Paul Tibbets

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Brig. Gen. Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr.
United States Air Force

February 23, 1915(1915-02-23) – November 1, 2007 (aged 92)

Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets (USAF Photo)
Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets (USAF Photo)

Place of birth

Quincy, Illinois

Place of death

Columbus, Ohio


USA flag United States of America


USAF flag United States Air Force

Years of service



Brigadier general


509th Composite Group

308th Bomb Wing


World War II

Atomic bombing of Hiroshima


Distinguished Service Cross

Distinguished Flying Cross

Legion of Merit

Purple Heart

Air Medal

Other work

Charter Pilot with Executive Jet Aviation


tibbits and enola gay
Colonel Paul Tibbets Jr

Tibbets in 2003

Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr. (February 23, 1915 – November 1, 2007) was a brigadier general in the United States Air Force, best known for being the pilot of the Enola Gay, the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb.


Early life

Tibbets was born in Quincy, Illinois, and was the son of Paul Warfield Tibbets and Enola Gay Tibbets (née Haggard). Although born in Illinois, Tibbets was raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where his father was a confections wholesaler. The family was listed there in the 1920 U.S. Federal Population Census. The 1930 Census indicates his family had moved and was living in Des Moines, Iowa at the time. Sometime later, the family moved to Miami, Florida. He attended the University of Florida in Gainesville and was an initiated member of the Epsilon Zeta Chapter of Sigma Nu Fraternity in 1934.

Military career

On February 25, 1937, he enlisted as a flying cadet in the Army Air Corps at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1938 and received his wings at Kelly Field, Texas. Tibbets was named commanding officer of the 340th Bomb Squadron, 97th Heavy Bomb Group flying B-17 Flying Fortresses in March, 1942. Based at RAF Polebrook, he piloted the lead bomber on the first Eighth Air Force bombing mission in Europe on August 17, 1942, and later flew combat missions in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations until returning to the U.S. to test fly B-29 Superfortresses. “By reputation”, Tibbets was “the best flier in the Army Air Force”. One of those who confirmed this reputation was Dwight Eisenhower, for whom Tibbets served as a personal pilot at times during the war.

In September 1944 he was selected to command the project at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah, that became the 509th Composite Group, in connection with the Manhattan Project’s Project Alberta.

On August 5, 1945, Colonel Paul Tibbets formally named B-29 serial number 44-86292 Enola Gay after his mother (she was named after the heroine, Enola, of a novel her father had liked). On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay departed Tinian Island in the Marianas with Tibbets at the controls at 2:45 a.m. for Hiroshima, Japan. The atomic bomb, codenamed Little Boy, was dropped over Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. local time, killing about 140,000 Japanese, with many more dying later.

The film Above and Beyond (1952) depicted the World War II events involving Tibbets, with Robert Taylor starring as Tibbets and Eleanor Parker as his first wife, Lucy. In 1980, a made-for-television movie aired, again telling a possibly more fictionalized version of the story of Tibbets and his men, with Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing from “Dallas”) playing the part of Tibbets and Kim Darby as Lucy. The film was called, Enola Gay: The Men, the Mission, the Atomic Bomb. Tibbets was also portrayed in the films Day One and The Beginning or the End.

Tibbets’ first marriage, to the former Lucy Wingate, ended in divorce in 1955; he later remarried, to Andrea. In 1959, he was promoted to Brigadier General. He retired from the U.S. Air Force on August 31, 1966.

Later life

In the 1960s, Tibbets was posted as military attaché in India, but this posting was rescinded after protests. After retirement, he worked for Executive Jet Aviation, a Columbus, Ohio-based air taxi company, retiring in 1970 from the company, and moving back to Miami, FL. He later left Miami, to return to Executive Jet Aviation, selling his home in Miami, in 1974.[3] He was president of Executive Jet Aviation from 1976 until his retirement in 1987.

The U.S. government apologized when Japan complained in 1976 after Tibbets re-enacted the bombing at an air show in Texas, complete with mushroom cloud. Tibbets said it was not meant as an insult.

In 1995, he called a planned 50th anniversary exhibition of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Institution which attempted to present the bombing in the context of the suffering it caused, a “damn big insult”.

An interview of Paul Tibbets can be seen in the 1982 movie Atomic Cafe. He was also interviewed in the 1970s British documentary series The World at War.

His grandson Lt. Col. Paul W. Tibbets, IV, as of 2006 is commander of the 393rd Bomb Squadron, flying the B-2 Spirit. The 393rd is one of two operational squadrons under the same unit his grandfather commanded, the 509th Bomb Wing.

Tibbets was interviewed extensively by Mike Harden of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, and profiles appeared in the newspaper on anniversaries of the first dropping of an atomic bomb.

Tibbets expressed no regret regarding the decision to drop the bomb. In a 1975 interview he said: “I’m proud that I was able to start with nothing, plan it and have it work as perfectly as it did… I sleep clearly every night”. In March 2005, he stated “If you give me the same circumstances, hell yeah, I’d do it again.”


Tibbets died in his Columbus, Ohio, home on November 1, 2007, at age 92.He had suffered small strokes and heart failure in his final years and had been in hospice care.Tibbets laid down in his will that there should be no funeral service after his death and no headstone for fear this might lead to demonstrations at his grave. He wanted to ensure that his resting place could never be a pilgrimage site for opponents of the use of nuclear weapons. Tibbets wanted to be cremated, and have his ashes dispersed into the waters of the English Channel.

Awards and decorations

Command pilot

  • Distinguished Service Cross
  • Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Air Medal
  • Purple Heart
  • Legion of Merit
  • Commendation Medal
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
  • Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
  • American Defense Service Medal
  • American Campaign Medal
  • World War II Victory Medal


  1. Stephen Ambrose. The Victors, page 40
  2. Paul W. Tibbets Jr., Pilot of Enola Gay, Dies at 92“, New York Times, 2007-11-01. Retrieved on 2007-11-01. 
  3. Miamian who bombed Hiroshima in 1945 dies“, Miami Herald, 2007-11-02. Retrieved on 2007-11-02. 
  4. Hiroshima bomb pilot dies aged 92“, BBC News Online, 2007-11-01. Retrieved on 2007-11-01. 
  5. Julie Carr Smyth (November 1, 2007). Pilot of plane that dropped A-bomb dies. Associated Press at Yahoo News. Retrieved on 200711-01.
  6. Goldstein, Richard (2007-11-01). Paul W. Tibbets Jr., Pilot of Enola Gay, Dies at 92. The New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-11-01.
  7. Paul Tibbets Jr., who flew plane that dropped first atomic bomb, dies at 92. The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved on 2007-11-01.
  8. Man Who Dropped Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima Dies at 92. Associated Press at Fox News Channel. Retrieved on 2007-11-01.

External links