2 January 1967

“MiG Sweep,” by Keith Ferris. Colonel Robin Olds uses a Vector Roll to gain firing position on a MiG-21 fighter. “I got on top of him and half upside down, hung there, and waited for him to complete more of his turn. . . .”

2 January 1967: This painting, MiG Sweep, by aviation artist Keith Ferris, depicts “Olds 01” during OPERATION BOLO. The twin-engine all-weather jet fighter, a McDonnell F-4C -21-MC Phantom II, serial number 63-7680, was flown by Colonel Robin Olds, USAF, with First Lieutenant Charles C. Clifton, USAF, as the Weapons System Operator.

The Phantom is  shown inverted as Colonel Olds maneuvers to fire an AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking missile at a North Vietnamese Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 over Hanoi. Robin Olds was the only U.S. Air Force ace with victories in both World War II and Vietnam.

Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force
Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, Wing Commander, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. (U.S. Air Force)

The area around Hanoi, North Vietnam, was the most heavily defended target area ever encountered by the United States Air Force. A combination of radar-directed anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air guided missiles, and fighter interceptors made every mission very dangerous. Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers were taking heavy losses to the Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFL fighters. When escorting F-4C Phantoms would try to engage the MiGs, they would return to their bases which were safe from attack under the American rules of engagement.

Colonel Robin Olds with Captain John (“J.B.”) Stone, 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, one of the planners of OPERATION BOLO. (U. S. Air Force)

OPERATION BOLO was a complex plan to lure the ground-controlled MiG 21s into an air battle by having the Phantoms simulate a Thunderchief attack. Colonel Olds led 48 McDonnell F-4Cs of the 8th and 366th Tactical Fighter Wings on the same type of attack that would have been used by the Thunderchiefs, but rather than carrying a full load of bombs, the F-4s were armed with AIM-7E Sparrow radar-guided missiles and AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. (The F-4C was not armed with a gun.)

A Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21PF at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
An Aero Vodochody-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F-13 with the markings of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

As the Mach 2+ MiG 21s started coming up through the clouds, their pilots quickly realized that instead of the vulnerable targets of F-105s on a bomb run, they were faced with air superiority fighters.

In the official after action report, Colonel Olds said,

At the onset of this battle, the MiGs popped up out of the clouds. Unfortunately, the first one to pop through came up at my 6 o’clock position. I think this was more by chance than by design. As it turned out, within the next few moments, many others popped out of the clouds in varying positions around the clock.

This one was just lucky. He was called out by the second flight that had entered the area, they were looking down on my flight and saw the MiG-21 appear. I broke left, turning just hard enough to throw off his deflection, waiting for my three and four men to slice in on him. At the same time I saw another MiG pop out of the clouds in a wide turn about my 11 o’clock position, a mile and a half away. I went after him and ignored the one behind me. I fired missiles at him just as he disappeared into the clouds.

I’d seen another pop out in my 10 o’clock position, going from my right to left; in other words, just about across the circle from me. When the first MiG I fired at disappeared, I slammed full afterburner and pulled in hard to gain position on this second MiG. I pulled the nose up high about 45 degrees, inside his circle. Mind you, he was turning around to the left so I pulled the nose up high and rolled to the right. This is known as a vector roll. I got on top of him and half upside down, hung there, and waited for him to complete more of his turn and I timed it so that as I continued to roll down behind him, I’d be about 20 degrees angle off and about 4,500 to 5,000 feet behind him. That’s exactly what happened. Frankly, I’m not sure he ever saw me. When I got down low and behind, and he was outlined by the sun against a brilliant blue sky, I let him have two Sidewinders, one of which hit and blew his right wing off.

Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Page 39.

The F-4Cs succeeded in shooting down seven MiG 21s, with another two probably destroyed. This accounted for about half of the VPAF’s MiG 21 complement.

With another flight crew, the Phantom flown by Robin Olds on 2 January 1967, McDonnell F-4C-21-MC 63-7680, shot down a MiG 17 on 13 May 1967. It was itself shot down by antiaircraft fire while attacking a SAM site, 20 November 1967. The Weapons System Officer, 1st Lieutenant James L. Badley, bailed out and was rescued, but the pilot, Captain John M. Martin, was not seen to leave the aircraft and is listed as Missing in Action.

