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Robin Olds Remembered as Loyal Renegade

By Frederick A. Johnsen

  • Olds
    Christina Olds emphasized a point about her larger-than-life father, Robin Olds, during a Saturday Warbirds in Review session moderated by David Hartman.

July 25, 2015 “Robin was such a larger-than-life guy….” Moderator David Hartman succinctly described Gen. Robin Olds, who flew P-38s in World War II and F-4 Phantoms decades later in Southeast Asia combat.

Robin Olds’ daughter, Christina, who became her father’s biographer, added: “He really was a Renaissance man.” Classically trained, Robin Olds could reveal facets of himself as a poet and cartoonist, in addition to being “the ultimate patriot and renegade,” she said.

The two, along with F-4 pilot John Geier, spoke about Robin Olds during a Warbirds in Review session Saturday that featured both a P-38 in Olds’ markings and an F-4E.

Olds famously followed orders—sometimes with his own interpretation, as when he was told to stop leading dangerous missions over North Vietnam.

So he flew in the rear of the flight.

He was supposed to rotate home from his Phantom base in Thailand after flying 100 combat missions. As the mission board nudged his tally higher, Christina says Olds would sneak into the room and erase sorties, dropping his total several times.

He ultimately flew 152 missions.

Olds’ most famous tactical innovation, called Bolo, involved mimicking the formation and call signs of a bomb-laden F-105 mission, using F-4 fighters armed for air-to-air combat instead.

When North Vietnamese MiG pilots rose to attack the supposed easy bomber flight, they were surprised to be jumped by F-4 Phantoms instead; seven MiGs went down that day, crippling the North Vietnamese air force.

Olds also knew that if he shot down five North Vietnamese jets, ace status would cause him to be rotated home. So he stopped at four MiGs, directing others in his flight to make the victories. Christina says she has heard from two fliers who are pretty sure Robin actually got a fifth kill that he never claimed.

In January 1967, Olds began growing a mustache in Thailand. The swashbuckling adornment was out of regulation, but that didn’t stop Olds.

It probably encouraged him, as his silent comment about the bureaucracy that he believed mismanaged the war from the comfort of Washington, D.C., Christina said.

Olds’ post-combat assignment was as commandant of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Finally, when back in the States, he was ordered to shave the errant mustache.

To Olds’ surprise, when he arrived at the academy the student body turned out wearing fake mustaches to honor the outspoken fighter pilot patriot.

Christina says the ethos and legend of Robin Olds continues to inspire young military fliers.

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