Paul W. Tibbets is one of the most renowned bomber pilots of World War II. Born in 1915 in Quincy, Illinois, he had his first bombing experience at age 12 by parachuting candy bars out of the back seat of a Waco 9 biplane over the Hialeah racetrack. He joined the Army Air Corps at the age of 22, entered flying school at Randolph Field, Texas, and received his wings at Kelly Field in February 1938. His initial assignment was to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he became the personal pilot and hunting partner of Colonel George S. Patton. After an assignment flying A-20s, he reported in February 1942 to MacDill Field with the 29th Bomb Group. Three weeks later he was named commander of the 40th Bomb Squadron, after which he trained at MacDill until June.
Major Tibbets then accompanied the 97th Bomb Group to England and led the first mission of American B-17s over occupied Europe. He would go on to lead many of the early US missions and received the Purple Heart after being wounded by cannon fire. In October 1942, he flew General Mark Clark to Gibralter on the first leg of a secret meeting with the French in North Africa before the Allied invasion. One week after returning to England, Tibbets flew General Dwight Eisenhower to Gibralter to direct Operation Torch. To support ground forces after the invasion, Tibbets then led the first American bombing raids in North Africa. He remained in the African Theater until March 1943, when he returned to the States to work on the B-29 Superfortress program.
He was then selected, at age 29, to head the strike force of the atomic bomb project and was responsible for recruiting, organizing, and training personnel to drop the bombs that would lead to the end of the war with Japan. General Tibbets later served in staff program director positions and was a test pilot for the new B-47 swept-wing bomber. In 1956, he became commander of the 308th Bomb Wing at Hunter AFB, and his last assignment was in India with the Military Assistance Group.
At 0245 on 6 August 1945, Colonel Paul Tibbets took the controls of a modified B-29 named "Enola Gay" and lumbered into the air from Tinian Island. Once safely airborne, Navy Captain William Parsons climbed into the cramped bomb bay and armed their special cargo--a 9,000-pound atomic bomb called "Little Boy." After more than six hours of tough overwater navigation, "Special Bombing Mission 13" was lined up with the target--Hiroshima--directly ahead. At 0815 Hiroshima time, only 17 seconds from the scheduled drop time, bombardier Tom Ferebee released the weapon. Despite a diving turn to escape the weapon's shock, Colonel Tibbets had to fight the violent turbulence created by the blast. After they were safely away from the explosion, he announced to the crew, "Fellows, you have just dropped the first atomic bomb in history." Eight days later Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender.