Edited by Gerald Boerner



JerryPhotoIn the mid-1950s, about ten years after the end of World War II. Movies were appearing about the various campaigns in the Pacific; movies like “Run Silent, Run Deep”. But the one that really stands out in my mind was “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” about Jimmy Doolittle’s daring raid on Tokyo just months after the tragedy of Pearl Harbor. That caught my imagination with its creative solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem.

But that’s the essence of the man, James H. (Jimmy) Doolittle. He was a flight instructor during World War I, an air racer and innovator between the wars, and a inspirational leader during World War II. He earned his doctorate in aeronautics at MIT and helped Shell Oil develop high-octane airplane fuel. His planning skills were evident in both the raid on Tokyo as well as in the Italian, D-Day and final assault on Japan.

So let’s proceed with our exploration of this man of innovation and courage…  GLB

These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2010 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 3956 Words ]


Quotations Related to AVIATION

“Aviation is proof that given, the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.”
— Eddie Rickenbacker

“The 20th Century was the century of Aviation and the century of Globalization. The next century will be the century of Space.”
— Wilson Greatbatch

“This is a Solo Flight, but I want aviation enthusiasts and adventurers everywhere to join me in the endeavour.”
— Steve Fossett

“The mastery of the turn is the story of how aviation became practical as a means of transportation. It is the story of how the world became small.”
— William Langewiesche

“You can’t imagine a world, quite frankly, without a safe and secure aviation system. And so our job is to really focus on that, and what we need to do to keep it safe and secure.”
— Janet Napolitano

“We continue to subsidize highways and aviation, but when it comes to our passenger rail system, we refuse to provide the money Amtrak needs to survive.”
— Corrine Brown

“I went to the University of Washington as a physics and astronomy major. My other interest, of course, was aviation. I always wanted to be a pilot. And if you’re going to fly airplanes, the best place to be is the Air Force.”
— Nichael P. Anderson

“In the early 1930s, flying from England to Australia was the longest flight in the world. It was considered extremely dangerous and hazardous, pushing pilots to the limits of mechanical skills and human endurance. Aviation was young.”
— Mary Garden


Jimmy Doolittle — Military Aviation Superstar


Jimmy DoolittleGeneral James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle, USAF (1896 – 1993) was an American aviation pioneer. Doolittle served as a brigadier general, major general and lieutenant general in the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War. He earned the Medal of Honor for his valor and leadership as commander of the Doolittle Raid while a lieutenant colonel.

On April 18, 1942, just 19 weeks after Japan’s devastating attack on the U.S. at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Lieutenant Colonel James H. ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle led the famed retaliatory bombardment of the Japanese capital. Newspapers headlined the exciting news: ‘TOKYO BOMBED! DOOLITTLE DOOD IT!’ A month later, during a brief ceremony at the White House, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented newly-promoted Brigadier General Doolittle with the Medal of Honor, awarded by Congress for conspicuous gallantry in action.

Following that spectacular beginning to his World War II service, General Doolittle flew many combat missions in Europe and served as commander of the 12th Air Force in North Africa, the 15th Air Force in Italy, and the 8th Air Force in England and later on Okinawa. During his unique career in civil and military aviation, which saw him log more than 10,000 hours of flight time as pilot in command, Doolittle walked away from more plane crashes than he cared to remember; on three desperate occasions, he saved himself with last-minute parachute bail-outs. 


Military Career

World War I

During World War I, Doolittle stayed in the United States as a flight instructor and performed his war service at Camp John Dick Aviation Concentration Center ("Camp Dick"), Texas; Wright Field, Ohio; Gerstner Field, Louisiana; Rockwell Field, California; Kelly Field, Texas and Eagle Pass, Texas.

Doolittle’s service at Rockwell Field consisted of duty as a flight leader and gunnery instructor. At Kelly Field, he served with the 104th Aero Squadron and with the 90th Aero Squadron of the 1st Surveillance Group. His detachment of the 90th Aero Squadron was based at Eagle Pass, patrolling the Mexican border. Qualifying for retention in the Air Service during demobilization at the end of the war, Doolittle received a Regular Army commission as a 1st Lieutenant, Air Service, on July 1, 1920. Subsequently, he attended the Air Service Mechanical School at Kelly Field and the Aeronautical Engineering Course at McCook Field, Ohio.

Having at last returned to complete his college degree, he earned the Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Berkeley in 1922, and joined the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity.

