John M. White

The Outside Loop

May 26, 2023

Whenever the name Jimmy Doolittle comes up, the first thought that occurs to us is the raid over Tokyo in World War II.

On that date, the United States launched 16 B-25 bombers from the deck of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier on April 18, 1942, to bomb Tokyo, Japan.

A photograph of one of Doolittle's Raiders taking off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet on April 18, 1942
One of Doolittle's Raiders taking off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet on April 18, 1942

But there is so much more about Jimmy Doolittle than this one operation that most of us don't know.

Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, US Army Air Corps

It's May 25th, 1927,  and First Lieutenant Jimmy Doolittle climbs into the cockpit of a P-1B Hawk pursuit aircraft at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.

Dressed in a flight outfit and sporting his helmet and Flight Goggles, Doolittle climbs into the P-1B and takes off to demonstrate that it is possible to fly an outside loop.

He climbs his aircraft to a height of 10,000 feet, where he levels off and considers what comes next.

He pushes the nose of the aircraft down into a high-speed dive toward the ground. As he reaches 280 mph Doolittle continues to pitch the nose "down" as the airplane flies through a complete vertical circle with Jimmy's head on the outside of the loop.

The first-ever successful outside loop is completed, and Doolittle safely lands his P-1B Hawk. 

A photograph of Lt. Jimmy Doolittle beside a Curtiss P-1B Hawk on February 4th, 1928.
Lt. Jimmy Doolittle beside a Curtiss P-1B Hawk on February 4th, 1928.

The Curtiss P-1B Hawk

The Curtiss P-1B Hawk was a single-engine, single-seat, biplane pursuit aircraft known as a fighter aircraft.

They were built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company of Garden City, NY.

Dimensions:

  • Length: 22 feet, 10 inches
  • Upper Wingspan: 31 feet, 6 inches
  • Lower Wingspan: 26 feet, 0 inches, and was staggered 3 feet 2 1/2 inches behind the upper wing
  • The horizontal stabilizer was 10 feet, 6 inches long, and could be moved from +3 degrees to - 1.5 degrees.
  • Empty weight: 2,105 pounds
  • Gross weight:  2,932 pounds
  • Maximum weight: 3,562 pounds
  • Propellor: Aluminum propeller with an 8 foot 9-inch diameter.

Performance:

  • Cruise speed: 127 mph
  • Maximum speed: 159.6 mph
  • Range: 342 miles
  • Service ceiling: 21,400 feet

Armament:

  • Two fixed air-cooled Browning machine guns, one .50 caliber, and the other .30 caliber

The airplane was powered by a liquid-cooled 1,145.1 cubic-inch-displacement Curtiss D-12G V-12 engine rated at 415 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at sea level. 

The 1929 Cleveland National Air Race

Jimmy Doolittle is at the 1929 Cleveland Air Race, where he climbs into a Curtiss P-1C Hawk, determined once again to complete an outside loop.

The P-1B Hawk had a large radiator under the nose of the aircraft, while the P-1C Hawk had wing radiators installed to reduce aerodynamic drag. 

The decreased aerodynamic drag then allowed the aircraft to accelerate to a very high speed during the outside loop maneuver, causing the wings to come off the aircraft!

Jimmy calmly bailed out of the aircraft, which then crashed in a heap in a field.

A crowd surrounds the wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle's Curtiss P-1C Hawk after it crashed.
A crowd surrounds the wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle's Curtiss P-1C Hawk after it crashed.

Jimmy Doolittle, Aviation Pioneer

Jimmy Doolittle was one of America's foremost pioneering aviators, setting many records, winning air races, light testing flying equipment, flying techniques, and flight testing new aircraft. 

Doolittle was highly educated, with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California Berkeley School of Mines, followed by Master of Science and Doctorate of Science degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During his early career, he won every international air race, won the awards for every international aviation event.

In fact, Doolittle was the first pilot to fly an aircraft solely by reference to his instruments!

The Halsey-Doolittle B-25 Raid on Japan

As noted above, Doolittle and Halsey devised the plan to fly B-25s off an aircraft carrier to carry out a raid on Tokyo, Japan, on April 18th, 1942.

The unexpected use of long-range bombers from an aircraft carrier caught the Japanese completely by surprise.

Taking a little over an hour to launch, Doolittle’s B-25s, carrying high explosive and incendiary bombs, flew on and hit targets in Tokyo, Yokosuka, Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagoya, against negligible opposition. 

Of the 16 B-25s, however, 15 crashed in occupied China, where the Japanese inflicted brutal reprisals against the Chinese populace in Chekiang province. One B-25 landed intact at Vladivostok, where the Soviets interned it and its crew.

Doolittle received the Medal of Honor for his part in the Halsy-Doolittle raid, promoted from Lieutenant Colonel to Brigadier General.

World War II

After his promotion to Brigadier General, he was placed in command over the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa, and later as a Major General, he commanded the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater.

From January 1944 through September 1945, he commanded the Eighth Air Force In England.

Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Force
Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Force

After the war, Lt. General Doolittle was placed on the inactive list.

He was promoted to General in the United States Air Force, on April 4th, 1985, by an Act of Congress.

James H. Doolittle is the only person ever to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom.

He was buried in Arlington National Cemetary on September 27, 1993, at the ripe old age of 96.

I hope you enjoyed this trip through some of the history of aviation. If you enjoyed this trip, and are new to this newsletter, sign up to receive your own weekly newsletter here: Subscribe here:

Until next time, keep your eyes safe and focused on what's ahead of you, Hersch!

Link to share

Use this link to share this article