Tag Archives: Jimmy Doolittle

24 September 1929

Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, in rear cockpit of the Consolidated NY-2 Husky, NX7918, a trainer equipped with experimental flight instruments. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, Air Corps, United States Army, in rear cockpit of the Consolidated NY-2 Husky, NX7918, a trainer equipped with experimental flight instruments. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

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.

Jimmy Doolittle with the Consolidated NY-2, NX7918. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

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. . . .”

ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE, April 1930

Instrument panel of rear cockpit of Jimmy Doolittle’s Consolidated NY-2 Husky, NX7918 at Mitchel Field, 1929. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 September 1922

Jimmy Doolittle with his DH-4 during a refueling stop at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, 4 September 1922. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
Jimmy Doolittle with his DH-4B-1-S, A.S. 22-353, during a refueling stop at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, 4 September 1922. Photograph by H.L. Summerville. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

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 James H. Doolittle, in the cockpit of the DH-4B, is greeted on his arrival at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. (Peter M. Bowers Collection)
Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, in the cockpit of the DH-4B, is greeted on his arrival at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. (Peter M. Bowers Collection)

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.”

Maintenance technicians service Lieutenant Doolittle's DH-4B-S-1 at Kelly Field.
Maintenance technicians service Lieutenant Doolittle’s DH-4B-1-S at Kelly Field.

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.

Lieutenant Doolittle's DH-4B-S-1 is serviced by maintenance technicians at Kelly Field, Texas.
Lieutenant Doolittle’s DH-4B-1-S is serviced by maintenance technicians at Kelly Field, Texas.
First Lieutenant James Harold Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army. “Jimmy Doolittle is wearing the Military Aviator badge and the World War I Victory Medal ribbon. (NASM/U.S. Air Force)

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.

Similar to the DH.4B-1-S flown by Lieutenant Jimmy Doolittle on his transcontinental flight, this is a reproduction DH.4B from the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ Pablo Beach, Florida, was renamed Jacksonville Beach on 15 June 1925.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 September 1932

James H. Doolittle with his Gee Bee R-1, NR2100, at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1932. (NASM)
The Thompson Trophy

3 September 1932: At the Cleveland National Air Races, James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle won the Thompson Trophy Race with his Granville Brothers Aircraft Company Gee Bee Supersportster R-1, NR2100.

He also set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed for Record Over a 3 Kilometer Course, averaging 473.82 kilometers per hour (294.42 miles per hour). ¹

The highest speed attained by Doolittle during his four passes over the 3-kilometer course was 497.352 kilometers per hour (309.040 miles per hour).

Jimmy Doolittle crosses the finish line at Cleveland, 1932.

The New York Daily News reported:

DOOLITTLE FLASHES TO 296-PER RECORD

CLEVELAND, SEPT. 3. (AP).—Major James H. Doolittle today shattered the world land plane speed record by averaging 296.287 miles an hour over a three-kilometer course at the National Air races.

     Denied in two previous attempts, he bested the eight-year mark held by Warrant Officer Bonnet of France by 17.807 miles an hour.

     He made six dashes, of 293.047, 287.154. 309.040, 281.966, 306.990, and 283.156 miles an hour. By the rules, any four consecutive laps may be taken for the record and the second to fifth laps, inclusive, gave the highest average.

A Light Cross-Wind.

     A five to six miles an hour cross-wind was blowing over the course as Major Doolittle, who also holds the American seaplane record, roared along in the snub-nosed Flying Silo which Russell Boardman, transatlantic flier, had planned to fly at the races.

     Doolittle grinned broadly as he was informed of his new record when he landed.

     “I’m contented with this,” he said happily. He will not attempt to set a faster record, at least for the time being.

     His plane pumped oil part of the time, he said, and this may have cost him another five miles an hour. The splattering oil impaired his vision somewhat, but not seriously. 

Ship Will Go Faster.

     “The ship behaved wonderfully,” Doolittle said on landing, “but I still think there are five miles or more in it. But it’s Russ Boardman’s ship and I think it no more than right that he should be able to take it and get out of it all that he can.”

Today’s average bested the unofficial mark of 293.193 miles an hour Doolittle set Wednesday during the eclipse and was well above the 282.672 miles an hour in an official test with a barograph the following day.

Before the new record can become official, the barograph must be calibrated and the mark accepted by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, world governing body of sporting aviation, at Paris.

Description of Plane.

     The plane used by Doolittle is a Gee Bee super-sportster. It has an 800-horsepower Wasp engine manufactured by the Pratt & Whitney Company, Hartford, Conn. The fuselage is streamlined from the engine, tapering to the knife-like rudder, just in front of which the pilot sits.

