the Norden bombsight, an extremely sophisticated analog computer that, at $8,000, cost more than twice the price of the average American home. On a bombing run with the Norden sight, Louie would visually locate the target, make calculations, and feed information on air speed, altitude, wind, and other factors into the device. The bombsight would then take over flying the plane, follow a precise path to the target, calculate the drop angle, and release the bombs at the optimal moment. Once the bombs were gone, Louie would yell “Bombs away!” and the pilot would take control again. Norden bombsights...
In the Army Air Forces, or AAF,* there were 52,651 stateside aircraft accidents over the course of the war, killing 14,903 personnel. Though some of these personnel were probably on coastal patrol and other duties, it can be presumed that the vast majority were trainees, killed without ever seeing a combat theater. In the three months in which Phil’s men trained as a crew, 3,041 AAF planes—more than 33 per day—met with accidents stateside, killing nine men per day. In subsequent months, death tallies exceeding 500 were common. In August 1943, 590 airmen would die stateside, 19 per day.
When they first went up over Hawaii, the men were surprised to learn that their arctic gear hadn’t been issued in error. At ten thousand feet, even in the tropics, it could be sharply cold, and occasionally the bombardier’s greenhouse windows froze. Only the flight deck up front was heated, so the men in the rear tramped around in fleece jackets, fur-lined boots, and, sometimes, electrically heated suits. The ground crewmen used the bombers as flying iceboxes, hiding soda bottles in them and retrieving them, ice-cold, after missions.
In World War II, 35,933 AAF planes were lost in combat and accidents.