Tag Archives: Thompson Trophy Race

5 September 1949

William Paul Odom in the cockpit of the radically-modified P-51C air racer Beguine at the Cleveland National Air Races, 3 September 1949. (NASM)

5 September 1949: The 1949 National Air Races were a three-day event held at the Cleveland Municipal Airport, southwest of Cleveland, Ohio, over the three-day Labor Day holiday weekend, 3–5 September 1949. This was the twelfth time that the races had taken place at the airport since they began in 1929. More than 170,000 people attended the races over the three days, and at least 72,000 paid spectators were present on Monday, the 5th.

The day’s major event was the Thompson Trophy Race. This was a 15-lap race around a 7-turn,  15-mile course (225 statute miles/362 kilometers), marked by a tall pylon at the airport, and barrage balloons at the other turns. Before World War II, the Thompson race was flown with specially-built air racers, but this was no longer practical. Since 1946, the competitors flew military fighter aircraft, some of which had been heavily modified from their original configurations.

The 1949 race had two divisions. The J Division, for military jet fighters, was flown first, with a scheduled start time of 2:35 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. The R Division, for reciprocating-engine aircraft, was scheduled an hour later.

1949 Thompson Trophy Race pylon course, from “Cleveland’s National Air Races” by Thomas G. Matowitz, Jr., credited to the Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University.

The R-Division had ten entrants, which included three Goodyear-built F2G-1 Corsairs, one Bell Aircraft Corporation P-63 King Cobra, and six North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs. The race winner would be awarded $16,000 in prize money, and another $2,000 if he beat the race speed which had been set in 1947.

One of the air racers was William Paul (“Bill”) Odom, flying a radically-modified North American Aviation P-51C Mustang which was owned by the world-famous aviatrix, Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Cochran. Ms. Cochran was the holder of many world records for speed and altitude. She had won the trans-continental Bendix Trophy Race in 1938, and placed second in 1946 with her “Lucky Strike Green” P-51B Mustang, NX28388.

Beguine, a radically-modified North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, NX4845N. (Torino Dave)

Odom had not flown in a pylon race before, but had gained public attention for a number of long-distance record flights, including a 78 hour, 55 minute, 6 second around-the-world flight in a Douglas A-26 Invader, Reynolds Bombshell, 12–16 April 1947.

With these records and record attempts, Bill Odom persuaded Jackie Cochran to buy a radically-modified P-51C Mustang named Beguine (NX4845N) for him to fly at the 1949 National Air Races at Cleveland Municipal Airport, Ohio.

Jackie Cochran and William P. Odom with the Sohio Race trophy. (Bill Meixner Collection))

Cochran purchased NX4845N from J.D. Reed Co., Inc., of Houston, Texas, on 22 August 1949. (She submitted an Application for Registration to the Civil Aeronautics Administration, but it does not appear that a new Certificate of Registration was ever issued.)

Ms. Cochran also planned to fly Beguine in the 1950 Bendix Trophy Race.

During 1948–1949, 42-103757 was radically modified as an Unlimited Class air racer. The lower portion of the P-51’s fuselage was removed and faired over. The radiator and engine oil cooler which had been enclosed in the Mustang’s characteristic belly scoop were relocated to the wingtips. (The Air Force had experimented with a ramjet-powered P-51D, 44-63528. A Marquardt XRJ-30-MA ramjet was placed on each wingtip. The cooling pods on 42-103757 resemble these, though another source says that the pods were made from modified FJ-1 Fury fuel tanks.) No reports of these modifications are found in the airplane’s records at the Federal Aviation Administration, however.

The  former owner, J.D. Reed, named the racer Beguine after a popular song of the time, Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.” The music from the song was painted in gold along the Mustang’s fuselage, along with the race number 7.

Modified air racer Beguine, NX4845N, under tow

Though he had never before flown in a pylon race, Odom qualified Beguine for the 105-mile (167 kilometer) Sohio Trophy Race, which was held on Saturday, 3 September. He won the race with the average speed of 388.393 miles per hour (625.058 kilometers per hour), and was awarded $19,100 in prize money.

He had also entered the Thompson Trophy Race, qualifying with a speed of 405.565 miles per hour (652.694 kilometers per hour.)

At the start of the Thompson race, Odom quickly took the lead. But on the second lap, things went wrong. As it approached Pylon 4, Beguine rolled upside down and then crashed into a house near the airport, setting it on fire.

