Jimmy Doolittle, pilot, racer and inventor of 100 octane gasoline

Published 8:35 am Saturday, January 16, 2021

Jimmy Doolittle was a remarkable man, I suppose the most memorable event in his life was the raid on Tokyo, Japan just four months after 1941, Pearl Harbor was raided by the Japanese.
They were flying off the carrier USS Hornet and had planned to be close enough to Japan to be able to return to the carrier.
But they thought they were sighted by a Japanese fishing boat, so Jimmy decided to make it a one-way flight and fly to China, where there were a few air fields controlled by the friendly Chinese.
It didn’t turn out that way. Those who survived bailed out of the plane when they ran out of fuel.
Jimmy survived and he thought he would be court martialed for making the decision to take off early and then lose all the aircraft and many men. Instead, he was promoted from lietenant colonel to brigadier general.
The raid was a morale booster for us at home, in that President Franklin Roosevelt said they took off from Shangri-La, a fictional place in a novel he had read.
I was at the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, when a few of the pilots from the raid were there speaking.
I remember this one pilot, by the name of Hoover, who said he bailed out and landed, up to his armpits, in a rice paddy fertilized with human waste.
He happened to find a friendly Chinese citizen, who happened to be a chemical engineer, who guided him to a friendly air field where he was rescued.
Jimmy had other achievements that had a big impact on various aspects of the aviation.
He has a few degrees, including the first PhD degree in aeronautical engineering awarded at MIT. He was quoted as saying that he learned a lot more valuable information and experience getting his master degree than the PhD at the same university.
He worked for Shell Oil for a while, where he was instrumental in developing a process to make 100 octane gasoline. It was called Doolittle’s folly since, it cost $25 a gallon to make. He was proven to be a savior later, when by the end of the WWII, the price was 16 cents per gallon. 100 octane gasoline is essential for high compression engines which were vital to power the WWII airplanes. The U.S. armed services were consuming 20 million gallons per day at the highest point in WWII. Incidentally, the price for 100 octane low lead aviation gasoline nowadays at some airports is $5 per gallon, that is about 30 times what the government was paying in WWII.
Jimmy’s other achievements are many. One of which was the development of instruments to be able to fly in all kinds of weather. He was the first to take off and land strictly on instruments. You have to believe your instruments, you cannot rely on your bodily sensations.
I know, I have been there.
He also was a racer having flown in several races. He flew the Gee Bee R-1 racer at 282 miles per hour.
He retired from racing stating, “I have yet to hear anyone engaged in this work dying of old age.”

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at eelnod22@gmail.com.

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