Jimmy Doolittle, born James Harold Doolittle, was an aviation pioneer and had an interesting military and flying career, winning lots of flying races.
He is best known for an early air raid against Japan during World War II, but his contributions to the aviation world outside of the war make him a really interesting figure.
Below you’ll find the top 8 interesting facts about the legendary aviation pioneer, Jimmy Doolittle.
Jimmy Doolittle Facts
1. He taught flying during the First World War
While he was in school, Jimmy Doolittle attended the Los Angeles International Air Meet and saw a plane for the first time. This ignited his interest in flying, but he went on to continue his studies and graduate from the University of Berkeley before pursuing flying as a career.
In 1917, he enlisted as a flying cadet and, by March 2018, he was a lieutenant in the reserves. As a result, he spent the months when the United States was involved in World War I as a flight instructor around the country, visiting air bases in Louisiana, Texas, California and Ohio.
2. He became internationally famous between the Wars
It was between the two World Wars that Jimmy Doolittle would try lots of aviation experiments which made him famous worldwide.
He was the first person to fly across the States from Florida to California in a flight of 21 hours 19 minutes, with one stop to refuel. This got him the US Distinguished Flying Cross, an interesting Jimmy Doolittle facts.
Jimmy Doolittle also attempted various speed records, which he succeeded at. He won the Schneider Cup Race in 1925 flying at an average speed of 232 miles/hour. He also won the Bendix Trophy from a race from California to Ohio and set the 1932 speed record for a land plane at 296 miles/hour.
3. Doolittle was highly ranked in the US aviation research and development arm
Not only did Doolittle work as a flight instructor, but he also had special training in high speed flight and a place on the Naval Test Board of the United States.
He served on the Baker Board for aviation review in 1934, and was named President of the Institute of Aeronautical Science in 1940.
During World War II, Jimmy was instrumental in working with automobile factories to develop plans for building planes in case the US joined the war.
4. He flew with two broken ankles!
Jimmy Doolittle’s spirit was indomitable. In 1926, during his military research and development work, he was sent to Chile with a flight demonstration team and was due to fly a P1-Hawk.
However, while in Chile, he broke both his ankles, which would put any regular pilot out of commission. An interesting fact about Jimmy Doolittle is that he still went ahead and did his demonstration flight with both ankles in casts.
5. He led the first American air raid on Japan during World War II
This is Jimmy Doolittle’s biggest claim to fame. In January 1942, in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack and after the US had decided to enter the war, Doolittle was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel and began planning the first raid against Japan.
Due to his extensive experience and pioneering thinking, Jimmy Doolittle put together a plan which allowed the US to deliver a shock to Japan, who thought that their network of navy and air power would protect them completely.
Jimmy put 16 B-25 Bombers on the USS Hornet, an aircraft carrier. He then piloted the first bomber off the carrier on 18 April 1942, leading the team in a surprise mission against Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, Yokohama and Nagoya.
Interestingly, the bombers didn’t have enough fuel to fly back, so the plan was to drop the bombs and then abandon the bombers in China or Russia, hoping to meet Allied supporters and somehow make it back to the US carrier. Doolittle landed in China and made it back safely, after which he spent a lot of effort to ensure that everyone in his team would be repatriated.
This expedition is what’s put him in the history books and also gained him the Medal of Honor. The raid itself is now known by his name.
6. Jimmy Doolittle was a strong supporter of the United States space program
After the end of World War II, Jimmy Doolittle stayed actively involved in all airspace development initiatives in the US, by serving on various boards in an advisory capacity. He was a great supporter of the space program and worked with Robert Goddard, the developer of the first liquid-fueled rocket. In 1956, Doolittle was the president of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, an interesting Jimmy Doolittle fact.
7. Doolittle amassed awards and medals
During his lifetime, Doolittle’s achievements and contributions were recognized heavily. Not only did he receive the Medal of Honor, he was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Silver Star, two Distinguished Service Medals, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, as well as the Public Welfare Medal awarded by the National Academy of Sciences, and the United States Military Academy’s Sylvanus Thayer Award.
8. He got re-ranked late in life
By the ‘80s, military ranks changed enough in the US Air Force that Jimmy Doolittle’s rank was actually not considered high enough anymore. An interesting fact about Jimmy Doolittle is that in 1985, Congress made him a major general on the Retired list of the Air Force, to reflect the high regard in which he continued to be held.
Ironically for his name, Jimmy Doolittle did a lot in his lifetime and made major contributions to the development of aviation with his intrepid research and experiments. Although he is best remembered for his leadership in the attack against Japan in World War II and his subsequent command of the Allied Forces in Europe, his groundbreaking work came behind the scenes of war, in committees and advisory boards where he constantly supported research and development.
So here you have 8 interesting facts about the man who advanced aviation and also supported the development of one of the most impressive space programs in the world.
If you are interested, visit the Historical People Facts Page!