After his graduation from Manual Arts High school, he briefly attended the University of California at Berkley, interrupting his education in October 1917 to enlist in the Signal Corps Reserve (the precursor to the Air Force) and, during WWI was assigned to be a flight instructor and gunnery instructor, returning to Berkley after the war to finish his degree, graduating in 1922.
Between the wars, General Doolittle maintained reserve status, and while earning an MS in Aeronautics from MIT (July 1923) and an ScD from MIT (June 1925), he also earned a name for himself as a pilot through several cross-country and test flights.
General Doolittle also loved to compete, winning the Schneider Cup in 1925, the MacKay Trophy in 1926, and the Bendix Trophy in 1931. He also achieved some of the aeronautics firsts, in 1927 he performed the first outside loop, in 1929 was the first to complete a flight using instruments alone and in 1932, he set the world's landplane speed record, winning the Thompson trophy.
While a reservist, he also worked as a manager at Shell Oil Company and produced the first 100 octane aviation gasoline, General Doolittle also served on the Baker Board and was the president of the Institute of Aeronautical Science.
He returned to active duty on July 1, 1940, when he volunteered and received approval to use 16 B-25 bombers launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet to bomb Toyko, Kobe, Yokohama, Osaka, and Nagoya. This later became known as the "Doolittle Raid". This raid's 80 volunteers successfully bombed the targets, and, despite the belief that it was a one-way mission, 73 returned. General Doolittle earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for this action.
During WWII, he kept flying, commanding the 8th Air Force, the 12th Air Force, the Northwest African Strategic Airforce, and the 15th Air Force.
He returned to reserve status on January 5, 1946, although he continued to serve on government boards, including the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the Air Force Association, and the President's Intelligence Advisory board.
He retired from the Air Force Reserves on February 28, 1959. Earning the Janus Award in 1972, and during the late 1980s published his autobiography, I Could Never Be So Lucky Again, with Colonel Carroll V. Glines.
General Doolittle died on September 27, 1993, and rests in Arlington National Cemetry.
General Jimmy Doolittle has been immortalized on film twice. Spencer Tracy played him in the movie 30 Seconds Over Tokyo and Alec Baldwin played him in the movie Pearl Harbor.