Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

My History

Mike Robbins

While at the Academy I was part of the Purdue University co-op masters program. After graduation from the Academy I had the option of immediately attending classes at Purdue for six months and graduate with a MS degree in Aero-Astro Engineering or go to Germany and study on a Fulbright Scholarship, and classes were to start September. I picked the Fulbright and with my new wife, Leslie, headed for Aachen, Germany where I studied metallurgy at the Technische Hochschule Aachen. As this was not a degree program, I took courses in a variety of disciplines including, French, Russian and Japanese and Chinese Art.

The German technical university system has classes for three months followed by a three month break during which students would work in their respective fields. Most of the metallurgy students worked in the Ruhr industrial area where many steel mills are located. During my three month break I was told to “get lost” by the JUSMAAG where I was assigned for administrative support. Leslie and I spent three months traveling throughout Europe. One of the more memorable trips was to Finland to visit my “family” from my days as a high school exchange student with American Field Service (AFS).

My dad was a pilot for United Air Lines, and I always wanted to fly. The Fulbright only delayed pilot training by a year, so I arrived at Williams AFB in the summer of 1965 to fly. I graduated 53 weeks later as the #1 active duty pilot. A National Guard pilot who was a CFI with 2000 hours was #1 overall. There were no single-seat or front seat pilot slots available at graduation so I chose to go the FAIP route and spent three years at Vance AFB as a T-38 instructor. Not much was happening in Enid, Oklahoma, so after three years in Enid there were two kids and another on the way. Child #3 was born shortly after our arrival at Mountain Home AFB where I was assigned to the RF-4C RTU. I graduated #1 in the class and headed for Udorn RTAFB in the summer of 1970. Unfortunately, the week before I was scheduled to leave for Thailand, my father died of a massive heart attack. He was only 51 years old.

I flew 150 combat missions in the RF-4C including 33 over North Vietnam. Because of my flight test background during my years at Vance AFB, I also served as the Maintenance Officer for the 14th TRS. I'm also a “ham” radio operator and volunteered at Udorn's MARS station helping to make phone patches for assigned personnel. I also taught Applied Aerodynamics through the University of Maryland overseas program.

The Academy was looking for instructors, so when my tour at Udorn was over I headed to the University of Colorado in Boulder for a MA in German. Eighteen months later (January 1973) I reported to the Academy's Department of Foreign Languages as an instructor of German. The time at the Academy was very rewarding. I got involved in the soaring program, bought my first airplane (Beech Bonanza), and Leslie gave birth to kids #4 and #5.

After four years at the Academy it was time to go back to the RF-4C. After a short requal at Shaw AFB during the summer of 1976, we headed for Kadena AB, Okinawa. Leslie was now pregnant with #6. Much of the time with the 15th TRS was spent at Osan AB, Korea or Clark AB, Philippines. The 15th TRS maintained a detachment at Osan to fly “Bench Box” missions using a 60+” focal length camera to take photos in North Korea. The time in the Philippines was in support of Cope Thunder exercises and flying with the F-5 Aggressors.

On March 14, 1977, I headed to Osan for a month as the detachment commander. Child #6 was due in May, so everything seemed under control. The following morning I received a call from the squadron commander saying that baby #6 had arrived early in the morning. The baby was two months premature and had some intestinal issues. At age 24 hours, over half of her small intestine was removed, and she was placed in intensive care. I made it home for the surgery, and we spent many anxious weeks as the baby's condition slowly improved. It was decided to medically evacuate the baby to Hawaii where her conditioned could be more closely monitored. I was able to find a job at PACAF HQ, and we moved in the summer of 1977. After three months in intensive care, the baby was released and rejoined the family.

Three years in Hawaii was indeed three years in paradise. I bought airplane #2 (Piper Cherokee 6) and the family made many, many trips to all of the islands. I started running marathons and completed five during the three years in Hawaii. The work at PACAF was rewarding. I was responsible for establishing an F-4 detachment at Taegu using ROKAF maintenance and support. The first US commander at Taegu called the unit the best flying club in the Air Force.