Lt. James H. "Jimmy" DoolittleDoolittle in a pre-World War II photo

Doolittle was one of the most famous pilots during the inter-war period. In September 1922, he made the first of many pioneering flights, flying a de Havilland DH-4 – which was equipped with early navigational instruments – in the first cross-country flight, from Pablo Beach, Florida, to Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, in 21 hours and 19 minutes, making only one refueling stop at Kelly Field. The U.S. Army awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In July 1923, after serving as a test pilot and aeronautical engineer at McCook Field, Doolittle entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In March 1924, he conducted aircraft acceleration tests at McCook Field, which became the basis of his master’s thesis and led to his second Distinguished Flying Cross. He received his S.M. in Aeronautics from MIT in June 1924. Since the Army had given him two years to get his degree, and he had done it in only one, he immediately started working on his Sc.D. in Aeronautics, which he received in June 1925. He said that he considered his master’s work more significant than his doctorate.

Following graduation, Doolittle attended special training in high-speed seaplanes at Naval Air Station Anacostia in Washington, D.C.. He also served with the Naval Test Board at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, and was a familiar figure in air speed record attempts in the New York area. He won the Schneider Cup race in a Curtiss R3C in 1925 with an average speed of 232 MPH. For that feat, Doolittle was awarded the Mackay Trophy in 1926.

In April 1926, Doolittle was given a leave of absence to go to South America to perform demonstration flights. In Chile, he broke both ankles, but put his P-1 Hawk through aerial maneuvers with his ankles in casts. He returned to the United States, and was confined to Walter Reed Army Hospital for his injuries until April 1927. Doolittle was then assigned to McCook Field for experimental work, with additional duty as an instructor pilot to the 385th Bomb Squadron of the Air Corps Reserve. During this time, he was the first to perform an outside loop.

Instrument Flight

Doolittle’s most important contribution to aeronautical technology was the development of instrument flying. He was the first to recognize that true operational freedom in the air could not be achieved unless pilots developed the ability to control and navigate aircraft in flight, from takeoff run to landing rollout, regardless of the range of vision from the cockpit. Doolittle was the first to envision that a pilot could be trained to use instruments to fly through fog, clouds, precipitation of all forms, darkness, or any other impediment to visibility; and in spite of the pilot’s own possibly confused motion sense inputs. Even at this early stage, the ability to control aircraft was getting beyond the motion sense capability of the pilot. That is, as aircraft became faster and more maneuverable, pilots could become seriously disoriented without visual cues from outside the cockpit, because aircraft could move in ways that pilots’ senses could not accurately decipher.

JamesDoolittle-bustBust of General Doolittle at the
Imperial War Museum, Duxford

Doolittle was also the first to recognize these psycho-physiological limitations of the human senses (particularly the motion sense inputs, i.e., up, down, left, right). He initiated the study of the subtle interrelationships between the psychological effects of visual cues and motion senses. His research resulted in programs that trained pilots to read and understand navigational instruments. A pilot learned to “trust his instruments,” not his senses, as visual cues and his motion sense inputs (what he sensed and “felt”) could be incorrect or unreliable.

In 1929, he became the first pilot to take off, fly and land an airplane using instruments alone, without a view outside the cockpit. Having returned to Mitchel Field that September, he assisted in the development of fog flying equipment. He helped develop, and was then the first to test, the now universally used artificial horizon and directional gyroscope. He attracted wide newspaper attention with this feat of "blind" flying and later received the Harmon Trophy for conducting the experiments. These accomplishments made all-weather airline operations practical.

In January 1930, he advised the Army on the building of Floyd Bennett Field in New York City. Doolittle resigned his regular commission on February 15, 1930, and was commissioned a major in the Specialist Reserve Corps a month later, being named manager of the Aviation Department of Shell Oil Company, in which capacity he conducted numerous aviation tests. He also returned to active duty with the Army frequently to conduct tests.

Doolittle helped influence Shell Oil Company to produce the first quantities of 100 octane aviation gasoline. High octane fuel was crucial to the high-performance planes that were developed in the late 1930s.

In 1931, Doolittle won the Bendix Trophy Race from Burbank, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, in a Laird Super Solution Biplane.

In 1932, Doolittle set the world’s high speed record for land planes at 296 miles per hour in the Shell Speed Dash. Later, he took the Thompson Trophy Race at Cleveland in the notorious Gee Bee R-1 racer with a speed averaging 252 miles per hour. After having won the three big air racing trophies of the time, the Schneider, Bendix, and Thompson, he officially retired from air racing stating, "I have yet to hear anyone engaged in this work dying of old age."

In April 1934, Doolittle became a member of the Baker Board. Chaired by former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, the board was convened during the Air Mail scandal to study Air Corps organization. A year later, Doolittle transferred to the Air Corps Reserve. In 1940, he became president of the Institute of Aeronautical Science. He returned to active duty July 1, 1940, as a major and assistant district supervisor of the Central Air Corps Procurement District at Indianapolis, Indiana, and Detroit, Michigan, where he worked with large auto manufacturers on the conversion of their plants for production of planes. The following August, he went to England as a member of a special mission and brought back information about other countries’ air forces and military build-ups.

The Doolittle Raid

Doolittle_LtCol_g41191Lt Col James H. Doolittle, USAAF (front), leader of the raiding force, wires
a Japanese medal to a 500-pound bomb, during ceremonies on the
flight deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), shortly before his force of sixteen
B-25B bombers took off for Japan. The planes were launched
on April 18, 1942.

Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and America’s entry into World War II, Doolittle was recalled to active duty. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on January 2, 1942, and assigned to Army Air Forces Headquarters to plan the first retaliatory air raid on the Japanese homeland. He volunteered for and received General H.H. Arnold’s approval to lead the top-secret attack of 16 B-25 medium bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, with targets in Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, Osaka, and Nagoya. On April 18, all the bombers successfully took off from the Hornet, reached Japan, and bombed their targets. Fifteen of the planes then headed for their recovery airfield in China, while one crew chose to land in Russia due to their bomber’s unusually high fuel consumption. As did most of the other crewmen who participated in the mission, Doolittle’s crew bailed out safely over China when their bomber ran out of fuel. By then they had been flying for about 12 hours, it was nighttime, the weather was stormy, and Doolittle was unable to locate their landing field.

Doolittle landed in a rice paddy (saving a previously injured ankle from breaking) near Chuchow (Quzhou). He and his crew linked up after the bailout and were helped through Japanese lines by Chinese guerrillas and American missionary John Birch. Other aircrews were not so fortunate. Although most eventually reached safety with the help of friendly Chinese, several crewmembers lost their lives after being captured by the Japanese, who occupied many areas along the China coast. Doolittle went on to fly more combat missions as commander of the 12th Air Force in North Africa, for which he was awarded four Air Medals. The other surviving members of the raid also went on to new assignments.

Doolittle received the Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House for planning and leading his raid on Japan.

Medal of Honor Citation:

For conspicuous leadership above the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, Gen. Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.


The Doolittle Raid is viewed by historians as a major morale-building victory for the United States. Although the damage done to Japanese war industry was minor, the raid showed the Japanese that their homeland was vulnerable to air attack, and forced them to withdraw several front-line fighter units from Pacific war zones for homeland defense. More significantly, Japanese commanders considered the raid deeply embarrassing, and their attempt to close the perceived gap in their Pacific defense perimeter led directly to the decisive American victory during the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

When asked from where the Tokyo raid was launched, President Roosevelt coyly said its base was Shangri-La, a fictional paradise from the popular novel Lost Horizon. In the same vein, the US Navy named one of its carriers the USS Shangri-La.

Doolittle was portrayed by Spencer Tracy in the 1944 film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and by Alec Baldwin in the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, in which a fictionalized account of the Doolittle raid was depicted.

World War II, post-raid

In July 1942, as a Brigadier General – he had been promoted by two grades on the day after the Tokyo attack, by-passing the rank of full colonel – Doolittle was assigned to the nascent Eighth Air Force and in September became commanding general of the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. He was promoted to Major General in November 1942, and in March 1943 became commanding general of the Northwest African Strategic Air Forces, a unified command of U.S. Army Air Force and Royal Air Force units.

Doolittle1Lt Gen Jimmy Doolittle with Maj Gen
Curtis LeMay in Britain, 1944.

Maj. Gen. Doolittle took command of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in November 1943. On June 10, he flew as co-pilot with Jack Sims, fellow Tokyo Raider, in a B-26 Marauder of the 320th Bombardment Group, 442nd Bombardment Squadron on a mission to attack gun emplacements at Pantelleria. Doolittle continued to fly, despite the risk of capture, while being privy to the Ultra secret, which was that the German encryption systems had been broken by the British. From January 1944 to September 1945, he held his largest command, the Eighth Air Force (8 AF) in England as a Lieutenant General, his promotion date being March 13, 1944 and the highest rank ever held by a reserve officer in modern times. Doolittle’s major influence on the European air war occurred early in the year when he changed the policy requiring escorting fighters to remain with the bombers at all times. With his permission, P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s on escort missions strafed German airfields and transport while returning to base, contributing significantly to the achievement of air supremacy by Allied Air Forces over Europe.

After the end of the European war, the Eighth Air Force was re-equipped with B-29 Superfortress bombers and started to relocate to Okinawa in the Pacific. Two bomb groups had begun to arrive on August 7. However, the 8th was not scheduled to be at full strength until February 1946 and Doolittle declined to rush 8th Air Force units into combat simply to say that "the 8th Air Force had operated against the Japanese in the Pacific".


On May 10, 1946, Doolittle reverted to inactive reserve status at the grade of lieutenant general. He returned to Shell Oil as a vice president, and later as a director. In 1947, Doolittle became the first president of the Air Force Association, an organization which he helped create.

JimmyDoolittleAutographedPersonalized photo of General Jimmy Doolittle.

