Robin Olds

Thud Driver Beats Robin Olds to the MiG Kill

Norman F. Conant, Jr., sent me an email message that contained a Robin Olds story.  It is David B. Waldrop’s story of the day over North Vietnam when he and his F-105 Thunderchief shot down two MiGs, one of which was moments away from becoming then Col. Robin Olds’ 5th MiG kill.  Here’s Norm’s story:

“About 10 years ago when I was a MD-11 copilot at Delta, I set out on a trip to Tokyo from Atlanta. There were two full crews in the cockpit. The captain I was paired with was a very nice, slender, unassuming guy. We flew the 14 hours in and out of breaks talking about various subjects including both of our backgrounds in fighter aviation. Turns out he was a Thud driver in Vietnam. All four of us were former military with both copilots being current Guard/Reservist and the other captain a Navy pilot in Viet Nam.

Upon reaching the hotel in Tokyo, it was decided that we would adjourn to the crew lounge with the beer vending machine for a cold one. The Navy pilot was anxious to get my captain speaking about the old days for some reason. Finally, Dave Waldrop relented and told us the story about his phone call from then Col. Robin Olds. [Note: This is the way I remember the story. Reality may be nothing close, or maybe a reasonable facsimile thereof. Fortunately for me, I don’t GAS (give a shit).]

Dave said that he was heading North in a large formation of Thuds. They had been told on several missions during that time frame that they were supposed to have F-4’s show up at some point, but it was hit or miss if they did. Just South of Hanoi, he looked over and saw a MiG closing in behind one of the other aircraft in the flight. He shouted in the radio for the Thud to break right for a MiG. This caused the entire alpha strike to break right with many cleaning off the jets. Dave’s gunsight light didn’t work so, just as I had done on occasion years later in my F-4, he had made a grease pencil mark for the estimated mil depression of his planned drop angle and altitude. Not very useful on this occasion.

Instead, he closed on the MiG and filled his wind screen up with MiG before pulling the trigger. The MiG blew up and he was going to fly through the debris causing him to pull up hard and fly into the overcast. The 1Lt was on one hand very exhilarated to have just shot down a MiG, but on the other hand, he was currently upside down in the clouds having to ease his way back into the VMC world with pure chaos below him. He said that he eased his way out of the clouds after what seemed like a long time (may have been seconds) and as he gained visual to the fight. He was still upside down, canopy to canopy with another MiG- only slightly behind the MiG who didn’t see him. He pulled the power back and eased the nose over while righting the ship. Again, he filled the wind screen up with MiG and pulled the trigger. Another MiG blew up in front of him. The fight was over as fast as it started and 1Lt Dave Waldrop flew back to his base in Thailand as fast as he could.

Back at the base, while partying and debriefing, Dave got the message that there was a phone call he had to take. When he got to the phone, a deep gruff voice said, “Waldrop, are you the SOB who got my MiG?” Dave said, “I don’t know what you mean sir?” Then the man introduced himself as Col. Robin Olds and went on to explain that he was arriving at the melee at the same time as the MiG’s and quickly found a MiG to hunt down. As he was about to let an AIM-9 fly, some crazy bastard in a Thud comes out of the clouds upside down right in the same field of view of the sidewinder! Col. Olds congratulated the 1Lt and hung up. Later Col. Olds even had to vouch for the kill when the Air Force didn’t want to credit it to Dave. That MiG would have been Col. Olds 5th kill in Viet Nam making him an ace and the only double ace including WWII and Viet Nam. It also could have been a Thud that was shot down had Olds shot the missile a second or two earlier! Col. Olds never got another chance for that 5th kill.”

See an August 27, 1967, newspaper story about Lt. Waldrop’s MiG kills.

2012-04-07T10:12:40-07:00By |3 Comments

Rockin’ Robin

I just finished reading Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds, edited by his daughter Christina along with Ed Rasimus. When my daughter Kim sent it to me for Father’s Day, she had no idea that I had a long association with General Olds.

