14–15 January 1935: James Harold Doolittle set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognised Course of 329.98 kilometers per hour (205.04 miles per hour).¹
Doolittle took off from Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 5:27 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, 14 January (8:27 p.m., Eastern Standard Time). Also on board were Mrs. Doolittle and Robert Adamson (1871–1935), an executive with the Shell Oil Company.
The airplane was an Airplane Development Corporation V-1A Special, NC13770, owned by American Airlines and leased to Shell.
Doolittle crossed overhead Floyd Bennett Field at 8:26 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, 15 January. He then landed at Newark Airport, New Jersey, at 8:34½ a.m. The flight from Burbank to Brooklyn had a duration of 11 hours, 59 minutes, and broke a record set two months earlier by Eddie Rickenbacker.
The Airplane Development Corporation Model V-1A (commonly known as the “Vultee V-1A”) was a large, all-metal, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. The V-1A was designed as a high-speed airliner and was of full monocoque construction. It could be flown by one or two pilots and carry up to eight passengers.
The V-1A was designed by Gerard Freebairn Vultee and Richard Palmer,² based on an earlier design by Vultee and Vance Breese, who were working for the Airplane Development Corporation, which they had founded in 1932, but which had been acquired by the Cord Corporation. The prototype made its first flight 19 February 1933 with test pilot Marshall Headle at the controls.
NC13770, serial number 24073, was the eighth V-1A built, and was one of the original ten ordered by American Airlines. The V-1A was 37 feet, 0 inches (11.278 meters) long with a wingspan of 50 feet, 0 inches (15.240 meters) and height of 10 feet, 2 inches (3.099 meters). The wings had root chord of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters) and tip chord of 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). Total wing area was 384.0 square feet (35.675 square meters). There was 3° dihedral. The V-1A had an empty weight of 5,212 pounds (2,364 kilograms) and gross weight of 8,500 pounds (3,856 kilograms).
The Vultee V-1A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129 cubic-inch displacement (29.785 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 R-1820-F2 (R-1820-20 or R-1820-102), a nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.4:1. This was a direct-drive engine with a Normal Power rating of 691 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m., at Sea Level. It required 87-octane gasoline. The engine turned a three-blade propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 0 inches (3.048 meters). The R-1820-F2 was 3 feet, 7-3/8 inches (1.102 meters) long, 4 feet, 5-3/4 inches (1.365 meters) in diameter, and weighed 937 pounds (425 kilograms).
The V-1A had a cruise speed of 215 miles per hour (346 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 235 miles per hour (378 kilometers per hour). The airplane’s service ceiling was 23,000 feet (7,010 meters). In standard configuration, it had a range of 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers).
NC13770 was later sold to Harry Richman of Miami Beach, Florida, who christened the airplane Lady Peace. During the Spanish Civil War, the airplane was captured by the Nationalists. It was used as a transport for the Aviación Nacional Grupo 43, identified as 43-14, and named Capitán Haya. Its U.S. registration was cancelled 8 October 1937. It is believed that the airplane was scrapped in the early 1950s.
¹ FAI Record File Number 13232
² Richard Palmer was the designer of Howard Hughes’ record setting H-1.
2 Nov 1950: In a ceremony at The White House, Washington, D.C., President Harry S. Truman presented the Harmon International Trophies for the period 1940–1949. The Harmon aviator’s trophy was awarded to Lieutenant General James Harold (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, United States Air Force (Retired), the wartime commanding general of the Eighth Air Force. General Doolittle had previously been awarded the Harmon U.S. national aviator’s trophy in 1929, for his work on instrument flying.
The international aviatrix trophy went to Colonel Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Cochran, U.S. Air Force Reserve, for her service as Director of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), 1942–1944. She would eventually win fourteen Harmon trophies.
The international aeronaut trophy was presented to Vice Admiral Charles E. Rosendahl, commanding the U.S. Navy’s lighter-than-aircraft during World War II. This was Admiral Rosendahl’s fourth Harmon Trophy.
26 October 1925: Lieutenant James Harold Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army, won the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (commonly called the Schneider Trophy) when he placed first flying his Curtiss R3C-2 float plane over a 217-mile (349 kilometer) course near Bay Shores on Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.
Doolittle’s average speed for the seven laps around the triangular race course was 232.57 miles per hour (374.29 kilometers per hour). The second-place airplane, a Gloster-Napier III flown by Captain Hubert Broad, averaged 199.16 miles per hour (320.52 kilometers per hour).
