Brigadier General Robert Olds
Robert Olds Robin Olds © USAF
© USAF

Air Force CrossAir Force Distinguished Service Medal
Silver StarLegion Of MeritDistinguished Flying Cross
Air MedalAir MedalAir Medal
Air Force Commendation MedalAir Force Presidential Unit CitationOutstanding Unit Reward
American Defense Service MedalAmerican Campaign MedalEuropean African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal WWII Victory MedalNational Defense Service MedalVietnam Service Medal Air Force Longevity Service AwardSmall Arms Expert Marksmanship RibbonDistinguished Service Cross UK French Croix De GuerreVietnam Distinguished Service Order Second ClassVietnam Air Gallantry Medal Vietnam Air Service MedalVietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation MedalRepublic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Units: 434th FS, 479th FG
WWII score: 13 aerial kills
1 damaged in the air
11 strafing kills
Born: Honolulu, Hawaii, July 14th, 1922
Rank: Brigadier General
Medals: * Air Force Cross
* Air Force Distinguished Service Medal 1 OLC
* Silver Star 3 OLC
* Legion of Merit
* Distinguished Flying Cross 5 OLC
* Air Medal 40 OLC
* Air Force Commendation Medal
* Presidential Unit Citation 4 OLC
* Outstanding Unit Reward 4 OLC
* American Defense Service Medal
* American Campaign Medal
* European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal 6 OLC
* WWII Victory Medal
* National Defense Service Medal 1 OLC
* Vietnam Service Medal 2 OLC
* Air Force Longevity Service Award 6 OLC
* Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon
* Distinguished Service Cross UK
* French Croix De Guerre 5 OLC
* Vietnam Distinguished Service Order Second Class
* Vietnam Air Gallantry Medal
* Vietnam Air Service Medal
* Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Medal
* Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Aircraft: P-38J, L2-W
"Scat"

P-38J-15, L2-W
SN: 43-28707
"Scat II"

P-38J-15, L2-W
SN: 43-28341
"Scat III"

P-51D-10, L2-W
SN: 44-14426

"Scat 5"

P-51K-5, L2-W
SN: 44-11746
"Scat VI"

P-51D-25NA, L2-W
SN: 44-72922

"Scat VII "

   
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After the war

When the war was over, Robin Olds returned to the States and briefly took the position as an assistant football coach at West Point, but chafed at the idea of missing the new jets entering service. He arranged a transfer to the 412th FG at March Field, California, in February of 1946, in order to fly the P-80 Shooting Star. Here, he began a career long struggle with superiors he viewed as more promotion than warrior minded. He more than once lost favour with his superiors for not fitting their vision of a commander. The Air Force stated that air warfare in the future would involve missiles and nuclear weapons, but Olds argued for cannons and conventional bombs.

Instead of networking with other officers in order to further his carreer, he chose instead to focus on the men under his command. When assigned to superiors who had not proven themselves in combat, he showed them no respect. This would remain a constant throughout his entire career and also explains why he finished service in WWII as a major, but had only risen to the rank of Colonel some 20 years later.

While based at March Field, he met Hollywood actress and pin-up girl Ella Raines.

In April of 1946, Olds and Lt. Col. John C. “Pappy” Herbst (WWII ace in the CBI) formed what could be considered as the Air Force's first jet aerobatic demonstration team (forerunners to the USAF Thunderbirds). In May, the 412th FG was ordered to undertake “Project Comet”, a nine-city transcontinental mass formation flight. Olds and Herbst performed a two-ship acro routine that thrilled the crowds on every stop.

Olds was also one of the four pilots who participated in the first one-day, dawn-to-dusk, transcontinental roundtrip jet flight from March Field to Washington DC.

That same year, he also finished second in the jet stage of the Thompson Trophy Race of the Cleveland National Air Races at Brook Park, Ohio.


Top right: Hollywood actress Ella Raines - Above: Robin Olds (middle) with other members of the P-80 demonstration team in 1946

He married Ella Raines in Beverly Hills on February 6th , 1947, and later had two daughters (Christina and Susan) and a son (Robert Ernest).

The next phase in his career was as an exchange pilot to the RAF in 1948, flying No. 1 Squadron's Gloster Meteors. He went on to become the first foreigner to command the British Squadron in 1949.

When he returned to the states, he was assigned to command the 71st Fighter Squadron, which was an Air Defence Command Unit, stationed at Greater Pittsburg Airport, Pennsylvania. Obviously, with a war going on in Korea, Olds was not thrilled by protecting the US from Soviet Bombers when fellow airmen were bagging MiGs in Korea.

He was reportedly in the midst of resigning from the Air Force when he was talked out of it by Maj. Gen. Fredric H. Smith Jr., who arranged for him to work at Eastern Air Defence Command HQ at Stewart.

Olds was promoted to Lt. Col. on February 20th , 1951, and full Colonel on April 15th , 1953, which made him eligible to command a group, but the war was already winding down and he missed out on the Korean War completely.

He returned to flying in October of 1955, at first on the command staff of the 86th Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Landstuhl Air Base, Germany, flying F-86s, until August 10th , 1956.

