The B-25 Mitchell's Namesake
"What's the matter with American flying?" wrote Brig. Gen. William "Billy Mitchell, Assistant Chief of the Army Air Service, in a bylined April 1922 Popular Science article (Looking Back, April 97). "We Americans invented the airplane. With a marvelous spurt, we built nearly 16,000 airplanes in 18 war months. And today we have nearly killed this epochal industry that our own genius created." Europe already had a flight network by 1920, Mitchell noted, while America had not a single passenger airline in regular commercial operation between any two U.S. cities. Mitchell was an outspoken advocate of air power and the creation of a separate aviation branch of the military. He warned of the peril of allowing other nations to outstrip the United States in the air, hypothesizing a Japanese aerial attack on Hawaii. His criticism of what he termed the poor preparedness of the Air Service led to conviction on charges of insubordination. In 1946, Congress posthumously awarded a special medal in his honor.
Hollywood was quick to capitalize on the exploits of Jimmy Doolittle, his band of raiders, Billy Mitchell, and the plane named after him. At least four films can be linked to these subjects.
Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (1944), starring Spencer Tracy as Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, tells the story of the daring air raid of Japan only a few months after Pearl Harbor.
Memphis Belle, the 1944 documentary on the most famous of the B-17 Flying Fortresses by William Wyler spawned a 1990 feature of the same name.
The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955) stars Gary Cooper as the outspoken critic of U.S. air preparedness who envisioned a Japanese air attack on Hawaii. Mitchell expressed some of his views in a bylined 1922 article in Popular Science.
Catch-22 (1970) Amid the insanity afflicting combat airplane pilots in Italy during World War II are 18 B-25s, including Heavenly Body, which flew in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Doolittle's 1942 raid. The film, directed by Mike Nichols, was adapted from Joseph Heller's novel.
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