Last Bomb Run
“Hey C.O, you flew the B-26 didn’t you?” called one of my fellow docents at the San Diego Aerospace Museum. “There’s a guy over here that wants to talk to you about B-26’s.” Thus the saga began in July 2003.
That’s how I met Robert “Bob” Summers. As it turned out he was interested in the Martin B-26 Marauder of WWII, while I flew as a navigator-bombardier on the Douglas B-26 Invader with the 37th Bomb Squadron (L/NI) in the Korean War. As we talked, it came out in the conversation that during my USAF service I was rated as a qualified Norden bombsight bombardier and had used it in combat during the Korean War. Bob asked me if I would be interested in doing a video on the Norden – to which I said yes. We set up an appointment for the next week
I dug out my Bombardiers Information File and my Norden training manual along with my tachometer and the accompanying nomographic computers (E-6B and C-2) and met with Bob the following week. I went through the bombing problem and then described the Norden bombsight and all of it components and how the bombsight solved the bombing problem. In the meanwhile, Bob had contacted Tony Beres the museum curator and made arrangements to video the museums Norden bombsight.
That Thursday, Bob and his cameraman Kent Schnoeker set up their video equipment in the restoration area of the museum and using the Museum’s Norden, taped an interview with me explaining the Norden sight. As I described the sight and its functions, it became readily apparent that some key parts of the bombsight system were not available.
All that was available at the museum was the sighthead. (For detailed description of the Norden bombsight system, see the sidebar) It became obvious as we proceeded with the videoing that without at least a stabilizer the video would be deficient. I made a trip to the March AFB museum in Riverside and was able to convince the docents there to allow me to enter their B-17 and photograph the complete Norden set up. In the mean time Bob had contacted Taigh Remey of Vintage Aircraft in Stockton and determined that Taigh was a Norden buff. He had a collection of sights and had a working sight. He also had access to a B-25 aircraft in which the Norden could be installed and operated. Bob also contacted John Ward the B-25 owner and determined that he would be agreeable to flying a mission with the Norden installed in the A/C. Bob then contacted me and asked if I would consent to fly such a mission. Never being one to let good sense stand in the way of my sense of adventure, I agreed to fly the mission. The mission was scheduled to be a Norden mission against a marker on Eagle Field California. Bob made a trip to Stockton, met both the pilot and the owner to work out the details and to survey the A/C for video camera and audio equipment set up. I, in the meantime, spent a lot of time studying up on Norden sight calculations and operation. After all it had been fifty years since I had seen or operated a Norden. Bob also acquire three sets of bombing tables and four practice bombs (MK-15 Mod’s 3&4). Bombing Tables are a tabulation of the parameters necessary for entry into the bombsight for the solution of the bombing problem. Each type of bomb has its own unique set of bombing tables.
On Thursday October 6, 2003 Bob and I flew to Stockton so we could review the set up. At that time I met the pilot (Taigh Remey) and the owner (John Ward) of the A/C. Taigh had set up a Norden and had it operating on a workbench. This was the first operating Norden I had seen in fifty years. It was an M-9B equipped with a reflex sight and an attachment I had never seen – an Automatic Bombing Computer. Taigh and I want over the bombsight and gave it a very good ground pre-flight check. There were two anomalies; one was an erratic PDI wiper arm, which Taigh said he could and would fix, and the other was the failure of the automatic trigger on the bombsight to release the bomb automatically, another problem that Taigh indicated that he could fix. We next installed the bombsight in the aircraft and prepared for a test flight.
Checking the Bomb Sight
Norden Bomb Sight in Old Glory
Bombardier’s Control Panel and Navigation Equipment
The aircraft “Old Glory” was a B-25J, serial number 44-28983, which had been converted to a B-25N by the USAF in the mid fifties, and was in beautiful conditions. The aircraft was not equipped with a C-1 autopilot so the bomb runs would be manual using the PDI. The radio/gunner’s compartment had been converted into a student seat set up, where two passengers could ride. After installing the sight, we took off for a thirty minute flight during which I practice some bomb runs and checked out the sight. Taigh was the pilot, John was the co-pilot, Bob was setting up the cameras and I was the bombardier.
