170 of 175 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rockin' Robin
This is a substantial book (about 400 pages) about the life of one of the most famous fighter pilots of all time, Robin Olds. It is largely a compilation of Olds' diaries, documents, letters, articles, etc, put together by his daughter, Christina Olds, after Robin's death in 2007. Indeed, before he died, Robin and Christina were able to share a fair amount of time...
Published on April 13, 2010 by AdamSmythe
3.0 out of 5 stars Fighter Pilot
This isn't a bad book in and of itself. The content is exciting and interesting and Robin Olds lived one hell of a life what with dogfights by day and Hollywood style parties by night. The thing that bothered me here though is the tone of the writing. I can't help but feel like much of the story is left untold here. It feels like Robin is never ever in the wrong. He...
Published 19 days ago by adidab14
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170 of 175 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rockin' Robin,
This is a substantial book (about 400 pages) about the life of one of the most famous fighter pilots of all time, Robin Olds. It is largely a compilation of Olds' diaries, documents, letters, articles, etc, put together by his daughter, Christina Olds, after Robin's death in 2007. Indeed, before he died, Robin and Christina were able to share a fair amount of time together in preparation for the completion of his unfinished memoirs. Appropriately, the book is written in the first person. It's a well written book, not because it contains highly polished writing (it doesn't), but rather because it reads as you'd expect it to read coming from a maverick fighter-pilot. (I was fortunate to hear Robin Olds speak a number of times, and this book is true to his rather abrupt style of speaking.)
The book begins right where you'd expect a fighter pilot to begin--in the air, in combat ("We had been taking the war to Hitler...")--but then settles back to develop Olds' life story, starting from the beginning. His mother died when he was four, and he grew up the son of an Army officer. (There was no Air Force at that time.) The reader learns about his interest in football (6' 2", captain of his high school team, later played for West Point--including once in front of 100,000 fans at an Army - Navy game, back when that game was a big event to all sports fans).
The heart of this book, like the main theme in his life, is flying, especially in conflict. Olds flew P-38s and later transitioned to the marvelous P-51 (with the Merlin engine) during World War II. On his second P-51 training flight he almost crashed the aircraft trying to land (they didn't call it the Mustang for nothing). His experiences in Europe during World War II and his Air Force career thereafter read almost like a stream-of-consciousness. D-Day. His kills. His eye for women. Taking command of a fighter squadron. V-E Day. His temper. Life in the fast lane. The P-80. His marriage to Hollywood star Ella Raines. Exchange duty with the Royal Air Force, reportedly becoming the only U.S. Air Force officer to command a RAF squadron. The F-86. And so on.
Olds tried hard to get assigned to combat duty during the Korean War, but apparently his wife (and her TV directors) managed to persuade Laurence Rockefeller to use his considerable political influence to get Olds' name off the Korea assignment list every time it came up. Olds almost resigned his commission in 1952 to become a civilian test pilot, but remained on active duty. Then, more stream-of-consciousness. Libya. An assignment to the Pentagon. And more.
But then there was the Vietnam War. Olds was assigned to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, where he (and close friend Chappie James) became a legend. In preparation for this combat assignment in the F-4C, Olds describes wanting to experience the F-4's noted "adverse yaw" on only his second training flight. In doing so, he lost both engines and almost his life. He wrote, "If I had been a North Vietnamese pilot, I would have been an ace ten times over." (He was only an ace once in the Vietnam War.) The reason he said that was that while the F-4 could fly at Mach 2, dogfights typically don't take place at supersonic speeds, and there was no way an F-4 could turn with a MiG-17. On the cover of the book is a famous photo of Olds being carried on the shoulders of his men--tears in his eyes. Robin Olds was seemingly made for commanding men in combat, and he did that very well. His men loved him, and that probably says it all. Speaking of photos, there are about 16 pages of black-and-white photos in the book that bring back lots of memories.
After returning from the Vietnam War, Olds was promoted to Brigadier General and made Commandant of Cadets at the Air Force Academy, after he shaved off his trademark handlebar mustache. (One of his cadets was Sully Sullenberger.) He tells of an experience when an F-105 was brought to the Academy to be dedicated as a reminder of all those who fought in the air above Vietnam. A flight of F-105s flew over the 4,000 cadets assembled before lunch, and these aircraft accidentally broke the sound barrier, resulting in the equivalent of millions of dollars of broken glass (in today's dollars). I was there at the time, and it was an unforgettable experience.
