Image of the Air Force wings with the museum name underneath

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Bombs Away!

In the early twentieth century, advancements in aerospace technology coincided with new theories about strategic bombing. The beginnings of aerial bombardment led to a new aircrew role—the “bombardier.”

The bombardier’s job was to identify an enemy target, sight it through a bomb sight, and release the bombs when the target was aligned. This required adjusting the bomb sight for conditions such as ground speed, elevation, drift, and any alterations in the aircraft’s course. It also required close coordination with the pilot.

Sergeants were trained on the job as bombardiers until a formal training program was established for officers in 1941. Even then, enlisted bombardiers continued to fill gaps when needed. Despite receiving less formal training than officers later did, enlisted Airmen showed great adaptability when performing in this complex role.    

Staff Sergeant Ulysses S. Nero     

As one of the most skilled bombardiers in the Army Air Service, SSgt Ulysses S. “Sam” Nero was often called upon to execute particularly challenging assignments. Known as the “father of American precision bombing,” he developed equipment and tactics for accurate bombing.

Staff Sergeant Nero’s success proved that aerial bombardment was both a naval vulnerability and offensive asset. Nero later contributed to the development of the Norden bomb sight. After inventing a wireless communications device and bomb sight, Nero caught the attention of General Billy Mitchell. In 1923, Mitchell selected twelve aircrews, including Nero, to participate in bombing accuracy tests to prove that airplanes could sink battleships. The crews were to depart from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and drop bombs on two obsolete warships once thought “unsinkable.” After other bombardiers failed to drop their bombs anywhere near the first ship, Nero scored two direct hits on his first attempt. When given an opportunity to strike the second battleship, Nero again scored a direct hit, sinking the ship in just three minutes and seventeen seconds. Nero held twelve patents on military equipment, and retired after more than thirty years of service.

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