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Robin Olds and Scat XXVII — his last ride and end of an era

14 June 2012

Robin Olds and Scat XXVII — his last ride and end of an era

Robin Olds, his mustache was legendary — U.S. Air Force photo

Robin Olds was a remarkable man who passed away at a ripe old age on this day in 2007. Olds served his country flying in the U.S. Air Force — his first fighter was the P-38 Lightning and his last was the F-4 Phantom II which is now on display in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force —  in between these aircraft he flew P-51, P-80 and F-86 fighters — and is the sole USAF ace with aerial victories in WW II (14 victories) and the Vietnam War (4 victories). Olds’s style was to lead from the front and he pushed Air Force bureaucracy whenever he felt that it was obstructing its mission of protecting citizens of the United States and the Constitution. He followed the tried and true — though increasingly rarely to be seen demonstrated  — credo of earning loyalty by giving it. It takes a brave person to subscribe to this credo since bureaucracy does not usually reward such a follower, though it should. Always the first to protect those under his command his loyalty is, perhaps, best exhibited in the naming of the aircraft assigned to him. He named them all “Scat” after his room mate in the academy whose eyesight prevented him from continuing through flight school. Olds did not shy from carrying weight.

The man, Robin Olds, and his F-4 Phantom II fighter, Scat XXVII in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

Scat XXVII is loaded for bear with a full complement of 750 pound bombs, AIM-7 as well as AIM-9 missiles and drop tanks (no internal gun since this is an F-4C) — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

Red stars mark two of Old’s MiG kills during the Vietnam War (all four aircraft were MiG-21s and downed with missiles) — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

Robin Olds had swagger, he lived the Hollywood fighter pilot archetype, but he was also possessed above average intelligence and this enabled him to see the big picture. A student of many things, including history, he brought whatever was needed for mission success. One example of many are the lessons first written down from Hannibal which inspired his Operation Bolo. This operation resulted in North Vietnam curtailing its MiG interception activities for several months during the Vietnam War.

Olds was also warrior with a humane streak as in the case during WW II when he made a strafing run on a train in occupied France. He had the presence of mind to disable the train on his first pass by aiming into the engine without striking the cab — disabling the train but allowing the captive French engineers to escape. Of course, this meant making a second strafing pass, and increased exposure to anti aircraft fire because of it, but he accepted the risk. The great leaders usually think outside themselves.

He also flew in times when aircraft entered into the fray to seek out targets and destroy them. Warfare today has changed with stealth aircraft, increasingly asymmetric warfare, UAV and UCAV aircraft as well as longer ranging smart munitions. I would never say war has become cleaner but it is becoming more of a remote experience for many who now fly. Commanders may not be like Olds again — not because good commander types will no longer exist, because they will, but the events today that forge them are now so different from the past. Scat XXVII may represent the last of an era in the USAF as the new one continues to open.

Scat XXVII and Robin Old  as they appeared while in service during the Vietnam War — U.S. Air Force photo

Robin Olds, ever the historian and warrior, wished Scat XXVII to be displayed in a conserved condition within the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force as opposed to being restored. Such is the dilemma curators face — balancing what the masses will most positively respond to as opposed to best representing historical context. The professional uses the tool that is a bit worn since it has proven itself to be reliable as opposed to a new one out of the box — but the young and those without military awareness prefer a fresh look more often than not. So what is a curator to do?

Robin Olds departing Thailand and his last combat tour of duty — U.S. Air Force photo

A book that goes far beyond an autobiography — it is an historical reference book as befits the historian in Robin Olds — is Fighter Pilot: the memoirs of legendary ace Robin Olds, Robin Olds with Christina Olds and Ed Rasimus, 2010, ISBN 978-0-312-56023-2, 400 pp.

I cannot recommend this book too highly. Learn how money was made available to develop the Lockheed “Blackbirds” as well as why the USAF lost its tactical bombing skills as the nuclear age dawned — and much, much more. Place the book’s title into the search window to find this blog’s review post, if you wish. The book can easily and reasonably be obtained here.

