Robin Olds: Combat Ace, Leader, Warrior, Writer
Some men were born to fly, some were born to fight. Some were destined to excel at both. Add in 13 enemy kills in the skies over Europe during WWII, and 4 more over Vietnam, and you have a triple ace in two wars, something not achieved by any other man. Throw in the good looks and the charisma of Clark Gable and you have the start of a legend. He won the Air Force Cross, the USAF's highest award, for leading a daring air attack over North Vietnam that knocked out key installations, added to about 45 other decorations and awards during his 30-year career. Did I mention anything about being rugged? This guy was an All American football player at West Point, who was admitted to the Football Hall of Fame. Later admitted to the Aviation Hall of Fame. Not enough for you? If you haven't guessed it, he was also admired, envied, respected, and loved all at the same time by virtually everyone who ever met him. And just to top things off, he could probably out drink you and arm wrestle you to the ground in one setting. Now do you have a guess?
The only person who can fill all those roles is Robin Olds, Brig. General USAF. He died in 2007 and left a legacy not likely to be equaled ever again. He commanded the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (the "wolf pack"), the most highly decorated air combat wing in the Vietnam war. I am proud to have served with them. But this story is not about me.
I'm going to let you read about his brilliant war record and his leadership style on the internet. When Robin Olds got up to speak, he would stand there for a moment as if collecting his thoughts. When the audience quieted down, he would roar 'I AM A WARRIOR!” Not one person ever doubted him.
Robin Olds was also a writer. He wrote very poetically about his favorite girl friend—his McDonnell/Douglas F4C. Take a ride with him now in the back seat of that silver bird affectionately known to fighter pilots as the “hog”as he soars off into the wild blue yonder in the skies over Vietnam:
by Robin Olds
Brig Gen, USAF (Ret)
(From USAF Flying Safety, August 1996)
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 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 comes 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 Ubonratchitani.
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.