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Norden Bombsight - Castle  Air Museum

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Norden Bombsight

Norden bombsight at  Castle Air Museum

The Norden Bombsight was originally developed by the US Navy prior to World War II as a means to drop bombs more accurately. It had proven to be superior to the Sperry model and expectations were high that it would facilitate precision bombing of industrial facilities, destroying the enemy's ability to continue fighting.

In a process which took about thirty minutes, the bombardier would set factors such as altitude, airspeed, wind speed and temperature, into the Norden Bombsight. Once centered on the target, the Norden Bombsight was connected to the plane's autopilot which flew the aircraft on the correct course, dropping the bombs at the proper time.

Unfortunately the bombsight the did not live up to the expectations due to several shortcomings which could not be overcome at the time. The sight could not adjust for strong crosswinds such as the jet stream; it could not calculate supersonic trajectories (bombs could gain supersonic speed if dropped from a sufficiently high altitude); and it could not be used when the target was obscured by cloud cover. It was a highly sensitive instrument, but many factors could affect its accuracy. With the aid of the bombsight, the U.S. Navy had little success in destroying enemy ships with bombs dropped from 10,000 feet.

As for use by the USAAF, the problem seemed to be an inaccuracy in strategic bombing philosophy rather than an inaccuracy of the bombsight. Much hope had been pinned on the Norden bombsight for success with precision daylight bombing in Europe. However, huge loses of U.S. aircraft and airmen during the early German raids was unaccepable and the rapid recovery of bombed German factories was dissapointing. German output of war material increased every year during strategic bombing until the Russians captured Germany's main oil supply in Romania in 1945.

However, the air assault did put a strain on German war-making capacity, causing large numbers of soldiers and equipment to be involved in the defense of Germany rather than fighting in Russia. And Allied fighter attacks upon the Luftwaffe in advance of the bomber formations took a tremendous toll on the supply of trained German pilots in early 1944.

After all of the top secret status of the Noden bombsight, it was discovered that a spy named Herman Lang had given the plans for the bombsight to the Germans in 1938. Considered war-winning technology, aircrews had been given orders to protect it from falling into enemy hands at all costs. And although the aircrews were to protect the bombsight at the risk of their own lives, ironically, Lang was sentenced to only 18 years in prison for having leaked the design.

The Norden bombsight saw continued use in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. This bombsight is on display at Castle Air Museum in Atwater, California.