In closing this review, I'd like to relate one personal experience about Robin Olds. It was during the time he was Commandant of Cadets at the Academy, and he was talking to an auditorium of cadets. While he was speaking, he spotted one cadet with his foot resting on top of a chair. From the stage, Olds proceeded to chew out this cadet for not sitting up straight. When he asked the terrified cadet whether he had anything to say for himself, the cadet responded that his leg was in a cast, and he could not sit up straight. Olds replied, "Well, I'm sure I've been embarrassed this much before--but I really can't remember when." Everyone laughed, and Olds went back to his lecture as if nothing had happened. That's the way I'll remember him: intense, yet human.
51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely AWESOME!!!,
In a word-AWESOME!!! This is the incredible story of one of, if not "the" greatest combat flying wing commanders that has ever graced our presence. Robin Olds was a larger-than-life character who flew hard, fought hard and played hard. Imagine a story where a young boy grows up with many of American aviation's greats (Billy Mitchell, Tooey Spaatz, Hap Arnold, and Jimmy Doolittle) hanging around his father's house. With all that influence and exposure, it's no wonder Robin Olds developed into a great fighter pilot and a great combat leader. Then imagine that young boy being accepted into West Point. Robin played football at West Point (offense and defense), becoming an All-American. He then went off to pilot training, and made it into World War II, becoming an ace in both the P-38 Lightning and the P-51 Mustang (13 aerial victories, and 107 combat missions). But the story does not stop there. Robin Olds went on to marry a beautiful movie star, and take command of one of the RAF's first jet squadrons. Somewhere in between here and Vietnam, he found time to father two beautiful daughters; the loves of his life. Robin Old's combat leadership in the 8th Tac Fighter Wing in Vietnam is legendary. He went on to shoot down four MiGs, bringing his total count to 17 aerial victories. After fighting his way through 152 missions, Robin Olds would become Commandant of Cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Sound too good to be true? Well not for Robin Olds. 'Fighter Pilot' is action packed from the beginning. Readers will experience the thrill of flying into battle in some of the greatest American fighter planes. And they will learn the finer points of great combat leadership. What a great movie this book would make.
The efforts of Robin's daughter Christina also cannot be overstated. As Robin Old's life neared its end, Christina spent many long hours discussing the stories in this book with her father. She read through page after page of reports, diaries, letters, articles and stories, in an effort to capture the essence of her father's story, from her father's perspective. This was no small undertaking. And the result is simple outstanding. Buy this book. You won't be disappointed, and you won't able to put it down.
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for all members of the US Air Force.,
I arrived at the 8th TAC Fighter Wing at Ubon, Thailand a year after Robin had left the base. People on base would tell me you should have been here when Robin was the Wing Commander. I enjoyed the fact that the writers didn't try to make the book a PC product, they illustrated the real Robin Olds, crusty words and all. If you love flying and want a good account of what we do in the US Air Force then please buy this book, you will have a hard time putting it down. Chris Cline, MSgt, Ret. USAF, Overland Park, KS
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Where have all the Cowboys gone".....,
Like the Paula Cole song asks: "Where have all the cowboys gone?" "...where is (our) John Wayne?" "...where is (our) Lone Ranger?" Gen. Robin Olds was not only a hero because of his valor in a cockpit, but his willingness to buck the conventional wisdom of USAF and political leadership...even to the detriment of his own career. The words LEGEND and HERO are often misused in describing actors, sports participants, and musicians, but those words are apropos when describing Gen. Olds.
What a life! Gen Olds' life could fill 10 other fighter pilots' .....from growing up the son of a pioneer in US military aviation and being surrounded by the likes of Spaatz, Rickenbacker, Arnold, Turner, Mitchell ect. What role models to mold a young fighter pilot.....it couldn't have been better than that! Over his life, he excelled by his own makings, not by riding coat tails. Whether it was being an All American at West Point or becoming a leader and ace at an age most would consider still wet behind the ears.
Tales of both his aerial battles and the battles with those on the ground are riveting. It lets us see the steel willed determination of a man who truly believed in "lead by example" and "never ask those you lead to do anything you weren't willing to do." It's obvious the men he led, loved him and were willing to go to the Gates of Hell for him.....that is something that can't be demanded or ordered......it is earned.
Throughout this book we got glimpses of his home life and his marriage to the beautiful movie star, Ella Raines. Though he (or Christina) didn't go into depth about it, we got enough to know things weren't always blue skies and sunny days on the Olds' home front which made an extraordinary life seem realistic...we all have personal problems and Robin was no exception...but in true Robin Olds fashion, he didn't shy away from the truth. Whether it be about his marriage, his love of parties and drink, or his feelings about friends and foes....he (and Christina) kept it real....and I for one thank them for it.
