Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dick Cole, co-pilot for Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle’s secret raid on Tokyo April 18, 1942, was given another assignment by the Air Force Sept. 19: announcing the name of the next strategic bomber, the B-21. Cole is the last living link to the mission that rallied American morale at a low point in World War II by demonstrating the ability to strike at the heart of the enemy homeland. It is only fitting, then, that the newest generation of strategic bomber bear the name "Raider."
Decades after their daring mission, Cole and his fellow Raiders edged out fellow airmen who had also helped establish American air power as a dominant military force, as it remains to the present day.
The Air Force conducted an online poll from March to May seeking input on the naming of the B-21, which bears a striking visual similarity to the B-2 Spirit, based on the rendering released to date. The poll was limited to Air Force personnel and family, adroitly sidestepping any danger of repeating the unfortunate experience of British officials who put the naming of a scientific research vessel to the public at large earlier this year.
U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James called Cole one of the greatest men of his generation, according to an Air Force article about the Sept. 19 event. James noted the B-21 is designed to launch from the United States and strike targets anywhere in the world, surviving the ever more lethal defenses of the future to do so. James also made an unabashed plea for budgetary certainty and support for the strategic bomber program, noting the Air Force fleet averages 27 years in age, the oldest in the service’s history.