Scat XXVII is on exhibit in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, which was recently visited by Jayne Davis who courteously lent her images to this blog under her copyright.

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The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force has these two pages you may wish to also read:

 

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott McEvoy permalink
    26 June 2012 14:33

    This was great! I agree, though, that the Phantom should not have been restored, but, rather, only to its original condition. Col Olds was one of the great warriors of his time! He did what he had to do to make things work. Col Scott McEvoy,Ret., 125th FW, JAX IAP, FLANG

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      27 June 2012 14:04

      Thank you, Colonel, for your words. It is the bottom line as you say, doing what he had to do to make things work.

  2. Jim Preston Fmr USAF Pilot Viet Nam. permalink
    26 June 2012 16:28

    Yes, he was. And we sorely need leaders like him. I’m sure he is in the Bar at the “O” Club in the Sky holding forth as only he could do..

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      27 June 2012 14:07

      I hope I get to drop into that bar, even for only a moment 😉 I appreciate your comment and the fact it, too, came from a colonel.

  3. Herb Harper permalink
    29 June 2012 20:52

    I have on my PUB ROOM wall an autographed photo of Robin Olds, thanking me for my service. I was Armament Line Chief in the 433rd TFS 1966-67. As for him protecting his men, he certainly did that. I was ordered to meet Col. Olds on his return from one mission he had some armament problem. I did that and found the cause of the malfunction and explained the cause to him. Then I was ordered to accompany him to debriefing. Almost imediately the debriefier lit into me wanting all the details. Before I had a chance to reply, Col. Olds told the debriefer “Get off his ass, we have already fought on the flight line”

    Msgt. Herbert C Harper, USAF Ret.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      29 June 2012 23:26

      It is important to recall the good deeds of good men. Thanks for placing your story on this blog, it makes the writing worth the while.

      Joe May
      Travel for Aircraft

    • 18 August 2013 09:48

      What a great story. Thanks

  4. Frederick A. Olds permalink
    3 July 2012 07:31

    Excellent article on Robin. Our father MGEN Robert Olds, USAAC, was also one who had the “Firm but Fair!” attitude with his men as did I. There were times when rules were broken to ensure your men came first and they knew it. Today on Facebook I receive comments from old shipmates that make one feel quite humble! I personally was a Surface Warfare Officer in the Navy and served in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam when Robin was at Ubon. Robin was then 44 and I was 30. Retired in 1989 with 35 years of service credited.
    I was fortunate to spend 10 days with Robin in his condo in Steamboat in Feb 07 prior to his death in June and we compared our leadership styles at the time. We were remarkably similar with one major difference that even Robin stated would be difficult to handle. He wanted to know how as a CO of a ship patrolling off Beirut, with no liberty for your 465 plus men for 3 and a half months, you could possibly keep up morale. He could jump out of the cockpit and make it to the club or toast on the runway. That is a story in itself!
    Cheers, Capt Frederick A. Olds. USN, Ret .

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      3 July 2012 14:22

      It is a pleasure to read your comment with its insight and personal connection — many thanks for contributing and for giving us more than just the facts but the feeling behind them, as well.

      Joe

  5. Dan McNally, SMSgt, USAF (Ret) permalink
    7 July 2012 14:33

    Shame on the curators for making that machine of war look like a pretty toy airplane. What is your museum there for, if not to show history as it was? A battle-scared SCAT was what Robin Olds flew and fought in . . . you are as bad a “peacetime generals” who worry more about hair length and grooming standards than esprit de corps and being prepared for the next war.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      7 July 2012 19:27

      I’m sure many agree with you!

    • 18 August 2013 09:50

      Agreed… I was there last year to see that aircraft alone, and was a tad sad to see it was restored to a shiny toy standard. Oh well….