Air racer Steven Calhoun Beville, flying P-51D Mustang # 77 in the Thompson Race, the closest pilot to Beguine, said that Odom had cut inside Pylon No. 3 and was correcting toward Pylon 4 when the airplane rolled inverted.

[Beville’s Mustang, The Galloping Ghost, NX79111, is the same airplane involved in the catastrophic crash at the National Championship Air Races, Reno, Nevada, 16 September 2011.]

Newspapers reported the crash:

Beville, who finished third in the race, was the closest to Odom when he got in trouble.

     “Bill was out too far on the third pylon,” Beville said, “and was trying to correct position too quickly. He turned over in the air and flew along on his back for a short distance, then dived right into a house.”

The San Bernardino Daily Sun, Vol. LVI, No. 5, Tuesday, 6 September 1949, at Page 2, Column 7

The Laird home at 429 West Street, Berea, Ohio burns after the unlimited-class racer Beguine crashed into it, 5 September 1949. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“The house” was a brand new single-family home, located at 429 West Street, Berea, Ohio. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Bradley C. Laird, had moved in just four days earlier, along with their 5-year-old son, David. Their 13-month-old, Craig, had remained with Mrs. Laird’s parents, but her father, Benjamin J. Hoffman, had brought him to the house in Berea two days earlier.

Jeanne Laird was inside the house when Beguine crashed. She was killed instantly. Mr. Laird, Mr. Hoffman and David were outside watching the airplanes fly overhead, and Craig was in a playpen in the driveway. When the house exploded in flames, Mr. Hoffman rescued Craig, suffering severe burns in doing so. The infant was critically burned, and though Mr. Hoffman drove him to Berea Community Hospital, Craig Hamilton Laird died several hours later.

Bill Odom’s body was so badly burned that it could only be identified by his wristwatch.

(Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Despite Odom’s crash, the Thompson Trophy Race continued. Cook Cleland, flying his clipped-wing F2G Corsair, # 94, won the race. When interviewed afterwards about the crash, Cleland said,

Cook Cleland

“. . . I don’t think he should have been in the Thompson Trophy Race at all. Not only I, but some of the other pilots will tell you the same thing.

     “He was a Bendix (the cross-country speed dash) pilot, not a closed course speed pilot. It takes two different kinds of temperament. Odom made an excellent cross-country flyer, but I guess the ship he flew today was just too much for him.

     “It’s just too bad he had to race today. Anson Johnson said he thought it was the first time Odom had flown that type of plane.

     “No one was worried about his plane. It was about as good a piece of equipment as anyone could buy. It made our ships look mangy in comparison.

     “I had just met Odom and he seemed like a nice guy. There is no doubt that he was a good pilot. Just that he was in the wrong race. Too bad it had to happen. . . .”

San Francisco Examiner, Vol. CLXXXXI, No. 68, Tuesday, 6 September 1949, at Page 5, Columns 1 and 2

In her autobiography, Jackie Cochran wrote,

I was in the judges’ stand handling telephone reports from the back of the stands’ pylons when the flash came through that Bill had crashed. I jumped into a helicopter that was just in front of me on the field and went out to the spot of the accident hoping that something could be done. I found the house on fire, with Bill and the plane, as well as some of the occupants, buried in the wreckage. Some news photographer snapped a picture of me standing there close by. I am in that picture the personification of abject desolation. For three days I stayed in Cleveland doing all that I could to honor Bill Odom’s memory.

— The Stars At Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter V at Page 96.

The Laird home at 429 West Street, Berea, Ohio, burns after Bill Odom’s air racer crashed into it, 5 September 1949. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Mrs. Bradley C. Laird (née Jeanne M. Hoffman)

Jeanne Marian Hoffman was born 18 September 1925, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was the third child of Benjamin John Hoffman, a stationary engineer, and Vergie Effie Hamilton Hoffman.

Jeanne attended Marshall High School, and after graduation, was employed as a model for The Dayton Company, a department store company with its headquarters in Minneapolis.

Miss Hoffman married 2nd Lieutenant Bradley Clayton Laird, United States Army, 13 November 1943. The ceremony was performed by Dr. Arnold S. Lowe, and took place at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis. The newlyweds then traveled to Fort Bliss, Texas, where Lieutenant Laird was assigned for training.

Following World War II, Mr. and  Mrs. Laird settled in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Their first son, David, was born there

Mrs. Laird’s remains were interred at the Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Craig Hamilton Laird was born 30 July 1948 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His remains were interred with those of his mother.

