Thomas W. Olsson oral history interview



Thomas W. Olsson oral history interview


Born-digital video recording of an oral history with Thomas W. "Tom" Olsson and interviewer Bruce Florsheim, recorded as part of The Museum of Flight Oral History Program, October 24, 2018.


Vietnam War veteran Thomas W. “Tom” Olsson is interviewed about his military service as a helicopter pilot with the United States Army. He discusses his combat tours in Southeast Asia flying the Bell AH-1 Cobra gunship and describes his later assignments as a flight instructor for the Cobra and the Hughes AH-64 Apache. He also touches on his post-military careers with Rockwell Collins and the Boeing Company and on his volunteer work at The Museum of Flight.

Table Of Contents

Introduction and personal background -- Early aviation experiences -- Favorite aircraft -- U.S. Army training -- Service in Vietnam as a Bell AH-1 Cobra pilot -- Personal impact of the Vietnam War -- Instructor assignments and flying the Hughes AH-64 Apache -- Career with Rockwell Collins and Boeing -- Experiences as an A&P (Airframe and Powerplant) mechanic and aircraft owner -- Involvement with The Museum of Flight -- Closing thoughts -- Favorite aircraft engine -- B-29 restoration project -- Overlap with his father’s military career




1 recording (1 hr., 14 min., 54 sec.) : digital



Bibliographic Citation

The Museum of Flight Oral History Collection/The Museum of Flight





Biographical Text

Thomas W. “Tom” Olsson is a Vietnam War veteran who served with the United States Army as a helicopter pilot and flight instructor. He was born in the mid-1940s in Kentfield, California to Ward T. Olsson and Wilma E. Olsson. His father was a career officer with the U.S. Air Force, and his mother was a housewife and hospital volunteer.

After graduating from high school, Olsson attended the Northrop Institute of Technology (California), where he studied aircraft maintenance engineering. While in college, he became a certified A&P (Airframe and Powerplant) mechanic and worked for Brittain Industries helping to install aircraft autopilot systems.

In July 1968, knowing that he would likely soon be drafted, Olsson opted to join the U.S. Army and become an aviator. He completed training at Fort Polk (Louisiana) and Fort Wolters (Texas), learning to fly on the Hughes 269 helicopter. He next underwent training in the Bell AH-1 Cobra at Hunter Army Airfield (Georgia) and was deployed to Southeast Asia. Over the course of his combat tour, he flew a mix of attack, visual reconnaissance, ground support, and evacuation missions and accumulated over 1,300 hours of helicopter flight time.

Returning to the United States, Olsson served the rest of his military career as an instructor pilot in the Bell AH-1 Cobra and Hughes AH-64A Apache. He retired in 1988 at the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4. As a civilian, he worked for Rockwell Collins as a human factors engineer and for the Boeing Company as a systems engineer and engineering manager. His projects at Boeing included the 767-400 and 787 Dreamliner.

Olsson’s volunteer work at The Museum of Flight includes serving on the Docent Corps and participating in the restoration efforts of the Boeing 747 and Boeing B-29 Superfortress. He also donated materials to the Museum from his and his father’s military careers.

Biographical information derived from interview and additional information provided by interviewee.