He was assigned to administrative and staff duty at the Pentagon between 1958 and 1962, where he waged a notably unsuccessful campaign to keep guns in new fighter aircraft. He also offered the idea of using Douglas Skyraiders as close air support aircraft. An idea which was later used in the Vietnam War.

He attended the National War College, graduating in 1963.

Next up, on September 8th , 1963, he again assumed command of a Fighter Wing, this time the 81st TFW at RAF Bentwaters, UK, flying F-101 Voodoo fighter-bombers. He commanded the 81st TFW until July 26th , 1965.

Apparently, Olds had formed an F-101 demo team using pilots of his wing, but without proper command authorisation, and performed at locales in Europe. At the edge of being court-martialed, the commanding General of USAFE, Gabriel P. Disosway, instead removed him from command of the 81st TFW, cancelled his recommendation for a Legion of Merit award and had him transferred to Shaw AFB in South Carolina.

 

A fighter pilot once again

In 1966, Olds was assigned to the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona for replacement training in the F-4C Phantom. His instructor was Maj. William L. Kirk, who had been one of Olds' pilots at RAF Bentwaters and who later commanded the USAFE as a full General. Kirk also accompanied Olds to George AFB, California, for training in the use of the AIM-7 Sparrow missile.

At last, Robin Olds, got exactly what he wanted when he got the challenge to give some spark to the USAF's unsuccessful air combat forces in Southeast Asia, and assume command of an air-to-air Fighter Wing. When he left for Vietnam, he was infamous, when he returned he had become a legend.


Olds with Scat XXVII

As he had foretold during his time in the Pentagon, the Air Force's missile-armed fighters, designed to shoot down targets at long range, were ill-equipped to counter hit-and-run attacks by small, nimble North Vietnamese MiGs. When the jets were able to fire their missiles, poor reliability meant the weapons often failed to work. Fighter crews became disheartened by their lack of success and commanders often remained distant from their men and were not interested in combat.

On September 30th , 1966, Olds took command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, also known as “The Wolfpak”, based at Ubon Royal Thai AFB in Thailand. At that time, the 8th TFW had attained a meagre kill-loss ratio in which they barely broke even with Hanoi's MiGs, peaking at a 2-1 exchange rate. He arrived in Thailand low key en went through the normal in-processing like any other newbie would. He paid close attention and spoke little.

When he reached command, he knew all he needed to know and began cleaning house. First he cut loose the deadwood, the ticket-punchers and careerists whose only goal was to get through their tour and return home. Second, he began learning the way the Wolfpack did business and improved upon its ways.

Olds' predecessor seldom flew combat (only 12 mission during the 10 months in which the Wing had been engaged in Vietnam), he would fly 154 missions during his one-year tour. The 44-year old Colonel set the tone by immediately placing himself on the flight schedule as a rookie pilot under officers junior to himself and challenged them to train him before he would lead them.

In December he was re-united with Col. Chappie James and together, they again became an effective combat team which earned them the nickname “Blackman and Robin”.

Old was flying against enemy pilots probably half his age, but came into his own and took the war over North Vietnam in an F-4C Vietnam he nicknamed (in keeping with the tradition of his previous aircraft) Scat XXVII.

Morale boosted under his command and when he left, the Wing's kill ratio stood at 4-1.

He demanded that aircrews rose to his standards and praised them when they did. After hours, he joined them in the Officers' Club, and discussed and exchanged ideas.

 

Operation Bolo

During the last months of 1966, the MiG-21s of the VPAF became very active and successful in intercepting the F-105 Thunderchief formations of the USAF, so a plan had to be come up with. The reason therefore was that F-105s were equipped with radar jamming pods in October of 1966, effectively diminishing their losses to surface-to-air missiles. Because the F-4s lacked such pods, SAM attacks shifted to them. The Air Force, in its wisedom, restricted their range to the edge of SAM coverage in Vietnam. This meant that, once passed this border, the bomb-laden Thuds were virtually unprotected. Analysts in Hanoi became experts at that time in identifying the more vulnerable F-105s from the Phantoms, because of their distinct radio frequencies, call signs, formations and routes. MiG interceptions increased as a result, which used high speed hit-and-run tactics.

Olds opted the idea of an ambush to higher command and as a result a plan was devised to draw the MiGs into an aerial trap. Operation Bolo was created.

The plan was to equip F-4s with the same jamming pods as used on the F-105s, also using their callsigns and communication codewords and flying their flight profiles through northwest Vietnam, thus simulating an F-105 bombing mission. The mission was in effect on January 2nd , 1967. In the first hours of the evening 14 flights of F-4C Phantoms of the 8th TFW (4 aircraft each) took off from Ubon AFB in Thailand towards the VPAF airfields in Hanoi, pretending to be F-105s.

The scheme worked. The Vietnamese MiGs came up, but instead of jumping a bombing group of F-105, they found a group of hungry Phantoms.

