Paul W. Tibbets is the most renowned bomber pilot of World War II. Born in Quincy, Illinois, in 1915, 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 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 General George S. Patton.
After an assignment with the 3rd Attack Group at Hunter Field at Savannah, Georgia, he reported in February 1942 to MacDill Field and the 29th Bomb Group. Three weeks later, he was named commander of the 40th Bomb Squadron, formed from a cadre of personnel from the 19th Bomb Group, and trained at MacDill until June 1942. General Tibbets then accompanied the 97th Bomb Group to England and led the first flight of American B-17s in bombing raids over occupied Europe. In October 1942, he flew General Mark Clark to a secret meeting at Gibralter in preparation for the Allied invasion of northern Africa. From there he led the first heavy bombing raid in support of this Allied invasion.
He remained in the African Theater until March 1943 and then returned to the States to work on the B-29 program. A year later he was selected to head the strike force of the atomic bomb project. He was responsible for recruiting, organizing, and training personnel to drop the bomb that would end the war with Japan. On 6 August 1945, he flew the modified B-29 "Enola Gay" on the historic mission against Hiroshima, Japan. General Tibbets served in staff program director positions after the war and became wing commander of the 308th Bomb Wing in February 1956. He retired in 1966 after a 29-year military career.
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.