Doolittle also set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records during the race: World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers, with an average speed of 377.83 kilometers per hour (234.77 miles per hour);¹ World Record for Speed Over 200 Kilometers, 377.16 kilometers per hour (234.36 miles per hour).² On the following day, Doolittle set a third FAI record: World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, 395.5 kilometers per hour (245.75 miles per hour).³
A contemporary news article commented on Jimmy Doolittle’s performance:
“. . . according to reports Lieut. Doolittle’s cornering was superb, and must have been to a great extent responsible for the excellent performance. Reports from America—coming, it is thought, from a reliable source—indicate that one particular engine out of the 12 built for the Pulitzer and Schneider Trophy races proved exceptionally good, as will often happen in a batch of engines, and it is believed that this engine was fitted in Doolittle’s Curtiss-Army Racer. This fact, taken in conjunction with the masterly handling of the machine, would seem to account for the wholly unexpected average speed maintained, which was, of course, far and away ahead of the speeds of the British and Italian competitors.”
—FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 879 (No. 44, Vol. XVII.) October 29, 1923 at Page 703
The R3C-2 was a single-engine, single-seat, single-bay biplane, equipped with pontoons for taking off and landing on water. It was built especially for air racing. Two R3Cs were built for the United States Navy and one for the Army. (The Army aircraft is identified by a Navy Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) A-7054. It does not seem to have been assigned an Air Service serial number.) The airplane and its V-1400 engine were both built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, which had been founded by Glenn Hammond Curtiss. The R3C-2 was converted from the R3C-1, the land plane configuration which had been flown by Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, AS, USA, to win the Pulitzer Trophy Race just two weeks earlier.
The RC3-2 is 22 feet long (6.706 meters), an increase of 2 feet, 3.5 inches (0.698 meters) over the R3C-1 configuration, resulting from the replacement of the fixed wheeled landing gear with the single-step pontoons. The upper wing span is 22 feet (6.706 meters), with a chord of 4 feet, 8¼ inches (1.429 meters). The lower wing span is 20 feet (6.096 meters) with a chord of 3 feet, 3¾ inches (1.010 meters). Weight empty was 2,135 pounds (968 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 2,738 pounds (1,242 kilograms).
Constructed of wood, the fuselage has four ash longerons and seven birch vertical bulkheads. The framework is covered with two layers of 2-inch (51 millimeter) wide, 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeter) thick spruce strips. These were placed on a 45° diagonal from the fuselage horizontal centerline, with the second layer at 90° to the first. These veneer strips were glued and tacked to the frame. The fuselage was then covered with doped fabric. The wings and tail surfaces are also of wood, with spruce ribs and a covering of spruce strips.
The single-bay wings are wire braced and contain surface radiators made of thin brass sheeting. The radiators contained 12 gallons (45.4 liters) of water, circulating at a rate of 75 gallons (283.9 liters) per minute. By using surface radiators to cool the engine, aerodynamic drag was reduced.
The Curtiss V-1400 engine was developed from the earlier Curtiss D-12. It was a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 1,399.91-cubic-inch-displacement (22.940 liter), dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12, with a compression ratio of 5.5:1. The V-1400 was rated at 510 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and could produce 619 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. It was a direct-drive engine and turned a two-bladed duralumin fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 7 feet, 8 inches (2.337 meters). The propeller was designed by Sylvanus Albert Reed, Ph.D. The V-1400 engine weighed 660 pounds (299 kilograms).
The R3C-2 had a fuel capacity of 27 gallons (102 liters). Its range was 290 miles (467 kilometers).
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.
During World War II, Colonel Doolittle planned and led the famous Halsey-Doolittle Raid against Japan, 18 April 1942, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
As a brigadier general, he commanded 12th Air Force in North Africa. Promoted to major general, he was given command of the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater, and commanded 8th Air Force as a lieutenant general, 1943–1945.
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.
24 September 1929: Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, made the first completely blind airplane takeoff, flight, and landing, solely by reference to instruments on board his aircraft. Flying from the rear cockpit of a civil-registered two-place Consolidated NY-2 Husky training airplane, NX7918, Doolittle had his visual reference to earth and sky completely cut off by a hood enclosure over his cockpit. A safety pilot, Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, rode in the forward cockpit, but the entire flight was conducted by Doolittle. He took off from Mitchel Field, climbed out, flew a 15 mile set course and returned to Mitchel Field and landed.
The experimental gyroscopic compass, artificial horizon and a precision altimeter were developed by Elmer Sperry, Jr., and Paul Kollsman, both of Long Island, New York. Funding for the Full Flight Laboratory at Mitchel Field was provided by the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics.