  6. John F4 Phantom Phan permalink
    18 October 2012 01:26

    I found this blog tonight after finishing reading Olds’ biography today. The last paragraphs of his book had me in tears and left me wandering the internet to read some more about him. While I never served in the military, and never met Gen Olds, he was always a personal hero of mine. I read about his exploits as a kid in high school many, many years ago, devouring the small books on Vietnam that Squadron published. I admired this man, and those of his generation, who served valiantly on so many fronts in many years of wars around the globe. I too can recommend this autobiography highly, though some may need to keep antacid on hand as Olds pulls no punches on the many failings he encountered during his career. Knowing there are so many more “non-ers” in the ranks vs. true leaders like Olds is depressing to think upon, and I found myself sharing his anger at the absolute ineptitude he found time and again.

    I find it somewhat emblematic that the USAF chose to display SCAT XXVII in a manner contrary to how Gen Olds wished it to be shown. No stranger to conflict and ruffling feathers, I could just imagine that someone decided “screw it we are restoring the bird” since it was contrary to his wish to display it “as – is”.

    Thanks so much for having posted this up, both with your writing and sharing the photographs of Jayne Davis.

  7. SMSGT Franklin D> Jarman, USAF, Retired permalink
    25 March 2013 20:52

    I was the crew chief on F-4C 64-0829 (SCAT XXVII) and I have seen the old girl in the museum. I had to look twice! I think she should have been restored to her “Ubon” look. While I was at the museum, I noticed several aircraft have their crew chief’s name on them. Why not 829? All the pictures you can find on the internet with Col. Olds standing next to her plainly show the crew’s names. I wrote an e-mail to the museum several years ago about this not being historically correct and the reply I got was something like “Glad you found your old warbird”. Fix it like it was when Olds flew it! Make her LOOK like the MIG killer that she is!

    • 26 March 2013 08:14

      Amen to that . . . she looks like a brand new aircraft, not like Robin Olds’ “sword” – which is what she was . . . terrible shame what is happening to the museums, today . . . they want prettu, not history.

      • folds@verizon.net permalink
        26 March 2013 10:38

        Could not agree more! Robin asked them to put it in the shape it was at Ubon and the museum did not concur. Totally agree that the crew chief’s name should be added!! Robin always commented on his superb ability! Capt Frederick A, Olds, USN, Ret, brother.

        Sent from my iPhone

      • travelforaircraft permalink*
        26 March 2013 18:36

        Well, there it is. Thanks for the discussion points — they are great ones and reminds us how easy it is lose the context of history and be left with a “cleaned-up” version. Combat aircraft are used hard, they have dents, dings and scars. They have mission symbols and crew names. If they survive to get to a museum they are made to look as they did the day they came out of the paint shop. I agree that most display aircraft should look neat and clean in general, but those special few aircraft which are a particular aircraft from an event or a person should be displayed as they were in their day — just my little opinion. Wouldn’t Scat XXVII almost literally jump out as a museum display with all of the scuffs and dings, among the more pristine aircraft? That, too, would be educational in nature as it would show that war is not a clean and easy affair, all the more reason to honor those in combat, as might be assumed with a MiG killer looking ready for a promotional event. Hopefully, at least, SMSGT Jarman will see his name on Scat XVII.

    • Kenneth Holley permalink
      10 June 2015 10:03

      I agree with you totally on that! The battle worn look tells more of the story.

  8. CAPTAIN MIKE NEUMAN USAF RETIRED permalink
    31 May 2013 16:58

    I DID NOT GET TO FLY WITH HIM, I WOULD OF BEEN HONORED. I DID GET TO MEET HIM, BUT I DID GET TO MEET HIM. RIP GENERAL OLDS

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      31 May 2013 21:57

      Thanks for the comment, Captain. There will be more about him in the near future and in an arena much larger than this one. When the authorization comes through to let folks know I will be sure to post it. A man like General Olds should not be forgotten.

  9. Jorge Chaveiro permalink
    8 June 2013 06:12

    Even I, as a Portuguese, am a big fan of Gen Olds. One of the best fighter pilots ever.

    Jorge Chaveiro, Age 52 Portugal

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      8 June 2013 23:18

      Jorge, so good to hear from you. Portuguese, or not, a good man is always something good to read about — is he not? Thank you for your reading and you comment.

