His little plane ran into its share of turbulence and other dangers, but it wasn’t until Jimmy and his wife Joe reached the Dutch East Indies that something other than his flying skills was tested.
There, Dutch military officials asked Doolittle to put on a show in one of their planes. Using a Hawk, he climbed to 1,000 feet and put it through a series of maneuvers. He began with a corkscrew roll, then did an Immelman, followed by a full Cuban-eight. Feeling more confident in the plane, he pulled on the top of the loop and plunged nose-first into a dive.
Unlike the Hawk he flew in China, this one had a heavier engine and a slower response time. It plummeted toward the ground. Doolittle also hadn’t adjusted for the thin air. When he pulled back, the plane didn’t come out of its dive. Realizing his error, Doolittle pulled the stick into his lap and got the plane to respond. Just as it leveled out, he felt a sharp bump as the wheels hit the ground. He pulled up hard again and finished the show.
At the hangar, a number of Dutch officers, including pilots, waited for him. One of the officers told him that was the “most delicate piece of flying I have ever seen.”
“That was downright stupid flying,” Doolittle answered, disgusted with himself.
“We knew,” the officer admitted. “We just wondered if you’d lie about it.”
— Adapted from Calculated Risk: The Extraordinary Life of Jimmy Doolittle—Aviation Pioneer and World War II Hero, Jonna Doolittle Hoppes, Santa Monica Press.