By: Friedrich Seiltgen
Copyright © 2022
The title of most flamboyant U.S.A.F. Fighter Ace goes without question to Brigadier General Robin Olds. While a few come close, Olds’ mustache alone claimed victory in battle. Olds was the epitome of a fighter jock.
Olds was born in Honolulu in 1922 to Robert Olds, a WWI Army Air Corps veteran pursuit pilot and aide to Gen. Billy Mitchell. Because his father was stationed at Langley Field, Virginia, Robin was surrounded by men of history, men who won WWI like Carl Spaatz who would become the first Air Force Chief of Staff. With role models like this, Olds’ future service in the Air Corps was baked into the cake.
Olds was admitted into West Point on June 1, 1940. During his time there, he became disgruntled by the system. In March 1943, he was demoted from Cadet Captain to Cadet Private for the crime of drinking alcohol, and he endured punishment for the rest of his school days. Fortunately, that wasn’t very long. With the outbreak of WWII, West Point initiated an accelerated program and cadets were graduated after 3 years. Olds graduation was in June 1943.
WORLD WAR II
After flight training, Olds began WWII service at RAF Wattisham, England. He flew the P-38 Lightning and later transitioned to the P-51 Mustang. Olds was respected by the maintenance personnel as he learned how to repair his own aircraft. By the end of WWII, Olds was a double ace with 13 kills, making him the only pilot that was an ace in two different aircraft with 5 kills in the P-38 and 8 kills in the P-51! Olds was awarded 2 Silver Stars, and at age 22 was a Squadron Commander!
MARRIED A MOVIE STAR
In 1946, Olds was stationed at March AFB, CA. There he met Hollywood movie star Ella Raines on a blind date in Palm Springs. They were married in 1947 and remained married for 29 years. Their lifestyles were very different, however; for example, a major sticking point for Raines was that she did not want to live in base housing. The pair divorced in 1976.
During the Korean War, Olds was assigned to an Air Defense Unit stateside, despite repeated transfer requests to the Korean Theatre. Olds was on the brink of resigning but was talked out of it by a mentor.
From 1955 to 1963, Olds served at various bases such as Landstuhl, Germany, Wheelus AFB, Libya and the Pentagon. In 1963, Olds was back in England assigned to an F-101 Voodoo squadron at RAF Bentwaters. Once again Olds was in trouble when, without permission, he formed an F-101 demonstration team that performed at a base open house. For this, he was re-assigned to Shaw AFB and his approved Legion of Merit award was cancelled.
Olds started his Vietnam war duty in September of 1966 with the 8th TFW at Ubon Air Base, Thailand. Upon his arrival, he discovered that his predecessor went ROAD (Retired On Active Duty) after flying a total of 12 missions in 10 months. Olds immediately put himself on the flight schedule, assigning junior officers to train him on the job!
Olds brought on an old friend from his pentagon days by the name of Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. James later became the first African American to achieve the rank of O-10 in any branch of service! Together they formed the dynamic duo known as “Blackman & Robin.” James excelled at logistics and planning, making him a force behind Operation Bolo.
Olds loved to fly combat missions and it showed. Olds achieved 4 more kills during the Vietnam War and could have had more but was advised he would be returned stateside if he shot down anymore enemy aircraft.
His last official combat mission was on September 23, 1967. His combat career ended with 259 missions flown and 17 Air to Air kills. Olds was a Triple Ace and one of the very few pilots to achieve kills in two different wars flying multiple aircraft types.
I could pen an article on Olds Mustache, as it was a legend in and of itself. Olds started growing the handlebar mustache after Operation Bolo. It was hated by his superiors, beloved by the rest. Upon his return to the states, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen John McConnell walked up to Olds, pointed at his mustache, and said, “Take it Off.” Olds complied and never looked back.
Olds said he wasn’t really fond of the Mustache, but it was his way of saying ‘screw you’ to the commanders without getting court martialed. The enlisted personnel loved it, so he kept it as long as he could.
THE USAF ACADEMY
As Olds neared the end of his career in 1967, he was assigned as commander of the Air Force Academy. He was tasked with increasing morale in the wake of a cheating scandal. In June 1968, Olds was promoted to Brigadier General.
In 1971, Olds was given another desk job as the Director of Aerospace Safety at Norton AFB, California. As luck would have it, he was sent to Southeast Asia to determine the readiness of USAF pilots. While in Thailand, Olds observed the situation, (and allegedly made a few unauthorized combat missions.) His assessment was not well received. Olds stated that USAF pilots were not ready as they had not received any training in Air to Air combat. Olds’ assessment was proven true when offensive operations began in 1972 and USAF pilots lost one aircraft for every one they shot down. Meanwhile, the Navy and Marine Corps were successful due to the Top Gun program started in 1969. Olds was so disgusted with the situation that he volunteered to take a reduction in rank to Colonel in order to remedy the situation. When his request was denied, he resigned on June 1, 1973.
Olds moved to Steamboat Springs, Colorado where he led an active life. He passed away in 2007 and his ashes were placed at the U.S.A.F. Academy Cemetery where his legend lives on.
That’s all for now folks! Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article Ideas. And as always – “Let’s Be Careful Out There”
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, and Active Shooter Response. His writing has appeared in RECOIL, The Counter Terrorist Magazine, American Thinker, Homeland Security Today, and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at email@example.com