As the PACAF tour was drawing to a close I was offered the opportunity to be the USAF exchange officer at the German Air Force Academy just outside Munich. The Germans asked for me by name, but USAF personnel wouldn't let me go. There was a pilot shortage, and USAF wanted me to go back to the RF-4C at Shaw AFB. I had already spent a “year at Shaw one summer” and asked if there was anything more exciting I could do. USAF asked if I would like to go to Monterey, California for Spanish language school, get checked out in the A-37 and the C-12, and go to Tegucigalpa, Honduras as the Air Force Section Chief in the USMILGP. Apparently the officer originally assigned to take this position had a medical issue in the family and was unable to go. I found out several years later that this other officer was fellow 19th Squadron classmate, JD Manning, whose wife Doris had cancer.

The early 80's were interesting times in Honduras. The Sandinistas had recently taken over in Nicaragua, and the Contras were receiving US support, much of it based in Honduras. Life was crazy but rewarding. The Honduran AF let me have a Cessna 185 to fly whenever I wanted. I also checked out in one of the Honduran AF F-86E's. This was one of the highlights of my aviation career. The Honduran AF also had a F8U Corsair but the commander told me if I scratched the Corsair, he'd kill me, so I passed on flying the Corsair after hearing horror stories about the takeoff torque.

The two years in Honduras passed quickly. Nestor Sanchez, former CIA Latin American Chief, and then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense asked me to come to the Pentagon and work in his office. During my orientation at the Pentagon I was told that 25,000 people had offices in the building. During my tour at the Pentagon when asked, “How many people work in the Pentagon?” I would respond, “Damn few, but 25,000 have offices.” Those who have been there will understand.

The O-6 board met in 1984, and I was not selected for promotion. I decided to retire and start another career. I thoroughly enjoyed my 21 years in the Air Force and wouldn't change a thing if I had it to do over again. Some sacrifice their whole careers just to be promoted. Others pick interesting and challenging assignments and enjoy going to work every day. I was in the latter group.

Bell Helicopter was looking for someone who spoke Spanish and understood the security assistance system for a position in their Latin American marketing division. They thought I was a perfect fit. Bell promised to give me a helicopter checkout and sent me off to Central and South America to sell helicopters. It was a great first post-retirement job, but after two and a half years, I left Bell seeking greener pastures.

After several years with a helicopter engineering company, I got a call from Hal Watson (USAFA '64) who had been selected by DynCorp to run the State Department's anti-narcotics program in Latin America. Hal told me to pick a job from the list of positions he had to fill. The site manager in Guatemala position also included flying the Cessna Caravan. I spent two years commuting between Ft. Worth and Guatemala City enjoying one of the most rewarding jobs I ever had. The Guatemala team operated 7 Bell 212 helicopters and 5 Turbo Thrush spray planes eradicating opium poppies and marijuana. The flying was challenging, the guys were great and the mission was rewarding.

In 1995 Bell Helicopter called again. Bell wanted me to go to Singapore and run Bell's Asian marketing office. Our youngest had just graduated from high school, so the timing seemed right. I thought we'd be spending three or four years in Singapore, but the gods had other plans. India had just cancelled their 100% import duty on helicopters and aircraft, and Bell wanted to establish a marketing office in India. After months of searching Bell couldn't find anyone who knew both Bell and India, so I was convinced to move to India to open the office.

India was a fascinating place. In three years the Bell fleet grew from three to 30 turbine helicopters. I helped the Indian Civil Aviation Ministry revise their regulations to be more helicopter friendly. I also helped found the Rotary Wing Society of India. We traveled all over the country visiting commercial and government operators. Leslie was able to go on many of the trips and loved every minute of her time in India.

After three years in India, Bell decided to open an office in Ankara, Turkey to compete in a billion dollar attack helicopter program recently announced by the Turkish government. Leslie and I were the culturally adaptable couple for the job. I set up Bell's office, and after several years of competition Bell was announced as the winner of the competition. Three years later the contract was still not signed. Turkey wanted to enter the EU and appeared ready to do anything, including buying attack helicopters from the Italians.

We had been out of the country for ten years, and the grandkids were growing up not knowing their grandparents. It was time to come home. It was decided to go back to Texas where two of the six kids and three of the four grandkids were living. Leslie and I made a deal. I would pick the airport, and Leslie would pick the house. The Georgetown Municipal Airport was the choice, and Leslie found a great house nearby. I bought half interest in an experimental RV-6A aircraft and got back in the air after a ten year absence. The half interest in the RV-6A became a third interest in a Beech Debonair, and I'm still flying, riding the bike and loving life. The grandkid count is now up to nine, eight granddaughters and one grandson. Six of the nine live in Texas, so our home base remains there. Life is good.

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