Norden Bombsight

Norden Bombsight that was made for the Navy in August of 1944 by Carl L. Norden Inc. and which is now on display in our museum. John Woolsey’s aunt, Frances Vaughn Parker, was a Civil Air Patrol Cadet during WWII and a lifelong pilot, CAP member and WWII memorabilia collector. In addition to the bombsight we have also acquired Frances’ WWII CAP Cadet Uniform that will be on display in the museum at some time in the future and several other items that will also be displayed in our museum.

The bombsight, developed by Carl Norden, a Swiss engineer, was used by the U.S. Navy and Army Air Forces beginning in World War II until its retirement during the Vietnam War. Mr. Norden believed the device would lower the suffering and death toll from war by allowing pinpoint accuracy during bombing runs.

The bombsight was heavily guarded and shrouded in secrecy to keep the technology out of the hands of Germany. Since the Norden was considered a critical wartime instrument, bombardiers were required to take an oath during their training stating that they would defend its secret with their own life if necessary. In case the bomber plane should make an emergency landing on enemy territory, the bombardier would have to shoot the important parts of the Norden with a gun to disable it. As this method still would leave a nearly intact apparatus to the enemy, a thermite grenade was installed; the heat of the chemical reaction would melt the Norden into a lump of metal. After each completed mission, bomber crews left the aircraft with a bag which they deposited in a safe (“the Bomb Vault”). This secure facility (“the AFCE and Bombsight Shop”) was typically in one of the base’s Quonset huts support buildings. The Bombsight Shop was manned by enlisted men who were members of a Supply Depot Service Group (“Sub Depot”) attached to each USAAF bombardment group. All these security measures proved unnecessary since it was later found that Germany actually became aware of the bombsight in 1938.

The Norden Bombsight, essentially an analog calculator, could adjust for air density, wind drift, the bomber’s airspeed and groundspeed while controlling the bomber’s final run on the target. It was called “the single most complicated mechanical device ever manufactured.” The bombsight consisted of two primary parts, the gyroscopic stabilization platform on the left side, and the mechanical calculator and sighting head on the right side. They were largely separate instruments, connecting through the sighting prism. The sighting eyepiece was located in the middle, between the two, in a less than convenient location that required some dexterity to use.

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