I had my bombardier’s training at Mather AFB in B-25’ in the early fifties (1952) and remembered that the B-25 was a very noisy aircraft but I did not remember how noisy. I flew my combat tour in B-26’s and then graduated to B-47 (jet) bombers for the remainder of my service and did not remember how noisy prop driven A/C could be. We flew over and landed at Eagle field to look over the target. Entering the nose of the B-25 involved making my way through a five-foot long tunnel, which I could have negotiated with ease when I was on active duty-not so at 76. As I sat in the nose without a parachute it occurred to me that exiting this A/C in an emergency in flight would be next to impossible.
Looking Aft from Bombardiers Compartment
Getting back through the tunnel with the A/C in extremis would be difficult. There was an escape hatch in the left side of the nose, but to exit that in flight would put one back into the prop. I did not envy those aircrew members who flew the B-25 in combat. Having flown 10 missions as a B-26 SHORAN operator, I was accustomed to being in impossible situations so accepted the situation philosophically- No guts-No Air Medal. At least no one was shooting at us.
Eagle Field was a sort of short black top runway with dirt overruns on either end. We required the entire runway and then some for both take off and landing. None of us were comfortable with the target set up at Eagle Field so Bob decided to investigate an alternate source. After a pleasant visit with some nice people we took off from Eagle field, made a low level pass, and returned to Stockton then home in San Diego.
Bob contacted authorities at Fallon NAS, the Navy’s primary bombing and gunnery range, and managed to convince them to allow us to schedule time on their range. The flight was scheduled for 15 October 2003. Bob procured all of the necessary range information and provided it to Taigh and me. I had one major concern. The bombs were to be 100# practice bombs but they were Mk –15’s and the bombing tables that we had were for the M38 100# practice bomb. Bob later managed to obtain a set of bombing tables for the MK-15’s. Armed with the range information and the bombing tables I made some preliminary computations. Since the range was at approximately 4000 feet above sea level we decided to establish a bombing altitude of 5000 feet as this put us at ~= 9000 feet. An altitude of 8000 feet above ground level (AGL) may have made for an easier run, but this would have put us at 11000 feet pressure altitude. Oxygen is required for flight above 10000 feet so we elected to use the lower altitude. Knowing our cruising speed (180 mph) and our projected bombing altitude (5000 ft) I made some elementary calculations. All three sets of bombing tables coincided very well on the actual time of fall (~=18.10 seconds) and the two M38 tables agreed upon the trail ~= 60 mils. The MK-15 tables bothered me for they gave the parameters referenced to calibrated airspeed in lieu of true airspeed (with which I was accustomed to working with as an AF bombardier). In addition the trail worked out to be 160 mils, which was about double that tabulated in the M38 tables. After looking at the comparative ballistic coefficients for each of the bombs, I found that they were not significantly different so was concerned with the tremendous difference in predicted trail. I examined pictures of the M38 and the MK-15 and their shapes were similar but the MK-15 was smaller than the M38.
MK 15 at left- MK 38 at right
I decided that I would use the MK-15 table for the first run, but felt that this would give me a hit over because the trail was too large. After observing the first hit I would readjust the trail if necessary. I relayed this info to Bob and Taigh. Since I was the “expert” they deferred to my recommendations. The complexities of the bombing problem and the computations necessary for its solution are beyond the intended scope of this article but this difference was significant and I felt that this trail anomaly was critical and should be highlighted.
On the night of 13 October, Bob Summers, Kent Schnoeker (the photographer) and I flew to Sacramento, and then took the drive to Stockton so that we would be able to begin preparations the next day.