Colonel Robin Olds shot down two MiG-17 fighters with this McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, 63-7680. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robin Olds shot down a MiG 21 interceptor with this McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, 63-7680, photographed at Ubon RTAFB, sometime between March and November 1967. (Photograph by Frank R. MacSorley, Jr.)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 thoughts on “2 January 1967

  1. This is probably the epic F-4 painting, however, it has two issues. It currently is part of the collection of Ferris paintings at NASM, and has hung in prominent positions. Ferris was a key part of the museum even before its opening, and painted the wonderful image of B-17s under attack that covers the complete back wall of the WWII gallery.

    Unfortunately, at the 1976 museum opening, this F-4C painting was displayed as shown …. actually turned 90 degrees clockwise from Keith’s intended display, with the F-4C climbing and rolling inverted to dive on the MiG below the canopy. Now attached to the back is a sticker indicating “This Side Up” with an arrow.

    Also, despite Old’s error in memory, s/n 7680 had the AAA-4 infra red seeker blister on the bottom of the radome, as seen in photographs of the plane. Yeah, it does look better “dorkless” and that probably affected Olds’ memory. Ferris offered to make the change, but the museum declined.

    Cheers, Bob

    1. Thank you, Bob. I knew about the correct orientation and originally had posted it that way, but I thought people might be confused. I will change it back. I wish that I had a better image, but I understand the copyright holder’s reluctance to allow that, as prints are still offered for sale.

    1. Thank you very much, Tom. I was relying on the caption that came with the photo from the NMUSAF website: “DAYTON, Ohio — Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PF “Fishbed” at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)”

      I appreciate your correcting me, and thank you for your compliment.

      Bryan

  2. Point of interest Bryan – if you’re ever up at NASM on the DC mall to look at Keith’s fabulously huge portrait of the B17 “Old Thunderbird” , look VERY closely at the “blue line” under her right wing outboard of #4 and you’ll see that its actually the names of all of the guys in the AF/XOXF fighter division! They went over there as he was painting her & he put their names up (very discretely of course)! Also, if you look at his famous painting of the B-52 in pre-contact, you may be interested that he painted himself in the IP seat! We had that original in the CINCSAC’s outer office and one day while I was manning the Exec’s desk who should come waltzing in but Keith himself (“to see his painting”….)

    1. I heard that the wife of Old Thunderbird’s pilot visited NASM and recognized him in the painting. I’ve always placed Keith Ferris at the top of my list of favorite aviation artists. One of the squadron assembly rooms at USAFA had a mural of an F-4C viewed nearly head on, firing a missile. It was very dramatic.

  3. Actually the F-4 was dork less at least via the photos taken by Olds crew chief on the morning of the operation which I have several shoots of.

  4. Greetings from England Bryan and a happy New Year for 2016.

    Just seen and like the article on Robin Olds and his Bolo kill.

    However I do disagree with the comment that his jet that mission, namely 63-7680 had a Navy radome with chin pod fairing when flying that day.

    It did not.

    It was fitted with the then new clean ‘ Air Force ‘ radome in late 1966 as per the latest mods for the F-4C at that time.

    A picture can be found in the publication Grumman Horizons, Volume 8 Number 1 on page 17. The article it helps to illustrate was written by Phil Combies describing Bolo. It is a small image but it clearly shows the jet on the taxi way as ‘ 680 ( FP ) ‘ and her nose is devoid of that chin pod.

    The Ferris painting is thus correct in that regard and Robin Olds had no such memory lapse. And to coin a phrase the jet was indeed ‘ dorkless ‘ on that day.

    The picture of the jet on the ramp at Ubon with two kill stars is a summer 1967 shot and by that time the Navy radome had been re-fitted to provide a home for the then new APR-25 (RHAW) system’s forward facing antennas and other associated kit. Jets looks to have a new paint job and is probably post PDM where all the later mods were fitted.

    The second kill star helps with dates since it is from 13 May 1967 when Maj. Fred Heaffner, a visitor from Da Nang’s 366TFW managed to get on a mission flying with the 433TFS and bagged a MiG of his own. Not only did he do that but he was flying 63-7680 … Olds’ jet from Bolo. Olds almost ran him off base when he found out. But stood him a drink … or two … later.