In the fall of 1967, I was beginning my second year as a cadet at the Air Force Academy. Then Colonel Olds arrived at USAFA to become the commandant of cadets. He took over from BGen Ted Seith, a well respected bomber pilot. Olds brought the swagger and bravado of a fighter pilot to the cadet wing. The change was palpable. General Olds would remain commandant for the remainder of my schooling, nearly three years.

Robin Olds, who died four years ago at age 85, lived a story-book life. He really was “larger than life.” His father Robert was an aviation pioneer from the WW I era so the boy grew up in the company of airpower greats like Hap Arnold, Billy Mitchell, and Tooey Spaatz. Naturally he wanted to follow in their footsteps.

That led 18 year old Robin to West Point in the summer of 1940. Because of the war, his class would graduate a year early in June 1943 and by that time, he had earned his pilot wings during summer training. He also played football, earning All American honors in 1942 as a tackle (he played at 6’2”, 205). Years later, he would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

The reason Olds attended West Point was to obtain a regular commission and become a fighter pilot which he accomplished. His first fighter was the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The P-38 flew primarily in the Pacific theater, but Olds’ group, the 479th went to England to join the 8th Air Force. He became an ace (5 enemy kills) in the P-38 before his group transitioned to the better P-51 Mustang. Olds ended the war in Europe with 13 air-to-air kills, 12 by ground strafing, the rank of major (at age 22) and command of a fighter squadron. He was well on his way to a remarkable career.

Robin Olds came of age in the golden age of aviation brought about by so much wartime innovation. Consequently, he flew dozens of different fighters during a time when new aircraft were introduced yearly. One of the most interesting things about this book is his detailed description of the flying characteristics of so many aircraft. For example, there is a great description of the problem of compressibility in the P-38 where the shock wave in a high speed dive renders the tail elevator inoperative. The only way to recover from the dive is for the aircraft to slow down sufficiently to regain control of the elevator. Robin was able to recover from this mistake. How many did not?

Returning from England, Olds was an early entry into the new technology of jets, qualifying to fly the P-80 Shooting Star. At an early air show featuring jet fighters, Robin met Hollywood siren Ella Raines. A year later they married, beginning a tempestuous 29 year relationship. In truth, they never reconciled their differences. Ella was a movie star and her husband, a hard-nosed fighter pilot. It was not a match made in heaven. Love does not always conquer all.

Robin continued his career, flying fighters and leading units and men. Ella would follow him some times, consenting to live in Washington, New York or London while her husband flew in Germany, England and North Africa. Two daughters were caught in the middle of their parent’s troubles.

When Olds was sent to the Pentagon, he was a caged tiger. Suffice it to say that he made just as many enemies as he did friends. After serving as wing commander at RAF Bentwaters in England, he arrived at Ubon, Thailand to command the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in the fall of 1966. For a year, Olds led the Wolfpack into tough battles against the North Vietnamese. He flew 152 combat missions over the north, knocking down four MiGs with missiles from his F-4C Phantom II. His reward for the brutal year was a general’s star and command of the Academy’s cadet wing.

I learned a lot of things from General Olds, among them leadership by example. Robin led his men from the front. (Trust me; he would do more than sneer at anyone who suggests that you can lead from behind.) He believed that you should not ask anyone to do something you are unwilling to do yourself.

Robin Olds was an imposing man; after all, he was a tackle. He spoke with a raspy voice. He was a heavy drinker, but I observed that more of the whiskey in his glass would be poured over the head of some unsuspecting fellow than actually down his throat. At age 85, it wasn’t his liver that gave out but rather, his heart.

Fighter pilots are amazing, Type A personalities. They charge head-long into the fray, modern day knights of the air. They are masters of their machine. They live life on the edge. Robin Olds was a fighter pilot’s fighter pilot, the leader of the pack. I’ve met many unforgettable men over the years, and Robin Olds was at the head of the list.