The three-kilometer course is distance of 9,844.5 feet, over which rules of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale require that the maximum altitude be seventy-five meters, or 244 feet.

     There are approaches, 500 meters, or 1,620 feet, in distance, at each end of the course, in which level flight must be made.

     The maximum height allowed before entering the approaches is 400 meters, or 1,320 feet, so that a dive of slightly more than 1,000 feet is permitted before entering upon the approaches to the course. The barograph is carried to check these altitudes. . . .

SUNDAY NEWS, Vol. 12, No. 21, Sunday, 4 September 1932, Page 2, Columns 3 and 4, and Page 4, Column 1

The Gee Bee was a purpose-built racing airplane, designed by Robert Leicester Hall, who would later become the Chief Engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. It was a very small airplane, with short wings and small control surfaces. It had gained a reputation as being very dangerous. A number of famous racers of the time were killed when they lost control of the Gee Bee. However, Doolittle had a different opinion: “She is the sweetest ship I’ve ever flown. She is perfect in every respect and the motor is just as good as it was a week ago. It never missed a beat and has lots of stuff in it yet. I think this proves that the Granville brothers up in Springfield build the very best speed ships in America today.”

Granville Brothers Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 NR2100.

The Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 was a single-seat, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed conventional landing gear. The airplane had been designed for a load factor of 12. It was 17 feet, 8 inches (5.385 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters), and height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). The fuselage had a maximum diameter 5 feet, 1 inch (1.549 meters). The wings were wire-braced. The angle of incidence was 2.5° and there was 4.5° dihedral. The aspect ratio was 6:1, and the wing area was 75 square feet (7.968 square meters).

The R-1 had an empty weight of 1,840 pounds (834.6 kilograms), gross weight of 2,415 pounds (1,095.4 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 3,075 pounds (1,394.8 kilograms).

The Gee Bee R-1 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.80-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp T3D1 nine-cylinder direct -drive radial engine. It was rated at 730 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The engine turned a two-bladed U.S. Smith Engineering Co. adjustable-pitch propeller with a diameter of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). The engine was enclosed in a NACA cowling. The T3D1 was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 763 pounds (346 kilograms).

Granville Brothers Supersportser R-1, NR2100. (NASM)

The Gee Bee R-1 had a cruise speed was 260 miles per hour (418.4 kilometers per hour), and its maximum speed was more than 309 miles per hour (497 kilometers per hour). The stall speed was rather high at 90 miles per hour (144.8 kilometers per hour), as a result of optimizing the airplane for high speed. The air racer could climb at 6,100 feet per minute (31 meters per second). It had a range of 630 miles (1,014 kilometers) at full throttle. ²

Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 NR2100, #11, was later re-engined with a Pratt & Whitney Hornet. It was destroyed when it crashed on takeoff after refueling at Indianapolis, Indiana, 1 July 1933. The pilot, Russell Boardman, was killed.

Jimmy Doolittle hops out of the Bee Bee R-1. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

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, Doolittle commanded the 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, United States Air Force.

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.

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

¹ FAI Record File Number 8751

² All Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 specifications from Zantford D. Granville, writing in Aero Digest Magazine, July 1933. See http://goldenageofaviation.org/geebeer2.html

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 July 1920

First Lieutenant James Harold Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army. “Jimmy” Doolittle is wearing an embroidered Airplane Pilot badge and the World War I Victory Medal ribbon. (U.S. Air Force)

1 July 1920: James Harold Doolittle was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army. The commission was accepted 19 September 1920. On the same date, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant, Air Service. This was accepted 17 March 1921.

“Jimmy” Doolittle had enlisted as a private, 1st class, in the Aviation Section, Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps, 10 November 1917. He received a commission as a 2nd lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers’ Reserve Corps, 11 March 1918, and was assigned to active duty the following day.

Following the passage of the National Defense Act of 1920, which established the Air Service, Doolittle’s O.R.C. commission was vacated 19 September 1920, and he was appointed a first lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army. This commission was retroactive to 1 July 1920.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 June 1918

Aviator’s Certificate No. 1702, Aero Club of America. (NASM)

12 June 1918: 2nd Lieutenant James Harold Doolittle, Aviation Section, Signal Officers’ Reserve Corps, was granted Aero Club of America pilot certificate No. 1702 on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

The license was signed by Alan Ramsay Hawley, President, and William Hawley, Secretary.

Blue, leather-bound book containing James H. Doolittle’s Aero Club of America Aviator’s Certificate. (NASM)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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