Robin Olds, The Artist


As often does, Colonel Scrappy Johnson sends me emails about facts or anecdotes of his aviation career. The one I received a few days ago it’s one of the coolest.

Scrappy recalls: “When we had our Red River Valley Fighter Pilots/Tactics Meeting at Korat in 1967. During the tactics meeting which only lasted about an hour because we were eager to get on with the party, Robin Olds penned the attached cartoon. It’s obvious that he had a talent in that direction plus his others.”


“The Spook”, which was created by McDonnell Douglas technical artist, Anthony “Tony” Wong, for shoulder patches. The name “Spook” was coined by the crews of either the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing or the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing at MacDill AFB. The figure is ubiquitous, appearing on every imaginable item associated with the F-4. The Spook has followed the Phantom around the world adopting local fashions; for example, the British adaptation of the U.S. “Phantom Man”is a Spook that sometimes wears a bowler hat and smokes a pipe.

Brigadier General Robin Olds was a noted American flying ace during World War II and the Vietnam War. Robin Olds was credited with twelve kills over Europe. Robin Olds grew up amongst military aviators and aircraft — his father was a World War I pursuit pilot, an aide to Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell, and commander of the first B-17 squadron. Robin Olds attended West Point, where his characteristic boldness allowed him to excel on the football field — in 1942, he was selected as an All-American tackle. After Olds graduated in 1943, he attended flight training and went to Europe as a P-38 pilot.

Olds stood out as a daring pilot and a natural leader. Within a few months, he shot down five enemy fighters to become the 479th Fighter Group’s first ace. At the very young age of 22, he was promoted to major and given command of the 434th Fighter Squadron. Olds continued his success after the unit converted to P-51s, and he ended the war with 12 victories.

Following World War II, Olds flew in the first P-80 jet demonstration team, followed by command of several operational units, and then staff jobs. Unable to get a combat posting during the Korean War, Olds became determined to get into combat when the Southeast Asia War escalated.

In the fall of 1966, Olds took command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base. Olds’ charisma and courage endeared him to his people, and under his leadership, the “Wolfpack” became the USAF’s top MiG-killing wing in Southeast Asia. Olds also played a key role in the creation of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, which improved coordination between USAF wings in Southeast Asia and became a lasting fraternal organization.

Olds led from the front — he shared the same risks as his aircrews by flying on the most dangerous missions. He received many decorations for his audacity in combat, including the Air Force Cross for a mission in August 1967, when he led a strike force against the heavily-defended Paul Doumer Bridge in North Vietnam.

Olds’ MiG scoreboard on splitter vane of his F-4C. (Image credit Eugene Zelenko)

The crowning achievement for Olds was planning and leading OPERATION BOLO, when North Vietnamese MiG-21 pilots were tricked into an air battle at a disadvantage. Olds shot down a MiG-21, and his 8th TFW F-4 aircrews shot down six others with no losses. He also shot down three other MiGs during his tour. When added to his WWII victories, his lifetime victory totaled 16 enemy aircraft.

Olds returned from Southeast Asia in December 1967. Promoted to brigadier general in 1968, he became the commandant of cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and he retired from active duty in 1973. ( Source National Museum Of The Air Force)

Col. Robin Olds (left) and Capt. John Stone after OPERATION BOLO. Three other 8th Tactical Fighter Wing officers, 1st Lt. Joseph Hicks, 1st Lt. Ralph Wetterhahn and Maj. James Covington, also worked on planning the mission details. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Led by Col. Robin Olds, OPERATION BOLO used a brilliant deception tactic that destroyed half of the North Vietnamese MiG-21 fighter force, with no USAF losses.

In late 1966, the USAF was not permitted to bomb North Vietnamese airfields and could only destroy enemy fighters in the air. Complicating the problem, enemy MiGs focused on bomb-laden F-105s and only initiated combat when they had a clear advantage. Col. Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) commander, and the wing's tactics officer, Capt. John "J.B." Stone, devised a masterful plan to lure and trap North Vietnamese MiG-21s by mimicking an F-105 bombing formation.

On Jan. 2, 1967, 8th TFW F-4s entered North Vietnam from the west using the same route, altitude, and formation as an F-105 bomb strike. They also carried and operated electronic jamming pods used by F-105s. The North Vietnamese took the bait, and the MiGs came up to intercept what they thought was an F-105 strike. At the same time, 366th TFW F-4s came into North Vietnam from the east to block the MiGs' escape to China and to orbit their bases, preventing the MiGs from landing.

Despite some problems caused by the overcast weather, OPERATION BOLO was triumphantly successful. During the 12-minute engagement, seven North Vietnamese MiG-21s -- about half of their operational force -- were shot down with no USAF losses. Four days later, another ruse, this time mimicking an F-4 reconnaissance flight, shot down two more MiG-21s. These crippling losses greatly reduced MiG activity for several months.

Early F-4s in Southeast Asia were painted gray, but by 1966, they were camouflaged like the Phantom at the bottom of the photograph. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF F-4s flown during ROLLING THUNDER did not have an internal gun to use when missiles failed. Although some F-4s carried external gun pods, it was not until the F-4E arrived in late 1968 that USAF Phantoms finally had an internal gun. Lastly, USAF pilots had to combat MiGs, SAMs and AAA over hostile North Vietnam, and if shot down, they were not always rescued.

Even so, enemy MiGs failed in their primary mission to stop US air attacks over North Vietnam during OPERATION ROLLING THUNDER. In fact, the VPAF fighter force sometimes retreated to China and stood down from combat operations due to heavy losses suffered at the hands of American fighter crews.

MiG pilots did little better in December 1972 -- by the end of OPERATION LINEBACKER II, USAF B-52s and tactical aircraft hit targets at will, forcing the North Vietnamese to sign a peace treaty. At the end of the Southeast Asia War in 1973, the VPAF had lost nearly 150 MiGs in combat to USAF fighter crews, while the USAF lost about 70 aircraft (of all types) to MiGs.

The nickname of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing -- the “Wolfpack” -- fit Robin Olds’ aggressive style. Pictured here are revetments and F-4s of the 8th TFW at Ubon, Thailand

Col. Robin Olds painting a victory star on the F-4 he was flying on May 4, 1967, when he shot down a MiG-21

Col. Vermont Garrison was the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing's able and highly-experienced vice commander. Nicknamed “Pappy,” he was an ace in World War II and a double ace in the Korean War. Robin Olds described Garrison as “a wise old sage.”

Col. Robin Olds (right) had a long and close friendship with Col. Chappie James, who became the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing vice commander after Col. Vermont Garrison. James, a former Tuskegee Airman, later became the USAF’s first African-American four-star general.

Robin Olds with the P-51D "Sharp Shooter" at the U.S. Air Force Museum.





North Vietnamese Air Force MiG-17 pilots walk by their aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)


The VPAF was equipped with a small number of the MiG-19 fighters. Pictured here are MiG-19 pilots discussing tactics on their flightline. (U.S. Air Force photo)

VPAF MiG-21 deploying its braking chute while landing after a mission. (U.S. Air Force photo)