Peter Condon (Royal Australian Air Force), Forward Air Controller

Running time
2 min 27 sec
Copyright
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Peter Condon was a fighter pilot with the Royal Australian Air Force who found himself flying in Vietnam as a forward air controller, directing air attacks in support of ground troops.

Transcript

"There were about two hundred and thirty forward air controllers killed in the Vietnam War. I would say it was probably the most dangerous occupation in Vietnam - in the air anyway."

Peter Condon served in Vietnam as a Forward Air Controller, even though he was a fighter pilot.

"We were all fighter pilots. It was quite important that they had experience at attacking the ground themselves, firing the cannons at the ground, dropping bombs on the ground and things like that."

FACs flew slow, low-altitude aircraft and directed attacks by far faster jet fighters. In Vietnam, they were essential.

"You couldn't navigate. The pilots couldn't bomb a latitude and longitude because they'd never find it from high speed aeroplanes. So you needed someone there really to point out where the target is."

Working with the USAF 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron, Peter flew a Cessna 01 Bird Dog, a civilian plane sometimes called 'the jeep with wings'.

"Going from one of the fastest aeroplanes in the world which was the Mirage 3 into a United States Air Force Cessna 01 Bird Dog was a bit of a surprise. You're almost as big as the plane. It was a bit of a stretch stepping into the aeroplane. The side windows clipped up under the wing, and in those days I smoked so that was an ashtray."

When ground troops were under attack, it was the FACs they called in.

"And you get overhead and you talk to the guy who's in conflict. You tell him that you've got the fighters coming. And then you go through the process of working out where the good guys are, where the bad guys are and how to do it. If the friendly forces were very close to the enemy, you'd get the guys on the ground to mark their positions with coloured smoke.

And when that was done and the fighter pilots could see the coloured smoke, the forward air controller would roll in and fire a white phosphorous rocket at the enemy location and also point out the coloured smoke of the friendly forces, and if the fighter pilot could see both, the forward air controller cleared him in to bomb. It was a pretty important job and I was 23 at the time. So it was a big responsibility.

I was happy with what I did at the time, sometimes I wonder if I killed some good people. But I can't do much about that."

FACs saved many American lives and Peter still proudly wears a memento of that time.

The badge here on my lapel is 1 Unites States 1st Infantry Division badge. It's 'The Big Red One'. It's one of the famous United States divisions. I wore it today so that people in America could see it when they go to this Education Centre in Washington.

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