    Heaffner Commanded the 390TFS at Da Nang but the kill is credited to the 433TFS since it was their mission. Some MiG kill lists show him as a Lt.Col but pictures show his rank clearly as he climbed out of the jet that day. Promotion came later.

    Anyway that later shot has no bearing on how 63-7680 looked when flying her Bolo mission.

    For what it is worth.

    Best regards

    Mike France

    London England

    1. And a Happy New Year to you, Michael, as well! Thanks for that very detailed information. The photo of -680 that I posted was the only one that I found, and it was actually on a Vietnamese internet site! I’ll try to track down the photo that you mention. Brigadier General Olds once spoke to me when I was but a lowly Basic Cadet. He left an indelible impression on me and was very concerned about how “his boys” were doing. When you think, “command presence,” General Olds exemplified it.

      1. Hi Bryan

        A favourite subject for many years.

        That shot you used is credited as USAF … A well known shot actually taken by a Crew Chief who was good with a camera and seemed to get away with picture shooting on the flight line. Thankfully.

        I met Robin Olds here in England at an air show some years ago. He was everything I expected and more. A true leader from the front.

        Cheers

        Mike

        1. Thanks, Mike. Which photo are you referring to? With the exception of the the photo of F-4C 63-7680, they all came from the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The photo of the Phantom came from a Vietnamese military web site, vnmilitaryhistory.net

  5. Hi Bryan

    The picture of 63-7680 with the two kill stars.

    A well known picture going back many years. Published all over the place.

    I expect he contributed the image to the Vietnamese Military web site.

    Great image from the period.

    Mike

  6. The ‘dorked’ and ‘dorkless’ radomes were interchangeable. When the USAF started buying F-4Cs they wanted to eliminate the chin bulge, but it would have entailed an expensive contract change. When the radome contract come up for renewal, McDonnell asked the USAF if they still wanted smooth radomes. They did, so for that contract they got their smooth radomes. By the time of the next contract, they went back to the original design, partly (as I recall) because the Navy needed more F-4B radomes and the USAF had found a use for the chin bump–housing RHAW antennas.

  7. At a River Rats reunion years ago, I bought a copy of this photo. Robin Olds was also there so I asked him if he would sign it. As mentioned, the F-4 was horizontal. Robin took the print and said “Damn it, I told Ferris to paint it like THIS!” And he rotated the print vertically, which makes it how a fighter pilot would see it. Years later, I met Keith Ferris at an aviation art show and told him that story. He laughed and said “I know, but I view airplanes horizontally. I told Robin ‘up is where your hat is!’” I asked Keith if he would sign it for me and hold his nose and sign it vertically as Robin had. He did, and signed “As I reminded Robin, Up is where your hat is!”

  8. ✅-𝟔

    An interesting perspective from the Ubon flightline (reposted by Dan Cullen, FB Admin)

    Remembering MSgt Robert Clinton, 433d TFS Load-Toad
    …May He Rest In Peace

    “Operation Bolo” in his own words….
    (Originally posted 2016)
    .

    ☲✪☲ OPERATION BOLO ☭ ☭ ☭ ☭ ☭ -☭ ☭
    Monday, 2 January 1967

    Much has been written about Operation Bolo in the last 28 years. I was just a young, eager, 23 year old, 2-striper, and this was my first time at war. I was assigned to the 433rd TFS as a weapons load crew member. Crew #8 to be exact.

    This is my story:

    Word came to us as we arrived for our shift 0800-2000 hrs, 1 Jan ’67, (we were on twelve-plus hour shifts at this time) that we were to download everything on all aircraft in our squadron. This meant all MERS, TERS, missiles, launchers, and guns. In other words, everything! The downloaded missiles (AIM-7s and AIM-9s) were then loaded on weapons trailers and sent to the missile shop for a complete operational test and systems check out.

    During this period of the war we were extremely short of weapons load crews, our squadron only had a total of 6 or 7 crews at this time for all work shifts. It was a hardship with which we had to endure. You know the old phrase, “Underpaid and overworked.”

