The successful accomplishment of a bombardment mission involves one of the most intimate mergers of personality and effort ever achieved by a group of men. This suppression of self and the blending of the group into a single combat unit is the key to current Flying Fortress success so when you hear about the boys at the front calling for planes and more planes, they are in reality asking for combat crews and more combat crews with airplanes.
In numerous conversations with Fortress crew members, the success story has always been the same that of interdependence. Once a crew has become accustomed to each other it is indeed a formidable team to come up against. This is exemplified in recent reports on the crew of the Flying Fortress, SNAP CRACKLE POP, of the Eighth Air Force. The men have flown together ever since they went across to England, and says each one: "When we return to the United States, we want to go the way we came as a unit." They have laid their bombs on Saint Nazaire, Lorient and Brest have sent Nazi fighters down in flames with their guns, and have in turn been hit by the Nazis, but never in any of their missions has any one of the crew members been more than slightly injured.
The story of this crew was first told during a two-day leave by one of the radiomen, Sergeant Richard O Smith. "We won't go up without all members of the crew if we can help it," Smith said, "On every occasion that some stranger has been in the ship we failed to get off the ground. A couple of times we got stuck in the mud; another time the radio went bad. We have had strangers aboard six or seven times, but never took off. On one occasion our ship was out for repairs and our crew took up another Fortress. We ran into a swarm of Messerschmitt 109s and clouds of flak, barely got home with a big hole in the ship's belly, one engine out, the oxygen system broken, the radio shot out, the co-pilot's controls damaged and two of our parachutes shot to ribbons."
The combat team of a Flying Fortress includes nine men pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, first and second radioman, first and second aerial engineer and photographer. The radiomen, engineers and photographer also act as gunners when attacked by enemy aircraft. The pilot, co-pilot, navigator and bombardier are the key men in the Flying Fortress and are always commissioned officers. Interdependence in the operation of a bomber reaches its highest point with these four.
The co-pilot is there to relieve the pilot in case of emergency, but his main job is to take over all technical worries operational details, checking instrument readings, operation of the retractable landing gear, flaps and propeller pitch controls. He carries the same ratings as the first pilot and has had the same training, but is usually less experienced in actual flight.
It is the navigator's responsibility to route the plane to its target, and guide it home safely, once its mission has been completed. Processes involving precise calculations are reduced to simple routine through teamwork. When the ship first takes off the pilot may want a double drift reading immediately, to determine his true ground speed. In taking such a reading the navigator must understand the pilot's flying peculiarities. How sharply does he bank? Does he want to take it on the way, or does he want it first for a starting point? The pilot and navigator must be in sympathetic accord or the trip will not be accomplished successfully.
All executives are perforce dependent upon subordinates. Especially so is the pilot of a bomber. He has no time, nor facility, for checking the navigator's calculations he must take his word and fly the course given him without question. Down in their office beneath the pilot's compartment the bombardier and navigator have their own conception of teamwork. In an eight-hour flight, the bombardier may have nothing to do for seven hours and fifty-five minutes; yet in those crucial five minutes when he is approaching the target he really will be busy, making observations and incorporating those observations into his instrument. It will be a big help if he can depend upon the navigator for a drift reading instead of having to take it himself.
Once all the settings have been incorporated into this most accurate of all calculating machines he sets his eye to the rubber eyepiece and observes the target as it moves nearer the engraved hair-lines on the lenses. He adjusts another knob until the hairlines meet at right angles. The bay doors have been opened and he has armed the bombs. His hand rests lightly on the bomb release as he directs the pilot on a course to intersect the target with the hairlines of his sight. Once the target and the hairlines intersect he releases his bombs and reports to the pilot, "Mission completed."
Very few words are spoken when the plane is approaching the target. Every man knows what he is to do and is confident that each of his team mates will do his share. Too many words spoken over the intercommunications telephone in moments of high nervous tension, and at high altitudes would probably be unintelligible and confusing. Each crew member's microphone has a button to press before speaking and the pressing of this button causes an audible click in all phones on the circuit. Orders and acknowledgments are made in a series of pre-arranged and well-memorized clicks mastered at the operational training center.
