Robin Olds being carried by his men after the success of Operation Bolo, 1967
The son of an Army Air Corps general, Robin Olds is best known as a Triple Ace combat pilot
who was willing to break a few rules
to get the job done
. Not to mention his self-confessed tendency to say exactly what he happened to think
, no matter how inappropriate it was or who he was talking to.
Due to his father's career, Robin grew up around the likes of World War I
flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, and knew that it was his destiny to become a fighter pilot one day. He enrolled in The United States Military Academy
at West Point in June of 1940, and graduated in 1943 (while West Point was normally a four-year institution, the intensity and scale of the fighting in World War II
necessitated an abridged curriculum). He was trained to fly the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, and was deployed to England in 1944. By the end of the war partway through the next year, he had been credited with 12 air-to-air kills, had risen to the rank of Major,
and had become the commander of the 434th Fighter Squadron (his predecessors having all been promoted or killed in combat or accidents).
After the war, he went on to fly fighter jets, and married Hollywood actress Ella Raines. He ended up being sidelined throughout the Korean War
, and he would not see combat again until he was assigned as Commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing during the Vietnam War
. During the war, he introduced classic dogfighting strategies to pilots who had never been trained in air to air combat, and was the mastermind behind Operation Bolo, where McDonnel Douglas F-4C Phantom fighter jets from three different wings worked together to lure out the North Vietnamese MiG-17s and MiG-21s and engage them in combat. To accomplish this, Olds' wing masqueraded as slower and more vulnerable F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers
, pouncing on the North Vietnamese pilots as soon as they came in range. This was also around the time he cultivated the Badass Mustache
that he is also known for.
He gained four more kills in Vietnam, and upon learning that he would be withdrawn from combat upon getting his fifth kill*
, proceeded to let his wingmen take any kills he set up until he was withdrawn at the end of his tour. He would later become Commandant of Cadets at the Air Force Academy and be promoted to Brigadier General. He finished his career in the Air Force with the Office of the Inspector General
, before he retired in 1973.
With the help of his oldest daughter, Christina, Olds finished his memoirs, titled Fighter Pilot
shortly before he died of congestive heart failure in 2007.
- Ace Pilot: Triple Ace. He scored 12 air-to-air kills fighting against the Luftwaffe in World War II, then two decades later, scored another four air-to-air kills against the North Vietnamese Air Force in the Vietnam War. He later went on the record saying that he passed up at least ten opportunities to score a fifth MiG kill in Vietnam, because he'd been informed that the Secretary of the Air Force intended to yank him back home for a publicity tour as soon as he achieved two-war ace status.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: When World War II ended in 1945, he was a Major and the commander of the 434th Fighter Squadron. He graduated from Westpoint as a Lieutenant in 1943. This was as much due to many of his superiors being killed in combat or accidents as it was to his own skills.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: During the Vietnam War, he served as Wing Commander for the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, where he gained four aerial kills and was the mastermind behind Operation Bolo. Despite the fact that he had never flown the F-4 Phantom jets used by the 8th TFW until a few weeks before he assumed command of the wing.
- Badass Boast: When he took command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, he had only been flying the F-4 Phantom for a few weeks, and had not served in combat for nearly two decades. He informed his men that he would learn from them, and that he would soon be better than any of them were. He was right.
- Badass Mustache: Almost as famous for his trademark mustache (which he only wore twice in his career: while fighting in the Vietnam War and leading up to his retirement) as he was for his flying and leadership.
- Batman Gambit: His most famous one was Operation Bolo, where McDonnel Douglas F-4C Phantom fighter jets masqueraded as the slower Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers that the North Vietnamese fighter jets had been mauling with the aid of ground-based radar sites. As soon as the MiGs came up to intercept them, the American fighters pounced and carried the day with a 7:0 kill/loss ratio.
- Before he served in Vietnam, he was a Wing Commander at RAF Bentwaters in England when he learned he had made the list for Brigadier General, and thus would be ineligible to serve in combat. He proceeded to put together a team to perform a very unauthorized air show over his base, getting him in just enough trouble to get taken off the promotion list, and assigned to combat in South East Asia as punishment. Had he gotten in much more trouble, he would have likely been kicked out of the Air Force.
