Flying Blind

Jimmy Doolittle is most famous for courageously leading a squadron of B-25 bombers off of an aircraft carrier on a raid against Japan early in World War II. Prior to that, he was a well-known race pilot, setting a series of speed records in the 1930s. But it was something he did even earlier in his career that could be considered most important.

 

In the 1920s, when pilots wanted to fly, they were really limited by the weather. If it was cloudy or foggy and they couldn’t see more than at least a few miles, most pilots wouldn’t fly — and if they did, they’d often get disoriented while flying through clouds and lose control of their airplanes. In 1929, thanks to advances in instrument technology, Doolittle became the first pilot to make a completely “blind” flight. He took off, flew around, and landed in a Consolidated NY-2 biplane whose cockpit was completely covered by a fabric hood, so that he couldn’t see anything but the instruments. This brave flight proved that flying “on instruments” was possible, and led directly to the development of technology and procedures we still use to this day. Any time you fly on an airliner, especially when you pass through clouds, you should remember Jimmy Doolittle, the man who made it possible.

Contents (c) Copyright 2019, Experimental Aircraft Association, Inc.