Paul W. Tibbets Jr.
Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr.
Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr., was born on February 23, 1915, in Quincy, Illinois. He spent much of his youth in Florida, where he had his first experience flying at twelve years of age. As a teenager, he attended the Western Military Academy and then enrolled in the University of Florida, followed by the University of Cincinnati, where he pursued a medical degree.
Tibbets was not happy studying medicine, and in 1937, against his parents’ wishes, he enrolled in the Army Air Corps. After a year of training, he became a pilot and earned the rank of second lieutenant. With the United States’ involvement in World War II, Tibbets became the squadron commander of the 340th Bomb Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group. In 1942, Tibbets, a B-17 pilot, performed admirably, flying twenty-five missions, including the first B-17 raid against German forces in Europe. In the autumn of 1942, Tibbets was flying bombing missions in support of American troops in North Africa.
Due to his extensive experience with the B-17 and his excellent reputation as a pilot, the United States military selected Tibbets to test the B-29 Super Fortress, beginning in March 1943. He helped the Boeing Aircraft Company solve this plane’s problems, providing the United States military with a superior bomber and highly effective weapon. Because of his testing experience with the B-29, in September 1944, the United States military selected Tibbets to train a unit of men that would be responsible for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan. At this point in time, the existence of the atomic bomb was entirely secret, and it was crucial for Tibbets to surround himself with skilled pilots, plane crews, and ground-support staff that could maintain secrecy.
To carry out this new directive, Tibbets selected fifteen B-29s. He modified them dramatically, allowing the planes to fly farther, faster, and higher. He altered the interior of the plane as well, making the B-29 capable of dropping an atomic bomb. On August 6, 1945, the crew of the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Approximately 200,000 people died. This atomic bomb, nicknamed "Little Boy," along with a second atomic bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945, prompted the Japanese government to surrender, bringing World War II to an end. Tibbets flew the Enola Gay to Hiroshima. He named the plane after his mother. For successfully carrying out this mission, Tibbets received the Distinguished Service Cross.
Following World War II, Tibbets remained in the military, principally advising military leaders on advances in aviation technology. His most important assignments included serving as commander of two of the Strategic Air Command’s bomber wings and establishing the National Military Command Center in Washington, DC. On August 31, 1966, Tibbets retired from the United States Air Force.
Upon retirement, Tibbets continued to fly, including working for Lear Jet in Geneva, Switzerland. By 1970, Tibbets had returned to the United States and had settled in Columbus, Ohio, where he eventually became the chairman of the board of Executive Jet Aviation. He retired from this company in 1985. Tibbets continued to reside in the Central Ohio area. He died on November 1, 2007.
Tibbets was one of the most famous pilots in history. He received numerous honors, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the Purple Heart, the Legion of Merit, the European Campaign Medal, the Joint Staff Commendation Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, and the American Campaign Medal. He also was an inductee of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.