On 14 October we met with Taigh at the Stockton airport where the B-25 was kept and went to work. Taigh and I checked out the bombsight and the firing circuits to insure that they were all in working order. In the meantime Bob was setting up the audio and video equipment in the B-25. Kent was working with Larry Gaines, the chase pilot who was to fly his J-35 Bonanza as the chase plane so that Kent could photograph the in-flight portion of our flight. They removed the rear windows of the Bonanza to give Kent an unobstructed view for his photography. Mike MacKentyre who was to be the co-pilot and Mark Rouch who was to photograph the bombs falling from the bomb bay of the B-25 joined us. Mike and Taigh’s assistant busied themselves putting fuel and oil in the B-25. John Ward and his wife joined us to view the proceedings and to be prepared to climb aboard. Mrs. Ward did not accompany us
B-25 Old Glory at Fallon NAS
When we had completed the firing checks, Bob and Taigh began the bomb loading process. Six Mk-15 100# practice bombs were to be loaded, though we only intended to drop four. The bombs required filling with water to bring them to 100#’s, the B-7 shackles had to be attached to the bombs, and the bombs manually lifted into place and hooked to the bomb racks since we had no bomb hoists. Everything being in readiness, we boarded the A/C and prepared for take off – starting engines at 1200. We taxied to the ready ramp, completed our pre-flight and rolled at 1211.
The A-4 Bomb Release Mechanisms
Taigh and Bob Loading the Bombs
Inside the Bomb Bay
Hooking the Bomb Shackel to the Bomb Release
Bombs in Place
We flew to Fallon NAS at 11,500 feet to clear the Sierras, and cruised at a normal 180 mph IAS. The view from the nose was spectacular and we had a very good flight. We landed at Fallon NAS at 1315, to be met by a large group of Navy people most of whom were curious spectators. The Navy hospitality was OUTSTANDING, and everyone was very accommodating
After becoming acquainted everyone and being interviewed by the Fallon PIO people, Cmdr Jenkins (Call sign “Thor”) escorted to Range operations where we met John Smith (the Range Officer) and Jack Ward (assistant range officer). We were provided a briefing on our target area- the North target in the B-20 Target area of the Fallon range complex. We were provided charts, operations manuals and briefed on range procedures. Our range time was established as 0900 to 1100.
From range operations we proceeded to base operations where “Thor” briefed us upon operational procedures and reviewed radio frequencies to be used. We discussed the range procedures to be used with the chase plane and all safety procedures to be complied with during and after the flight. That being settled, we proceeded to the BOQ for check in. Then we proceeded to the Officers club for dinner.
At dinner Captain Brad T Goetsch, the Fallon NAS C.O, joined us. We discussed the operation and had a very enjoyable dinner. The Captain quizzed me about my opinion of the pilot. I indicated that I believed him to be a very careful and capable pilot who adhered to all safety procedures and used the appropriate checklists. He seemed satisfied. It turns out that the captain was an F-14 pilot with 4000 hours in type and we discussed operations at the NAS.
After dinner, Taigh and I adjourned to our BOQ rooms and went over the plans for the next day’s mission. We established routes, altitudes, airspeeds and procedures. Taigh, the copilot and the chase plane pilot loaded waypoint data into their GPS receivers. We established our flight altitude to be 9000 feet which would make us fly at 5000 feet AGL, our airspeed was to be 180 mph, our IP was to be 8 miles to the east of the target and our run in was to be on a heading 252 degrees (magnetic) which with the 15 degree easterly vacation made our intended true track to be 267 degrees. These matters being settled, we went to bed. There was a bit of a nagging doubt. Here I was committed to perform a mission that I had not accomplished in fifty years and there were many eyes on me. I felt that I represented the USAF in Navy territory. Would I measure up? Well the die is cast and the mission is scheduled
The next day, Wednesdays 15 October 2003 began early as we checked out of the BOQ, and got an early breakfast. Most of the crew proceeded to the A/C, but the Ops Officer, CDR Jensen and I proceeded to “weather” to receive a final weather briefing. The wind was predicted to be 245/35 kts. This gave us a ground speed of 145 mph when indicating 180 mph, and resulted in a five-degree right drift. Having done that we proceeded to the A/C, conducted the pre-flight, and the safety briefing. It was then that we learned that Capt Goetsch was to fly as the copilot. As it broke down, Taigh Remey (pilot), Capt Goetsch (copilot) John Ward (owner) Bob Summers (photographer) rode in the front of the A/C. To accommodate this arrangement, I volunteered to take of in the nose of the A/C. In the rear were Mark Rouch (bomb bay photographer) and Cdr Jensen (observer). Larry Gaines piloted the Bonanza chase plane, carrying Kent Schnoeker as the photographer. We boarded the A/C and prepared for take off.