In March 1951, Doolittle was appointed a special assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, serving as a civilian in scientific matters which led to Air Force ballistic missile and space programs. In 1952, following a string of three air crashes in two months at Elizabeth, New Jersey, Harry S. Truman appointed him to lead a presidential commission examining the safety of urban airports. The report "Airports And Their Neighbors" led to zoning requirements for buildings near approaches, early noise control requirements, and initial work on "super airports" with 10,000 ft runways, suited to 150 ton aircraft.

Doolittle retired from Air Force duty on February 28, 1959. He remained active in other capacities, including chairman of the board of TRW Space Technology Laboratories.

In 1972, Doolittle received the Tony Jannus Award for his distinguished contributions to commercial aviation, in recognition of the development of instrument flight.

On April 4, 1985, the U.S. Congress promoted Doolittle to the rank of full General on the Air Force retired list. In a later ceremony, President Ronald Reagan and U.S. Senator and retired Air Force Reserve Major General Barry Goldwater pinned on Doolittle’s four-star insignia.

Reagan_Goldwater_pin_star_on_Jimmy_Doolittle_1985Doolittle is awarded a fourth star, pinned
on by President Ronald Reagan (left) and
Senator Barry Goldwater (right),
April 10, 1985.

In addition to his Medal of Honor for the Tokyo raid, Doolittle also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, two Distinguished Service Medals, the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star, four Air Medals, and decorations from Great Britain, France, Belgium, Poland, China, and Ecuador. He is the only person to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s two highest honors. In 1983, he was awarded the United States Military Academy’s Sylvanus Thayer Award. He was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America as the only member of the air racing category in the inaugural class of 1989, and into the Aerospace Walk of Honor in the inaugural class of 1990. The headquarters of the United States Air Force Academy Association of Graduates (on the grounds of the United States Air Force Academy), Doolittle Hall, is named in his honor.

On May 9, 2007, The new 12th Air Force Combined Air Operations Center, Building 74, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, was named in his honor as the "General James H. Doolittle Center." Several surviving members of the Doolittle Raid were in attendance during the ribbon cutting ceremony.


Reflection on Life during & after World War II

HistoryNet, in its interviews with Doolittle, provides the following insights into the man. He described his encounters with Winston Churchill as:

When Eisenhower established his headquarters on the Continent following the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, Doolittle ‘was left as the senior American army officer in England’ and as such reported weekly to the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street. During those visits, ‘I became more impressed with Winston Churchill . . . than by any other man I’ve ever met,’ Doolittle said. ‘He was absolutely unique, a great mind and a great heart.’ Asked to recall other men whom he admired, Doolittle described U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall as ‘a man of the greatest competence and the loftiest moral ethics.’ General Douglas MacArthur, commander in chief of the Allied forces in the Pacific, he said, possessed ‘implicit self-confidence to the extent that it could be described as egotism, but he was just as good as he believed he was.’

And, as far as life after flying, Doolittle described it as:

Doolittle gave up action flying in 1961, but curiosity eventually got the better of the general, and he ‘decided to check out in several of the newer service aircraft — the first supersonic fighter [the F-100]; the KC-135, which later became the Boeing 707 airliner; the B-47 [a small bomber], and the big bomber, the B-52. After that I turned in my flying suit, and I never flew as first pilot again.’ Although he expected to be discontented after giving up flying, he ‘never missed it a speck!’ What mattered the most to him in life, he added, was ‘Joe, my bride for over seventy years. [She] is a very extraordinary lady.’ In 1973, the couple finally made that trip to Alaska that he had promised her fifty years earlier. ‘It was every bit as beautiful as I’d remembered it,’ Doolittle said. ‘[T]here has never been a time,’ Doolittle told me, ‘when I’ve been completely satisfied with myself. . . . I’ve very much appreciated the respect that my peers have given me throughout a fairly long life.

Nowadays I try to spend at least half my time continuing to be useful, still making a contribution, while getting whatever rest, recreation, and diversification I believe is essential if one is to go on living a happy and useful life.’ The general contended that the ‘element of luck is extremely important’ in his life, maybe comprising half the equation. ‘But the ability to exploit that luck makes up at least the other half. Throughout my life I’ve been oh, so lucky in being at exactly the right place at the right time, without any premonition that caused me to be there.’ He puts it down to ‘pure, dumb luck.’ Especially in the case of the Tokyo raid, ‘. . . luck plus having the background necessary for me to take advantage of it, and being willing to work very hard to make it a success. That’s why, whenever I’m asked, I always reply that I’d never want to relive my life. I couldn’t possibly be that lucky a second time.’


Please take time to further explore more about JIMMY DOOLITTLE, the
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Wikipedia: Jimmy Doolittle…

HistoryNet: Jimmy Doolittle Reminiscences About World War II…

MaritimeQuest: Doolittle Raid (Photo Gallery)…

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Other Posts on this Topic:

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, April 1942…