I could pick out passages to quote in this book, but others here have done a fine job doing that... so I won't. Just know that if you are a fan of aviation, military history, or just want to read about a REAL hero and legend......read this book, you won't want to put it down and will find yourself wanting more.
Note to Hollywood: This is a movie that needs to be made.....I hope someone with credentials is smart enough to see the action and humanity that are waiting to be put up on the silver screen. I suspect it would be a cross between "Topgun" meets Mel Gibson's "We Were Soldiers" and/or Hanks/Spielberg's "Band of Brothers" with a little "Patton" sprinkled in for flavor. In fact this would make a great miniseries ....are you listening HBO?
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memoirs of a Warrior!,
Few pilots have so personified the two-fisted, hard-fighting, hard-partying macho fighter pilot as USAF ace Robin Olds. For 30-odd years, Olds lived and breathed AIR COMBAT, flying fighters in two wars and notching up 16 kills. Retiring as a one-star general in 1973, he left a legacy of devotion to duty and combat leadership second to none. In the years before his death in June 2007, he began work on his autobiography. Following his death, his daughter Christina crafted this tremendously appealing life history of one of America's top fighter pilots and leaders.
Olds was to the manor born, his father being Captain - later Major General - Robert Olds. Olds' mother died when he was four. Consequently, Olds grew up in the Air Corps environment, meeting many famous military and civilian airmen. The young boy dreamed of serving in the Air Corps but in fighters as opposed to the bombers his dad flew. After graduating from West Point, he get his wish, serving in the 8th Air Force's 479th FG. Olds downed 12 e/a while flying P-38s and -51s. Steadily rising in rank in the postwar years, he held various commands before seeing combat in Vietnam in 1966-67. As CO of the 8th TFW, Olds made the 'Wolfpack' the deadliest F-4 unit of the war and personally downed four MiGs. Olds was arguably the most famous American airman of the Vietnam War. He later served as Commandant of Cadets at the Air Force Academy before retiring. Excepting the Medal of Honor, he received every major decoration awarded to American servicemen.
Reading FIGHTER PILOT is a wondrous experience; it's one of the best fighter pilot memoirs I've ever read! Olds comes across as a fascinating, complex and tremendously appealing individual who absolutely lived for and loved flying fighters, especially in combat. Supremely self-confident in his abilities, he was devoted to the men under his command and personalified the 'led-by-example' combat leader the Air Force so needed in the skies over North Vietnam...and so often lacked. In return, his men loved and respected him. A few others did not. Olds' disregard for idiotic regulations and hidebound staff weenies along with his larger-than-life persona did not endear him to Air Force bureacrats.
FIGHTER PILOT is filled with exciting descriptions of dogfights, memorable peacetime missions, goofs and gaffes on Olds' part and memories of famous and rank-and-file Air Force blue-suiters along with insightful, sometimes painful, looks into Olds' private life. He married movie star Ella Raines but the demands of an Air Force life eventually brought the marriage crashing down. For all the 'yanking-and-banking' stories found in FIGHTER PILOT however, the most poignant parts of the book dealt with the death of Olds' beloved father and the death of his infant son.
Christina Olds deserves a big thumb's-up for crafting such an appealing account from the various bits and pieces Olds left behind. The book is a marvelous tribute to the life and times of one of America's finest airman. Highly recommended.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Fly and Fight,
This book is a long overdue memoir of one of America's greatest fighter pilots. Robin Olds personified the term "Leader" during my early years in the Air Force. Over a couple beers one evening at Maxwell AFB in 1982 he shared with me and some of my Air Command and Staff College classmates war stories and humor of the kind unique among those of us who have fought for our country. He was truly bigger than life, yet in a casual setting he was honest, funny and thoroughly genuine. His father was a respected WWI fighter pilot who rose to Major General and whose friends included virtually every important leader of the Army Air Corps; Spaatz, Rickenbacker and Doolittle among them. The influence of these frequent visitors to the Olds' home was not lost on the impressionable young Robin and drove him to West Point and beyond. He was a double ace in WWII, missed Korea when his Hollywood starlet wife had powerful friends influence the Pentagon to keep him out of combat, and he had his finest warrior days leading the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in the most successful air-to-air battles of Rolling Thunder over North Vietnam--his 4 MiG kills proved he hadn't lost his touch in the deadly skies and his leadership saved many American lives and cost the enemy dearly. His career included being a revered and respected Commandant of the Air Force Academy during the difficult days late in the Viet Nam War when the student body benefited from his enlightened and determined leadership. This is a wonderful book, crafted by Robin's daughter and the very professional Ed Rasimus who penned two of the best books about the Viet Nam air war, PALACE COBRA and WHEN THUNDER ROLLED, and is written just as Robin would have, honest, often profane and always as intended! I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the air war over Viet Nam and enjoys a fast paced and compelling story.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Robin Olds: A True American Hero.,
Robin Olds: A True American Hero.
