General James Harold “Jimmy” Doolittle, USAF (December 14, 1896 – September 27, 1993) was an American aviation pioneer. Doolittle served as an officer in the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War. He earned the Medal of Honor for his valor and leadership as commander of the Doolittle Raid while a lieutenant colonel.
Doolittle on his Curtiss R3C-2 Racer, the plane in which he won the 1925 Schneider Trophy Race
Doolittle’s most important contribution to aeronautical technology was the development of instrument flying. He was the first to recognize that true operational freedom in the air could not be achieved unless pilots developed the ability to control and navigate aircraft in flight, from takeoff run to landing rollout, regardless of the range of vision from the cockpit. Doolittle was the first to envision that a pilot could be trained to use instruments to fly through fog, clouds, precipitation of all forms, darkness, or any other impediment to visibility; and in spite of the pilot’s own possibly confused motion sense inputs. Even at this early stage, the ability to control aircraft was getting beyond the motion sense capability of the pilot. That is, as aircraft became faster and more maneuverable, pilots could become seriously disoriented without visual cues from outside the cockpit, because aircraft could move in ways that pilots’ senses could not accurately decipher.
Doolittle was also the first to recognize these psycho-physiological limitations of the human senses (particularly the motion sense inputs, i.e., up, down, left, right). He initiated the study of the subtle interrelationships between the psychological effects of visual cues and motion senses. His research resulted in programs that trained pilots to read and understand navigational instruments. A pilot learned to “trust his instruments,” not his senses, as visual cues and his motion sense inputs (what he sensed and “felt”) could be incorrect or unreliable.
In 1929, he became the first pilot to take off, fly and land an airplane using instruments alone, without a view outside the cockpit. Having returned to Mitchel Field that September, he assisted in the development of fog flying equipment. He helped develop, and was then the first to test, the now universally used artificial horizon and directional gyroscope. He attracted wide newspaper attention with this feat of “blind” flying and later received the Harmon Trophy for conducting the experiments. These accomplishments made all-weather airline operations practical.