Triple Ace; Brigadier General Robin Olds’ Mustache Once Beat Up Chuck Norris
When Robin Olds’ father, Major General Robert Olds, took his eight-year-old son up for his first flight in a biplane, that sealed it. Robin would make a life out of flying.
Robin Olds made not only a career of flying, he built a reputation as one of the best pilots we’ve ever seen, dominating in Vietnam, and eventually earning the triple ace.
He was a dedicated soldier with strong beliefs, all of which culminated in his choice to grow a non-regulation, but totally badass mustache while in Vietnam.
Rumor has it, it was Olds’ mustache that taught Chuck Norris everything he knows.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Robin came into this world as Robert, named after his father, but he would later adopt Robin as his first name. (For simplicity, we’ll separate the two this way.)
His dad was also military, a captain when Robin was a kid, a man who would later take the title of major general. Robert raised Robin himself from the time the boy was four.
Robert’s wife, Eloise Olds, passed unexpectedly that year.
On active duty, Dad carted Robin everywhere, even to military court once when Robin was three. Dad was an instructor pilot during The Great War, so they traveled around some.
When Robin was young, they moved to Virginia, near Langley Field. There, little Robin enjoyed regular exposure to the officers who would later take leadership roles in WWII.
Those interactions had a strong influence on Robin, informing the man he would grow to be, dedicated, opinionated about military strategy, especially with air combat.
Robin was a talented young man, adept at football, dominant in high school teams. He could have pursued a different life, a recipient of scholarships and offers for football, but he chose the military.
In 1939, Robin enrolled in a military prep school so he could go to a prestigious military academy, which is exactly what he did. In 1940, after passing the exams, he attended West Point.
He should have graduated in ’44, but the attack on Pearl Harbor derailed Robin’s schooling. They sent him to flight training school in Oklahoma, where he trained for one year, then returned to West Point.
He was hoping to graduate early so he could join the fight. A year later, Robin got his wish. The U.S. Congress passed an act, allowing Olds to complete his schooling a year early.
In June of 1943, Robin graduated West Point.
Robin Olds completed fighter pilot training the end of 1943, and by early the next year he joined the 434th Fighter Squadron in Lomita, California.
As a quick historical footnote, back then, the U.S. Air Force was still part of the Army, not yet its own branch. This wouldn’t change until 1947.
By May of 1944, the 479th fighter group, which included Robin’s squadron, landed in England. From their base in Suffolk, the 479th would fly escort and bombing missions over France.
Robin flew a brand new P-38J Lightning, which he tended to himself as much as he could. He learned everything he could about maintenance of the craft, overseeing the work of the crew. He insisted they wax his bomber, which he nicknamed Scat II, before missions to reduce the resistance.
In that Scat II, he claimed eight successful attacks before the 479th switched to the P-51 Mustangs. Robin named his new fighter-bomber Scat VI, and flew it until the end of that tour.
Before returning to West Point after the war, with only two years in the field, and at only 22-years-old, he’d made the title of commander for his squadron. He left with unofficial count of 12 aircraft in the air and as many on the ground, which was worth two flying ace awards.
Between WWII and Vietnam, Robin coached football, flew in an aerobatic demo team, and spent time flying and leading in England under an exchange program between the RAF and the USAF.
He took work in administrative roles, working at the Pentagon, but the little boy who rode in the biplane never stopped thinking about flying… not just flying in shows or as an instructor, but in combat.
In 1966, he found his opportunity. Robin took command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, which needed an aggressive leader like Robin.
By that time he was 44-years-old, ancient by battle standards, but not by Olds’ standards. He didn’t only command. He flew on the same flight schedule as the rookie pilots.
This was also the time when that mustache really took flight on his upper lip, a minor protest to the Air Force’s no dogfighting strategy in Vietnam.
Like a good leader, he trained his subordinates to become leaders by making them train him. They grew mustaches too, but none quite so awesome. It was from that position that he flew the Scat XXVII, an F-4C Phantom II.
In 1966, Robin designed a mission to lure North Vietnamese MiGs into a trap, called Operation Bolo. That operation took out seven MiG-21s, one of which Robin shot down himself.
That was half of the MiGs the North Vietnamese had at the time, a daft blow to the their air forces.
Before Robin left Vietnam, he took out three more MiGs. The four added to his official 12 from WWII earned Robin the triple ace.
After Vietnam, the Air Force retired Scat XXVII, putting it on display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
After Vietnam, Robin retired his famous mustache too, per the orders of a senior officer.
Robin Olds served at the Air Force Academy for three years, then spent two years in the Aerospace program until his 1973 retirement as a Brigadier General.
The man lived 84 years, a month shy of 85. During those years he earned 27 military decorations, some of them more than once. The list includes the distinguished Air Force Cross.
Robin’s final flight was the evening of June 14th, 2007. After 259 combat missions, the stage four prostate cancer in his body stabbed a final blow, congestive heart failure.