By Fred “Crash” Blechman
The Air Museum Planes of Fame’s scheduled monthly event for March highlighted the role of aerial gunners in World War II. Special guests at Chino Airport on March 3 included family members and associates of Jimmy Doolittle, who commanded the Doolittle Raiders on their famous attack on Japan.
Doolittle was a pioneering test and air racing pilot in the years before WWII. In January 1942, Gen Henry “Hap” Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces, personally chose Lt. Col. Doolittle to command the air strike against Japan. He was given 90 days to find the proper aircraft and train the crews. In April 1942, flying from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, 650 miles from Japan, Doolittle victoriously led 16 North American B-25 Mitchell bombers to their target. Following the raid, he was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to general. Doolittle later commanded the 8th Air Force strategic bombing campaign against Germany.
An overflow crowd of about 400 guests attended the event in the museum’s Enterprise Hangar, which had many Navy aircraft on display. Frank Mormillo, the museum’s photographer and historian, opened the session at 10:00 a.m. with a discussion of WWII aerial gunnery. Then, Wilbur Richardson, WWII B-17 Flying Fortress ball turret gunner, described his experiences flying 30 combat missions over France and Germany.
The next speaker was Jonna Doolittle Hoppes, Doolittle’s granddaughter and the author of a new book, “Calculated Risk,” a memoir of her famous grandfather’s life. Hoppes then introduced her father, Col. John Doolittle, who flew during the Korean and Vietnam wars. The final speakers were Lt. Col. Richard Cole, Doolittle’s copilot on the famous mission, and Maj. Tom Griffin, a navigator aboard one of the other bombers on the raid.
Each speaker participated in a question-and-answer session. Several books about Jimmy Doolittle and his crews were available for purchase, and a long line formed for autographs. A Planes of Fame B-25 flight demonstration had been scheduled, but strong wings kept Photo Fanny on the ground.
An independent, nonprofit, educational institution, The Air Museum Planes of Fame supports its daily operations with admission fees, donations, facilities rentals and proceeds from the use of its aircraft. A core of dedicated volunteers provides most of the staffing. The museum provides a special membership program to the public that includes the possibility to experience the thrill of flight in genuine warbirds. At each monthly event, members in attendance enter a free drawing for a warbird orientation flight and other prizes.
For more information regarding The Air Museum Planes of Fame, call 909-597-3722 or visit www.planesoffame.org.