The first engineer takes care of the plane and keeps it flying mechanically. He must know every part of the giant craft intimately and where to look for every bit of the miles of electrical wiring and tubing that go into the plane.
The first engineer's battle station is in the top turret, just behind the pilot's cockpit. The second engineer aids the first engineer in any repair work necessary while in flight and mans the waist turret on one side of the fuselage. The first radio operator operates the radio equipment and goes to man the waist turret opposite the second engineer during an emergency. The second radioman relieves the first radioman in case of casualty and mans the belly cocoon turret. The cameraman sits beside the radio operator's equipment and operates his cameras through the floor to photograph the bomb hits for Intelligence. His position in battle is the tail turret.
All five enlisted specialists are trained in the Air Force specialty schools for their particular craft, then sent to gunnery schools before being assigned to an operational training center. At this operational center the enlisted crews are put together with the quartet of commissioned crew members and a process of changing, training and coordinating takes place until the crew reaches the "happy family" stage.
During this six weeks of operational training the men work together and get to know one another. The pilots have come from the advanced schools where their training up to this point has been the same as other pilots who have been sent to pursuit, interceptor. observation, and other types of duty.
At the crucial moment when the objective is sighted and coordination of the bomber team is absolutely necessary, every man in the plane is working for the bombardier with but one purpose in mind to make it possible for him to accomplish hairbreadth accuracy in his bombsight settings. Every man knows and does his job and trusts every team-mate to do his share bets his life that he will, in fact. If one fails, all fail. Despite enemy aircraft and flak, the pilot must coolly keep the plane on an even keel, maintaining the course, speed and altitude ordered by the bombardier. The co-pilot will be filling in the pilot's needs without orders. The engineer and radiomen will be manning machine gun turrets to hold off enemy aircraft; the tail gunner will be keeping them off the tail.
THE BOMBARDIER has to be right the first time he can't go back to pick up his bombs for another run if he misses, and it' s a long way home for another load. Because of this factor his training is probably more specialized for the short time he works than any other job in the army.
Before being assigned to bombardier training the student is tested for special qualifications essential to success in this job manual dexterity, so that knobs can be adjusted rapidly without fumbling; muscle control, in order to accomplish precise adjustments quickly; serial reaction, in order that a routine may be quickly followed in making those adjustments and a calm temperament that won' t rattle him in tense moments when he must function perfectly.
Having passed these necessary tests, the student bombardier wades into heavy classwork to learn the theory of bombing. During the early period he won't get more than 12 feet off the ground, and that will be on the platform of the indoor bomber trainer. Week after week he will solve the same problems time after time, adjusting knobs on his bombsight, generally coordinating his mind and movements until the speed of his reactions has increased to a point where manipulations of the bombsight dials have become almost automatic in serial relation.
On the high platform of the bomber trainer the student bombardier gets his first introduction to the famed secret bombsights, the Norden and Sperry. An instructor sits beside the student on the platform, while the bomber trainer wheels around the floor that is laid out in a simulated terrain of enemy ground. A traveling box, the "bug", is sometimes used as a target for training in bombing moving objects. As a student becomes more precise and skillful, he is given drift problems to solve, with the bug heading on a tangent across the trainer's course. The bug moves at an angle while the trainer moves ahead, simulating the same condition as though the plane were being drifted in a crosswind. The student must set his trainer course in an arc in order to correct for the cross-drift of the bug. When the newness is worn off the bombsights for the student and he has become familiar with their use, he starts his flight training. With an instructor beside him in the nose of a Beech AT-11, he receives both day and night bombing practice. His objectives are wooden shacks in the center of circular target areas.
After nine weeks of training the student makes his record runs for classification as a first, second, or third class bombardier. In formation bombing, a first class bombardier rides in the lead plane to aid other bombardiers in releasing their bombs at the right point.
The last three weeks of training are usually the most interesting. Classroom and ground work have been reduced to practically nothing. Most of the time is spent in aerial combat training. Attack runs are made at low altitudes with bumpy ground air, simulating antiaircraft explosions. Short runs and turns are practiced that give him as little as twenty or thirty seconds to set his data in the bombsight and release his bomb load. He dodges in and out of clouds to lay his eggs, and he learns to let his bombs go in string (one after the other) and in salvo (all at once), as well as to lay one at a time on successive targets. He bombs from high levels using oxygen and from levels so low that he can't use his sight, but kicks off by eye alone.
