MSgt James J. Olschlager (Ret.)


Interviews main menu Please give us an overview of your military career and tell the readers a little about yourself?


  • 388 TFW Phase Inspection F-4C/D, F-16A/B (April 1977 - April 1980)
  • 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 388 TFW, F-16, (April 1980 - May 1982)
       (First Operational/Maintenance F-16 Squadron USAF)
  • USAF Thunderbirds, F-16A/B, T-38 (June 1982 - Feb 1986)
       - 1985-1986: T-38/F-16 Crew Chief Thunderbird no. 8
       - Flying Crew Chief on Advance Team (logging over 130 flying hours in both the F-16 and T-38 aircraft)
       - 1984: Crew Chief Thunderbird no. 7 (F-16) Traveling Spare Aircraft
       - 1982 - 1983: Crew Chief Thunderbird no. 5 (F-16) Lead Solo show aircraft
  • Det 1, 4950th Test Wing, C-21A, VC-135C (February 1986 - February 1991):
       Maintenance Superindant. Responsible for all maintenance and servicing on
       assigned Learjet. Enlisted Flight Evaluator for the C- 21 aircraft logging
       over 1000 flying hours as a primary aircrew member, in support of V.I.Ps
       and avionics testing and evaluation. Andrews AFB, MD
  • 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, F-117A, T-38A/B (February 1991 - September 1992)
       N.C.O.I.C. Repair and Reclamation Tonopah Test Range, NV
  • 57th Tactical Fighter Wing, F-15C/D/E, A-10, F-4-G (September 1992 - May 1994)
       N.C.O.I.C Repair and Reclamation
  • 80th Fighter Squadron, F-16C/D (May 1994 - May 1995)
       Production Superintendent
  • 57th Aircraft Generation Squadron (Falcon AMF) F-16 C/D/G/J (May 1995 - December 1998)
       Production Superintendent

Art by TSgt. Kurt Reilly

online by Jon Somerville in July of 2004 - What is your most memorable time out on the ramp working on the F-16 both positive and/or negative?

James: As a member of the USAF Thunderbirds I was chosen as the no. 5 Crew Chief during the rebuilding of the team in 1982. One of the biggest thrills was recovering #81-0677 (no. 5) on its flight from the factory. A few weeks later I was ordered by the Line Chief to put my name on that jet. I think I was the first Crew Chief given that order. Not because of my crewing abilities, more like I had the longest name! Either way it was a proud day!

While working as the Production Super in the 80th Fighter Squadron "JUVATS" and again in the F-16 division of the Weapons School. Knowing those were my jets, my pilots and my maintainers. For over 3 years I lead the best mechanics that maintained the best aircraft that the worlds finest pilots flew for the greatest Air Force on earth. Life doesn't get any better than that! In the early years of the Thunderbirds flying the F-16. Were the numbers painted on the aircraft or did they always use stickers for numbers?

80th Fighter Squadron (Jon Somerville Collection)

James: The numbers were painted on with lacquer so it was easy to remove the number with almost any solvent (usually MEK). We did experiment with stick on numbers in the 83-84 Show Seasons. We discovered the painted on numbers were much easier to remove. What is the hardest thing about working on the F-16?

James: Has to be fuel leaks! As a pro super those were my worst nightmare especially here in Las Vegas with the extreme temperature changes. Other than the F-16, what aircraft have you worked on and how does the Viper compare?


  • F-4C/D/E: What can I say ..I still love the PHANTOMS. It was my first jet out of Tech school! Hard to work, you get a workout every launch, broke just by looking at it but it was a great jet!
  • T-38A/B: Fun to fly, easy to maintain. Just isn't the same as a Viper though.
  • A/OA-10: Mostly did R/R work on these. Have to choose the Viper over these.
  • F-15C/D/E: Mostly did R/R work on these. Have to choose the Viper over these too.
  • F-117A: Fun to take to air shows, that's about it. Definitely take the Viper!
  • VC-135C: Yuck. Can't believe I admitted this VIPER!!!
  • C-21A: I have over 1,000 hours in this jet as a Flight Mechanic flying VIP missions for the Chief of Staff USAF, Vice Chief of Staff USAF and Commander of Systems Command. Plus we did a lot of testing and evaluation at the same time. Great jet, incredible mission, lots of flying time. Just isn't a Viper! What is it that made the F-117 so much harder for maintenance then other aircraft?

James: First off they were all “hand built” so components might be located in different places from aircraft to aircraft. You also had to remove the RAM to get at components. After the repair you had to replace it. That took time and more back shop support to complete a maintenance task. Any fond memories of a specific deployment or exercise?

James: Wow, there were so many. A few that come to mind are the first time we took the Vipers assigned to the 421st Black Widows out of country to Cold Lake Canada. We had a lot of visitors from other squadrons as well as Canadian dignitaries visit us. It was a an awesome feeling to be sporting the latest and greatest in US hardware to all the units involved in Maple Flag.

Any and all Thunderbird deployments! Especially overseas! I did the European Tour of 1984 and the South American Tour of 1995. Both tours were after a long absence due to flying the T-38 for so many years. What assignment/squadron was your favorite?

James: Tough to say, they were all great. Is there any particular F-16 tail number(s) to which you are fond?