2017-01-20T19:03:13-07:00By |1 Comment

Flying the F-4 Phantom in Combat

by Robin Olds, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)

Like a brooding hen, she squats half asleep over her clutch of eggs. Her tail feathers droop and her beak juts forward belligerently. Her back looks humped and her wing tips splay upward. Sitting there, she is not a thing of beauty. Far from it. But she is my F-4, and her nest is a steel revetment-her eggs 6, M-117, 750-pound bombs. This avian has fangs-very unbirdlike. They nestle under her belly and cling to her wings. She is ready to go, and so am I.

She receives me and my backseater, and we become a part of her as we attach ourselves to her with straps and hoses and plugs and connectors. A surge of juice and a blast of compressed air and she come alive. We are as one-tied together-the machine an extension of the man-her hydraulics my muscles -her sensors my eyes-her mighty engines my power.

She screams and complains as we move through shimmering heat waves along an endless expanse of concrete. Final checks .. then her nose pointed down nearly 2 miles of runway, and we are ready. Throttles forward, then outboard THUMP, THUMP- the afterburners kick in. Now my bird roars and accelerates rapidly toward her release from mother earth, leaving a thunder behind that rattles windows and shakes the insides of those who watch.

I look over at my wingmen as we climb effortlessly toward a rendezvous with our tanker. All is well with them, and I marvel again at the transformation of our ugly duckling into a thing of graceful beauty-yet she’s businesslike and menacing, thrusting forward and upward with deadly purpose.

Refueling done, we drop off and lunge forward, gathering speed for this day’s task. We hurtle across the Black, then the Red Rivers, pushing our Phantoms to the limit of power without using afterburners, weaving and undulating so as not to present a steady target for the gunners below.

Then a roil of dust down to our left, and the evil white speck of a surface-to-air missile rises to meet us. We wait and watch. That missile is steady on an intercept course, and we know we are the target. Then, on signal, we start down. The missile follows-and now HARD DOWN-stick full forward-the negative G forces hanging us in our straps. The missile dives to follow, and at a precise moment we PULL, PULL – as hard as we can-the positive Gs now slamming us into our seats with crushing force.

Our heavy bird with its load of bombs responds with a prolonged shudder, and we are free for the moment, the missile passing harmlessly below, unable to follow our maneuver. On to the target-weaving, moving up and down, leaving the bursts of heavy flak off to the side or down below. The F-4 is solid, responsive, heeding my every demand quickly and smoothly.

We reach the roll-in point and go inverted, pulling her nose down, centering the target in the combining glass as we roll into our 70-degree dive toward the release point. My Phantom plunges toward the earth through an almost solid wall of bursting flak. Then “PICKLE!” And the bird leaps as her heavy load separates and we pull with all our force around to our egress heading. There are MiGs about, and my F-4 becomes a brutal beast, slamming this way, then that, snarling with rage, turning, rolling, diving, hurtling skyward like an arrow, plunging down with savage force.

The melee over, the rivers crossed, and headed for our post-strike refueling, and my bird is once again a docile, responsive lady, taking me home, letting my heart beat slow, giving me comfort in having survived once again. I gather the flock close by, and we slowly circle each other-top, bottom, and each side, looking for flak damage, rips, leaks, jagged holes. None found, we press on to meet our ticket home and gratefully take on fuel from our tanker friends. A bit of follow-the-leader up and over the beautiful mountains of dazzling white nimbus, just to relax-to enjoy the special privilege given us in flying this magnificent bird and the home runway lies ahead there near the little town of Ubon-ratchitani. Landing done, post-flight checks finished, engines shut down, and my F-4 vents its tanks with a prolonged sigh, speaking for both of us, glad it’s over, anticipating a brief respite before the next day’s work.

It’s an unusual pilot who doesn’t give his bird a private touch of loving gratitude before he leaves her nest.

