Robin Olds

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
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