Taigh, Captain Geotsch, Owner John Ward, Final Brief
Engine start, pre-flight, taxiing and take of brought back many memories of the smells, the vibration and the noises so familiar in WWII aircraft. I used to think-“well that ends a pleasant day. Now I was doing it for fun!
Taigh, C.O, Bob Summers (Manager) Capt Geotsch, Cdr Jemnkins
B-25 Taxing - C.O in the Nose
B-25 Taking Off
At 0840 we rolled on takeoff and headed for Target area 20, located 30 miles NNW of Fallon NAS. During the run to the target area I set up the bombsight, entered the appropriate data, and made final checks. Bob Summers joined me in the nose to photograph my activity. The nose of a B-25 gets crowded with two people in it. At 0900 we arrived at Area 20 and checked in with Range Control; then the fun began.
The North bull target is a circle approximately 600 feet in diameter, with a shack in the center and range circles of 100, 200 and 250 feet outlined by tires. It was located in an alkali flat with only a few landmarks. During four dry runs, I discovered that the reflex sight was of no use for long range target detection and identification because of the MG flexible mount located directly in the front center of and of the bombardier’s compartment. We established the run in on a heading or 248 degrees magnetic and determined than the flight from the IP (initial point) to the target was 3 ½ minutes and the actual synchronous run time of 51 seconds. The inability to use the reflex sight eliminated the capability to do early course synchronization. I had set in the 120 mils of trail from the MK-15 tables as I had decided to make the first run using this setting. If, as I suspected, this were excessive, I would change the trail to the 60 mils specified for the M38 bombs.
Map of the Drop Zone
I had a bit of apprehension that I would forget some vital procedure in the bomb run procedure but it came back to me very easily. I guess a SAC trained N/B never forgets –he always feels as if General LeMay is looking over his shoulders.
RUN 1. We proceeded to the IP and began the first run.
“Over the IP, turn left to 248 degrees magnetic,” I instructed the pilot.
Roger,” replied the pilot as he put the A/c into a left bank
“I don’t see the target,” I said as I scanned the horizon through the Norden using the extended vision knob. The target was difficult to spot thought the narrow field of view of the Norden,
“Turn a little more to the left.” (P to CP)
“ I have the target is sight,” I indicated as I had detected the target using the forward sighting knob. “Clutching in,” (indicating that I was engaging the bombsight clutch) Follow the PDI, open the bomb bay doors ”
“Give me a straight and level,” I requested.
“Straight and level,” the pilot indicated
“Level complete,” I responded after uncaging the vertical gyro and leveling it with the leveling knobs. Due to the angle of the sun, the azimuth leveling bubble was difficult to see. I then proceeded to synchronize for azimuth using the forward sight knob to keep the target in view.
“Range motor on,” I reported as the target crossed the range cross hair and I started range synchronization.” Forward sighting disabled.” I reported
“ Good synchronization! Bomb rack switch armed; trigger set,” I reported as I armed the rack and set the automatic trigger on the Norden. I continued the synchronization down the run.