F-16A #79-0294 in the colors of the 157th TFS. (Photo by Mike Kopack)
#79-0294, 421st TFS

We received this jet when the 4th & the 421st traded aircraft. After changing the canopy, bore sighting the gun and HUD this jet was a superb air to air as well as air to ground platform. It was chosen as the Squadron flag ship after it was repainted. Lt Col. Lee Downer was the ops commander and the pilot. If memory serves me, Lee was a Vietnam Vet and a POW.

F-16A #79-0309 displayed at Shaw AFB. (Photo by John)
#79-0309, 421st TFS

This was the first F-16 I painted my name on. I guess it was sentimental more than anything. Plus this was one of the best flying jets I crewed. The pilots loved it. It was a great Air to Ground bomber.

#81-0677, Thunderbird 5

I was the first Crew Chief on this jet. I recovered it on the Nellis AFB flight line out of the Ft Worth factory in the summer of 1982. A few months later the line chief (MSgt Ash Bullis) told me before you go home today your name will be on that jet! I was the first Thunderbird Crew Chief with my name on a Red White and Blue F-16.

F-16A #81-0678 stored at Sheppard AFB. (Photo by Simon Cheryl)
#81-0678 Thunderbird 7 What is the best/worst practical joke you played on a victim(s)?

James: So many victims, so many stories! Any interesting stories or events you would like to share?

James: I recall when the F-16 was first delivered to Hill AFB. Shortly after their arrival they were grounded and put right into a 'Falcon Up' modification program. This program accomplished all the modifications the assembly line couldn't due to the speed the jets were coming off the assembly line. It was tough but we did it! What exactly was done in the 'Falcon Up' modification program?

James: I don't recall all of the modifications. I think most were flight control wiring modifications. I do remember something about leading edge flap and flaperon scheduling. What advice would you give junior ground crew?

James: Keep focused. Any words of advice to any of our young readers wanting to join the military?

James: DO IT!! You won't regret it! Anything you would like to add?

James: If I had it to do it all over, I would without hesitation! Thank you for the interview!

- MSgt. James Olschlager was interviewed online by Jon Somerville in July of 2004 -

Visitor Comments
James Olschalger
Laurie Olschlager, Dec 28, 2006 - 10:28 PM

Retired MSGT James Olschalger is my f ather. He accomplished so much in the Air Force. He was a crew cheif on the Thunderbirds when my brother and I were very little. I'm currently in the Army and serving in Iraq. I am proud to be his daughter, I wish now I would've floowed in his footsteps.

My Dad!!!!!
James Olschlager Jr., Jan 04, 2007 - 03:50 AM

Great interview about my dad's career. I'm currently in China Lake, CA. I work with Transient Aircraft, especially the F-18 E/F Super Hornet. I do what he did, Crew Chief, or Aircraft Director. I absolutly love my job, and I love working with the Super Hornet. Go Navy!!!!! F-18's baby!!!!!!!

421st Crew Chief 79 -0317
Loren Lee St. Dennis, Mar 21, 2007 - 08:52 AM

My 1st duty station was Hill AFB, Utah in May of 1980, and I was assigned to the 421st TFS as a Crew Chief for 79-0317. I remember working with James Olschlager, and he was always "top-notch". I myself retired April 1, 2000.

Loren Lee St. Dennis

Laurie Olschalger, Aug 22, 2007 - 06:36 PM

I look back at all of the accomplishments my father has made throughout his military career and if I could join the military all over, I'd enlist in the Air Force. I would've followed in his footsteps and tried for the Thunderbirds, doing what he did.

very professional and polished air force vet.
allan williams aka "chilidog 6", Jun 18, 2010 - 04:27 AM

while i was in the first f-16 squadron at hill afb (16 tfts) the same time jim was, i did not know him however we were on the first thunderbird f-16 team. i came on board approx 4 months after jimmy o. this is where we became good friends and both were crew dogs on solo jets. ( he #5 and i #6). i can tell you this guy was the consumate crew chief and professional. he too was quiet the funny man. jimbo, you know i love you bro. had a great time in cleveland and love your folks and family. i am honored to call you my brother bird and like a family member too me. "once a t-bird, always t-bird. FOR LIFE. ROLLING LEFT AND ROLLING, SMOKE ON!!! SOLO DOG 6 OUT!

Falcon Up Modification
msgt_lbraswell, Aug 15, 2011 - 08:38 PM

Jim, if I remember right there were a couple of mods going on at the same time. Falcon up was just one. Due to a crash over the range, one of the mods required the removal of all the asymmetry brakes at the outboard leading edge do to it locking up in flight. I remember the outboard connecting rod to be twisted like a twizzler. Another part of the Falcon up was in the wiring. Do you remember the WULP's (Wild Utah Leaping Pines) after Capt Tree and Capt Topper brought back the logs in the LEF and landng gear? Have a good retirement.

Alan LeBlanc, Feb 21, 2013 - 05:49 PM

Jim, You were my Flight chief and later the Pro super In the unit. I was impressed with how much you knew about the F-16c. It was a pleasure working with you. I was thinking about Kunsan and the people we worked with there. The assignment was not great But working with you was. Not many people were as cool as you were. You had the ability to make everything less stressfull. What can I say about you. Your skill, dedication and loyalty were just some of the qualities that made the NCO you were. It is people like you that made the Air Force the organization it was. Peace out. Big AL

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