Happy Burner Friday, FighterSweep Fans! Today we have a little tribute to Brigadier General Robin Olds, courtesy of a QF-4E Phantom II, appropriately named after Olds’ SCAT XXVII. If as a pilot you ever find yourself in a quandary beyond your knowledge base, or even that of your peers, there is only one question you need ask yourself: What Would Robin Olds Do?

Not quite a week ago, 2 January, was the 49th Anniversary of Operation Bolo. Then-Colonel Robin Olds, 44 years old and commander of the 8th TFW–the infamous “Wolfpack,” was mastermind behind the operation. Olds became an Ace during WWII, credited with 12 kills against the German Luftwaffe in 1944 and 1945 while flying both the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and North American P-51 Mustang.

Brigadier General Olds is the Godfather of today’s fighter pilot. He was not politically correct. He was not opposed to taking on the bureaucracy in favor of setting his men up for success. He led from the front. Olds was a warrior to the core, a natural leader, expert stick-and-rudder man, and a brilliant tactician.

A McDonnell Douglas QF-4E Phantom II takes off at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. (Photo by Scott Wolff)
A McDonnell Douglas QF-4E Phantom II takes off at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

Olds realized the Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber formations had gotten very predictable, often using the same approach routes, altitudes, and airspeeds time and time again. They even used the same radio frequencies and callsigns. This fact was not lost on the SIGnals INTtelligence (SIGINT) analysts in North Vietnam, who concentrated on identifying the heavier, slower, and much more vulnerable “Thuds” from their McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II counterparts.

Olds decided to lead Phantoms equipped with the same electronic countermeasures pods and flying the same routes, altitudes, and refueling tracks as the F-105s had. They even used radio callsigns traditionally assigned to Thuds, counting on the North Vietnamese to send MiG-21s up to intercept. When the Fishbed drivers of the Vietnam People’s Air Force expected to find F-105s, what they would find instead were Phantoms loaded specifically for air-to-air combat. By the time the MiG pilots figured out the ruse, it would be too late.

Operation Bolo was a big gamble, but it paid off: American fighter pilots shot down seven MiG-21s that day, all thanks to the ingenuity of Robin Olds. So when you see this photo of “SCAT” raging through the sky above Nellis Air Force Base during Aviation Nation 2007, tip your hat to Robin Olds and say “thank you,” as his legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of today’s fighter pilots.