Graduated after twelve weeks and commissioned a second lieutenant, he goes to the operational training base for crew assignment.
THE PLANE must be guided to the target before the bombardier can go to work therefore the training of the navigator is equally important. He is taught to guide his plane to its destination by three different methods .pilotage, dead-reckoning and celestial. In order they become more difficult, and as difficulty increases, more reliable. Pilotage is the easiest to perform, celestial is a science and most accurate, requiring the most training. An expert celestial navigator can set a transoceanic course with a degree of error involving less than four minutes of flying time.
The first phase of a navigator's training is the mastery of the instruments of his trade and the placing of his trust in them implicitly. The Army teaches this primary phase in four progressive stages.
The first stage involves instruction on dummy replicas of the instruments themselves blown up plywood models that make easier the demonstrations of settings on the compass, drift meter, and aircraft computer. This latter instrument is on the principle of a rotary slide rule that solves the mathematical equations. The drift meter model shows the grid through which the navigator watches the ground below the plane. If the terrain below does not track parallel with the grid, the plane is being drifted by the wind. The grid is then adjusted until it does track. Graduated scale readings on the edge of the instrument thus indicate the exact drift of the plane. The second stage of instrument training involves the solution of exhaustive navigational problems through the use of the instruments themselves in demonstrational setups.
The third, and last ground stage of instrument training, is dead reckoning practice in the "Navitrainer", a machine similar to the indoor bombardier trainer. This machine, mounting a canopied navigator's post simulates actual flight. It is set to roll on the floor over a map at ten inches per hour, corresponding to a high altitude flight at 160 knots. The map is set to move sidewise to present a drift problem. The fourth phase of instrument training is an application of lessons learned, but is applied in the air while in actual flight.
Pilotage is safe and sure and involves no guesswork, but is useless over the sea and in bad weather, or over unmapped terrain, for it entails passing over visible predetermined landmarks. In pilotage the navigator rules his course on a map of the terrain over which he expects to pass. As the ruled line crosses landmarks towns, water tanks, railroads, highways, etc the navigator circles these marker points on his map as pilotage points. Once in the air the navigator instructs and corrects the pilot's course as these points appear.
The trick in pilotage is to envisage the terrain from a study of the map. The general pattern of a town must be visualized because all towns of equal size are similar from the air. Many individual points must be noted so as to avoid error through similarity. Details adjacent to pilotage points are sure checks river bends, race tracks, bridges, dams, etc.
Pilots, when flying a single engine ship without a navigator, rely on this method of navigation, as it requires only a map. Dead reckoning is log-book navigation and entails almost constant use of instruments. It is easiest to explain by saying "if the navigator can determine where he has been, he can figure where he is going and when he can expect to arrive." (ETA to navigators estimated time of arrival)
The ETA figure is taken over water in regular stages; first the compass bearing is noted, a smoke bomb is then dropped on the water for a surface marker to compute drift. Air speed, altitude, air temperature and chronometer are next checked. All data is incorporated into the aircraft flight computer which solves the mathematical equation. The result is then noted on the chart. After two or more points are marked on the chart they are connected by a dotted line which indicates the past course of the plane and distance traveled in a certain time, thus making possible an ETA.
Celestial navigation is the oldest method known to man for locating himself. Beneath every star in the heavens is a known point of earth at any given time. The known positions of fifty navigational stars and their substellar points at all times are listed in tables for the navigator. By measuring the height above the horizon of any two of these celestial bodies, the navigator notes their substellar points by reference to his chronometer and almanac tables. These, taken in relation to his dead reckoning position, will fix his position within a fifteen-mile area four minutes of flying time. Because the Fortress is such a well armed bomber defensively there is no precedent on which to draw a comparison of the amazing performance of this plane in combat with enemy fighters. The official count of German fighter planes shot down by Fortress gunners over Europe since August is now more than 200. The Fortress, manned by nine well-trained, aggressive American youngsters is a hard nut to crack. Ask the Japs or Nazis.