In 1920, Doolittle secured a Regular Army commission, and on 4 September 1922, he made the first transcontinental flight in less than 24 hours. He then studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received master's and Ph.D. degrees in aeronautical engineering. A leader in advances in both military and civilian aviation, Doolittle helped develop horizontal and directional gyroscopes and pioneered instrument flying.
Doolittle gained prominence through stunt flying, racing, and demonstrating aircraft. In 1930, he left the army to become aviation manager for Shell Oil, where he helped develop new high-octane aviation fuels that greatly benefited the United States in World War II. He won the Harmon (1930) and Bendix (1931) trophies, and in 1932 he broke the world airspeed record.
In July 1940, Doolittle returned to the army as a major. Following U.S. entry into World War II, in January 1942 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. On 18 April 1942, Doolittle commanded the first American air strike on the Japanese mainland. The raid was a great fillip for U.S. morale, and for it he was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to brigadier general.
In July 1942, Doolittle took command of the Twelfth Air Force in England, which he led in Operation torch in North Africa. In November 1943, he was given command of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater, directing it in raids against German-held Europe. In January 1944, he assumed command of the Eighth Air Force in the European Theater, and that March he was promoted to temporary lieutenant general. On Germany's surrender in May 1945, Doolittle moved with the Eighth Air Force to Okinawa, although the Eighth arrived in the Pacific Theater too late to see much action.
In May 1946, Doolittle returned to the civilian sector as a vice president for Shell Oil, and later he became its director. He also served on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the Air Force Science Advisory Board, and the President's Science Advisory Committee. In June 1985 by act of Congress Doolittle was promoted to general on the retired list. He died on 27 September 1993 in Pebble Beach, California. Sean K. Duggan
Doolittle, James H., with Carroll V. Glines. I Could Never Be So Lucky Again: An Autobiography by General James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 1991.; Glines, Carroll V. Doolittle's Tokyo Raiders. Salem, NH: Ayer, 1964.; Merrill, James M. Target Tokyo: The Halsey-Doolittle Raid. New York: Rand McNally, 1964.; Thomas, Lowell, and Edward Jablonski. Doolittle: A Biography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976.
Sean K. Duggan