The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL has an original, full-size Norden Bombsight on display in the museum. 

 

Development

Development of the Norden Bombisight began with the U.S. Navy’s desire to secure a system was capable of bombing ships that would fall outside the range of their defensive guns.   About the same time, the U.S. Army had undertaken a similar project.  The Bombsight became one of the military’s top secret and closely guarded projects of WW II.  The intricacy of this instrument allowed a more accurate timing as to when it was necessary to drop a bomb in order to accurately hit the target below.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was the aircraft the Army chose for the Norden, feeling it was the most capable aircraft to insure the success of this top secret bombsight.  Later variations of the B-17 were designed to allow the Norden Bombsight to take over the controls of the plane and actually fly the aircraft.   The known accuracy of the Norden was said to have been successful enough to hit a 100 foot circle at 21,000 feet – which is approximately 4 miles high.  However, test results proved to be more successful than actual bombing missions.

 

Top Secret Device

The secrecy of the Norden Bombsight meant the sight would not be loaded into the aircraft until just prior to take-off.  Before loading, the sight would be covered from view and brought to the plane using armed guards.  Once the mission was completed and the plane returned, the sight would once again be covered and armed guards would safely escort it back to “the Bomb Vault”.  All bombardiers using the Norden had to take an oath to protect this highly classified instrument, even if it meant their life.  In the event of an emergency landing in enemy territory, they were instructed to shoot the sight’s most critical instruments in order to disable it.  The military felt this did not destroy the sight enough should it fall into enemy hands, which lead to the installation of a thermite grenade making it possible to create a heat reaction capable of melting the Norden into a useless pile of metal.

By the end of the war, the secrecy of the sight was downgraded with the first public display occurring in 1944.  The most famous mission for the Norden Bombsight occurred on August 6, 1945, when the sight was used in the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.   The legacy of the Norden bombsight did not end there.  At the onset of the Korean War, aircraft from WWII that had been left intact were once again called into service.   At the onset of the Vietnam War, the USAF once again would turn to the Norden Bombsight, but this time, WWII technicians were needed to bring them back to operational status.