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Bombing as a Manpower Problem

Taking the oath before seeing the secret Norden bombsight on the table. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Taking the oath before seeing the secret Norden bombsight on the table. (U.S. Air Force photo)

AT-11s drop practice bombs. (U.S. Air Force photo)

AT-11s drop practice bombs. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Dropping practice bomb at night. Note how the World War II censor blackened out the nose of the AT-11 so the Norden bombsight could not be seen. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Dropping practice bomb at night. Note how the World War II censor blackened out the nose of the AT-11 so the Norden bombsight could not be seen. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lifting the secret Norden bombsight into an AT-11 prior to night practice mission. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lifting the secret Norden bombsight into an AT-11 prior to night practice mission. (U.S. Air Force photo)


The Norden bombsight served as the U.S. Army Air Forces' primary high-altitude visual bombsight during World War II. In 1939 a journalist exaggerated its accuracy with the claim that it could "drop a bomb in a pickle barrel from 18,000 feet." The claim was exaggerated, but unprecedented accuracy was vital for the success of the Army Air Forces strategic daylight precision bombing effort.

In the slower paced years before the war, the men chosen to be bombardiers were trained at their operational units, but the massive expansion of the U.S. Army Air Forces after 1940 required more bombardiers than this inefficient method could produce. Therefore, the AAF rapidly built specialized bombardier schools with standardized instruction to train large numbers of men on regular schedules.

Cadets chosen for bombardier school had already completed aircrew preflight training, and because of the great demand for bombardiers, the first classes lasted only 12 weeks. However, once enough bombardiers were available for combat units, the courses expanded to 18 weeks. Coursework consisted of intensive ground instruction, during which students learned how to use bombsights and the C-1 Autopilot. Before transitioning to aerial training, students learned proper procedure on a "synthetic bomb trainer," which today would be called a simulator.

Air training consisted of two parts: instruction and qualification. During air instruction, the student started by making practice bombing runs without bombs. Then he progressed to dropping dummy bombs. To advance to the next level, the student had to drop about 100 practice bombs during seven day and night missions, but his average circular error could not exceed 230 feet from an altitude of 12,000 feet. Students who progressed to the combat training stage had hit their targets 22 percent of the time.

Bombardier school was very demanding, and the elimination rate was 12 percent. Nevertheless, the AAF trained more than 45,000 bombardiers by war's end.

Click here to return to the Strategic Bombing Overview.

 

Find Out More
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Related Fact Sheets
Norden M-9 Bombsight
Honeywell C-1 Autopilot
Other Resources
USAF Historical Study No. 5: Individual Training of Bombardiers (Provided by AFHRA)
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