FRANK OLIVER: He was a scientist, an airplane engineer and a general in the United States Army.
At one time, he held the record for flying faster than any other person. He was the first pilot to cross the United States in less than twenty – four hours. He was the first pilot to fly “blind,” that is, using only instruments to guide his airplane.
And, when his country entered World War Two, he led one of the first successful attacks against the enemy.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: His name was James Harold Doolittle. But to the many thousands of Americans, he was Jimmy – Jimmy Doolittle.
Jimmy Doolittle was born on December fourteenth, eighteen ninety-six, in the western state of California. His family soon moved to Nome, Alaska. Jimmy was a small boy. He never grew to be very big. Yet larger boys made a mistake if they thought being small also meant being weak. Jimmy would fight if someone tried to hurt him. And he almost never lost.
FRANK OLIVER: As a young man he became a boxing champion. He held the American West Coast championship for his weight. He continued to box when he entered the University of California to study mineral engineering. He held both the lightweight and middleweight college boxing championships.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: When the United States entered World War One, young JimmyDoolittle joined the Army. He also asked to be trained as a pilot. On March eighteenth, nineteen eighteen, Jimmy passed the tests and graduated from flight school. He had hoped to go to France and fight in the war. The army, however, had him train other pilots. When the war ended, Jimmy chose to stay in the army. He thought this would give him a chance to combine his flying skills and his interest in engineering.
On April 18, 1942, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle helped lead America’s attack on Japan.
FRANK OLIVER: For most of the years between World War One and World War Two, Jimmy Doolittle was involved in the growth
of the airplane industry. He helped test new airplanes. He flew longer and longer distances. He also entered the world-famous air races of the time. During the nineteen twenties and thirties, airplane races were used to test new aircraft designs.
Jimmy Doolittle won three of the most important races, the Schneider Marine Cup, the Bendix Trophy race and the Thompson Trophy race. By now, most Americans knew the name Jimmy Doolittle.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Perhaps Jimmy’s most important work during this period involved instrument flying. In the early years of aviation it was almost impossible to fly in bad weather. Many pilots crashed in poor conditions because they became lost. In a heavy fog, they could not tell if they were going right, left, up or down. Many pilots and aviation experts said the problem could not be solved. They said it was impossible to fly in bad weather.
Jimmy Doolittle began working with experts who made flight instruments. These instruments helped tell if the aircraft was going up, going down or turning. The instruments helped a pilot fly straight. Other instruments linked radios to a direction device to help find the landing area.
FRANK OLIVER: After ten months of tests, Jimmy Doolittle became the first pilot to fly successfully in poor weather conditions. It was September twenty-fourth, nineteen twenty-nine. It was impossible to see because it was so foggy. He took his airplane off the ground, flew for ten minutes, and then returned to land safely.
Jimmy Doolittle’s test flight had shown that instruments could help pilots fly. He proved that flying could be safe in almost any kind of weather.