Wednesday, May 24, 2006

MAN MOMENT MACHINE: Doolittle's Daring Raid

The Man: Jimmy Doolittle was a celebrated daredevil pilot, one of the leather-jacketed aviation pioneers who flew in open cockpits, a steel-nerved airman with a doctorate in Aeronautical Science. Doolittle was the first to execute an outside loop and the first to ‘fly blind’ using only his instruments to guide him.

In the spring of 1942, Japanese troops smashed their way into Hong Kong and the Philippines. General Hap Arnold needed a man who could pull off what looked like a suicide mission. With Doolittle’s military training and technical expertise, Arnold knew that he was the right man at that pivotal moment in history.

The Machine: This programme will show us a B-25 bomber – the machine chosen for the mission. It was the only high-winged bomber capable of being adapted to meet the mission requirements. Doolittle put his technical expertise to work on modifying the plane, removing the gun turret and adding a fuel tank. We will also examine the bomb bay where Doolittle installed two more custom fuel tanks, almost doubling the plane’s fuel load. The 1,140 gallons added considerable weight to the aircraft, making it more improbable that it could have lifted off from the deck of a carrier at sea.

The Moment: When Doolittle presented his plan to bomb Tokyo few believed the mission would suceed. However, after gaining key support for the mission, Doolittle's squadron was placed on an aircraft carrier and started to make their way across the Pacific, trying to get as close as they could to Japan without attracting the enemy's attention.

When the Japanese spotted the convoy, the decision was made to launch the mission early, making it unlikely that many of the pilots would reach land and survive. The first man to roll down the short carrier runway was Jimmy Doolittle. When he became airborne, the rest of the squadron followed.

The squadron’s bombing of Tokyo and other military centres was a success. The B-25s thundered into the industrial centre of Japan, dropping their payloads of five hundred pound demolition and incendiary bombs. But Jimmy Doolittle and the rest of the squadron bailed out of their planes over mainland China and the coastline. A miraculous number of men survived the bailout and stayed out of Japanese hands. Jimmy Doolittle became an American Hero thanks to the only plane that could complete that mission. Fate’s fusion of Man, Moment, and Machine.


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