Hunter was born in Savannah, Georgia on December 8, 1894. He was educated at Hotchkiss School, Connecticut, and in Lausanne, Switzerland. He enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Reserve, as a flying cadet on May 18, 1917.
He went to France in September 1917 and received further training at the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center at Issoudun, France. Assigned to the 103rd Aero Squadron in May 1918, on his first combat patrol Hunter downed two German planes and landed safely despite being wounded. By the end of the war he had nine German planes to his credit, earning him recognition as an ace. Hunter was the last pilot remaining with the squadron before its return to the United States, transferring out on January 24, 1919.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with four oak leaf clusters, more than any person other than Eddie Rickenbacker who received six oak leaf clusters to the DSC. His achievements in aerial combat earned him the French Croix de Guerre with palm. He left the Army for a short time after the war, but returned with a commission in the Regular Army Air Service in 1920.
In May 1940 the citizens of Savannah, Georgia., named the Savannah Municipal Airport the Hunter Municipal Airfield, later Savannah Army Air Base, Hunter Air Force Base, then Hunter Army Air Field in his honor. In July 1940 he was attached to the Office of the Military Attaché in London, England, as a Military Observer. He returned to the United States in December 1940 and was stationed at Orlando Army Air Base, Fla., as Commanding Officer of the 23rd Composite Group. In February 1942, he was assigned to Headquarters Army Air Forces, Washington, D.C., and in May 1942 joined the Eighth Air Force at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C. That same month he accompanied that organization to the European Theater of Operations, with headquarters in London, as Commanding General, VIII Fighter Command. In this position he affected the first trans-Atlantic flight of AAF planes without the loss of life or equipment. He also directed the first P-47 fighter-bomber sweeps over the continent.
It was upon Brigadier General Hunter's recommendation that the Eagle Squadrons were transferred from the Royal Air Force to become the 4th Fighter Group in September 1942.
In May 1943, Hunter was relieved of his command for his failure to obey a directive issued by his superior, General Ira Eaker mandating use of wing tanks on P-47 fighters. He returned to the United States in August 1943 and was named Commanding General of the First Air Force, where he was charged with training replacement air crews. His tenure in this command was marred by his involvement in maintaining racial segregation in the U. S. Army, thus provoking the Freeman Field Mutiny of the Tuskegee Airmen.
In 1944 the Earl of Halifax, then Britain's Ambassador to the U.S., presented to General Hunter, in the name of the King of England, the CBE, 'Commander of the military division of the most excellent order of the British Empire.' Just a year earlier the general had been awarded the Legion of Merit for 'exceptional services' in planning and executing the movement of air echelons of the Twelfth Air Force from Great Britain to North Africa.
Hunter was commanding general of the all Negro 477th Bombardment Group stationed at Freeman Field in Seymour, Indiana. Hunter earned the reputation of being a rabid racist. Interestingly, this information is omitted from Hunter's biography because the U.S. Army Air Forces strict segregation policy. Hunter was commanding general when 104 African-American were subjected to military court martial for trying to integrate the base's officer club.
He was rated a command pilot, combat observer and technical observer. Throughout his lengthy flying career he survived three bail outs, one of which was from an altitude of 500 feet over a frozen lake, and two broken backs, both of which kept him in the hospital for a year. He became known as one of the Army's top stunt, test and racing pilots.