Eagle Profile

Paul W. Tibbets is a World War II bomber pilot of unparalleled fame. Born in 1915 in Quincy, Illinois, he had his first bombing experience at age 12 by dropping candy bars by parachute out of the back seat of a Waco 9 biplane over the Hialeah racetrack. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1937, and after receiving his wings in February 1938 was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he served as the personal pilot and hunting partner of Colonel George S. Patton. In June 1941, Tibbets was assigned to Hunter Field, Georgia, flying the A-20 Havoc. Because of his multi-engine experience, he was selected for training in the B-17 Flying Fortress. Assigned as the first officer in the new 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at MacDill Field, Florida, he was soon made commander of the 40th Bomb Squadron.

In June 1942, the 97th deployed to Polebrook, England. On 17 August 1942, in a bomber named “Butcher Shop,” Tibbets led the first flight of American B-17s in daylight bombing raids over occupied Europe, striking the railroad marshalling yards at Rouen in northern France. In October 1942, he flew General Mark Clark to Gibraltar to embark on a secret meeting with the French in North Africa before “Operation TORCH.” One month later, Tibbets flew General Dwight D. Eisenhower to Gibraltar to direct the Allied invasion. Following the invasion, Tibbets led the initial B-17 bombing raids in North Africa. He remained in North Africa until March 1943, and then returned to the United States.

He was soon sent to work on the B-29 program to train the strike force for the atomic bomb program. This unit, known as the 509th Composite Wing, was activated on 17 December 1944 at Wendover, Utah. After completing training, the 509th deployed to the island of Tinian to await orders. On 6 August 1945, he flew the B-29 “Enola Gay” from Tinian to strike Hiroshima, Japan, on the world’s first atomic bombing mission. After the war in August 1946, Tibbets was a student in the first class of the Air Command and Staff School at Maxwell Field, Alabama. Tibbets served in various staff positions, including the B-47 development program and became commander of the 308th Bomb Wing at Hunter Air Force Base, Georgia in February 1956.

Promoted to brigadier general in 1959, he was assigned as the Air Division Commander at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. He later served in the Office of Strategic Analysis and the National Military Command Center. His last assignment was in 1966 as a Military Assistance Advisory Group member in India, completing 29 years of distinguished military service. After retirement, he became President and Chairman of the Board of Executive Jet Aviation.

General Tibbets was first selected as an Eagle by the Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles program in 1982 and subsequently honored in 1983, 1986 and 1990. General Tibbets passed away 1 November 2007.

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1982 Lithograph
1983 Lithograph
1986 Lithograph
1990 Lithograph

Lithograph Setting(s):

The painting portrays Gen Tibbets flying the B-47, Strategic Air Command's first all-jet bomber. Gen Tibbets not only sold the Air Force on the aircraft, tested it, and managed the development program, but also pioneered the concept of a bomber/tanker strike force, the mainstay of today's air-breathing portion of the nuclear triad.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was the backbone of the American bomber force in the European Theater. On 17 August 1942, Major Paul Tibbets flew a bomber named "Butcher Shop" as he led the first squadron of American bombers against enemy-held Europe. The target was railroad marshalling yards at Rouen in northern France. All aircraft returned safely on this historic first day, but future missions would prove more costly for both sides. Daylight precision bombing with this rugged four-engine machine crippled the war-making ability of the Axis powers and proved to be a key element in the Allied victory in Europe.

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.

Lieutenant Colonel Tibbets volunteered his force of five B-17s to support the Allied invasion "Operation TORCH." Asked by Air Marshal Sir William Welsh, Commander of the Royal Air Force in North Africa, to "go up there and harass them with a few bombs," Tibbets led the first B-17 bombing raids against the German-held Sidi Ahmed Air Base at Bizerte, Tunisia. On 16 November 1942, while flying the "Red Gremlin," Tibbets and his small force of B-17s took the German fighter base by complete surprise. The attack was so successful that Tibbets was able to return to base, refuel, rearm, and restrike Bizerte before the Germans could resupply the airfield.