Olds takes us through the mission of that day: “The battle started when the MiGs began to get out of the cloud cover. Unfortunately for me, the first one appeared in my ‘six o'clock'. I think it was more a accident than a planned tactic. As a matter of fact, in the next few minutes other many MiGs started to exit from the clouds from different positions.

I was lucky. The flight behind me saw the MiG and tried to divert its attention. I broke to the left, sharply enough to get away of his line of fire, hoping that my wingman would take care of him. Meanwhile another MiG came out of the clouds, turning widely about my '11 o'clock' at a distance of 2,000 yards. He went into the clouds again and I tried to follow.”

Olds fired two Sparrows and one Sidewinder at the MiG, but the enemy pilot showed his skills, avoiding all of them and then flew into the clouds and escaped. Olds continues:

“A third enemy plane appeared in my "10 o'clock", from the left to the right: in simple words, almost in the opposite direction. The first MiG zoomed away and I engaged the afterburner to get in an attack position against this new enemy. I reared up my aircraft in a 45 degree angle, inside his turn. He was turning to the left, so I pulled the stick and barrel-rolled to the right.

Thanks to this maneuver, I found myself above him, half upside down. I held it until the MiG finished his turn, calculating the time so that, if I could keep on turning behind him, I would get on his tail, with a deflection angle of 20 degrees, at a distance of 1,500 yards. That was exactly what happened. He never saw me. Behind and lower than him, I could clearly see his silhoutte against the sun when I launched two Sidewinders. One of them impacted and tore apart his right wing.”

That day, the F-4s claimed seven MiG-21s destroyed, almost half of the 16 then in service with the VPAF. Olds managed to get a kill himself, making him the fist pilot to score kills in both WWII and the Vietnam War.

Similar missions in the next few days resulted in another two MiGs destroyed. Vietnamese fighter activity decreased to almost nothing ten weeks afterwards, thereby accomplishing the main goal of Operation Bolo: to eliminate the threat of MiGs to the strike formations.

Colonel Olds destroyed another MiG-21 over Phuc Yen on May 4th , and two weeks later, destroyed two MiG-17s, bringing his total to 17 confirmed kills (later adjusted to 16) and thus making him a triple-ace over both wars.

Sources claim that, during the remainder of his tour, Olds passed up on downing another enemy aircraft because he had learned that 7th AF would immediately relieve him of command as a symbolic hero if he would have made ace in the Vietnam War. It wasn't until July of 1972 that another USAF pilot surpassed his Vietnam score.

He was awarded a third Silver Star for leading a low-level bombing strike on March 30th , 1967 and the Air Force Cross for an attack on the Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi on August 11th .

He remained contemptuous of the Air Force's attitude toward air combat, exclaiming, "The best flying job in the world is a MiG-21 pilot at Phuc Yen. Heck, if I was one of them I'd have got 50 of us !"

Robin Olds had flown a combined 259 combat missions (107 in WWII and 152 in Southeast Asia) and F-4C Phantom “Scat XXVII” was retired from operational service and placed on display at the National Museum of the USAF at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

It was during his time in Vietnam that Olds' extravagant, waxed and non-regulation handlebar moustache appeared, worn as an act of defiance and individuality. Olds later said about his moustache: Generals visiting Vietnam would kind of laugh at the mustache. I was far away from home. It was a gesture of defiance. The kids on base loved it. Most everybody grew a mustache.”

Upon his return home however, he discovered that not everyone was fond of his flamboyance. When he reported to his first interview with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. McConnell (a former Strategic Air Command planner and commander), McConnell walked up to him, stuck a finger under his nose and said, “Take it off.” Olds replied, “Yes, sir.”

After Vietnam, Olds was promoted to Brigadier General, but he would not hold another major command and spent the remainder of his carreer in non-operational positions.

He was assigned commandant of cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in December of 1967, and would remain there for the next three years.

After Colorado Springs, in February of 1971, he began his last duty assignment as director of aerospace safety in the Office of the Inspector General, Headquarters USAF, to finish his career. When the Vietnam War heated up again in 1972, his four MiG kills were still the US record.

When Operation Linebacker began in May of 1972, American fighter jets returned to the offensive in the skies over North Vietnam for the first time in nearly four years. Navy and Marine Corps fighters, benefitting from their Top Gun program, immediately enjoyed considerable success. Olds made a brief return to Vietnam on an inspection trip to determine why USAF pilots were being outscored by the Navy in air-to-air combat. The Navy obtained a 12-1 kill ratio at that time, while the USAF struggled to keep parity.

He discovered what he had feared: that the Air Force fighter crews had lost so much of the motivation he'd imported that they “couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag”. He volunteered to return to the war and even offered to take a reduction to Colonel for a chance at a fifth MiG, but his request was turned down. As a result, Robin Olds filed his retirement papers on June 1st , 1973.



In March of 2007, Olds was hospitalized in Colorado for complications of prostate cancer and he passed away on the evening of June 14 th , 2007 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Upon his burial, he was honored with a flyover of a P-51, two T-33s, a MiG-17, four F-16s and a missing man formation by F-4 Phantoms in Vietnam-era markings. He was given full military services at the USAF Academy on June 30th , where his ashes are also kept.


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