Jeanne and Craig Laird’s grave marker at the Lakewood Cemetery, Mineapolis, Minnesota. (jeannelindholm09)

William Paul Odom was born at Raymore, Missouri, 21 October 1919, He was the first of three children of Dennis Paul Odom, a farmer, and Ethel E. Powers Odom.

Odom, then an airport radio operator, married Miss Dorothy Mae Wroe at Brentwood, Pennsylvania, 3 December 1939. Two children. Divorced September 1948

Odom flew for the Chinese National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) from 1944 to 1945, flying “The Hump,” the air route over the Himalayas from India to China.

William P. Odom had flown a Douglas A-26B Invader, NX67834, named Reynolds Bombshell, around the world in 3 days, 6 hours 55 minutes, 56 seconds, 12–16 April 1947. He made a second around the world flight, 7–11 August 1947, again flying the A-26. The duration of this second trip was 3 days, 1 hour, 5 minutes, 11 seconds. (Neither flight was recognized as a record by the FAI.)

In April 1948, Odom flew a Consolidated C-87A-CF Liberator Express transport for the Reynolds Boston Museum China Expedition.

Odom had made another FAI World Record flight with Waikiki Beech, from from Honolulu, to Oakland, California, an official distance of 3,873.48 kilometers (2,406.87 miles).²

A rare color photograph of Jackie Cochran’s radically-modified North American P-51C racer, NX4845N (42-103757). (Aaron King/Cleveland Plain Dealer)
North American Aviation P-51C Mustang NX4845N, #7, “Beguine”, being towed at the 1949 Cleveland National Air Races. (Catalog # 15_002190, Charles M. Daniels Collection, Album “Cleveland 46, 47, 48, 49,” San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Beguine, a modified North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, NX4845N. (San Diego Air & Space Museum)
Right rear quarter view of the modified Mustang air racer, Beguine. (Unattributed)
SDA&SM 15_000823

William Paul Odom’s remains were buried at the Friendship Cemetery, Columbus, Mississippi.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

3 September 1932

James H. Doolittle with his Gee Bee R-1, NR2100, at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1932. (NASM)
The Thompson Trophy

3 September 1932: At the Cleveland National Air Races, James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle won the Thompson Trophy Race with his Granville Brothers Aircraft Company Gee Bee Supersportster R-1, NR2100.

He also set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed for Record Over a 3 Kilometer Course, averaging 473.82 kilometers per hour (294.42 miles per hour). ¹

The highest speed attained by Doolittle during his four passes over the 3-kilometer course was 497.352 kilometers per hour (309.040 miles per hour).

Jimmy Doolittle crosses the finish line at Cleveland, 1932.

The New York Daily News reported:


CLEVELAND, SEPT. 3. (AP).—Major James H. Doolittle today shattered the world land plane speed record by averaging 296.287 miles an hour over a three-kilometer course at the National Air races.

     Denied in two previous attempts, he bested the eight-year mark held by Warrant Officer Bonnet of France by 17.807 miles an hour.

     He made six dashes, of 293.047, 287.154. 309.040, 281.966, 306.990, and 283.156 miles an hour. By the rules, any four consecutive laps may be taken for the record and the second to fifth laps, inclusive, gave the highest average.

A Light Cross-Wind.

     A five to six miles an hour cross-wind was blowing over the course as Major Doolittle, who also holds the American seaplane record, roared along in the snub-nosed Flying Silo which Russell Boardman, transatlantic flier, had planned to fly at the races.

     Doolittle grinned broadly as he was informed of his new record when he landed.

     “I’m contented with this,” he said happily. He will not attempt to set a faster record, at least for the time being.

     His plane pumped oil part of the time, he said, and this may have cost him another five miles an hour. The splattering oil impaired his vision somewhat, but not seriously. 

Ship Will Go Faster.

     “The ship behaved wonderfully,” Doolittle said on landing, “but I still think there are five miles or more in it. But it’s Russ Boardman’s ship and I think it no more than right that he should be able to take it and get out of it all that he can.”

Today’s average bested the unofficial mark of 293.193 miles an hour Doolittle set Wednesday during the eclipse and was well above the 282.672 miles an hour in an official test with a barograph the following day.

Before the new record can become official, the barograph must be calibrated and the mark accepted by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, world governing body of sporting aviation, at Paris.

