Tibbets was selected to fly the operation and that afternoon he named his B-29 (serial number 44-86292) the Enola Gay - his mother had been christened Enola after the heroine of a novel.
The bomb to be used was codenamed "Little Boy". The uranium-235 needed for the explosion was scarce, and since the design of the weapon was conceptually simple it was deemed necessary to carry out only laboratory tests. Thus, the bomb had not been fully tested before the operation.
At 2.45 am the following morning Tibbets and his 12-man crew took off from North Field on Tinian and headed for Hiroshima with two observation aircraft. No opposition was encountered and, with the aircraft flying at 26,000ft, the bomb was dropped at 8.15am local time.
The detonation occured at an altitude of 1,900ft with a power of 13 to 16 kilotons (estimates vary). Tibbets considered it to be a normal bombing operation until he turned to see the effect, which he described as "unbelievable". It was estimated that 70,000 died in the blast, but many more died over the following days from radiation.
The son of a prosperous businessman, Paul Warfield Tibbets was born at Quincy, Illinois, on February 23 1915. His parents moved to Florida when he was 12 and he attended Western Military Academy before going to the Universities of Florida and Cincinnati to study Medicine.
His determination to fly overcame his parents' wish that he should become a doctor, and in February 1937 he enlisted as a flying cadet in the Army Air Corps at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. A year later he was awarded his pilot's wings and commissioned as a second lieutenant.
In February 1942 Tibbets was appointed to command the 340th Bomb Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group, and left for England. His squadron of B-17 Flying Fortresses was based at Polebrook, near Oundle. On August 17 1942 the USAAF mounted the first B-17 raid, and Tibbets took off at the head of 12 bombers to attack the marshalling yards at Rouen.
In March 1943 he returned to the United States to test the combat capability of Boeing's new Super Fortress, the B-29, an aircraft plagued with problems.
He taught himself to fly the bomber and subsequently flew it for 400 hours in tests. This eventually gave him more experience of its capabilities and limitations than any other pilot at that time.
After the Hiroshima mission Tibbets was amongst a group of senior officers who met with President Truman. The discussion was about the end of the war, and Truman turned to Tibbets and asked: "What do you think?" Tibbets responded: "Mr President, I think I did what I was told." Truman slapped his hand on the table and said: "You're damn right you did, and I'm the guy that sent you. If anybody gives you a hard time about it, refer them to me."
Tibbets remained in the Air Force after the war. In 1946 he participated in the Bikini bomb tests as a technical adviser to the commander of the air task force. Later he was responsible for the USAF's purchase of the B-47 six-engine jet bomber and its service tests at the Boeing factory in Wichita, Kansas.
He went on to command two of the Strategic Air Command's bomber organisations before completing a tour with Nato in France. He was also responsible for establishing the National Military Command Centre in the Pentagon.
Tibbets became a successful businessman. After a spell in Switzerland operating Lear jet executive aircraft he returned to Ohio in 1970 to join Executive Jet Aviation, an all-jet air taxi service. He became chairman of the board in 1982 and retired three years later.
Tibbets was often in demand to comment on his wartime experiences. He had no regrets, regarding the dropping of the bomb as necessary, and he would say: "Why be bashful? That's what it took to the end the war."
In 1976 he caused controversy by re-enacting the bombing of Hiroshima at an air show in Texas, flying over the air show in a B-29 Superfortress as a "mushroom cloud" was released; the stunt caused outrage in Japan, and the White House apologised.
In 1952 the film Above and Beyond depicted the wartime events involving Tibbets, with Robert Taylor starring as Tibbets and Eleanor Parker as his first wife, Lucy.
He is survived by his second wife, Andrea, and two sons.
Paul Tibbets was President of the former NetJets company, Executive Jet Aviation, or "E.J.A." based here in Columbus. They did all of the maintenance and some avionics work on my KingAir C-90 for the 8 years that I owned it, and during that period Paul and I became good friends. We shared the two interests: aviation and ham radio. His ham call was K4ZVZ.
I don't know if he ever joined QCWA, but he was first licensed in Miami prior to moving to Columbus about 1970.
We used to hang out together for an occasional lunch, or at at N.B.A.A. conventions. I accompanied him to several NBAA QB wingdings (Denver, LA & Houston, back in the old days) He was never too busy to stop and talk when I was in for the maintenance work at EJA, but never spoke of WWII or the bomb. He would answer questions about it, but never brought it up.
He was more interested in aviation topics and radio. He had NO interest in VHF repeaters....loved to HF ragchew and DX. He had no rigs after about 1996, and allowed his license to lapse in 1998 cause he couldn't hear well enuf. He lived on the east side of Columbus, near Port Columbus.
He politely declined several invitations, over the past few years, for a lunch, or trip through Flight Safety (in the old EJA facility here at the airport) and stayed at home almost all the time. Never a medical reason for declining, but he had been infirm for the past three or four years, and his loss of hearing really bothered him, almost like it was a "personal failing".....
Really nice guy, personable and genuine with no "airs" - and we have lost a great American, an enthusiastic ham, and a friend.
Paul W. Tibbets Jr., the man whose mission ushered the world into the era of nuclear warfare, died yesterday morning in Columbus at his East Side home. He was 92. Tibbets was both revered and reviled for dropping the first atomic bomb 62 years ago on Hiroshima, Japan. He was hobbled in his final years by falls, small strokes and heart failure. His hallmark feistiness and stoicism cracked occasionally as the end approached and he spoke of the absent friends among the crews who served under him during World War II."He was one of a kind, and for many reasons,"
Tibbets was born in Quincy, IL, on Feb. 23, 1915. He was yet a boy when his father moved the family to Miami because of business interests in Florida. At 12, Tibbets' enchantment with flight and the siren call of adventure led him to volunteer as a backseat assistant to a biplane pilot. The Curtiss Candy Co. had hired the flier to promote its confections at fairs, carnivals and other public gatherings. Scrunched in the back cockpit as the plane circled the racetrack at Hialeah, Tibbets tossed Baby Ruth candy bars -- affixed with small paper parachutes -- on the railbirds below as they watched the horses. Tibbets' adolescent curiosity unsettled his father, who dreamed that his son would become a doctor or businessman.
At 13, the boy was dispatched to Western Military Academy, in Alton, Ill., where he spent five years in a uniform of West Point gray. Andrea Tibbets divulged recently that neither of Paul's parents attended his graduation from military school. "The only person there to see him graduate was an undertaker," she said, "an old black man who had befriended Paul and gave him a tie clasp for graduation that he always kept."
Tibbets enrolled at the University of Florida, but his performance was barely mediocre. His worried father sent him to live with a Cincinnati doctor whose son was a medical student, perhaps hoping something might rub off. Tibbets' brush with the healing arts ended when he got close enough to medicine to administer injections to syphilitics at the doctor's venereal-disease clinic. It soured his interest in medical school while solidifying his determination to fly.
He applied to the Army Air Corps and was immediately accepted, earning his wings in 1938. His father told him he was crazy. After the US entered World War II, Tibbets first patrolled the Atlantic coast for submarines and later piloted some of the first daylight missions of B-17s over Germany. In the autumn of 1944, he was told he was to be part of a secret project code-named "Silverplate." He was ordered to prepare two B-29 crews for simultaneous drops of a powerful new weapon on Japan and Germany. The fall of the Third Reich the following spring, Tibbets said, probably spared Berlin the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, a B-29 Tibbets had christened for his mother, rolled down the runway on Tinian Island for a six-hour flight to Japan. At the controls, Tibbets, a 30-year-old colonel, carried his favorite smoking pipe, a navigator's pocket watch to time the mission and a small cardboard container holding a dozen cyanide capsules in case the crew was forced to bail out over Japan. The day's assignment was code-named "Special Bombing Mission No 13." The instant the bomb called "Little Boy" tumbled out of the belly of the Enola Gay, Tibbets banked the B-29 sharply away from Hiroshima to avoid the shock waves rippling outward from the blast.
"If Dante had been with us on the plane, he would have been terrified," Tibbets said later. "The city we had seen so clearly in the sunlight a few minutes before was now an ugly smudge. It had completely disappeared under this awful blanket of smoke and fire." Estimates of the dead range from 80,000 to 127,000. If the average of the two figures is reliable, the dead in Hiroshima outnumber the US dead from the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the 9/11 attack and the war in Iraq combined. Many a soldier, sailor and Marine preparing for the invasion of the Japanese home island scheduled for the fall of 1945 held his breath as the news of the bomb spread.
Paul Fussell, a 21-year-old second lieutenant who had fought his way through Germany, spoke for hundreds of thousands in uniform when he wrote, "When the bombs dropped and the news began to circulate that the invasion of Japan would not, after all, take place, that we would not be obliged to run up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being mortared and shelled, for all the fake manliness of our facades, we cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grow up to adulthood after all."
Tibbets remained in the military until 1966, retiring as a brigadier general. He later was president of a Columbus-based, international air-taxi service called Executive Jet Aviation. In 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the mission of the Enola Gay, a 90-year-old Tibbets said of his notoriety, "It's kind of getting old, but then so am I. The guys who appreciated that I saved their asses are mostly dead now." He seemed comfortable with the thought he could soon be joining their ranks. "I don't fear a goddamn thing," he said. "I'm not afraid of dying. As soon as the death certificate is signed, I want to be cremated. I don't want a funeral. I don't want to be eulogized. I don't want any monuments or plaques. "I want my ashes scattered over water where I loved to fly."
Tibbets' granddaughter, Kia Tibbets, grew up in his home. "He always told me that he loved me," she recalled. "It's not a side of him that other people saw, because there was always this strong presence about him." Her grandfather's longtime bomber buddy, Tony Mazzolini of Cleveland, said of Tibbets: "The current generation doesn't know, can't conceive of what the country was going through when Paul flew that mission. We had been at war for so long. The sacrifices had been huge. You have to understand the mind-set of the Japanese. Their military was calling the shots. It was a different culture. Sure, life was important to them, but they were willing to lose it -- hundreds of thousands of them -- in a last stand to defend their homeland. "We didn't have a choice, but that gets lost when people today look back on the bomb from the vantage point of the 21st century. It's easy to look at that old picture of a mushroom cloud in a history book and say, 'My God, how could we have done that to those people?' But, some of the people saying that today wouldn't be here if their grandfathers or great-grandfathers had been part of an offensive on Japan designed along the lines of the D-Day landing at Normandy."
In addition to his wife, Andrea, Tibbets is survived by three sons -- Paul III, of North Carolina; Gene, of Alabama; and James, of Columbus. In accordance with his wishes, his body is being cremated and his family is not planning a service. Details about the final disposition of his ashes are not yet firm. However, one of the candidates for the job of flying them to the English Channel is his grandson Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets IV, an Air Force B-2 mission command pilot. His nickname is "Nuke."
The plane that ended WWII --Enola Gay
Now completely reassembled and proudly displayed at the new Udvar-Hazy Museum at Dulles International Airport, Enola is externally complete. Compared to today's jumbo aircraft it seems kinda small. A variety of avionics and some panel restoration will continue over the next few years... even though the public will not be allowed inside this aircraft. But happily the National Air & Space Museum is planning an interactive virtual tour of the interior to be from the web. Take a look...
Army/Air Force Awards: