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Book Club July 2010: Fighter Pilot

The memoirs of legendary ace Robin Olds.

This issue's book club selection is Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds, written by the pilot's daughter Christina Olds and Ed Rasimus. The authors will be taking questions online during the week of July 19-23. Use the form below to submit your questions or comments on other posts.
(Note: Please hold your comments until July 19. All submissions will be reviewed before posting.)


The following excerpt, from the chapter titled “The Phantom and the War,” details Robin Olds’ experience as the commanding officer of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, which flew F-4 Phantoms out of Thailand during the Vietnam War.

THAT NIGHT I HEADED to the officers’ club, which wasn’t far from my trailer. I met several of the guys and started talking to them over beer. It was easy to tell they didn’t know what to make of me, and it was also pretty obvious they had little respect for wing commanders. Well, why should they? None of the commanders flew much; therefore, they knew little about the missions. I got hold of Pappy Garrison and told him to gather all the pilots in the morning for a meeting. He told me this would be the first time a full wing pilots’ meeting had been held. Despite the staggered mission schedule, the pilots had never been briefed all at the same time? They were in for a surprise. It had been 22 years since I’d fought in a war, but it was obvious where my task lay.

The next morning, I let the pilots stew together over [the new CO] for a little bit before I entered the briefing room, walked to the front, and turned to face them. They got quiet and their eyes glazed over. I glared at them silently for a moment and began, “My name is Olds and I’m your new boss. I’ve been around the air force a little while and I’m really glad to be here. You guys know a lot that I don’t know and I’m here to learn from you. I’ll be flying as your wingman for a couple of weeks. You are going to teach me, but you’d better teach me good and you’d better teach me fast. When you get me ready, I’ll be Mission Commander, and we’ll get it done together. Now, you just stay ahead of me because as long as you know more than I do, we are going to get along just fine. I will listen to you and learn from you, but soon I’m gonna be better than all of you, and when I know more about your job than you do, look out.”

From somewhere in the middle of the room came a quietly drawn out, “I see.” The tone was a sarcastic “Yeah, right, Colonel,” and I immediately sought out the offender. I could tell it had come out a little louder than he’d intended. My glance fell hard on a guy at the end of a row, Captain J.B. Stone, but slid quickly to the snickering major beside him, Cliff Dunnegan. I’d see about them both.

Over the next several days, I let the guys train me. I wanted to see where the action was right away and I got what I wanted. Regularly I’d give the guys in the briefing room the same goading speech, “I’m gonna be better than you!” As soon as they stopped being pissed off, they got into the spirit of the challenge. When we weren’t flying, I was stalking through the base looking over their shoulders, visiting the squadrons and hanging out with them at the O club. Pretty soon, I knew all of their names. They taught me well, both on the ground and in the air. I was out in front in less than two weeks.

Copyright © 2010 by Robin Olds with Christina Olds and Ed Rasimus.

Excerpted from Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds
by Robin Olds with C. Olds and Ed Rasimus. St. Martins Press, 2010. 400 pp., $26.99.

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