    We were extremely surprised to find that the night shift (2000-0800) was called in early and everyone was restricted to base. We also ceased all normal flying activities. The troops knew something was up, but no one had a clue as to what was about to take place.

    Only aircraft outfitted with the MAU-12 B/A inboard armament pylons were selected for the mission. Some of the older aircraft were still fitted with the earlier LAU-17 pylon at this time and were not used. We were later to find out that this was do to the attachment and electronics of the (QRC-160) ECM pod (typically flown by F-105 strike aircraft). All other aircraft were then gone over with a fine tooth comb. All aircraft in for phase inspections were also completed and sent to the line. All day the maintenance people swarmed over these chosen aircraft insuring that every mechanical aspect of these aircraft was in tip top order.

    As each A/C became Code 𝟏 it was turned over to the ECM troops, and was fitted with a QRC-160 ECM pod. The loading and checkout of the ECM pods was done in somewhat secrecy. This was also the first time I had ever seen the pod, as we had never flown ECM (on Ubon F-4s) before. In all of our weapons load training, the pod was only used when the aircraft was configured for special weapons (i.e. ☢️ nukes). We then started our routine of hanging LAU-7 launchers, for the AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, and wrung out all the missile firing circuits (ASM-11 test), etc.

    Then came an order to perform GWM-4 checks on all the aircraft. If you know about the F-4 systems tests, the GWM-4 is a special weapons system test. This is when all the rumors began to fly. GWM-4 + QRC-160 meant only one thing in our books. Big Apples, BFBs, Nukes, 28s, 57s, 61s, or whatever you want to call them.

    We really didn’t know what was going on (maybe they planned it this way?), most of us worked from then on with a hard lump in our throats.

    Well, you already know the end of the story, we didn’t load nukes, but to this day I still don’t know why the GWM-4 test??? It sure scared the Hell out of us, though.

    Later in night, trailers of AIM-7s and -9s begun to come to the line from the missile shop, the real work was about to begin. At this time we probably had 20 to 25 aircraft assigned to each squadron. Let’s see, 20 times 8 missiles equals lots of work, and we also were expected to help out the other squadrons. Three squadrons from the 8th were involved in the operation, the 433rd TFS, 555th TFS, and the 497th TFS.

    To the best of my recollection, the FRAG order was 3 tanks, 4 AIM-9s, 4 AIM-7s and the POD on #2 station. No guns were flown.

    The flight line was still closed and most of us had been working for some time with no breaks and no chow. Which, as you well know is the best way to piss off an enlisted man. After lots of moaning and complaining, our line chief coerced the chowhall into sending some food for us. We were still not allowed to leave the flight line. We were all hot, tired, and very dirty. No one complained about the food or how it tasted. We all ate in silence, each deep within his own thoughts of what was happening.

    As the night progressed, things slowly began to come into shape. As more and more aircraft were finished, crews were finally given some short, welcomed breaks, but these were all too brief to ease our wariness much. In all, we spent about 28 hours (non-stop) getting ready for BOLO.

    At day break the ‘drivers’ and their GIB’s showed up to take charge of their awaiting steeds. Soon the shrill moan of the Wolverine power units (‘dash sixties’ as the modern troops call them) replaced the scurry and activity of the night before with their high pitched scream. One-by-one, the J79s roared to life, the distinct little funny noise they make as they settle down and go into idle repeated itself over-and-over again as three squadrons of Phantoms prepared themselves for the deadly business of war.

    We all stood, no matter how tired, and watched in awe. First one, then another battle anxious F-4 pulled out of its parking spot and headed for the taxiway. Here and there some airman would move forward and pop a hand salute, or a thumbs up good luck gesture, to one of the pilots he might know as the aircraft slowly paraded by.

    Moments later, all that remained were the tell-tail smoky exhaust trails criss-crossing themselves in the blue morning sky as the mighty armada of BOLO formed up and headed north into the unknown.

    It was kind of funny to observe an almost empty flight line where just a few moments earlier three squadrons of F-4s had sat with hundreds of people frantically preparing them. The silence rang in our ears. This was the first time since I had been at Ubon that the flightline was not a bee nest of activity. It was all quiet, everyone was bone tired, and for once, there was not a sound …and we waited.

    # # #

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