Ken Mitchell Oct 68-Apr 69 19 Sidewinder 32
Flying Officer Dick Kelloway Oct 68-May 69 19 Sidewinder 34/Nile 05
Wing Commander Peter Larard Nov 68-Nov 69 19 Sidewinder 31 /Jade 0l
4th Group
Flight Lieutenant Doug Riding Apr 69-Dec 69 19 Sidewinder 35/Slugger 35
Flying Officer Pete Condon Apr 69-Dec 69 19 Tamali 15/Slugger 23
Flying Officer Huck Ennis Apr 69-Dec 69 19 Tamale 23/Sidewinder 37
5th Group
Flying Officer Dave Robson Jun 69-Feb 70 19 Jade 07
Flight Lieutenant Chris Langton Jul 69-Mar 70 19 Slugger 13/Sidewinder 13
Flight Lieutenant Ron Slater Aug 69-Apr 70 19 Slugger 22
Squadron Leader Dave Owens (deceased) Sep 69-May 70 19 Drama 02/Slugger35
6th Group
Flight Lieutenant Bruce Searle (deceased) Nov 69-Jun 70 19 Slugger/Issue
Flight Lieutenant Dick Gregory Nov 69-Jun 70 19 1ssue 25/Drama 03
Flight Lieutenant Ray Butler Nov 69-Aug 70 19 Drama 02/lssue 23
Squadron Leader Graham Neil Nov 69- Oct 70 19 Slugger 23/Issue 21
7th Group
Flying Officer Barry Schulz Jan 70-Sep 70 19 Jade 07
Flying Officer Ken Semmler Feb 70-Oct 70 19 1ssue 28/Rash 38
Flight Lieutenant Jack Hayden Mar 70-Nov 70 20 Helix 15
8th Group
Flight Lieutenant Chris Hudnott Aug 70-Apr 71 19 Issue 27
Flight Lieutenant Frank Fry Sep 70-May 71 20 Helix 37
Flight Lieutenant Gavin Thoms Oct 70-Jun 71 20 Helix 15
Wing Commander Colin Ackland Oct 70-Oct 71 20 Helix 02/Helix 0l
9th Group
Flight Lieutenant Bruce Wood Apr 71-Dec 71 20 Helix 33
Flying Officer Bruce Mouatt Apr 71-Dec 71 20 Helix 24
Flying Officer Chris Mirow May 71-Dec 71 20 Helix 36
Squadron Leader Nobby Williams Jul 71-Dec 71 20 Bilk 02

At the end of his tour in Vietnam each Aussie FAC returned to resume his career in the RAAF. Over the years the number of Vietnam FACS remaining in the RAAF slowly dwindled as they resigned to pursue new civilian careers or reached retiring age for rank. Fourteen rose to the rank of Wing Commander, nine more to Group Captain and four to One, Two or Three Star rank. They achieved a total of 52 British Commonwealth and US gallantry awards between them. Altogether an impressive record for such a small group.

Tragically, two of the pioneers, Vance Drummond and Tony Powell, were killed in accidents shortly after their return from Vietnam. Bruce Searle and Dave Owens have since succumbed to illness. The 32 still vertical at the time of writing (November 2001) are in regular contact.