5+ stars. Outstanding quasi-autobiography about a true American hero Robin Olds-fighter pilot extraordinaire. Fighter Pilot is more than just a book recounting a man's life, it is a walk through America's war fighting history from WW2 through the debacle in Vietnam. Reading Fighter Pilot in Robin Olds' own words I was reminded of another great American hero, David Hackworth, whose book About Face told a similar American fighting man's story from the grunt's perspective. Both men were true heroic giants during their war fighting careers. Highly decorated, both fought with the heart of the lion and the wiles of the fox, and both sadly realized their military had morphed into a bloated, careerist nightmare where fighting to win took a backseat to making no waves and advancing one's career. Both men simply wanted to fly and soldier but realized that was simply impossible in today's "up or out" military. Still, they were both able to stay tactical through most of their stellar careers until their fame forced them from the battlefield into the stuffy, staid "front office". There, they continued to speak their minds in the hopes of defending their beloved frontline fighting men and pursue the real war fighting mission of Winning. Both eventually paid the price of career rejection despite making rank. The military is very unforgiving to those who do NOT toe the political line as both Olds and Hackworth found out. Still they both have become iconic heroes to the basic fighting man who lives and dies on the front line.
Fighter Pilot is a wonderful book about a man who knew from early on what he wanted to do: Fly fighters. The son of a famous WW1 pursuit pilot, Robin Olds grew up around many of the early famous aviators who built the early Army Air Force from its infancy. He attended West Point graduating a year early to fly and fight in WW2 where he became an Ace flying both the P-38 and the P-51. A Squadron Commander by 23, Major Robin Olds was on his way to military flying fame. After the war he married movie actress Ella Raines and for the rest of his life moved in high society circles despite always longing for his first true love flying fighters. His interesting life always revolved around flying, and the book is replete with many tales and stories of the early days of Air Force jet flying and development. It was a heady time for the infant Air Force and Robin Olds was an integral part of it. Strains to his marriage were repeatedly patched up as Colonel Olds followed his dream of flying fighters. The book highlights an amazing flying career that culminated during his year as Wing Commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (F-4) at Ubon, Thailand 1966-1967, where he became the icon he is today. Robin Olds is one of the most famous American military pilots of all time. He is the quintessential fighter pilot: The look, the mustache, the voice, the bearing, the glint in the eye. As a long retired Air Force pilot myself, we all knew who Robin Olds was and deep down inside emulated the man: From the walk to the look, Robin Olds was what all of us wanted to be. He had an amazing career and was able to stay tactical for most of it. Finishing his famed career General Olds continued to speak his mind by highlighting how the fighter community was declining during the waning days of the Vietnam War by failing to maintain its fighting mystique. His time in retirement was spent speaking and attending reunions where he was always the center of attention. Robin Olds, Fighter Pilot and leader of men, was and is the essence of the fighting man's spirit. He represents to this day everything that is true and dear to the warrior. He is the American Braveheart who felt more comfortable in the cockpit fighting the enemy than flying a desk. Robin Olds set the standard, and he set it extremely high.
Must read recommend. Daughter Christina and former F105/F4 combat pilot Ed Rasimus have done exemplary work in compiling and editing this excellent autobiography. Most autobiographies become to ego-centric and "all-about-ME" stuffy books that can be difficult to get through. NOT Fighter Pilot. It was an absolute pleasure to read. Excellent 16 pages of photographs. This helps tie Robin Olds' life together in photos and gives additional depth to this autobiography.
As a former Vietnam pilot I devoured the book in 2 days and felt AGAIN that General Olds was speaking for and to me. For us AF pilots Robin Olds was the MAN then and is still the MAN today. There is an old saying among USAF Pilots, "There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are No Old, Bold pilots." Robin Olds broke that mold!
Thank you Christina Olds for bringing your father back to life. WE all appreciate it and salute him once again.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For combat pilots of the era, Robin Olds was THE face of the Vietnam air war.,
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Posted 5/15/2010: Brig. Gen. Robin Olds was a bigger-than-life fighter pilot best-known for his leadership and combat exploits during the Vietnam War. But, as revealed through his own story, Olds was a seasoned double ace long before he took to the air in Southeast Asia.
From his birth in 1922, Olds was hard-wired to fly, surrounded by the pioneers of U.S. air power. He was the son of Robert Olds, a World War I fighter pilot, who served as an aide to Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell and achieved the rank of major general in the Army Air Corps. Giants of early military aviation, such as Hap Arnold, Carl A. "Tooey" Spaatz and Ira C. Eaker, met at the Olds home to discuss what became the tenets of U.S. airpower.
