General LeMay, the symbol of America's strategic air power, spent his first years in fighter operations with the 27th Pursuit Squadron. In 1937, he was assigned to bomber operations with the 2nd Bomb Group at Langley Field, Virginia. While at Langley, he served as both navigator and pilot in the Y1B-17. In 1937 and 1938, he was lead navigator on two pioneering mass formations to South America. He also pioneered the Atlantic air routes used for ferry missions to Africa and England during World War II. He organized and trained the 305th Bomb Group, took it to England, and led many of the combat missions into Europe. To improve bombing accuracy, he developed techniques for straight-in bomb runs and new formation patterns that were eventually adopted by all B-17 units in the theater. In March 1944, he received his second star and was transferred to the Pacific where he made the decision to use B-29s in the low-level night firebombing role. In 1949, General LeMay took command of the newly formed Strategic Air Command (SAC). As SAC Commander for almost 10 years, he built the world's most powerful deterrent force composed initially of jet bombers and then strengthened with intercontinental ballistic missiles. He became Air Force Chief of Staff in 1961 and served in that position until his retirement in 1965.
The Y1B-17 Number 80 shown in the painting was assigned to the 2nd Bomb Group at Langley and navigated by General LeMay in 1938 to demonstrate its range and navigational accuracy. General LeMay navigated a flight of three aircraft to intercept the Italian liner Rex almost 800 miles out of New York. After fighting unexpected headwinds and thunderstorms, the flight broke into the clear almost directly over the Rex.