Description of Plane.

     The plane used by Doolittle is a Gee Bee super-sportster. It has an 800-horsepower Wasp engine manufactured by the Pratt & Whitney Company, Hartford, Conn. The fuselage is streamlined from the engine, tapering to the knife-like rudder, just in front of which the pilot sits.

The three-kilometer course is distance of 9,844.5 feet, over which rules of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale require that the maximum altitude be seventy-five meters, or 244 feet.

     There are approaches, 500 meters, or 1,620 feet, in distance, at each end of the course, in which level flight must be made.

     The maximum height allowed before entering the approaches is 400 meters, or 1,320 feet, so that a dive of slightly more than 1,000 feet is permitted before entering upon the approaches to the course. The barograph is carried to check these altitudes. . . .

SUNDAY NEWS, Vol. 12, No. 21, Sunday, 4 September 1932, Page 2, Columns 3 and 4, and Page 4, Column 1

The Gee Bee was a purpose-built racing airplane, designed by Robert Leicester Hall, who would later become the Chief Engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. It was a very small airplane, with short wings and small control surfaces. It had gained a reputation as being very dangerous. A number of famous racers of the time were killed when they lost control of the Gee Bee. However, Doolittle had a different opinion: “She is the sweetest ship I’ve ever flown. She is perfect in every respect and the motor is just as good as it was a week ago. It never missed a beat and has lots of stuff in it yet. I think this proves that the Granville brothers up in Springfield build the very best speed ships in America today.”

Granville Brothers Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 NR2100.

The Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 was a single-seat, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed conventional landing gear. The airplane had been designed for a load factor of 12. It was 17 feet, 8 inches (5.385 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters), and height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). The fuselage had a maximum diameter 5 feet, 1 inch (1.549 meters). The wings were wire-braced. The angle of incidence was 2.5° and there was 4.5° dihedral. The aspect ratio was 6:1, and the wing area was 75 square feet (7.968 square meters).

The R-1 had an empty weight of 1,840 pounds (834.6 kilograms), gross weight of 2,415 pounds (1,095.4 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 3,075 pounds (1,394.8 kilograms).

The Gee Bee R-1 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.80-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp T3D1 nine-cylinder direct -drive radial engine. It was rated at 730 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The engine turned a two-bladed U.S. Smith Engineering Co. adjustable-pitch propeller with a diameter of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). The engine was enclosed in a NACA cowling. The T3D1 was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 763 pounds (346 kilograms).

Granville Brothers Supersportser R-1, NR2100. (NASM)

The Gee Bee R-1 had a cruise speed was 260 miles per hour (418.4 kilometers per hour), and its maximum speed was more than 309 miles per hour (497 kilometers per hour). The stall speed was rather high at 90 miles per hour (144.8 kilometers per hour), as a result of optimizing the airplane for high speed. The air racer could climb at 6,100 feet per minute (31 meters per second). It had a range of 630 miles (1,014 kilometers) at full throttle. ²

Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 NR2100, #11, was later re-engined with a Pratt & Whitney Hornet. It was destroyed when it crashed on takeoff after refueling at Indianapolis, Indiana, 1 July 1933. The pilot, Russell Boardman, was killed.

Jimmy Doolittle hops out of the Bee Bee R-1. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Jimmy Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested and developed new flying equipment and techniques. He was a highly-educated military officer, having earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Berkeley School of Mines, and M.S and D.Sc. degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During World War II Colonel Doolittle planned and led the famous Halsey-Doolittle Raid against Japan, 18 April 1942, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

As a brigadier general, Doolittle commanded the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. Promoted to major general, he was given command of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater. From 1943 until 1945, Lieutenant General Doolittle commanded Eighth Air Force. He was preparing his command to move against Japan, equipped with Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers, when World War II came to an end.

(Original Caption) 6/14/1945-Seattle, WA- Lt. General, James H. Doolittle, after making his first flight in the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, during a brief visit here said, “It’s a fine airplane and handles nicely.”

After the war, Lieutenant General Doolittle was placed on the inactive list. On 4 April 1985, by Act of Congress, James H. Doolittle was promoted to General, United States Air Force.

