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B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty 8th
Redefines Air Combat Simulations As We Know Them
By Joe "Impaler" Highman
Before long, our formation crossed the coast of France at 15,000 feet. “Radio to bombardier, weather at primary target is expected to be stormy with nine tenths cloud cover at approximately 6000 feet.” Far from optimal conditions, but this target must be hit at all costs. Just then, the interphone erupted with chatter. “Bandits! Coming in, out of the sun, at 4:00 High!”
They made only one pass before disappearing, all except one fighter. It was a Messerschmitt Bf-109, guns blazing. His cannons chewed into the number three engine of our right wingman before the 109 rolled to his right and for whatever reason, plowed headlong into the heavy bomber.
Miraculously, our comrade survived the collision, despite having an engine on fire. The German pilot was not so lucky. The crippled Fort limped alongside our formation all the way into the target area. As we neared the bomb run, the navigator peered into his driftmeter, a crucial tool to measure wind drift. Without this data, the bombardier is unable to properly correct for the effect of course deviance from winds and is unlikely to score an accurate hit on the target.
The bombardier accepted the reading from the navigator and entered the information in his Norden “in-the-pickle-barrel-from-30,000-feet” bombsight.
Over the target, the bombardier engaged the autopilot function of the Norden sight and actually flew the bomber from that point.
Helplessly, the copilot and I held on as the ship banked and slipped from side to side as the bombardier dialed-in his sight picture.
Then the flak arrived. From a distance, the oily black plumes of smoke almost looked pretty. Beautiful until you realize that the scattering sound you hear shortly following a burst is in fact shrapnel designed to destroy your aircraft and everyone in it.
The bombardier called out that we were approaching the release point, so we braced for the “Leap for Joy;” the phenomenon in which the dramatically reduced weight of the unladed bomber causes the aircraft to raise as much as 1,000 feet in a few seconds. The Norden sight picture hovered steadily over the center of the target, indicating that the Bombardier had properly synchronized the bombsight for altitude, speed, and wind drift.
The indices crept closer to one another until mercifully, the Bombardier called out “Bombs Away!”
At that moment, an automatic electrical signal traveled from the Norden computer to the shackles holding the payload in the bomb bay. The weapons dropped from the aircraft at a preset delay until all were on their way to the harbor below. As the bomb doors closed, the Tail Gunner called out, “Flak just tore our wingman’s left wing off!”
We continued the balance of the flight pondering how one crew could have so much bad luck on one mission.
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