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The Norden M-1 Bomb-Sight

Although the Norden bomb-sight was superior to other bombsights, it was not the first. Elmer Sperry, who had invented the gyroscopic compass, had developed the Sperry Gyroscope bombsight for the U.S. Army Air Force. Carl Norden had worked for the Sperry Gyroscope Company before developing the Norden bombsight.

The Sperry S-1 precision bomb-sight was developed in the 1930s. It was designated as "standard" equipment in March 1941 and was used in some US Army Air Force bombers early in WW II. However, all contracts for production of the Sperry sight were ordered cancelled in late 1943. Use of the better known Norden M-1 bomb-sight, invented by a naturalised Dutchman named Carl L. Norden, continued throughout the war.

The Norden bomb-sight was one of the most important U.S. military secrets of WW II. It was so advanced that crew members had to take an oath to protect its secrecy with their lives. It was a mechanical analog computer used to determine the exact moment bombs had to be dropped to accurately hit the target. The Norden bomb-sight provided the technical expertise needed to increase accuracy and make daylight strategic bombing possible. When properly aimed, it could place a bomb inside a 100 foot (31.4 meters) circle from four miles high (6436 meters).

Designed and developed for U.S. Naval aircraft by engineer Carl L. Norden, the bomb-sight was a complicated, 50 pound (23 kilos) piece of machinery, made up of gyros, motors, gears, mirrors, levers and a telescope containing some 2000 precision parts. The bombardier's job was to feed the computer the information it needed-air speed, wind speed, wind direction, altitude, and angle of drift. As the aircraft approached the target, the pilot turned the aircraft over to the bombardier and his bomb-sight. The bomb-sight was also an automatic pilot, and it flew the aircraft and released the bombs over the target. It would even compensate for the random pitch and roll of an aircraft during a bomb run.

Prior to the Manhattan Project, it was America's most secret weapon. Through cross-hairs made of spider's webbing, the Norden bomb-sight determined, with precision, the exact moment bombs were to be released to reach their target. At heart, the sight was a mechanical analog computer, not even as powerful as a pocket calculator today.

Programmed by the bombardier, the sight compensated for such factors as wind and drift. It was coupled with the autopilot to fly the bomber to the target, at which point it released the bombs.

It was often said that with the Norden bomb-sight, bombardiers could drop a bomb into a pickle barrel from 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). In reality, the sight's precision wasn't quite that dramatic. When testing the bomb-sight, half of the bombs dropped landed within 75 feet (23 meters) of the target. In actual wartime conditions of industrial haze, cloud coverage, and having to fly higher to evade enemy flak, the accuracy of the sight was considerably challenged.

Prior to a run, the bombardier checked the sight out of its guarded area, and mounted it in the plane. He connected the equipment and energised the gyros. He programmed the bomb's actual time of fall, and its trail.

Crouched in the Plexiglas nose of the plane and breathing pure oxygen, the bombardier set the target under the horizontal cross-hair of the sight. He had to wear silk gloves to keep his skin from freezing to the metal on the sight, due to temperatures well below freezing. As the craft withstood heavy flak and attacks from fighters, the sight compensated for crosswind, and the bombardier felt the weight of the mission on his shoulders.

Should his plane be shot down, he was responsible for destroying the bomb-sight in order to save its secret. Initially this was done by firing his pistol into the bomb-sight.

Considered a work in progress, numerous versions of the sight were created. By the end of the war, nearly 90,000 bomb-sights had been made.

On August 6th, 1945, bombardier Major Thomas Ferebee used a Norden bombsight to drop the uranium bomb, Little Boy, from the B-29 Enola Gay, 31,000 feet (9,449 meters) above Hiroshima.

Question. When was the last time the Norden Bomb Sight was used in combat conditions and by what branch of service? The answer may surprise you.

I was referring to the WW-2 type bomb sight. The sight was used by the ultra secret Naval Air Squadron VO-67 to implant electronic sensors along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Training films and manuals were borrowed from the Smithsonian Institute and 14 sights were rescued from the bone yard in Arizona. The sights were rebuilt by
people who had been retired for many years. A USAF officer, Lt. Col. Conrad M. Brown, now deceased, trained and qualified the last 13 bombardiers to use the sight in actual combat. Lt. Col. Brown was attached to the 93rd Bomb Wing at Castle AFB, California .The squadron flew modified P2V Neptune's (OP-2E). Three aircraft and 20 aircrew were lost to ground fire. All
were Naval aviators and were trained to the fullest but because of the secrecy of their mission they never received recognition of this training. VO-67 was officially declassified in 1998.

One could say the "Circle was Complete" as the Norden was originally developed as a U.S. Navy gun sight...on every Norden ,on the data plate, is a small anchor stamp, for the Navy Inspector who passed the sight for it's final inspection.

Norden Bomb-sight Quick Facts

The bomb-sight has two main parts, the sighthead & the stabiliser. The stabiliser is rigidly mounted to the aircraft & contains a gyro spinning at 7,800 RPM, to provide yaw stability. The removable sighthead contains a gyro for roll & pitch stability, a motorised optical system for dropping & sighting angle, & an electrical trigger for bomb release. The bomb-sight flies the aircraft thorough the autopilot system during the final run.

Inventor: Carl L. Norden, contracted by the Navy's Bureau of ordnance in 1920.

Weight:50 pounds (23 kilos).

Cost: Carl L. Norden, Inc. charged $8,000 (in 1940's dollars) per sight during the war.

Trivia: On the 6th of August 1945, the bomb-sight teamed up with America's second secret weapon, in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Hoosier Connection: 14,000 bomb-sights were produced at the Lukas-Harold Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana by 1945.

In 1943 the Norden M-series was delivered to the USAAF. It is estimated that this version was 6 to 8 times more precise than the Mk XIV bomb-sight used by the Royal Air Force. It is estimated that the RAF was capable of putting only 5% of its ordinance within a mile (1.61 km) of their aiming point under combat conditions. In contrast, the 8th Air Force was believed to be able to put 24% of their bombs to within 1,000 yds (914.4 m) of their targets. By 1944 this figure would rise to 40% to within 500 yds (457.2 m). The Norden bomb-sight enabled Allied bombers to fly above the flak and still hit their target with reasonable accuracy in clear weather. The daylight bombing strategy became a viable option to take the war to Germany and bring the war to a quick end.

When the Second World War broke out in Europe in 1939, air forces bombed from altitudes below 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) where crews did not require oxygen & aero engines did not need supercharging. The Americans planned to operate at more than twice this height. They equipped their heavy bombers with self-regulating oxygen systems for the crews. Their aircraft had turbo-supercharged engines & the very advanced Norden bomb-sight to obtain accurate bomb delivery. For the Norden to be effective however, the bombers needed to operate in clear skies. These are less common in Northern Europe than in the U.S. & the 8th came to rely on 'blind bombing' radar developed by the British.

Karl Norden
Click image for a brief history of Karl Norden


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