General James Harold Doolittle is the only person to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom. He died 27 September 1993 at the age of 96 years. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Force (U.S. Army Photo C-2102)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8751

² All Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 specifications from Zantford D. Granville, writing in Aero Digest Magazine, July 1933. See http://goldenageofaviation.org/geebeer2.html

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

Brigadier General Robin Olds (14 July 1922–14 June 2007)

Major Robin Olds, United States Army Air Forces. 1946. (LIFE Magazine)
Brigadier General Robert Olds, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1942.

14 July 1922: Brigadier General Robin Olds, United States Air Force, was a fighter pilot and triple ace with 16 official aerial victories in two wars. Robin Olds was born Robert Oldys, Jr., at Luke Field Hospital, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii. He was the first son of Captain Robert Oldys, Air Service, United States Army, and Eloise Wichman Nott Oldys. In 1931, the family name was legally changed from Oldys to Olds. As a child, Robert, Jr., was known as “Robin,” a dimunuitive of Robert.

Robin Olds entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, on 1 July 1940. During the summer months, he received primary, basic and advanced pilot training. With training at West Point accelerated because of wartime needs, Cadet Olds and his class graduated one year early, 1 June 1943. Olds was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, (number 589 of 620 on the Air Corps list of second lieutenants), and was assigned to fighter training in the Lockheed P-38 Lightning at Williams Field, Arizona. On 1 December 1943, Second Lieutenant Olds was appointed to the rank of First Lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.). (His permanent rank remained Second Lieutenant, Air Corps, until after the War.)

On completion of all phases of training, Lieutenant Olds was assigned to the 434th Fighter Squadron, 479th Fighter Group, and deployed to England aboard the former Moore-McCormack Lines passenger liner S.S. Argentina, which had been converted to a troop transport.

Lieutenant Robin Olds with "SCAT II," A lockheed P-38 Lightning.
Lieutenant Robin Olds with “SCAT II,” a Lockheed P-38J-15-LO Lightning, 43-28707. (Imperial War Museum)

The 434th Fighter Squadron was based at RAF Wattisham in East Anglia. First Lieutenant Olds was promoted to Captain (A.U.S.) on 24 July 1944. He became an ace during his first two combat missions, shooting down 2 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters on 14 August 1944 and 3 Messerschmitt Bf 109s on August 23.

The squadron re-equipped with North American P-51 Mustangs and Captain Olds continued to destroy enemy fighters. On 9 February 1945, just 22 years old, he was promoted to Major. On 25 March 1945, Major Olds was placed in command of the 434th Fighter Squadron. Major Olds completed the war with a record of 12 aerial victories,¹ and another 11.5 enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground. He had flown 107 combat missions.

Major Robin Olds with “SCAT VI,” a North American Aviation P-51K-5-NT Mustang, 44-11746, in England during World War II. (U.S. Air Force via Crazy Horse Aviation)
Robin Olds’ Mustang, “SCAT VII” (P-51D-25-NA 44-44729), escorts a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber during World War II. This airplane still exists. (U.S. Air Force)

When the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service on 18 September 1947, Major Olds (along with hundreds, if not thousands of other officers) reverted to their permanent rank of First Lieutenant, with his date of rank retroactive to 1 June 1946. Olds retained the temporary rank of Major.

After World War II, Major Olds transitioned to jet fighters with the Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star at March Field, near Riverside, California. He flew in an aerobatic demonstration team, and on 1 September 1946, flew a Lockheed P-80A to second place in the Thompson Trophy Race, Jet Division, at Cleveland, Ohio. Olds averaged 514.715 miles per hour (828.354 kilometers per hour) over ten laps around the 30-mile (48.3 kilometers), four pylon course.

Major Robin Olds was scheduled to fly this Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, “SCAT X,” serial number 44-85027, in the 1946 Thompson Trophy Race. It had to be replaced shortly before the race. This fighter was damaged beyond repair and written off at Long Beach Army Airfield, California, 14 September 1946. (Kevin Grantham Collection via airrace.com)
Ella Raines (Universal Pictures)

While stationed at March Field, Olds met his future wife, actress Ella Wallace Raines (formerly, Mrs. Kenneth William Trout). They married on 6 February 1947 at the West Hollywood Community Church, just south of the Sunset Strip in the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles County, California. Rev. Gordon C. Chapman performed the ceremony. They would have two daughters, Christina and Susan. They divorced 15 November 1976.

In October 1948, Major Olds returned to England as an exchange officer in command of No. 1 Squadron, Royal Air Force, at RAF Tangmere. He was the first non-Commonwealth officer to command a Royal Air Force squadron. The squadron flew the Gloster Meteor F. Mk.IV jet fighter.

