One of the best known American heroes of World War II, Robert Scott had dreamed of flying ever since he saw his first aircraft, which had crashed into the city park of his hometown of Macon, Georgia. His first flight, at age 12, had a similar ending when he jumped from the roof of a 3-story building with a homebuilt glider. He cleared only the first tree before the wing snapped, but his fall was broken by a bed of roses. After graduation from West Point in 1932, Scott attended flight training at Randolph Field and was assigned to P-12s with the 99th Observation Squadron at Mitchel Field, New York. In 1934, he accepted the dangerous job of flying the mail because it relieved him of a standing restriction of only four flying hours a month.
At the outbreak of World War II, he desperately sought a combat assignment to get out of a training unit, and accepted a transfer to a secret B-17 task force formed to bomb Japan. Scott did not want his crew to know he had never flown the B-17 before, so he flew a solo ride around Wright Field to check himself out. He flew the B-17 to India where he was stranded when the secret mission was cancelled. He then volunteered to fly transports over the "Hump" into China to supply General Chennault's Flying Tigers. With previous fighter experience, he convinced Chennault to loan him a P-40 to help escort the transports. On 4 July 1942, he was selected to command the 23d Fighter Group, which had been newly formed from the deactivated Flying Tigers.
He led this prestigious group in combat and personally accounted for 13 Japanese victories with five more probables. As Group Commander, he consistently scheduled himself on virtually every mission--especially the most dangerous. Finally, Chennault had to forbid his participation on some flights so he could perform his many other duties. Returning to the States, Scott wrote the book God Is My Co-Pilot, which quickly became a wartime best seller and movie. Later assignments included wing commander positions in Arizona and Germany. Retired since 1957, Brigadier General Scott has accumulated some 14,000 flying hours in military aircraft and has written 15 books.
On 31 July 1942, Colonel Robert Scott flew his P-40 named Old Exterminator to Hengyang, China, to discuss tactics with his men. Just prior to landing, the tower at a nearby airfield informed him that enemy planes were inbound and no other aircraft were available to defend the field. Although solo and with only 20 gallons of fuel remaining, Scott armed his six 50-caliber machine guns and turned to attack the enemy. Spotting an enemy bomber, he pressed the attack in spite of two protecting Zeros. With enemy tracers passing his aircraft, he downed the bomber before facing the fighters. During a brief dogfight, he flamed one of the Zeros and drove the other away. Landing on fumes, Colonel Scott had just achieved his second and third victories toward becoming an ace.