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Doolittle on the B-26 Marauder

General James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle is best remembered for leading the surprise air raid against Japan on April 18, 1942. Sixteen B-25 medium bombers, each carrying a 1 ton bomb load, were launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet, 824 statute miles from Tokyo. All but one dropped their bomb load on targets in and around Tokyo. None of the sixteen bombers made it to the planned landing field in China. Most of the crews had to bail out or ditch when they ran out of fuel. One man died bailing out; two drowned after ditching; one crew landed in Soviet territory; eight were captured by the Japanese. Actual damage to the targets was minimal, but the psycological impact on the Japanese people was great. Their homeland was not invulnerable after all.

By the time of the Tokyo raid Doolittle was 45 years old. He had already won air races and set records. He was a test pilot. He was the first to do an "outside loop". He was the first to fly completely "blind", by instruments, from takeoff to landing.

After the raid, he became :

  • Commanding general of the 12th Air Force in North Africa, 1942
  • Commanding General of the 15th Air Force in Italy, 1943
  • Commanding General of the 8th Air Force in England, 1944
  • Commanding General of the 8th Air Force in Okinawa, 1945

The following are from General Doolittle's autobiography, "I Could Never Be So Lucky Again". In the first part below, General Doolittle is relating events from early in the war, before his raid on Tokyo. "Hap" is General Hap Arnold, then chief of the Air Corps:

As soon as I reported to Hap's office in the Munitions Building, he gave me my first assignment. The Martin B-26 Marauder, a fast, highly streamlined medium bomber, had turned out to be an unforgiving airplane. It was killing pilots in training because it never gave them a chance to make mistakes. Young pilots went from primary trainers to basic trainers to advanced trainers before receiving their wings and then, after graduation from flying school, were sent directly to B-26 transition schools. This was a difficult jump, especially for pilots who had graduated from single-engine advanced training and had never flown multiengine aircraft. Those who had gone to twin-engine advanced training had less trouble; even so, no trainers in those days had nose wheels, so the B-26 was a step up in difficulty for all new pilots.

Hap asked me to check into the problem and recommend whether or not the B-26 should continue to be built. I checked out in it at the Martin factory near Baltimore and liked it. There wasn't anything about its flying characteristics that good piloting skill couldn't overcome. I traveled to several flying training schools and B-26 transition units, gathered the student pilots together, and asked them what they had heard about the B-26 airplane. Almost all said they had heard it wouldn't fly on one engine, you couldn't make a turn into a dead engine, and landing it safely on one engine was just about impossible.

To prove them wrong, I lined up on the runway, feathered the left engine during the takeoff roll, and made a steep turn into the dead engine, flew around the pattern, and landed with the engine still inoperative. I did it again in the other direction with the right engine feathered. And I did this without a copilot, which made a further impression. This convinced the doubters that all of these "impossible" maneuvers were not only possible, but easy, if you paid close attention to what you were doing. I had no trouble getting volunteers after each demonstration.

I recommended that the B-26 continue to be built. It was. The transition training had to be improved and lenghtened. It was. Although the Marauder remained a dangerous airplane in the hands of the unskilled, it had an excellent record later when properly trained pilots took it into combat. Pilots nicknamed the original model the "Martin Prostitute" because it had relatively short wings and thus had "no visible means of support". Subsequent models had the wings lenghtened, which increased its safety margin.

Later in the book Doolittle writes:

During those beginning weeks, we were having a very high rate of training accidents in the B-26 Marauder. The word was out that it was a "killer," and I suspect that many crew members were convinced they could never survive the war in that airplane, not because of the enemy but because they would meet their maker in a noncombat accident.

Having tested the airplane thoroughly before many of the combat crews had ever seen one, I knew it was my job to show them it was an airplane to be respected but not feared. Paul Leonard, my faithful crew chief on the Tokyo raid, was still with me, and I took him along as my copilot to the various B-26 units to show that it could easily be flown as a one-pilot airplane, although regulations required two pilots on every flight. When they saw Paul in his mechanic's coveralls refuel and care for the plane and found there was no one else aboard, they had their first lesson in B-26 management--it could be flown as easily with one pilot as with two. Proper training and confidence in the equipment was the answer, and I stressed this to the group commanders and the pilots. I then put on a show for them to prove that single-engine operation was as easy as flying with both engines operating.

On one ocassion, I took Major Paul Tibbets up for a ride. Paul was one of the pilots who had flown General Eisenhower down to Gibralter and was partial to the B-17 because he felt the role of the B-26 as a medium bomber would be limited. He wanted to fly the big ones, but I wanted him to see what the Marauder could do. Paul tells what we did in his memiors:

I should have suspected that Doolittle knew more about the B-26 than he admitted when he said "It's just another airplane. Let's start it up and play with it."

That is exactly what we did. We got in the air and circled to 6,000 feet, remaining close enough to the field to reach the runway if we had trouble. But everything went smoothly. Doolittle then shut down one of the engines and feathered the propeller. He got the plane trimmed and we did some flying on one engine, turning in both directions, climbing, making steep banks. The Marauder was a tame bird with Doolittle at the controls.

Suddenly he put the plane into a dive, built up excess speed, and put it into a perfect loop -- all with one engine dead. As we came to the bottom of the loop, he took the dead propeller out of feather and it started windmilling. When it was turning fast enough, he flipped on the magnetos and restarted the engine as we made a low pass over the airfield. We came around in a normal manner, dropped the gear and the flaps, and set the B-26 down smoothly on the runway.

The pilots and operations people who had been watching us were impressed. The flight was an important start toward convincing them that the B-26 was just another airplane.

Paul Tibbets was later the pilot of the B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, August 6, 1945.