Jimmy Doolittle enlisted in the Signal Corps Reserve as a flying cadet in October 1917. Learned to fly at Rockwell Field, California. He was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Signal Officers Reserve Corps of the U.S. Army on March 11, 1918.
In September 1922, he made the first cross-country flight, from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, to San Diego, California, in 21 hours and 19 minutes, making only one stop for fuel, flying a de Havilland DH-4.
Doolittle won the Schneider Cup race in 1925 flying a Curtiss R3C. The aircraft was a specially built seaplane for the Schneider Trophy race. That year it took place in Baltimore, Maryland. Jimmy Doolittle won the trophy with a average speed of 232 mph. The next day, with the same aircraft on a straight course, Doolittle reached a speed of 245.7 mph.
In 1929, he became the first pilot using only instruments to take off, fly and land an aircraft, without a being able to see out of the cockpit. He was involved in the development of fog flying equipment, and was the first pilot to test it. Doolittle worked for the Aviation Department of Shell Oil Company, in 1930 and conducted numerous aviation tests for the company.
In 1931, Doolittle won the Bendix Trophy race from Burbank, California, to Cleveland, in a Laird Super Solution biplane.
Jimmy Doolittle set the world’s high speed record for aircraft at 296 miles per hour in the Shell Speed Dash in 1932. He also won the Thompson Trophy race at Cleveland in the Gee Bee R-1 racer, averaging 252 miles per hour. After having won the Schneider, Bendix, and Thompson air races, he retired from air racing.
Doolittle returned to active duty in July, 1940 with the U.S. Army Air Corps with the rank of Major. He worked with the auto manufacturers helping them to convert their plants for production of aircraft for the war effort.
In June 1941, Doolittle was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in January, 1942, and was assigned to Army Air Forces to plan the first air raid on Japan. He volunteered to lead the attack with 16 B-25 bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.