Thursday, August 07, 2008

Training Airport

I pick up my story back at Wendover Airport, which turns out to have an interesting history. During World War II this town was an air base with a population of as much as 20,000. Here is where the Enola Gay practiced with her crew for dropping the first atomic bomb used in war. They have a tiny museum right at the airfield, and I had time to take a look at it.

Most of the exhibits were little dioramas, like models of the Enola Gay and the airbase, and some medals and documents. My favourite was something I didn't remember hearing about before, the Norden Bombsight. In the words of the accompanying plaque, it was a mechanical analogue computer made up of gyros, motors, gears, mirrors, levers and a telescope. The bombardier would input the airspeed, wind speed and direction, altitude and angle of drift. The pilot would engage the autopilot and the computer would control the trajectory of the airplane and the release of the bomb. This device was so secret that it was installed in and removed from the airplane under armed guard last thing before and first thing after every mission. There was even an oath to be sworn before being introduced to the device.

Mindful of the secret trust to be placed in me by my Commander in Chief, the President of the United States, by whose direction I have been chosen for bombardier training... and mindful of the fact that I am to become guardian of one of my country's most priceless military assets, the American bombsight... I do here, in the presence of Almighty God swear by the Bombardier's Code of Honor to keep inviolate the secrecy of any and all confidential information revealed to me, and further to uphold the honor and integrity of the Army Air Forces, if need be, with my life itself.

I hope the pilot had better instruments than I do to provide that data, because my wind speed and direction statements would be a complete guess, especially because I expect a variation in wind speed and direction between flight altitude and the ground.

This weather limits sign served as a legacy of the training function of the airfield. A flying school today will have a supervising instructor who will examine the weather conditions and rule on whether it is suitable for flight training. This one was once controlled by a switch in the base commander's office.

I don't know where the military traffic dropping practice bombs on the restricted airspace launch from today, but they aren't here at Wendover now. The most traffic I saw looked like a weekend ultralight fly-in. I think most of them could have taken off widthwise on the runway, or launched into the air from the ramp at hardly more than my taxi speed, but they all taxied out diligently to the threshold of the most into-wind runway.


Anonymous said...

Aviatrix wrote: "...because my wind speed and direction statements would be a complete guess,..."

From what I've read, a huge number of bombs in WWII badly missed their targets. Even in the Vietnam era, "precision" high altitude bombing was a myth - used to sell the war back home. As in "We are using precision altitude bombing techniques to safely neutralize only industrial and military targets, keeping our collateral damage rates extremely low."

This is as much a myth today in Afghanistan and Iraq where un-censored internet reports reveal horrendous civilian casualties from modern "high altitude precision bombing..."

Pretty hard to believe anyone once a war starts...

Anonymous said...

Oh, the many uses of analog computing! I just ran across this a couple of days ago. There's also a video showing the electronics in action. Analog Blinkenlights!

Anonymous said...


In Afghanistan, civilian deaths from American airstrikes are the result of targeting errors rather than poor weapon accuracy. Half of American near-precision bombs will fall within 10m of their intended target; this is compared to half of un-guided bombs falling within 100m of their intended targets during the Viet Nam war. 10 meter accuracy is good enough to avoid civilian deaths in most cases outside of urban areas.

The reason for large numbers of civilian deaths in Afghanistan is that American combat pilots are bombing indiscriminately. The technical accuracy of weapons is irrelevant if they are habitually targeted at Afghan wedding parties, Canadian infantry, and pretty much anything and everything else that moves.

Anonymous said...

As a former soldier, student pilot and avid reader of your blog, I felt I had to add my tuppenceworth to this entry - what used to be called Blue on Blue in the cold war days (or being shot at/bombed by the Yanks) this friendly-fire is an ongoing and criminally stupid activity. Hard to believe it still goes on in this age of modern battlefield C&C, with GPS and whatnot at one's disposal.

I personally think (drawn from observation and experience both) it boils down to simple Gee-whiz trigger happiness - a lack of aforethought coupled to a lack of adequate IQ topped off with a good dose of US Military brainwashing.

If they trained their people to think, rather than blindly obey, conserve ammunition and keep the safeties on - I'm quite sure this apalling issue would go away for good.

Then again, if a 10'x 8' Union flag atop an armoured vehicle can't be accurately observed by a dumb Depleted Uranium round-toting cowboy jet-jockey, we none of us are safe.

Had to air that one, glad I got it off my chest.

Keep up the good work Aviatrix...


Anonymous said...

You're using un-censored internet report as a reference for your argument? Since Aviatrix's blog isn't the forum for starting a fight I'll avoid commenting on the use of the word "indiscriminate"

Anonymous said...

Indeed brave Anonymous, this is a Wiki link, and the nature of the net makes this inadmissable as evidence - however I was merely illustrating the point.

If you care to trawl the BBC, CNN and CBC records you'll find all the places and dates, and of course the names, ranks and nationalities of those souls who were blitzed into the next world by the gum-chewing halfwits.


Anonymous said...

One serious and one apocryphal.
10m meter accuracy wit a "kill radius' in hundreds of feet..gott abe really rural to not make additional damage. War is war, and if you or I can't drop more than 50% of closthepins into a milk bottle from 5 feet at zero knots speed and in bright lights, not being shot get the drift.
Aporcryphally, the crosshairs in the Norden's sighting reticle were supposed to be a woman's hair from the factory production line. Believe it....or not.

Anonymous said...

Just how much precision do you actually need to drop a bucket of instant sunshine anyway ?