The following contemporary magazine article gives some details of Jimmy Doolittle’s instrument flight:
“THE outstanding development in aviation recently, and one of the most significant so far in aviation history was the ‘blind’ flight of Lieut. James H. Doolittle, daredevil of the Army Air Corps, at Mitchel Field, L. I., which led Harry P. Guggenheim, President of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, Inc. to announce that the problem of fog-flying, one of aviation’s greatest bugbears, had been solved at last.
“There has been ‘blind flying’ done in the past but never before in the history of aviation has any pilot taken off, circled, crossed, re-crossed the field, then landed only a short distance away from his starting point while flying under conditions resembling the densest fog, as Lieut. ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle has done, in his Wright-motored ‘Husky’ training-plane. It was something uncanny to contemplate.
“The ‘dense fog’ was produced artificially by the simple device of making the cabin of the plane entirely light-proof. Once seated inside, the flyer, with his co-pilot, Lieut. Benjamin Kelsey, also of Mitchel Field, were completely shut off from any view of the world outside. All they had to depend on were three new flying instruments, developed during the past year in experiments conducted over the full-flight laboratory established by the Fund at Mitchel Field.
“The chief factors contributing to the solution of the problem of blind flying consist of a new application of the visual radio beacon, the development of an improved instrument for indicating the longitudinal and lateral position of an airplane, a new directional gyroscope, and a sensitive barometric altimeter, so delicate as to measure the altitude of an airplane within a few feet of the ground.
“Thus, instead of relying on the natural horizon for stability, Lieut. Doolittle uses an ‘artificial horizon’ on the small instrument which indicates longitudinal and lateral position in relation to the ground at all time. He was able to locate the landing field by means of the direction-finding long-distance radio beacon. In addition, another smaller radio beacon had been installed, casting a beam fifteen to twenty miles in either direction, which governs the immediate approach to the field.
“To locate the landing field the pilot watches two vibrating reeds, tuned to the radio beacon, on a virtual radio receiver on his instrument board. If he turns to the right or left of his course the right or left reed, respectively, begins doing a sort of St. Vitus dance. If the reeds are in equilibrium the pilot knows it is clear sailing straight to his field.
“The sensitive altimeter showed Lieut. Doolittle his altitude and made it possible for him to calculate his landing to a distance of within a few feet from the ground. . . .”
4 September 1922: First Lieutenant James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army, made the first transcontinental crossing of the United States in a single day when he flew a DH.4B-1-S single-engine biplane, Air Service Serial Number 22-353, from Pablo Beach, Florida, ¹ to Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, a distance of 2,106 miles (3,390 kilometers). He made one refueling stop at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, which lasted 1 hour, 16 minutes. The total duration of the flight was 21 hours, 19 minutes.
Lieutenant Doolittle was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “demonstrating the possibility of moving Air Corps units to any portion of the United States in less than 24 hours.”
The Airco DH.4 was a very successful airplane of World War I, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. It was built by several manufacturers in Europe and the United States. The DH-4B was a rebuilt DH.4 with fuel capacity increased to 110 gallons (420 liters). The DH-4B was 30 feet, 6 inches (9.296 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 6 inches (13.259 meters) and height of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). Loaded weight of the standard DH-4B was 3,557 pounds (1,613.4 kilograms).
In place of the Rolls-Royce Eagle VII V-12 of the British-built version, Army Air Service DH-4s were powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine. It turned turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).
The Liberty L12 aircraft engine was designed by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. This engine was produced by Ford Motor Company, as well as the Buick and Cadillac Divisions of General Motors, The Lincoln Motor Company (which was formed by Henry Leland, the former manager of Cadillac, specifically to manufacture these aircraft engines), Marmon Motor Car Company and Packard. Hall-Scott was too small to produce engines in the numbers required.
This same airplane, DH.4B-1-S, A.S. No. 22-353, was flown from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border by Lieutenant H.G. Crocker, 26 May 1923.
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.
During World War II Colonel Doolittle planned and led the famous Halsey-Doolittle Raid against Japan, 18 April 1942, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. As a brigadier general he commanded Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. Promoted to major general, he was given command of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater. From 1943 until 1945, Lieutenant General Doolittle commanded Eighth Air Force. He was preparing his command to move against Japan, equipped with Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers when World War II came to an end.
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. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.
¹ Pablo Beach, Florida, was renamed Jacksonville Beach on 15 June 1925.