- The Brigadier: Retired as a Brigadier General in the 1970's.
- Brutal Honesty: He would be the first to confess that he lacked any sense of tact. In his memoirs, he openly wondered why people kept asking him to speak in public at all...
- The Inquisitor General: His final assignment before he retired was working for the Office of the Inspector General.
- It Runs in the Family: His father was Major General Robert Olds, US Army Air Corps.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Through much of his career in the Air Force, due to differences in opinion about how the organization should do its business.
- The Last DJ: A very outspoken proponent of conventional air warfare, especially air combat tactics. He was informed (repeatedly) by his superiors that air combat and conventional air warfare was a thing of the past. Then the war in Vietnam broke out and it turned out that 1960s missiles weren't actually advanced or reliable enough to put an end to dogfighting.* When he became Wing Commander for the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing stationed at Ubon Royal Thai Air base, he was one of the few pilots on the front lines with any actual training and experience in air combat, with his last dogfight being performed in a North American P-51 Mustang in 1945.
- Legacy Character: Tradition in the modern-day 8th Fighter Wing is for each Wing Commander to assume Robin Olds' Vietnam-era callsign of "Wolf", with a number when it is needed to distinguish between particular Wolves.
- Leeroy Jenkins: One of his more memorable battles in World War II had him and his wingman spotting a large group of German fighters forming up to attack an American bomber formation they were screening for. Justified in this case, as the German pilots had not yet organized themselves for battle, and had been caught by surprise. As Olds explained in his memoirs, once the first German pilot announced that he'd been hit, every other pilot realized that one of the American attackers could be behind him. Given that there were only two American planes there, most of them would be desperately trying to evade the American that might be in their blind spot.
- Mid-Season Upgrade: Partway through his tour in World War II, Olds' squadron transitioned from P-38 Lightnings to P-51 Mustangs. Later subverted in Vietnam with the transition from the F-4C Phantoms to F-4Ds, which replaced the beloved Sidewinder missiles with the more "advanced" but far less reliable Falcon missiles (He eventually had the new planes modified to use the old missiles. Note that upgraded versions of the Sidewinder are still used today, and the Falcon is not*.)
- Military Academy: Graduated from Westpoint in 1942, and later came back to serve as an assistant coach for the football team, before the Air Force had established its own academy. Later served as the Commandant of Cadets for the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs.
- Military Maverick: Very much so. This got him in quite a bit of trouble from his straight-laced leadership, just as much as it made him beloved by his subordinates. Despite this, he had a very low tolerance for people or organizations who could not meet standards and perform their jobs. Being a Military Maverick didn't mean you stopped being military, after all.
- Promoted Fanboy: Due to his dad being an officer in the Air Corps, Robin grew up around such legends as World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker, and knew from an early age that he wanted to be a fighter pilot.
- Right in Front of Me: Rather than arranging for special treatment, he traveled to his new assignment in Thailand the same way anyone else would: Many uncomfortable charter flights. He arrived at Ubon RTAB unannounced and without fanfare, unceremoniously dumped on the end of the flightline with some enlisted men and their luggage. Once his presence on base was known, he made sure that the process for greeting new troops to the base was much improved, with personnel on hand to welcome them and give them instructions.
- When he arrived at the base's Officer's Club in his flight suit with patches from his previous assignment at Air Defense Command, he was pounced on by two lieutenants who mistook him for an unwelcome outsider. By the time the military police arrived to intervene, the three men had cleared up the misunderstanding and were having a drink at the bar.
- Salt and Pepper: His Deputy Wing Commander during the Vietnam War and at his previous assignment in England was Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr., who would go on to be the first black Four Star General in the US Air Force. They had a Portmanteau Couple Name of "Blackman and Robin".
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: At various points in his career, this trope was played both in his favor and against him. He got out of more than a few less-than-ideal assignments by tracking down a clerk in a personnel office and convincing them to cut him orders for another base. He also missed out on serving in the Korean War due to his wife pulling strings amongst her own high-placed friends to ensure he would stay safely out of combat.
- Yanks With Tanks: He served in the US Army Air Forces and the Air Force between 1943 and 1973.