Thomas W. Blackburn was born April 23, 1892, in Cane Hill, Ark. He attended State University, Okla., and enlisted as an Aviation Cadet, Signal Reserve Corps, Aug. 15, 1917, and was commissioned a first lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps, April 4, 1918. After serving continuously on active duty until July 1, 1920, he was commissioned a first lieutenant, Regular Army, Air Service.

From April 1918 to July 1919 he served with the IV Pursuit Group, Second Army, American Expeditionary Forces, in France. Upon his return to the United States he was on temporary duty with the Air Service at Camp Jackson, S.C., and Garden City, Long Island, N.Y., to October 1919. He was on duty with the I Pursuit Group at Kelly Field, Texas, until November 1920.  He was assigned to Langley Field, Va., where he attended Air Service Field Officers School until December 1920. He remained at Langley Field until November 1921 when he went to Ellington Field, Texas, where he served successively as a student instructor, Flight Commander and Operations Officer. In July 1922, he was assigned to Selfridge Field, Mich., as Operations Officer.

Transferring to Kelly Field, Texas, in January 1925, he became Director of Pursuit Training at the Air Service Advanced Flying School in February 1929.

He was detailed to Clark Field, Philippine Islands, in April 1929, for duty with the III Pursuit Squadron and became Operations Officer of that unit in July 1929. He remained there until May 1931. Returning to the United States he became an Aviation Instructor for the Organized Reserves at Houston, Texas, in July 1935.

Assigned to Washington, D.C., for duty in the National Guard Bureau, he became Assistant to Chief Operations and Organizational Division in August 1935. He was named Assistant to the Chief Aviation Division in 1937 and became acting Chief, Aviation Division, National Guard Bureau, Washington, D.C., in May 1939.  He was transferred to March Field, General Headquarters Air Force, Riverside, Calif., in July 1939, as Group Operations Officer, Nineteenth Bombardment Group.

In May 1941, he was commended for his participation in a mass ferry flight of Army planes to Hawaii by the Nineteenth Bombardment Group. He became Executive Officer and command pilot with the IV Air Base Command in June 1941, and remained there until February 1942, when he was assigned to duty with the Ninth Interceptor Command, Army Air Base, Army Air Forces, Washington, D.C., serving in that position until June 1942.  From July to November 1942 he was Chief of Staff of a bombardment wing. From 1942 to 1943 he was Commanding General of the Twelfth Fighter Command; from April 1943 to February 1944, 31st Flying Training Wing; March 1944 to February 1946, Third Fighter Command.