A pilot and pioneer of military aviation and instrument flying.
James Harold “Jimmy” Doolittle was born in California but spent much of his youth in Alaska. He left the University of California in 1917 to enlist in the U.S. Army Reserve and was assigned to the Signal Corps. During World War I (1914-1918), he served as an aviator and flight instructor. Commissioned as a first lieutenant in 1920, he spent much of the following decade in the development of military aviation.
During this period, Doolittle combined his interest in aviation with the sport of flying. He took part in numerous races, winning a number of trophies. In September, 1922, he carried out the first transcontinental flight from Florida to California, a distance of more than 2,100 miles, in fewer than twenty-four hours. The purpose of the flight was to support the growing role of the U.S. Army Air Service in the nation’s defenses. At the same time, the flight brought Doolittle to national prominence.
In 1930, Doolittle resigned from the Army to work for the Shell Petroleum Company. He continued to race, setting a world speed record in 1932. In 1940, Doolittle rejoined the Army Air Corps with a rank of major. On April 18, 1942, as a lieutenant colonel, he led a force of sixteen B-25 bombers from the USS Hornet, hitting targets in Japan more than 800 miles across the Pacific. Although the targeted cities, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagoya, received negligible damage, the raid shattered the impenetrable image of the Japanese islands. Most of the planes and their seventy-five fliers crash-landed in China. Doolittle was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his action.
During the war, Doolittle rose to the rank of lieutenant general, commanding the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa and the Fifteenth Air Force elsewhere in the region. In 1944, Doolittle assumed command of the Eighth Air Force, directing bombing of Germany until the end of the war. From 1948 to 1958, Doolittle served on both the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and and the President’s Science Advisory Committee. He became director of Space Technology Laboratoriesfollowing his retirement from the Air Force in 1959.
Doolittle, James, and Carroll Glines. I Could Never Be So Lucky Again. New York: Bantam, 1991. Doolittle’s autobiography, covering his extensive career in the air service, with emphasis on the Tokyo raid. Glines, Carroll. The Doolittle Raid. Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer, 1999. Among the most detailed and most recent of numerous books on the subject. Schultz, Duane. The Doolittle Raid. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Contains excellent material on Doolittle, with emphasis on his famous raid and its aftermath.
Air Force, U.S.
National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
World War I
World War II