2017-01-20T19:03:14-07:00By |1 Comment

Memorial Service for Brigadier General Robin Olds

U.S. Air Force Academy, 30 June 2007

For a related story, see “Legendary Fighter Pilot Robin Olds Dies.” See Gary Baker’s wonderful pictorial memorial to General Olds.  Also see a memorial video.

By Dale Boggie

JB Stone played a significant role at Robin’s Memorial Service. He delivered one of the eulogies at the U.S. Air Force Academy Chapel. He told of the first time he meet Col. Olds, who as the new Wing Commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing called a meeting of all the pilots. At the time JB had about 60 or 70 missions North, had an engine shot out from under him and several bullet holes here and there on some pretty hairy missions.

Robin told the pilots, “I’m your new boss. I’ll be flying your wing for a couple of weeks and at the end of that time, I’ll be better than any of you.”

JB muttered under his breath, “We’ll see.”

It came out a little louder than JB intended. Robin heard it and immediately fixed JB with those steely eyes, and repeated his statement forcefully again. And JB said: “Robin did exactly as he had said he would. “ He was a warrior who would fearlessly go where others feared to tread.

And JB was later picked to help Robin plan and execute Operation Bolo, wherein F-4s masqueraded as bomb laden, F-105s to lure MiGs to come up and attack them. Seven MiGs went down in flames. The Military Channel has run the episode several times titled as “Ambush” in the Dogfight series.

Robin’s oldest daughter, Susan lead off the remembrances with stories of being a teenager living at the Academy while Robin was Commandant of Cadets for 3 years. Robin taught her to drive on the Academy grounds and ride horses at the equestrian center. It was okay to date more than one cadet at a time because no one would dare do anything untoward with the Commandant’s daughter.

General Ralph Eberhart was a senior Cadet Wing Commander when Robin took over. He told the famous incident of Robin’s first meeting with the Cadet Corps. Robin had been directed to lose the handlebar mustache – his trademark as leader of the “Wolfpack.” On a given signal at the end of Robin’s speech, 4,000 cadets whipped out and donned black-paper handlebar mustaches and began stomping and shouting, Olds, Olds, OLDS!!! Robin rose to his full height, jaws clenched eyes blazing – then extended his long middle finger and flipped them all a big sweeping bird – with a huge grin on his face.

Brigadier General Bob “Earthquake” Titus spoke of how Robin transformed the 8th Wing into The “Wolfpack.” Where the “Go get them, men” from the previous leadership was replaced by “FOLLOW ME!” Deadwood were sent home, and tactics changed. Base services were available 24/7 to the men he was sending into combat 24/7. No more shutting off the hot water at midnight, or closing the bar.

He told of a pilot, I believe named Conway, who while gleefully celebrating a successful mission proceed to rearrange or destroy some of the O’Club furnishings. He was ordered to report to Col. Olds’ office at 0800 hours. He was there promptly. Robin however was dreading the chewing out he was going to have to administer for something he himself had been guilty of many times. He braced himself, put on his sternest visage and entered his office at 0815 to find Conway standing at attention. Conway saluted smartly and said, “Sir, you’re late.” That cracked Robin up. The damage to the Club got paid somehow and another tale was added to the lore of Robin Olds.

Captain Jack McEncroe, USMC, told of his close friendship with Robin living near in Steamboat Springs. 30 years of watching Robin’s God-Awful backswing on the golf course, 30 years of skiing through the trees in fresh powder up to their knees, 30 years of listening to Robin telling the Cross-Eyed Bull story.

Verne Lundquist, Hall of Fame Sportscaster tried to demonstrate Robin’s backswing, which featured a couple of contorted pauses on the way up, then a mighty downswing. On one occasion the ball carried to the green, bounced a couple of times and went into the cup. “You just got a hole in one! It went into the cup,” shouted Verne. “Well, that’s the point isn’t it,” said Robin.

When Robin was selected for induction into the College football Hall of Fame as an All American on offense and defense at West Point, he asked Verne, “Is this a big deal? Do I have to go?” Verne told him yes. Robin went and made a gracious acceptance speech.