Following the tour with the R.A.F., Olds returned to March Air Force Base as operations officer of the 94th Fighter Squadron, Jet, 1st Fighter-Interceptor Group, which had been equipped with the North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre. Soon after, he was placed in command of the 71st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, another squadron within the 1st Fighter-Interceptor Group.

North American Aviation F-86A Sabres of the 71st Fighter-Interceptor squadron at George AFB, California, 1950. The Sabre closest to the camera is F-86A-5-NA 48-214. (U.S. Air Force)

Olds was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, 20 February 1951, and to colonel 15 April 1953. From 8 October 1955 to 10 August 1956 he commanded the 86th Fighter-Interceptor Group based at Landstuhl Air Base, Germany. The group flew the rocket-armed North American Aviation F-86D Sabre. The 86th was inactivated 10 August 1956. Colonel Olds then was assigned as chief of the Weapons Proficiency Center for the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) at Wheelus Air Base, near Tripoli, Libya.

After assignment as Deputy Chief, Air Defense Division, Headquarters USAF, from 1958 to 1962, Colonel Olds attended the National War College, graduating in 1963. From 8 September 1963 to 26 July 1965, Colonel Olds commanded the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, at RAF Bentwaters, England.

Colonel Olds with a McDonnell F-101C Voodoo at RAF Bentwaters. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Olds with a McDonnell F-101C Voodoo at RAF Bentwaters. (U.S. Air Force)

Robin Olds returned to combat as commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, in September 1966. Flying the McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, Colonel Olds scored victories over two Vietnam Peoples Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17s and two MiG-21s, bringing his official score to 16 ² aerial victories. ³ He was the only Air Force fighter ace with victories in both World War II and the Vietnam War. (There have been rumors that he actually shot down seven MiGs, but credited those to other pilots to avoid being pulled out of combat and sent back to the United States.)

For his actions during the attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge, 11 August 1967, Colonel Olds was awarded the Air Force Cross. He flew 152 combat missions during the Vietnam War. His final combat mission was on 23 September 1967.

Coloenl Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, with SCAT XXVII, his McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, 64-0829, at Ubon Rachitani RTAFB, 1967. U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, with SCAT XXVII, his McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, 64-0829, at Ubon RTAFB, May 1967. U.S. Air Force)

On 1 June 1968, Robin Olds was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and assigned as Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy. In February 1971, he was appointed Director of Aerospace Safety in the Office of the Inspector General at Norton Air Force Base, near San Bernardino, California. He retired from the Air Force 31 May 1973.

During his military career, Brigadier General Robin Olds had been awarded the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with three oak leaf clusters (four awards), Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with five oak leaf clusters (six awards), Air Medal with 39 oak leaf clusters (40 awards), Air Force Commendation Medal, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross of the United Kingdom, the Croix de Guerre (France), and the Republic of Vietnam’s Distinguished Service Medal, Air Gallantry Medal with Gold Wings, Air Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force
Colonel Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, United States Air Force

In 1978, Robin Olds married his second wife, Abigail Morgan Sellers Barnett. They were divorced in 1993.

Brigadier General Robin Olds passed away 14 June 2007 at the age of 84 years. He is buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Brigadier General Robin Olds next assignment was as Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I had the pleasure of serving under his command. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Robin Olds’ next assignment was as Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I had the pleasure of serving under his command. (Bryan R. Swopes) (U.S. Air Force photograph)

Note: Thanks to Ms. Christina Olds and Lieutenant Colonel R. Medley Gatewood, U.S. Air Force (Retired), for their input to this article.

¹ Source: USAF CREDITS FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF ENEMY AIRCRAFT, WORLD WAR II, Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Air University. Office of Air Force History, Headquarters, USAF, 1978. Pages 143–144:

² Source: ACES and AERIAL VICTORIES, The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Air University. Office of Air Force History, Headquarters, USAF, 1976. Page 135:

³ Under the rules in effect at the time, a pilot and WSO shared credit for an enemy aircraft destroyed, with each being credited 0.5 kills. Colonel Olds was officially credited with 2.0 kills. The rules were changed in 1971, retroactive to 1965. This gave Olds an official score of 4.0. —Source: To Hanoi and Back: The United States Air Force and North Vietnam 1966–1973, by Wayne Thompson. Air Force History Office, 2000. Chapter 4 at Page 11.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes