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The HGU-7/P "FAC Helmet" controversy


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Curious to hear other opinions on these helmets. I had an interesting 'debate' with a guy at a flea market, last weekend. I dared to opine that the HGU-7 was actually intended for transport aircraft crews -- C-130/C-141, etc -- and wasn't used by FAC pilots.

 

Got the standard "you don't know what you're talking about" response and that "everyone knows these were used by FAC pilots in Vietnam".

 

I know a couple of guys who were actually issued these helmets in the mid-1960s and they were C-141 and C-130 guys. This, of course, doesn't mean issue was restricted to just those airframes. It merely reflects the known users I am aware of.

 

So, my conversation continues with a question to the guy -- "If these are FAC pilot helmets, how come there aren't pictures of them being used?"

 

Response: "there are hundreds of them. I've seen them."

 

My response: "Could you please show me or send me a link to a photo?" Dude whips out his i-Pad and starts looking. Comes up with nothing. I offer up some search words that I've used and we collectively come up with some additional search terms -- again, nothing.

 

The result didn't surprise me. I've been skeptical of the whole "FAC helmet" thing from the beginning. As a helmet, it's total unsuited for use in a tactical aircraft - even the lowly Bird Dog.

 

Most photos of Bird Dog pilots do not show the helmet used. A couple show the HGU-2 style helmet (the green ones could be AFH-1s?) in use. Quite a few show what appear to be HGU_2 style helmets hanging in the cockpits but teh majority are just pilots in flight suits standing outside the aircraft.

 

The Army didn't use HGU-7s -- at least I've not found a reference or photo indicating otherwise.

 

Digging around, the whole FAC helmet myth (my term) seems to revolve around an obscure 1970s publication purportedly showing a RNVAF pilot (student) wearing one. I've not seen the photo so no idea what aircraft was involved, where the photo was taken, etc

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here ya' go.....link to video showing use of the hgu-7 in FAC aircraft in Vietnam

 

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=ov-10+fac+vietnam&&view=detail&mid=AE4B10DFC406002CD8E2AE4B10DFC406002CD8E2&FORM=VRDGAR

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There is an image in a Vietnam War book series that shows a USAF O-1 pilot wearing a HGU-7/P. It is possible that the very

early HGU-7/P helmets were made from fiberglass. I once saw a USAF manual that had a photo of a HGU-7/P with a

USAF wing style decal on the front. This photo was used as a reference on how and where to install a snap on each

side of the HGU-7/P helmet for use with the nuclear flash protective goggles. This manual was probably from the

early to mid 1960s.

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That video is the first Ive seen of them worn by a FAC pilot. They very well could have been used by them at times but Ive more seen regular HGU-2's and such worn by Nam FACs Ive seen a bunch of footage of 130 guys wearing the HGU-7. I wouldn't specifically label it as a FAC helmet. I much would have lathered the actual protection of a full HGU helmet if I ended up going down in that triple canopy jungle than that dinky little baseball like helmet. I bought one of those helmets out of impulse a few years back, never really cared for it in my collection. The value of them and interest has tanked it seems.

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Just seems that almost every one of these listed is from 'a former FAC pilot'. I've been a member of several FAC veteran groups and this topic has come up every once in a blue moon. Of the members of these groups, none recall ever seeing or wearing one.

 

Regarding the video, I have some questions. Produced in 1968 but the aircraft are not USAF aircraft -- at least not marked the way O-1s were marked -- suggesting they are being used by other-than-military oraganizations. Compare against this 1967 video in which all the USAF markings are present (0:51 mark). If not military, then the guy with the HGU-7 is possibly a civilian.

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You don't know what you're talking about Chris! haha That other video was titled Sparrow Hawks, I was thinking maybe being unmarked they were like a Ravens deal but USAF for going outside of Vietnam? Did you ever do any FAC stuff in the Warthog?

 

My father traded rides with an O-2A FAC pilot when he was in Nam for a ride in his OH-6. They shot some willie petes then F-4s came in after. My father wore his APH-5 or SPH-4 in it, he wasn't sure which he had at the time. When I had bought the HGU-7 I was thinking about restoring the fitting pads and ear cup parts to usable condition and using it when I flew in GA aircraft just for giggles. Never got around to that. I have one of the quick don MBU-5s that can attach to it as well.

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Re: Ravens: I initially thought the same thing when looking at the video. The part I don't get is that the second pilot (the one with the HGU-2) is obviously a USAF by virtue of his flight cap. The guy with the HGU-7 is presumed to be military but I couldn't make out anything definitive on his cap (which appears to be the standard hot weather field cap).

 

As the O-2s, OV-10s, and OA-37s were retired in the late 1980s/early 1990s, other platforms assumed the FAC role, including the OA-10.

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I meant to add this to my original. My opinion on the HGU-7 is that it was not a "FAC Helmet" - ie not designed specifically for those performing the FAC role. Given the number offered for sale over the years, there would have been thousands of FAC pilots wearing these in Vietnam. So where are the photos?

The more likely scenario is that aircrew who had been issued one potentially brought them into the FAC world on an individual basis.

 

As to the "Sparrow Hawk" video: certainly a Bird Dog pilot wearing one (making it technically a FAC-worn helmet) although the organization owning/operating the aircraft is potentially CIA rather than USAF. The presence of the second pilot, wearing USAF flight cap and wearing the issue HGU-2 muddies the waters as to where this video was filmed. Possibly this is a Raven aircraft operating in Vietnam as part of training for recent volunteers?

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It may not have been the "issued helmet" or widespread use but the fact remains....these were FAC helmets.

RIP Molly...Oct. 2000 - July 2013 For 13 years you have been my best friend and companion, giving love and asking only for love in return. May you rest now, free from your pain. I will miss you girl, and will keep you in my heart forever....the sweetest dog and best friend ever! I'll see you again one day.


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I think referring to these as "FAC Helmets" does a great disservice to collectors. The term suggests/implies that these were an issue item to FAC pilots. Photographs do not support these being used beyond personal preference by someone who had access to one. I would defer to veteran FAC pilots for the answers and the FAC veterans I'm acquainted with have no recollection of these being issued or worn.

I will concede that the video and photo suggest they were worn in those two instances but we do not know the affiliations of either of the pilots. The pilot in Sparrow Hawk video is not identifiable as a military pilot (and they're operating unmarked aircraft) -- unlike his USAF companion who is clearly wearing the standard HGU-2.
The book photo is largely devoid of anything indicating whether the pilot is military or a contractor or even when/where the photo was taken (perhaps the caption provides additional info? I don't have a copy of the book). As an aside, the book photo is reversed.The pitot tube on a Bird Dog is on the left wing, not the right.

If the actual helmet worn in the video or the book photo were to turn up, I would be okay with referring to them as HGU-7s used by this particular O-1 pilot. The fact that nearly every HGU-7 sold in the past 6 months has been sold as a FAC helmet is troubling? This is exactly how myth becomes entrenched, incorrect fact.

I think we've set the bar pretty low here. I have a photo of an A-1 pilot wearing an A-11 helmet. Am I now safe to refer to my unissued A-11s as ultra-rare "Vietnam SAR pilot helmets"?

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hink 441: Yes. Very interesting photo. Probably the most relevant to this discussion. This photo is captioned as being from 1966. Points of interest to me: the pilot is clearly USAF. The aircraft is clearly marked as a USAF aircraft (as opposed to the unmarked aircraft in the video). The observer is clearly US Army.

I'm continuing to receive replies from FAC veterans groups (~70 as of this morning). A couple of recollections of seeing these on C-130s but nothing during their time on FAC squadrons. OV-10 guys were adamant that they would not have been allowed to wear them due to having ejection seats.

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Why do you say the picture of the second person is clearly Army? He could be USAF because he has a 38 and dump pouches on his web belt just like I wore.

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Why do you say the picture of the second person is clearly Army? He could be USAF because he has a 38 and dump pouches on his web belt just like I wore.

Also the ball cap was worn in the AF and the officer appears to have rank insignia on both collars in lieu of branch insiginia on the left worn by the Army

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The branch tape appears to be short the requisite number of letter to spell out US AIR FORCE , vs US ARMY -- at least to me. The Army has some branch insignia that can look very similar to oak leaves. These are Army Bird Dog pilots, circa 1967.

Not sure when USAF switched to subdued nametapes but many jungle jackets I've seen have the tapes mounted angled to match the pockets. US Army mostly had them horizontal although there were periods of confusion where you'll also see them angled, too.

 

Sidearm for Army aviation is also the .38 revolver

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O-1-bird-dog-vietnam.jpg

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The image that Red Crown posted appears to be the same photo that I saw in the Vietnam War book series that I mentioned

above. The book Vietnam Warbirds in Action by Dana Bell has an image of a C-141 aircraft commander or pilot wearing a

HGU-7/P.

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I know nothing about the HGU-7, but I do know several guys who were FACs in Vietnam before meeting Steve Canyon and jumping the fence to become Ravens. Want me to ask them what they wore? I just need a good photo of the helmet in question to show them.

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MattS: I'd be interested to hear a Raven's response. Here's the helmet. Source: Bell's Aviation

Image_20141221_DSCN4350_600w.JPG

While it's obvious that at least a couple of guys wore the HGU-7 -- can't refute the above photos -- my contention is that the helmet has not been proven (as yet) to have been an issue item of flying gear specifically for FAC pilots. And, despite their rarity (in period photos), these helmets are nearly universally referred to, and sold as, FAC helmets.

One needn't look very far to find all manner of oddities being worn. This doesn't mean these oddities were the norm.

I've asked within the FAC organizations I'm a member of to see if anyone recognizes the guys in the photos. A direct response from someone who wore one would settle the matter.

Possibilities:
1. something of a fad in a particular squadron at a particular period of time?
2. trial item?

3. previously issued item brought into the FAC realm and regulated out of use (safety issue)?

4. Issued item subsequently withdrawn from use?

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Directly from a well known Raven pilot, "My IP at FAC school (July- August 1968) at Hurlburt Field (Holley aux field) wore one of these. They were called “polo hats” at the time. They had a short time in the inventory because in accidents they tended to shear off the top of the pilot’s head. I don’t know of their use in Vietnam."

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From another Raven,

 

 

This is an official AF newsreel style video made in 1970. I was a non applicant walk on extra. I wore a full helmet but the pilot
in charge of my check out in the O-1 wore the style you asked about.

 

Raven ## Pakse, 1970

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MattS: Thanks for your replies.

 

Still lingering questions. The video link you provided was produced in 1968 (it's in the opening couple of seconds) but we really don't know when the footage was shot. It could be from anytime up to 1968 but could not be from 1970. Moot point as the helmet can clearly be seen. My question is the same as earlier -- if these are Raven aircraft, other than their pay (for USAF personnel) they operated completely outside the control of USAF, carried no USAF ID, did not wear USAF uniforms, and (theoretically) could wear whatever they wanted. Again, this doesn't refute the helmet seen it simply questions whether it's a personal item chosen vs a helmet specifically issued to FAC pilots.

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