On another occasion he and Robin were being harassed by some obnoxious guy who wanted to pick a fight with Robin. Robin stood up, squared his shoulders and said, “I’ve killed more people than you will ever know, for less reason than you are giving me right now! Now sit down and SHUT UP !

Verne told of another experience with Robin. They were touring Germany and stopped at a tavern where there were some pictures of Luftwaffe aircraft on the wall. When they asked the proprietor about them he said he had been a pilot, but had been shot down. He and Robin started comparing notes on location, time of day cloud formation, tactics, etc., and after several drinks they were convinced that indeed, it was Robin who had shot him down. A few months later, Verne and Robin were watching some of Robin’s gun camera film being shown on TV and Robin suddenly exclaimed, “That’s the GUY!” As Verne said, “If it’s not true, it should be.”

When Robin’s health started failing last February, his daughter Chris quit her job and moved to Steamboat to take care of her Dad. She took Robin on long drives through the mountains with a picnic lunch to share at some scenic spot.

Robin’s grand-daughter Jennifer told of her grandfather helping her as a young child, to set out a bowl of salad to feed Santa’s reindeer. Sure enough, the next morning the salad was gone and reindeer tracks were in the snow all over the porch. A long time later, she came across some wooden reindeer feet that Robin had carved to make those tracks.

Christina said that it was only in his last week or so that Robin started to get really tired. He still would tell those who called that he was just fine, just getting old. She was with him when he drifted off to sleep peacefully and after a few minutes, drew his last breath.

Chris orchestrated every detail of the funeral service, the flyby, the graveside service, of course with help from Robin’s friends and splendid cooperation and coordination from the Academy Staff and the hotel where the reception and following Fighter Pilot Wake was held.

The flyby consisted of aircraft in trail at 30 second intervals. First a T-33, second another T-33, third a P-51 Mustang, fourth a MiG 17, fifth a flight of four F-16 from the Colorado Air National Guard, and sixth a flight of four F-4’s. The F-4’s, one from Tyndall and three from Holloman, are actually drones to be used in weapons testing. But for this occasion, they were flown by pilots and led by Lt. Col. “ET” Murphy of Tyndall. “ET” is also a member of our “Aspenosium” group of active duty and retired fighter pilots who get together for skiing, partying and presentations by those involved in fighter development, weapons, and tactics.

The Missing Man formation was slightly modified for this special event. As the F-4’s approached the cemetery in wingtip formation, “ET” was flying Lead as WOLF ONE

[Robin’s call sign] and initiated a sharp pull-up out of formation so WOLF ONE was heading straight up . . flew vertically into a pin point. It was spectacular and precisely executed, directly over Robin’s gravesite.

One final note reinforces the fact that Christina is without a doubt her father’s daughter. It involved the presentation of the flag to Robin’s survivors : Susan, Chris and Jennifer. The 1st flag was presented to the eldest, Susan. The 2nd to Jennifer, the youngest. The 3rd was destined for Chris. But she chose to direct her flag to be presented to Robin’s comrade-in-arms. Col. J.B. Stone. This unselfish and completely unexpected act, deeply touched JB and all of us who understood the bond between these two men. The kind of thing Robin would’ve done.

2019-05-25T07:24:26-07:00By |0 Comments

River Rats Talk about Robin Olds & POWs

F-4 combat veterans talk about their Vietnam experiences.  Bob Pardo describes the “Pardo push.”  Robin Olds is remembered and honored by Gen. Robert “Earthquake” Titus.  Col. Ken Cordier describes the pain he endured while being tortured in the Hanoi Hilton.  Lt. Col. Bill Schwertfeger also talks about being a POW and being tortured.  Christina Olds tells about the USAF Academy class of 2011 honoring Gen. Robin Olds as the classes’ exemplar.


2017-01-20T19:03:15-07:00By |0 Comments
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