“Good Synch! Bombs Away! I called as the automatic trigger on the Norden dropped. “Gyro caged, rack switch off, clear to turn.”
“The hit was right on centerline and at the intersection of the road and the run-in line,” reported an observer from the bomb bay position. The road intersection was approximately 300 feet over, which indicated to me that the trail was too great. At this time I reduced the trail to 60 mils.
We began our left hand turn and headed back to the IP for another run. Based on the information the observer had passed to me I reduced the trail to 62 mils.
RUN 2. This second “hot” run began normally and after leveling the bombsight gyro I began the synchronization process. Everything appeared to be normal until the last 15 seconds when the gyro tumbled causing the optics to tilt to the right limit.
“Abort the run!” I reported as I tried to deactivate the bomb rack before the bomb dropped - but the bomb release mechanism operated and dropped the bomb before I could de-activate the rack switch. The bomb hit 350 feet over and 600 feet left.
Run 3. The third run began normally and a good synchronized run was completed. The automatic trigger failed to activate.
“No Release!” I reported. After de-activating the rack switch I tried running the sighting index past the release index several times but the trigger would not release. I finally had to release the trigger manually. No bomb dropped
RUN 4. This began normally then the pilot reported,
“No PDI action. Are you making corrections?” Asked the pilot.
“Yes, let me run it back and forth a couple of times,” I said as I moved the sight head back and forth to try to clean the PDI wiper arm on the stab unit run. No luck, the PDI became intermittent and then failed altogether. I aborted the run. On the return to the IP I tried to clean the PDI pot by moving the bombsight back and forth so that the wiper arm could clean the pot, to no avail.
“Looks as if we have a failed PDI, “ I reported. “I’ll have to preset the drift and give you manual directions for azimuth.” I then set in the drift angle determined on the previous runs (so that the crosstrail would be correct) and prepared to talk the pilot on manually.
RUNS 5, 6, &7. These runs were made with manual direction to the pilot for azimuth and range synchronization through the bombsight.
“Rolling out on the target,” reported the pilot.
“ Have the target is sight, and the drift angle is set.”
“Give me 5 degrees right.” The aircraft responded as the pilot took the correction.
“ Two more right. Looks good.”
“Holding steady, range motor on, rack switch armed, trigger armed Good synch,” I reported.
As I looked through the sight the synchronization appeared to be good. In the last
five seconds, the azimuth crosshair started drifting left. It was too late to give an azimuth correction, for if the pilot responded, the aircraft would have been in a right bank resulting in the bomb being thrown even further left. On each of the following runs, the azimuth crosshair remained on the target until the last 15 seconds of the run, and then took a drift to the left. Again it was too late to give the pilot a correction for this would have put the A/C in a right bank to and caused the bombs to be thrown far out to the left. The bombs all hit to the left, in the direction of the sudden drift. Hits were (1) 1300 ft L, 25 ft short, (2) 1250 ft L, 100 ft over, and (3) 1350 L, 300 over.
“We are hitting left so I am going to try to correct by holding right of target,” I reported to the pilot. On this run I decided to compensate for the left drift by placing the azimuth crosshair on the right edge of the target and synchronizing for range. The hit was 1000 feet R, 200 ft short. This illustrates the difficulty of using “Kentucky Windage” during a bomb run.
Having dropped all six bombs the mission was complete so we checked out with Range Control and proceeded back to Fallon NAS for landing and debrief. At the debrief we discussed the difficulties and the successes and determined that for all intents and purposes we had flown the mission as briefed and probably did as well as could be expected under the circumstances.
Debrief: LtR: Taigh, Capt Geortch ,Cdr Jenkins, C.O.
