25 May 1927

1st Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, United States Army Air Corps, at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races. Jimmy Doolittle is seen in this photograph sitting on the turtle deck of the Curtiss P-1C Hawk. (National Air and Space Museum)

25 May 1927: At Wright Field, now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, First Lieutenant James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, United States Army Air Corps, was the first pilot to successfully perform an outside loop.

Flying a Curtiss P-1B Hawk pursuit, he began the maneuver in level flight at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), then pushed the nose down into a dive. When he reached 280 miles per hour (450 kilometers per hour), Doolittle continued to pitch the nose “down” and the airplane flew through a complete vertical circle, with the pilot’s head to the outside of the loop.

Lt. Jimmy Doolittle with a Curtiss P-1 Hawk, 4 February 1928. (NASM)
Lt. Jimmy Doolittle with a Curtiss P-1 Hawk, 4 February 1928. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

Jimmy Doolittle attempted to repeat the outside loop at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races, with a Curtiss P-1C Hawk, serial number 29-227. The airplane’s wings came off but Doolittle parachuted to safety. (The Curtiss P-1C used wing radiators instead of the large radiator under the nose of the P-1B. This substantially reduced the aerodynamic drag which allowed the airplane to accelerate to too high an airspeed during Doolittle’s maneuver.)

A crowd surrounds the wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle's Curtiss P-1C Hawk after it crashed during a demonstration at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races. (Cleveland Press)
A crowd surrounds the wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle’s Curtiss P-1C Hawk after it crashed during an aerobatic demonstration at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races. (Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections, Cleveland Press Collection)

Jimmy Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested and developed new flying equipment and techniques. He was a highly-educated military officer, having earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Berkeley School of Mines, and M.S and D.Sc. degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a pioneer aviator, he won every international air race, and had been awarded every international aviation trophy. He was also the first pilot to fly completely by reference to instruments.

During the early days of America’s involvement in World War II, Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle planned and led the Halsey-Doolittle B-25 raid on Japan. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to brigadier general. He was placed in command of the 12th Air Force in North Africa, then as a major general, the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. Lieutenant General Doolittle commanded the 8th Air Force in England from January 1944 to September 1945. He then supervised the transition of the 8th to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and its its eventual transfer to bases on Okinawa to continue the war against Japan. World War II came to an end, however, before any of the 8th’s B-29s actually moved west.

Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Force (U.S. Army Photo C-2102)
Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Force (U.S. Army Photo C-2102)

After the war, Lieutenant General Doolittle was placed on the inactive list. On 4 April 1985, by Act of Congress, James H. Doolittle was promoted to General.

General James Harold Doolittle is the only person to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom. He died 27 September 1993 at the age of 96 years.

Curtiss P-1B Hawk, A.C. 27-75. (U.S. Air Force)

The Curtiss P-1B Hawk was a single-place, single engine biplane pursuit, an aircraft type now known as a fighter. The airplane and its D-12 Conqueror engine were both built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co., Garden City, New York. It was 22 feet, 11 inches (6.985 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 6 inches (9.601 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 10¾ inches (2.712 meters). It had a maximum weight of 2,841 pounds (1,288.7 kilograms).

The P-1B was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,145.1-cubic-inch-displacement (18.8 liter) Curtiss V-1150-3 (D-12D) dual overhead cam (DOHC) 4-valve 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.7:1. It was a direct-drive engine, rated at 415 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 460 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. The D-12 was 58¾ inches (1.492 meters) long, 34¾ inches (0.883 meters) high and 28¼ inches (0.718 meters) wide. It weighed 680 pounds (308 kilograms).

The pursuit had a maximum speed of 165 miles per hour (265.5 kilometers per hour), service ceiling of 21,000 feet (6,400.8 meters) and range of 342 miles (550 kilometers).

The P-1B was armed with two machine guns, one .50-caliber and one .30-caliber.

The Air Corps ordered 93 Curtiss P-1 Hawks between 1925 and 1929.

Doolittle flew a Curtiss Curtiss P-1A Hawk, 25-410, similar to the P-1B that Doolittle flew into an outside loop. (U.S. Air Force)
Curtiss P-1A Hawk, 25-410, similar to the P-1B that Doolittle flew into an outside loop. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 thoughts on “25 May 1927

  1. Please stop calling it the Halsey-Doolittle Raid. Halsey was not on the flight. Doolittle was. It is a dishonor to the Raiders.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Michael, but I disagree. As I have said previously, the official histories record the name of the raid as “The Halsey-Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, 18 April 1942.” Planning for the attack began in January 1942 under direct orders from Admiral Earnest J. King, Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet. Captain Donald B. Duncan, U.S.N., was responsible for the plan. The Air Corps pilots were trained at Eglin Field by Lieutenant Henry L. Miller, U.S.N. The operation was carried out by Task Force 16 under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., U.S.N. Task Force 16 consisted of two aircraft carriers, four cruisers, eight destroyers and two oilers. There were two air groups, consisting of eight squadrons of 54 fighters, 72 dive bombers, 36 torpedo bombers, and one squadron of 16 medium bombers. Although the raid was an early—and successful!—example of what is now called a “joint operation,” it was mostly a Navy operation from conception through planning, training and implementation. Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle commanded the Strike Group of North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell bombers aboard Hornet. As central and critical as Doolittle was to the success of the raid, it must be remembered that it was not his idea, and he was not involved in its planning Many others were involved in developing the concept, planning, training of the Army air crews, and getting the strike group into position. In overall command of the operation was Vice Admiral Halsey. Although we remember and honor the 80 Army Air Corps personnel of the strike force, more than 10,660 Navy personnel manned the ships and airplanes of Task Force 16. The actual operation remained secret until after the war. President Roosevelt announced that the Army airplanes were launched from a secret base on “Shangri-La.” Doolittle was the the public face of the attack, and in the public consciousness, it is known as “The Doolittle Raid.”

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