The Fighter Pilot's "Stache"

Robin Olds
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Brigadier General Robin Olds was an American fighter pilot and USAF "triple ace", with a combined total of 16 victories in World War II where he epitomized the youthful World War II fighter pilot. Despite often being at constant odds with higher ranking officers of the USAF, Olds rose to the command of two fighter wings, and was regarded among aviation historians, and his peers, as the best wing commander of the Vietnam War, for both his air-fighting skills, and his reputation as a innovative and fiendishly clever combat leader and tactician. 



During the Viet Nam conflict, Col Robin Olds realized that the F-105 and F-4 formations used the same approaches time after time, and the SIGINT analysts in Hanoi became expert in identifying the more vulnerable F-105 "Thuds" from the F-4 Phantoms, from their radio frequencies and call signs. 

Olds cleverly decided to fly Phantom F-4s using the same routes, altitude, and call signs as the the time the lured MiGs realize anything, it will be far too late.

Operation “Bolo” : January 2 1967. In the first hours of the evening 14 flights of F-4C Phantom of the 8th TFW (4 aircraft each) took off from Ubon RTAFB in Thailand towards the VPAF airfields around Hanoi, pretending to be F-105s. An eastern force of 366th TFW F-4s covered the possible MiG withdrawal routes. Olds commanded the first flight. The assigned call signs derived from American cars of the period: "Ford," "Rambler," and (inevitably) "Olds," for the CO's flight.

The first MiG-21s seemed paralyzed when they realized that they were not engaging F-105s, but F-4s. The first kill of that day was scored by “Olds 02” -1st Lt. Ralph Wetterhahn- followed seconds later by Captain Walter Radeker, who claimed another MiG-21. Initially Colonel Olds was not so lucky, as his own account shows:

“The battle started when the MiGs began to get out of the cloud cover. Unfortunately for me, the first one appeared in my ‘six o’clock’. I think it was more a accident than a planned tactic. As a matter of fact, in the next few minutes other many MiGs started to exit from the clouds from different positions.

I was lucky. The flight behind me saw the MiG and tried to divert its attention. I broke to the left, sharply enough to get away of his line of fire, hoping that my wingman would take care of him. Meanwhile another MiG came out of the clouds, turning widely about my ’11 o’clock’ at a distance of 2,000 yards. He went into the clouds again and I tried to follow.”

Olds fired two Sparrows and one Sidewinder at this MiG, but the enemy pilot showed his quality, avoiding all three missiles, entering the clouds, and escaping “Wolf Pack” leader. 

A third enemy plane appeared in my ‘10 o’clock’, from the left to the right: in simple words, almost in the opposite direction. The first MiG zoomed away and I engaged the afterburner to get in an attack position against this new enemy. I reared up my aircraft in a 45 degree angle, inside his turn. He was turning to the left, so I pulled the stick and barrel-rolled to the right.

Thanks to this maneuver, I found myself above him, half upside down. I held it until the MiG finished his turn, calculating the time so that, if I could keep on turning behind him, I would get on his tail, with a deflection angle of 20 degrees, at a distance of 1,500 yards. That was exactly what happened. He never saw me. Behind and lower than him, I could clearly see his silhouette against the sun when I launched two Sidewinders. One of them impacted and tore apart his right wing.”

In a few minutes, the pilots of the “Olds” flight claimed to have shot down three MiG-21s without suffering any losses of their own.

Olds singlehandedly prompted VPAF pilots and strategists, as well as Soviet tacticians, for the duration of the war, to re-evaluate the tactics and deployment of the MiG-21.

We salute the memory of Brigadier General Olds, and may the master of ACM rest in peace...

Blue Skies and following winds, Sir.