Hot Springs Village resident Dave Olson grew up in the St. Louis, Missouri, area. During his senior year in high school he also attended a technical school for computers and went to work for Ozark Airlines in the reservations office, working with data. Then, in 1965, he decided to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.
He began his duty with basic training at Lackland Air Force Base – Texas. Next he was off to Sheppard AFB – Texas, to attend aircraft propeller repair school. “Props are more than a blade on a hub. They are systems,” Olson said, with a primary system being with the C-130 aircraft. The prop on a C-130 is a closed system and in front of a jet engine. It controls the speed of the engine by the angle of the blades. The angle is controlled by the plane’s throttle. At idle, the blades are flat. At high speed they are at a maximum angle so they more easily cut through the air. This is accomplished through a hydraulic fluid system which controls the flow of the fluid to the hub of the prop. “There’s lots of parts in this and this is just one of the systems we had to learn,” said Olson.
His next assignment was to Seward AFB – Tennessee, to work in a prop shop. “We were part of Tactical Air Command and Strike Command which supported Africa should anything break out there. We also supported paratroopers at Fort Campbell,” Olson explained. Because of that support he had to experience simulated conditions in a high altitude chamber, because some of the paratrooper flights were high altitude, in which case they carried oxygen bottles with them for the jumps. Olson also cross-trained and qualified on engine maintenance work.
Props and engines work in concert. Olson explained that a component of a prop system is a syncro-phaser which coordinates all four props on a C-130 so they do not spin end to end. Olson would go on some of the flights to check on equipment and make repairs as needed. This would be done in calm air at 10,000 feet.
As for the chamber, which was at MacDill AFB – Florida, he’d enter it with a partner. Olson would remove his oxygen mask while his partner did not. The chamber would be decompressed and he’d have to try to function with less or little oxygen. “The purpose of that was to recognize the symptoms of a lack of oxygen,” he said. Rapid decompression was also a part of the training. This was to simulate a time when all the air in the plane would quickly be sucked out. And, Olson did one parachute jump. He said that was the only one. Why jump out of a good plane if you didn’t need to?
His unit was also involved in testing flare dropping equipment, which were tall tubes loaded with flares, which were fired out the back of the plane on the command of the aircraft’s navigator. The testing took place at Eglin AFB – Florida, and in Panama, to simulate being in Vietnam.
Olson did a TDY to Vietnam for flare dropping. Out of Da Nang they did night missions over the demilitarized zone (DMZ). A typical night flight began right after dark. The crew would get into an “orbit,” or controlled altitude, accompanied by fighter jets. “We’d make passes over certain areas and drop lines of flares, reload, and sometimes repeat over the same area or go a little bit farther down,” said Olson. The purpose of the flares was to expose enemy movement that were then attacked by those escorting fighter jets. Olson said their flights would get shot at, but not hit.
Olson also went to Yokota AFB – Japan, in August 1967, as part of the 6091st Reconnaissance Squadron.
With them he worked in a prop shop and got into advanced electronics training, mostly about repair.
Then came a TDY to Cam Ranh Bay, twice, for six months each. Olson flew every other C-130 recon mission, which were 10 hour flights, to be sure the electronics were working correctly. The plane even had a repair shop on it to replace any malfunctioning black boxes.
Then came a TDY to Okinawa where he maintained C-130 aircraft.
I asked Olson if there was one thing that stuck out as an oft needed repair on the C-130s. He said, there was, leaks happened all the time, probably due to the vibration of the engines.
Later, Olson went to Korea as a result of the USS Pueblo incident, which was basically a U.S. spy ship that was attacked and captured by North Korean forces on Jan. 23, 1968. One crewman was killed in the attack and 82 others captured. The 11-month standoff became a major Cold War incident.
Olson worked at Osan AFB where some F-4 jets were located that were capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Here he once again worked on props and engines.
Olson then came home to Travis AFB – Texas, and was discharged as a Staff Sergeant in August 1969.
After discharge he worked for Ozark Airlines in revenue management, then with TWA and finally with American Airlines, retiring on Jan. 1, 2005. But then Olson went to work for Frito Lay North American Headquarters in the field of quality, until he retired on Jan. 1, 2013.
He and wife Martha moved to Hot Springs Village in June 2012 from Highland Village, Texas. They have two children: Christine and Michael.
Reflecting back on his years of service Olson said it was a good experience, taught him discipline, to work with others as a team and gave him the opportunity to see the world.
He closed our interview by telling me he had a pilot’s license even before joining the Air Force. At discharge he was given an option to attend Officer Candidate School which could lead to becoming a pilot. Olson declined the offer.