SAMPLE STORY MARCH-APRIL
Author’s name and call sign: Tim Eby,
Author’s unit: 20th TASS, 1970-71
Author’s mailing address: XXXXXXX,
Hico, TX 76457
Author’s phone number: XXXXXX
Author’s e-mail address: XXXXXXXX
Submittal date: 2/27/01
title of submittal: FACS AND
During my tour as a Covey FAC, the Navy and the Air Force had an informal exchange program. It allowed the Navy fighter pilots to fly in a FAC’s backseat for three days, and in return the FAC would go out to the aircraft carrier to fly in the backseat of the Navy F-4s for three days. Supposedly, we were each to benefit from the experience of seeing the mission from the other guy’s perspective.
The bureaucracies thwarted my attempts to go to the carrier, and I never saw a Navy fighter pilot at Pleiku. Likewise, no Air Force fighter pilots voluntarily submitted themselves to the indignity of our propeller-driven flight, save two, and they both “volunteered” under severe duress.
Pilots of high performance fighters operated from the assumption that
“speed is life.” In Vietnam they considered anyone who would fly in harm’s
way for several hours a day in a low and slow airplane without afterburners, let
alone equipped with propellers, to be quite suicidal.
High speeds have at least two consequences germane to this story.
The first consists of the much greater altitude required to pull out of a
dive, such as a bombing or strafing run. The
second consequence is that high speeds tend to produce straight lines and
predictable turn radii, in obedience to the laws of physics.
Gunners liked the laws of physics.
We slow flyers possessed a measure of unpredictability and
maneuverability that the fast fighters could not achieve.
Nevertheless, we FACs rarely met fighter pilots clamoring to go with us
on our missions.
During my tour, a wing of F-100s returned to the states.
The Air Force required their pilots with less than six months in country
to stay behind in various non-flying jobs.
Two of these hapless souls turned up at Pleiku as liaison officers,
assigned to II DASC, (pronounce “two-dask”, the II Corps Direct Air Support
Center), living with, and working for the Army.
For these supersonic fighter jocks, flying an Army desk was a fate worse
than death! They gravitated over to
our FAC hooches, where they could at least talk airplanes, and elicit sympathy
from us fellow pilots.
I never heard such whining and moaning about their terrible non-flying
fate--- before or since! They
complained so loudly and continuously that my sympathy soon turned to something
much less benevolent. In a friendly
attempt to quell the noise, I said, “Simple solution – my backseat is empty
tomorrow, who wants to go first?”
“Er…uh.” My offer was
met with much clearing of throats and hastily contrived excuses.
Day after day, though, the moaning continued unabated.
After three or four such exchanges, I got in their faces.
“Okay, you whiners, either you fly with me, or you shut up about your
desk jobs, got it?”
A dominant trait of fighter pilots is a preference for dying, rather than
being embarrassed. True to their character, they agreed that if one would, they
both would. They flipped a coin to
see who would go first.
Before dawn the next day the loser showed up to meet his fate.
As I fitted him with survival gear, I noticed in my friend a slight
trembling of hand and voice, and an unusual contrite spirit.
I briefed him on bailout procedures, and reminded him that our area of
operations contained no safe areas.
“Load your pistol with six rounds rather than the regulation five.
Here are some small grenades that the Special Forces guys gave me. Don’t let the safety officer see them. Our area is crawling with bad guys.”
As I familiarized him with the very subsonic backseat of the OV-10, I saw
that his eyes were as big as saucers, and that I had a truly fearful fighter
pilot on my hands.
Fortunately, that mission was quiet and uneventful. A beautiful morning
bathed the war zone over the Ho Chi Minh trail of Laos in pastel hues.
I don’t even remember drawing the usual fireworks.
By the time we returned to Pleiku, my passenger was quite elated at the
prospect of surviving.
A very relieved and relaxed fighter pilot crawled down from the cockpit
to the welcoming queries of his compadre. I
overheard bits of their conversation, which included phrases such as, “piece
of cake”, “no sweat”, and “we had it all wrong about these FACs”.
Fast-forward to my next dawn patrol and the next fighter pilot, who was
the cockier of the two. This one
was full of confidence and courage. No
trembles here, or signs of fear. As
we stepped to the OV-10, he said, “All right!
We launched off into a beautiful sunrise over the mountains, reveling in
the still, smooth morning air. My
thoughts celebrated the wonder. “What
a great day for flying!”
My fighter pilot pal was finally out from behind his desk, back in his
All the dancing on laughter - silvered wings was immediately forgotten,
however, as soon as we approached the Trail.
A chilling, desperate call on the FM radio brought me abruptly back to
“Covey, Covey, Covey, do you read?”
The voice belonged to the team leader of one of our Special Forces (SOG)
“Covey, we’re in deep trouble!”
He was winded from running.
“This is Covey 540, what’s going on down there?”
“We’ve been running for most of the night, we’re nearly surrounded,
and we’re completely lost.” He
paused to catch his breath.
“We’re in continues contact, we’ve got casualties, and
the bad guys are everywhere!” He
was shouting. “They’ve got us
completely surrounded now, GET US OUT OF HERE!”
The teams normally whispered on the radio, since their survival depended
on stealth. If they were shouting, it was a sure sign that they were
compromised, and in serious trouble. This
guy was yelling, and the desperation was evident in his voice.
Only another FAC can fully appreciate how busy I became at that moment.
I had to find the team and get lots of help immediately. While searching diligently from low altitude I was
transmitting and receiving on four radios.
On VHF: “Hillsboro, Covey 540, Prairie Fire Emergency, send fighters
right now, anything you’ve got. Rendezvous
is the Dog’s Head, hurry!”
An instantaneous flip of the transmitter selector to FM:
“Covey Alpha, alert the Prairie Fire bird, we have an emergency!”
while Hillsboro responded with fighter information.
As Covey Alpha was responding, another flick of the selector to UHF to
launch the Army helicopter assets from Dak To, twenty miles east, while copying
the incoming fighter lineup from Hillsboro on the canopy in grease pencil.
Meanwhile, the team leader was giving me urgent instructions from the
sound of my engines. “Turn right Covey, turn right!
You just went past us to the east!”
Only during such moments is the human brain capable of assimilating so
much input. I was talking on one
radio while simultaneously absorbing critical information on three others;
flying on the treetops, map reading, and coordinating strategy.
“NOW, NOW, NOW, Covey, you just passed right over us!”
Then the most desperate call of all came through my earphones: “Covey,
here they come, they’re coming in for the kill, I’m popping smoke – strafe
me –strafe my position!” The sound of automatic weapons on rapid fire provided a
chilling background to his transmission.
Additional adrenaline pumped through my body.
My hair stood up. The enemy
could also hear the sound of my engines, and knew that big bombs would be coming
soon. They needed to overrun the
team quickly, and depart.
I tried to pop up as high as possible for a vertical strafe pass.
The OV-10 was armed with four M-60 machine guns-- hardly enough wallop to
do much damage shooting at an angle through thick triple canopy jungle.
When things became serious, I preferred to shoot straight down.
This was serious.
My little airplane clawed for altitude.
I called, “Tally your smoke. Confirm
that you want Covey to strafe your position?”
The answer was immediate “There are more of them than us, so shoot!
Shoot! Shoot now!”
My little steed rotated just short of a stall at 3500 ft above the
ground; just at the minimum altitude an F-100 would need for recovery in order
to miss the ground. I pulled the
power to idle so that the props would act like speed brakes.
I hung in the air going straight down, firing all my guns at once.
My machine guns clattered like erratic snare drums.
The trees grew bigger in the windscreen.
As I kicked the rudders back and forth to spread the joy around on the
ground, my over-saturated brain began to register some very strange sounds in my
earphones. Amongst the urgent radio
calls, the guns clattering, and the pleading from the team, my intense mental
concentration almost, but not quite blocked out a strange, unexplained sound.
What IS that? It’s like
the wail of a stricken animal! Or
from deep down in the gut of a very scared…Holy Cow!
I had completely forgotten about my cocky fighter pilot passenger!
The trees seemed to be practically inside the windscreen.
I snatched the stick back and crammed the power in, slapping on five or
six instantaneous gs.
The little OV-10’s nose snapped up and we cleared the treetops,
hopefully with no green stains on the belly tank.
Quite a few more minutes passed before the situation on the ground
stabilized and we had a chance to talk.
Finally, in a weak and shaky voice he said, ”I was completely sure that
you were going to kill me. I
grabbed for the ejection handle but missed, because at that instant you snatched
the stick and produced that heavy, instant g load.
My hand hit my crotch instead.”
At that, my blood ran cold, my knees got weak, and I had the most
frightening moment of the whole engagement.
You idiot! You came
within a split second of causing your worst nightmare—an unauthorized
passenger punching out of your airplane over a desperate firefight in Laos.
(Where there wasn’t even any ground war, right?)
He would have hung in his parachute in the trees, a helpless target, as
well as a major impediment to the air strikes necessary for saving the team.
My hands trembled. Would
the force of his ejection have been enough to push me into the trees in my
I don’t remember much about the rest of that mission.
I do remember that neither of our fighter pilot friends ever went flying
with a FAC again—or uttered another word of complaint about their non-flying
What became of the SOG team? Eventually
another Covey FAC and the Army helicopter assets successfully extracted them
with their dead and wounded. My
strafing had broken the enemy’s immediate attack, and heavy air strikes kept
them at bay until the extraction.
Did my strafing cause any of the friendly casualties?
I don’t know. I didn’t ask.
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