We returned to the A/C and made preparations to return to Stockton. At this time it was learned that there was no 100-octane aviation gasoline at Fallon NAS, and the fuel truck at Fallon municipal airport was not certified for public streets. The only option was to fly to Fallon municipal airport to pick up the aviation gas. Several naval personnel were picked for the ride in the B-25 from Fallon NAS to Fallon municipal. The rest of us proceeded to the airport by van to await the arrival of the B-25
C.O. Smith, The Last Norden Bombardier
The B-25 arrived at Fallon and while we watched made a low pass at maximum speed across the airport before landing. During the refueling process, a crowd appeared from nowhere. They must have come out of the woodwork –attracted by the arrival of the B-25. We were all interviewed by the local newspaper as if we were celebrities. When it became know that I was a Norden bombardier, I became quite an attraction. What made me feel real good was that the usual comment was –“Oh my grandfather was a Norden bombardier”. After refueling we departed Fallon and made an uneventful flight back to Stockton, where Bob, Kent and I packed up for out auto trip to Sacramento and then to San Diego.
Crew, Photographer (Ken Schnocker), Pilot (Taigh Ramey) Bombardier (C.O. Smith)
Factor 1. Not having an autopilot caused us to start with a handicap. It was determined early on by both the USN and the USAAF that accurate bomb runs were achievable only if an autopilot were used. Flying by PDI is very difficult unless the pilot and bombardier have had the opportunity to fly together a number of times. Failure of the PDI was a critical failure. Manually directing a pilot by voice command is a crutch at best and is not easy under the best of conditions. The pilot for the bomb runs was Capt Gotesch, (an accomplished F-14 pilot) who did a very good job.
Factor 2. The discrepancies of bombsight data from the various available bombing tables brings into question the validity of any of them. All three agreed that the ATF was ~= 18.1 seconds, but disagreed by a large amount on the trail. A 60 mil trail difference amounts to ~ 300 feet error in range at our bombing altitude.
Factor 3. The accuracy of the bombs themselves is open to question. They were surplus and filled with water to bring them to the correct weight. During the loading process on 14 October, it was discovered that two of them were leaking. Efforts to correct this were not successful.
In summary the results were:
Azimuth average error: 1120 feet
Range average error: 195 feet
I believe that had there been a working PDI the azimuth error would have been reduced to acceptable limits. With a working PDI, the first bomb was dead on for azimuth. The range error was not too bad.
For a mission flown by a 76-year-old bombardier (who had not touched a Norden in 50 years) in a 60-year-old A/C using a 60-year-old bombsight, the results were not too bad. I enjoyed every minute of it, except that after spending two hours on my knees my legs were sore.
As I look back on this mission, I wonder if this is the last Norden bombsight drop by a rated Norden bombardier. I really enjoyed the ride and accumulated an additional 5 ½ hours in a B-25 as an AOB. It is not too unusual for a pilot to get flying time in a vintage airplane-but for a bombardier to get to drop bombs? This was better than an “E” ticket ride at Disney Land.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!
For the reader’s edification, the M9 Norden bombsight system consists of three major components and several ancillary components. They are:
1. The Sighthead. This unit contains the vertical gyro, which stabilizes the optics, the optics through which the bombardier sights on the target, and the analog computer, which solves the bombing problem
2. The Stabilizer. This contains the horizontal gyro which establishes the heading reference for the bombsight in computing the solution to the bombing problem and in conjunction with the sight head, solves for crosstrail
3. The C-1 autopilot. This is the Automatic Flight Control Equipment, which allows the bombardier to steer the aircraft through the bombsight during the bomb run. While not essential, this is a key element in making an accurate bomb run.
Key ancillary equipment components are:
1. The Pilots Directional Indicator (PDI). A directional indicating instrument which, receives steering information form the stabilizer and sends this information to the pilot during the bomb run
2. The Reflex Sight. The Reflex sight provides an illuminated reticule attachment that provides the bombardier an ancillary sight that allows him to find and identify the target early and establish preliminary azimuth steering corrections. While not absolutely essential it makes the bombardier’s job much easier.
Diagram of the Norden Bomb Sight