  10. 8 September 2013 09:51

    They do not make them like this any more and we are the poorer for that! My thanks to General Olds for his service in my country, Britain, and all those boys who came to fight and my grief for those who died. We lost a lot of good men in UK and USA.Rest in peace, General, and my condolences to your family and friends. Gary

  11. Christina Olds permalink
    10 June 2015 12:35

    I have just read this well-written article for the very first time, as it was forwarded by a friend, and it’s a pleasure to read such an accurate account of my dad’s personality. You have precisely described why he was so loved by his men – and why he is an inspiration to current active duty pilots around the world – and in other air forces! Thank you. Christina Olds

  12. 11 June 2015 00:35

    That’s what it looked like when it flew over my house at low altitude. I lived in the traffic pattern at Lambert-St. Louis airport, and every single F-4 built flew over my home after it rolled off the assembly line.

    A factory fresh airplane is not what a combat vet looks like. Dents, paint missing, scrapes and scratches…just like the pilots who flew them. Fine if it had been a replica painted in his “colors” but don’t “fix” the original.

    I hate to think what that museum crew would do if they were in charge of da Vinci paintings or Stradivarius violins.

  13. John Xanthakis permalink
    2 December 2016 23:48

    I served at Udorn RTAFB from 1967-1969 home of the Tripple Nickel (555th Fighter Squadron and my group the 54th WRS. I fell in love with the Phantom at first sight and always hoped to see Col. Olds land there some day, unfortunately it never happened.
    I have been collecting information on 64-0829 SCAT XXVII for two years in preparation for building a 1/48 scale replica of his aircraft true to its weathered and well traveled history. Every photo I have been able to find are most often showing only the port side from about the front of the jet intake to the tip of the radome. Understandable since after all, this is the entry Robins “front office”! I have yet to find any photos of the starboard side of the aircraft as she existed during his time at Ubon. The only one I have found is a shot of the aircraft after it went to George AFB and had been repainted in the new squadron markings.
    If anyone has any published or unpublished photos from her time in country and would like to share them, I would be hugely grateful.
    Robins book is on my favorite spot on a shelf in my house and I literally enjoy seeing his smiling face every day while being held up by his fellow warriors.
    John

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      3 December 2016 09:29

      You’ve embarked on a worthy project and we should post about its progress, if you would consider it. As to the right ride of the aircraft…I’m sure the USAF museum would have documented the aircraft prior to its restoration…I suggest contacting the curator. You may have to contact them a few times so they know you are serious so be patient.

      • John permalink
        3 December 2016 10:12

        That is a great suggestion, it never occurred to me to investigate that approach. I will give that a try and post the findings, I will post some photos of the finished model as well if there is an interest, it may take a while however, I am a stickler from detail! Thank you for the suggestion 🙂

      • travelforaircraft permalink*
        3 December 2016 10:29

        Good luck and let us know so we can share the project 🙂

  14. hubert van acker permalink
    29 April 2017 16:20

    I totally agree of what I read about the giant of a man Robin Olds here in this columm. What a privilage it must been to service under and with the man. I have also in my possession a copy of “Fighter Pilot” and enjoyed reading it very much.As a Belgian (Europe) I have a profound respect for him and his men, pilots and ground crews alike for what they did in the Vietnam War. I was very sorry to not have the chance to meet daughter Christina when she was visiting Wevelgem Airport last year, where she had a ride in the orignal P-51D here father had flown in WW II. Nevertheless I’m very happy to get aquainted with the War time pilot and the man Robin Olds via that book “The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds”.

  15. 2 May 2017 01:51

    I don’t know if you have heard the Ballad of Robin Olds. This is Col. Dick Jonas who flew with Olds. Jonas was a Captain then. This is one of Dick Jonas’ many recordings of songs he wrote about being in country as a fighter pilot.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      2 May 2017 07:19

      Chuck–this is great. A post must be written about Dick Jonas as well.

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