Twining's early career was in the infantry, but he entered the Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, Texas, in August 1923. He graduated from Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, and received his wings in September 1926. Twining transferred to the Air Corps that November. His first operational assignment was to the 18th Pursuit Squadron in Hawaii. He returned to the mainland in March 1932.
Between March 1932 and August 1935, Twining served with several operational units and was promoted to captain. He graduated from the Air Corps Tactical School, Maxwell Field, Alabama, in 1936 and from the Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1937. From 1937 to 1940, Twining was stationed at Duncan Field, Texas. Promoted to major in August 1940, he became assistant chief of the Technical Inspection Division, Headquarters (HQ) Air Corps, Washington, D.C., and was later promoted to lieutenant colonel.
In March 1942, Twining was promoted to brigadier general and became chief of staff to Major General M. F. Harmon, commander of U.S. Army Forces in the South Pacific. In January 1943, he took command of the newly formed Thirteenth Air Force, operating in the Solomon Islands and Bismarck Archipelago. Nicknamed the "Jungle Air Force," the unit provided invaluable support to General George C. Kenney's Fifth Air Force. On 26 January, Twining's B-17 was forced down in the Coral Sea. He and the other 15 survivors spent five days in a life raft before being rescued. In July, Twining, now a major general, assumed command of all Allied air assets in the South Pacific.
In November 1943, he took charge of the newly formed U.S. Fifteenth Air Force in Italy. Among his command's critical targets were the Romanian oil refineries at Ploesti. In June 1945, he was promoted to temporary lieutenant general and then was given command of Twentieth Air Force in the Pacific in August. His new command dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In December 1945, Twining took charge of the Air Matériel Command, Wright Field, Ohio. In 1947, he headed the Alaska Command, and in May 1950, he became deputy chief of staff of the air force. Promoted to general in October and made vice chief of staff, Twining oversaw much of the air force's conversion from propeller to jet aircraft.
In June 1953, Twining became chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. He oversaw the reorganization of the service, the introduction of new aircraft, and improvements in training and living conditions. He also fought against decreases in conventional forces in favor of nuclear missiles.
In August 1957, Twining became the first air force general to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His 1957 assertions that there was a "bomber gap" with the Soviet Union led to a substantial increase in air force appropriations from Congress. Twining retired in 1960 and entered private business as vice chairman of the publishing firm of Holt, Rinehart and Winston. His book Neither Liberty nor Safety (1966) sharply criticized the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson for refusing to upgrade U.S. missile weaponry. Twining died at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, on 29 March 1982. William Head
McCarley, J. Britt. "General Nathan Farragut Twining: The Making of a Disciple of Strategic Air Power, 1897–1953." Ph.D. diss., Temple University, 1989.; Mrozek, Donald J. "Nathan F. Twining: New Dimensions, a New Look." In John L. Frisbee, ed., Makers of the United States Air Force, 257–280. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1987.; Twining, Nathan. Neither Liberty nor Safety: A Hard Look at U.S. Military Policy and Strategy. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966.