Jerry D. Collinsworth is one of the few Americans to become an ace flying the Supermarine Spitfire. Born in Dublin, Texas, Collinsworth spent most of his early life in the panhandle oiltown of Borger. After high school, he set a goal to become a military pilot. After a semester at Texas A&M, six months as an oil field roughneck, and two years at Texas Tech, he became an Army Air Corps aviation cadet. The United States had been pulled into World War II before Collinsworth reached his goal. In March 1942, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and received his wings.
He avoided an assignment to bombers and was posted to the 31st Pursuit Group at New Orleans AB. Within weeks, the Group was sent to England. This first "Yank" fighter unit in the country since World War I was equipped with the Spitfire, which had earned fame during the Battle of Britain. On 19 August 1942, Collinsworth received his "baptism by fire " while covering the ill-fated commando raid on Dieppe, France. The unit, now the 31st Fighter Group, loaded its "Spits" onto a light carrier and headed south to the Mediterranean. Collinsworth helped spearhead Operation Torch landings at Oran, Algeria, and spent many hours in the air as the allies closed in on the Axis forces in Tunisia. Next, he flew cover for the allied landings in southern Sicily, operating from Malta's sister island of Gozo.
In 125 combat sorties, Collinsworth shot down six Axis aircraft along with one probable and one damaged. In September 1943, he returned to America, finishing the war training pilots in the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. After two years as a United Airlines pilot he returned to Air Force blue as an instructor and base operations officer at Craig Field, Alabama. In early 1951, he upgraded to the new radar-equipped Lockheed F-94 Starfire and, later that year, reported to the 449th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) at Ladd AFB, Alaska. He next commanded the 66th FIS at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.
After graduation from Air Command and Staff School in 1954, he earned a degree at the University of Texas. Collinsworth served four years as advisor to the New York Air National Guard and two years in the Military Assistance Group to the Chinese Air Force on Taiwan. From 1961 to 1964, he was Deputy Commander, 451Oth Combat Crew Training Group (CCTG) and then Commander, 4540th CCTG, training German pilots in the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. Collinsworth later flew North American F-100 Super Sabres as Deputy Commander for Operations, 27th Tactical Fighter Wing. After tours as a base commander in Arizona, and Thailand, he returned to Texas, retiring as Professor of Aerospace Studies at Southern Methodist University.
In early 1943, American army forces were locked in mortal combat with the forces of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps in a desperate battle for control of Tunisia. In the air overhead, the pilots of the Army Air Force were learning a valuable lesson about the control of air assets and 1st Lieutenant Collinsworth scored his first aerial victory, shooting down a Focke Wulf 190 on 15 February during the 11-day battle for Kasserine Pass.