According to this Miller Center,

Bush enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday and became notable as the youngest pilot to earn his wings in World War II.

And, again, on The Independent,

he was at one time the youngest pilot in the US Navy

And again Pilot Online,

The following June, just before his 19th birthday, he received his wings and commission as an ensign, making him the Navy's youngest pilot.

Obviously, former US President George H. W. Bush was young when he became a pilot, but was he the youngest pilot in World War II?

  • I doubt he was the "youngest pilot to earn his wings in World War II". That may be Thomas Dobney, a British boy (Britain fought in World War II). He lied about his age and joined the Royal Air Force aged 14, got his pilot's wings aged 15, and flew 20 missions over Germany as a bomber pilot while still aged 15. He was discharged when his age was discovered. When he rejoined aged 18, the RAF honoured his pilot qualification. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 14:28

1 Answer 1


Yes, when George H. W. Bush became a pilot, on June 9, 1943, 5 days before his 19th birthday, he was briefly the youngest pilot in the US Navy.

However, a month later, Chuck Downey became a pilot on July 16, 1943, 17 days before his 19th birthday, taking over the record.

On Friday, 89-year-old Chuck Downey sat down with President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush, at their home in College Station, Texas, Downey said. “In 1942, we both went through training in our 18th year,” Downey said.

For decades after that, Bush thought he was the youngest pilot during the war — earning his wings five days before his 19th birthday. But while he was vice president, a military magazine put out a call looking to see if there was any younger pilot than Bush. There was, it turned out: Downey became a pilot 17 days before his 19th birthday and wrote the magazine a letter.

And when he heard the news, Bush sent Downey a letter acknowledging his record had been beaten, Downey said.
Daytona Beach News Journal: 'DeLand WWII aviator meets former president' (Anthony DeFeo, Posted Feb 2, 2014)

See also: Google Books. Central Florida's World War II Veterans.

However, there were younger pilots outside the US fighting in World War II.

On the British side, there was Thomas Dobney, who got his wings when he was 15 after lying about his age.

On the Japanese side, Yukio Araki was 17 when he embarked on his final mission: to kamikaze his plane into the USS Braine on May 27, 1945. According to Wikipedia this makes him "one of the youngest kamikaze pilots of World War II."

  • Is the training two years? Or does the English language call the year after one's nth birthday "the nth year"? Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 5:29
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    @HagenvonEitzen In the US at least, your age as listed is the number of complete years since you have been born, so when you are "one" this is the same as "one year old" and refers to at least 12 months having passed since you were born, rather than "one" meaning "in your first year of life." Prior to the first year, age is usually referred to in shorter intervals rather than referred to as 'zero' (i.e., 2 weeks old, 3 months old, etc). This is the same for the UK, I cannot say for certain it is true for all places that speak english as a primary language, but most likely so. Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 0:11
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    However, in the quote "in our 18th year" Downey is confusingly referring to the year in which he was 18 years old which would more accurately be the 19th year of his life (the first year being the year before he was 1 year old). I think this is older language that isn't used now but might still be used in the UK, I'm not sure. The training was less than 1 year: Bush enlisted on his 18th birthday and was a pilot before his 19th birthday. Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 0:16

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