After learning to fly, Doolittle served as an instructor pilot and got into aerobatics. He started thinking of breaking aviation records. In 1922 he made the first cross-continental crossing in less than 24 hours, taking 21 hours and 19 minutes to fly in his De Havilland DH-4 plane. The trip started at Pablo Beach, Florida and ended at San Diego, California and only needed one stop to refuel the aircraft.
In 1923, Doolittle enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to obtain a master's degree and then a Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering. When he received his degrees in June of 1925, fewer than 100 people in the world held comparable advanced degrees. In his doctoral dissertation, "Wind Velocity Gradient and Its Effect on Flying Characteristics," he combined laboratory data with test flight data to determine that a pilot needed instruments or visual aids to know the direction in which the plane was flying and to know the direction and speed of the wind. His thesis countered the theory that many pilots could fly by instinct alone.
Over the next several years Doolittle continued his flying. In 1927 he was the first person to execute an outside loop, where the cockpit remains on the outside of the loop (previously thought to be a fatal maneuver because of the stresses encountered). Carried out in a Curtiss fighter at Wright Field in Ohio, Doolittle executed the dive from 10,000 feet, reached 280 miles per hour, bottomed out upside down, then climbed and completed the loop.
Doolittle was the first person to win all major...