The Norden Bombsight

Gunners in nose turret of B-17 bomber

World War II bombers often relied on gunners inside turrets for defense against fighter planes. This extremely dangerous assignment was immortalized in Randall Jarrell’s 1945 poem, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.”

The Norden Bombsight

Delivered to the U.S. Navy in 1931, the Norden bombsight earned fame in World War II. The sophisticated device combined a mechanical analog computer, autopilot, stabilizer and optics, giving American bombers greater accuracy from greater heights.

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Norden Bombsight "Sight Head"

From the early 1930s to the Vietnam War, thousands of American light and heavy bombers carried the Norden Mark XV bombsight. German planes used similar devices during World War II.

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Bombardier Thomas Ferebee with his Norden Bombsight

Thomas Ferebee was the bombardier who dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima in 1945. The “Enola Gay,” like other B-29 Superfortress bombers, carried a Norden bombsight in its nose.

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Lasers turn bombs into Precision Guided Munitions

At a time when the Norden was the standard precision bombsight on U.S. planes, research had already begun on guidance systems for bombs and rockets. Remote controlled glide bombs saw service in World War II, but it wasn't until the introduction of laser guided bombs during the Vietnam War in the early 1970s that the desired level of precision was achieved. Laser and later GPS guidance reduced the number of bombs needed to achive a tactical objective at a lower risk to the pilots.

F-16C jet fighter near Key West, Florida

Designed in the 1970s as a fighter, the F-16 Fighting Falcon evolved into a multirole warplane. In addition to heat-seaking AIM-9 Sidewinder and active guidance AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, this plane carries one 500 lbs. laser guided GBU-12 Paveway II bomb.

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GBU-16 Paveway II Laser Guided Bombs

The U.S. Air Force initiated the Paveway program for laser guided bombs during the Vietnam War. Texas Instruments built the computerized guidance kits to be added to existing Mk. 80 series bombs; four 1,000 lbs. GBU-16 bombs are carried by this F-14D Super Tomcat during the Iraq War.

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