Olds flew two tours in World War II, distinguishing himself as a natural combat pilot in both the Lockheed P-38 and North American P-51 fighters. As a 22-year-old major, he commanded the 434th Fighter Sqdn., a salute to his leadership skills, as well.
Although his accounts of aerial battles convey the excitement, anxiety and exhaustion of air combat, Olds also captures the humor, grief and numbing routine that were part a pilot's life.
The European war ended with then-Maj. Olds having logged 107 missions, 12 air-to-air kills, and 11.5 German aircraft destroyed on the ground. He also had formed strong ideas about how fighters could be employed more effectively, and wasn't shy about expounding on those concepts.
Multiple attempts to fly combat in the Korean War were thwarted by his movie-star wife, Ella Raines, and her producer friends, who had considerable political pull in Washington. During frustrating years of Pentagon duty, Olds made a conscious decision to become a patriotic rebel-in-uniform; promotions be damned.
Later, as the war in Vietnam was heating up, it looked like Olds again would be grounded and shackled to a desk, thanks to a pending promotion to brigadier general. However, he managed to "screw up" just enough to get his promotion orders ripped to pieces and, eventually, sent to Southeast Asia.
He took over as commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, located at Ubon Air Base, Thailand, on Sept. 30, 1966. Although the wing's morale was dismal, Olds whipped the unit into shape, declaring that he would "lead from the front" by flying combat missions in the F-4 Phantom.
Olds details preparations for "Operation Bolo," one of the air war's most successful missions. Emulating a flight of F-105 fighters, right down to speeds, call signs and radio transmissions, his F-4s succeeded in suckering a flock of North Vietnamese MiGs into a trap that decimated the Russian-built fighters. Bolo F-4s downed seven MiGs, including one kill by Olds. It was a turning point for the air war in Southeast Asia.
Olds ultimately flew 152 combat missions and shot down four MiGs, boosting his career total to 16 air-to-air kills. Accounts of those missions are as descriptive as any written about the Vietnam air war.
After returning to the states, Olds served as the Air Force Academy's commandant of cadets and was promoted to brigadier general in 1968. He retired in 1973.
Olds's description of a recurring dream about a fighter pilot's final flight in an F-4 Phantom will cause even the crustiest airman to choke up. Guaranteed. Brig. Gen. Robin Olds died of congestive heart failure on June 14, 2007, and was buried at the U.S. Air Force Academy cemetery.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A labor of love and a job well done,
The two main ingredients of a good biography are an interesting subject and a style that makes him come alive. From this point of view, Fighter Pilot is flawless.
Forged by West Point first and by World War II immediately thereafter, Robin Olds comes through as the consummate fighter, strong in his ethos and his convictions but also replete with human passions and weaknesses. The type of man who would rather fly and fight as a Colonel than push paper as a General, Olds belonged to a rare breed of military officer who was 100% warrior and 0% politician. Today, he would have probably washed out as a Major, but at the height of the Viet Nam war he was among the few senior officers more interested in getting results than punching their own tickets.
However, the uncompromising Olds was a complex character who didn't just fight hard; he also played hard and when he played much alcohol tended to be consumed and property tended to be destroyed. He freely admitted to having a brief affair with his secretary prior to his return from South East Asia. Although he was passionate in his frustration with superiors and politicians in situations when lives or principles were at stake, he was also philosophical about not taking oneself too seriously.
In the end, the strengths of the all-too-human Olds are made more credible by his ability to recognize his own weak side and on occasion laugh at himself. We will even forgive him if he has embellished some episodes and omitted others. His aerial victories, his many clashes with the brass and the fond memories of those who still remember him are documented facts that will attest to how this book is not only genuine, but also written the way he would have wanted it.
A few pages into this book, I wished I had known Robin Olds. By the time I finished it, I almost felt like I did. On behalf of all the many readers who enjoyed their work, I'd like to thank Ed Rasimus and especially Robin's daughter Christina -to whom this must have been a true labor of love- for a job well done. Five stars because six wasn't an option.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't put it down,
The title of the review says it all. Rarely do I finish a book in one day. But sleep had to wait as I was not willing to put this book on the bedstand until I had finished the last word. In a world of manufactured 'heroes', produced and packaged by Hollywood and the sports franchises, it's good to know that, occasionally, this society produces someone who rises about the rest through his courage, intelligence, and strength of character. This is a book about an authentic American hero.
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Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds by Robin Olds (Paperback - May 10, 2011)