Jimmy Doolittle


General James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle, USAF (14 December 1896 – 27 September 1993) was an American aviation pioneer. Doolittle served as a general in the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War, after first earning the Medal of Honor as commander of the Doolittle Raid while a lieutenant colonel.

Early years

Doolittle was born in Alameda, California, and spent his youth in Nome, Alaska, where he earned a reputation as a boxer. He attended Los Angeles City College after graduating from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, and later won admission to the University of California, Berkeley where he studied in The School of Mines. Doolittle took a leave of absence in October 1917 to enlist in the Signal Corps Reserve as a flying cadet; he trained at the University of California School of Military Aeronautics at Rockwell Field, California, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps' Aviation Section on 11 March 1918. 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 Camp ("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 the 90th Aero Squadron, and with the latter unit he served at Eagle Pass. The latter duty included the Border Patrol that had started prior to the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916, and which was turned over to the Department of the Treasury in 1921.

Qualifying for retention at the start of the reduction in force at the end of the war, 2nd Lieutenant Doolittle received a Regular Army commission, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on 1 July 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.

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 DeHavilland 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 a Distinguished Flying Cross.

In July 1923, after serving as a test pilot and aeronautical engineer at Mc.Cook 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 Anacostia Naval Air Station in Washington, D.C.. He also served with the Naval Test Board at Mitchel Field, 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. In 1929, he became the first pilot to take off, fly, and land an airplane using instruments alone, without a view outside the cockpit. Returning to Mitchel Field that September, he assisted in the development of fog flying equipment. He helped develop the now universally used artificial horizon and directional gyroscope and made the first flight completely by instruments. 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 the Floyd Bennett Field in New York City. Doolittle resigned his regular commission on 15 February 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 1 July 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 buildups.

The Doolittle Raid

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the US entry into World War II, Doolittle was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 2 January 1942, and went to Headquarters Army Air Force to plan the first aerial raid on the Japanese homeland. He volunteered and received Gen. H.H. Arnold's approval to lead the attack of 16 B-25 medium bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, with targets in Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, and Nagoya. It was the first and only combat mission of his military career as a pilot. As did the others who participated in the mission, Doolittle had to bail out, but fortunately landed in a heap of dung (saving a previously injured ankle from breaking) in a paddy in China near Chuchow (Quzhou). He was helped by Chinese guerillas and American missionary John Birch until he could return to the US. Several other fliers lost their lives on the mission.

Doolittle received the Medal of Honor, presented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House, for planning and leading the successful operation. His citation reads: "For conspicuous leadership above and beyond 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, Lt. Col. 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 public-relations victory for the United States. Although the amount of damage done to Japanese war industry was minor, the raid showed the Japanese their homeland was not invulnerable, and forced them to withdraw several front-line fighter units 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.

When asked where the Tokyo raid came from, President Roosevelt laughingly said that it was based in Shangri-La. Joining in the same vein, the US Navy named one of its carriers then under construction 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 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 - 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.

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 Raider, in a B-26 of the 320th Bomb Group, 442 Squadron on a mission to gun emplacements at Pantelleria. From January 1944 to September 1945, he held his largest command, the Eighth Air Force in England as a Lieutenant General, his promotion date being 13 March 1944. 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 slated to re-equip with B-29 Superfortress bombers and relocate to Okinawa in the Pacific. However, the sudden end of the war with the atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 obviated the need for the Eighth Air Force to transfer to the Far East.


On 10 May 1946, Doolittle reverted to inactive reserve status and returned to Shell Oil as a vice president, and later as a director.

He was the highest-ranking reserve officer to serve in the U.S. military in World War II.

In March 1951, he was appointed a special assistant to the Air Force chief of staff, serving as a civilian in scientific matters which led to Air Force ballistic missile and space programs.

He retired from Air Force duty on 28 February 1959 but continued to serve his country as chairman of the board of Space Technology Laboratories. He also was the first president of the U.S. Air Force Association in 1947, assisting in its organization.

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

In addition to his Medal of Honor for the Tokyo raid, during his career Doolittle also received the 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 win both the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom, the nations 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 9 May 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.

Private Life

Doolittle married Josephine E. Daniels on 24 December 1917. At a dinner celebration after Jimmy Doolittle’s first all-instrument flight in 1929, "Joe" Doolittle asked her guests to sign her white damask tablecloth. Later, she embroidered the names in black. She continued this tradition, collecting hundreds of signatures from the aviation world. The tablecloth was donated to the Smithsonian. Joe Doolittle died in 1988, five years before her husband.

The Doolittles had two sons, James Jr., and John. Both became military aviators. James Jr was an A-26 Invader pilot during WWII. He committed suicide at the age of thirty-eight in 1958.

His other son, John P. Doolittle, retired from the Air Force as a Colonel, and grandson Colonel James H. Doolittle, III was the vice commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California.

James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle died in Pebble Beach, California on September 27, 1993, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, near Washington, D.C., next to his wife. In his honor at the funeral, there were over-flights of the few remaining flyable B-25 Mitchells in the United States, and also of USAF Eighth Air Force bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. After a brief graveside service, one of the Doolittle Raiders tried to play taps in honor of his former commander, but retired Colonel William Bower could manage only a few faltered notes before having to pass the bugle to Doolittle's great-grandson who finished the playing of taps flawlessly.

The Society of Experimental Test Pilots annually presents the James H. Doolittle Award in his memory. The award is for "outstanding accomplishment in technical management or engineering achievement in aerospace technology".

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