387th Mission Planning Progress

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3 weeks 4 days ago #16965 by Westcoast
You may have noticed that I have yet to post any flights for Phase 4 of the 387thBomb Group project.  This is the opening phase (Summer and Fall of 1943) of the 387th Bomb Group's flights in the European Theater of Operations.  Actually, the first few flights will probably be training flights over England.  These were necessary to familiarize new pilots with the terrible English weather, the local landscape, navaids (such as they were) and alternate fields, as well as in the fine art of formation flying, in which they had little (and you have no) experience.  Most of this we can adequately simulate in FSX. 

As I read more about the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces operting out of England, I have come to understand just how bad the English weather was for flying.  Returning aircraft, often badly damaged and with wounded aboard, were frequently unable to even find, much less land at their home base.  Aircraft would fly around for hours (really) looking for a break in the "undercast" to allow them to get low enough to find any airstrip.  Sometimes they ran out of fuel in the search and would have to bail out.  However, when they had casualties aboard, which they frequently did, this was not an option.  So, they were often left to grope their way down through the weather hoping to see the ground before they hit it.  If they could make radio contact with their base, they could request that flare pots be set out to help guide the way to the airstrip.  If you have been following this thread, you know that one of my devlopement missions ("Snatching Defeat fro the Jaws of Victory") ended in tragedy when I overran the runway with inadequate fuel for a go-around.  My reading indicates that there were some low power radio aids developed to help guide allied aircraft back to their base and I have considered trying to develop something like that for our pilots so we won't need so many replacement crews, but that's some way down the develpment queue.

I have also come to recognize the importance of tight formation flying.  This was needed for two reasons.  First, it creates interlocking fields of fire for defense against German interceptor aircraft.  With as many as ten guns in each bomber, the 50 cal. machine gun fire was so intense within a tight bomber formation that interceptor aircraft generally made a single fast pass through the formation in the hope of hitting something before they were shot down by defensive fire.  Generally they prefered to attack isolated wounded aircraft, which could not maintain the speed and altitude necessary to stay in formation and were left to try to jettison their bomb load and run for home, hoping not to get noticed and picked off on the way back.  Tight formation flying required great skill and great strength.  They said you could tell an experieinced pilot by the muscle development of his left arm, which he used to control the aircraft (no hydraulics) while he used the other hand to control the throttle.  Usually, the left seat guy (aka., pilot or aircraft commander) was consumed with the task of keeping formation and left the management of the engines, the navigation, bomb aiming and release, defensive fire, and radio communication to other members of his crew.

But a tight formation was essential for a second reason.  Rather than have each bombardier in the formation operate his own Norden bombsight, the best bombadiers were assigned to the lead aircraft and his wingman.  When the lead aircraft dropped his bombs, that triggered an "intervalometer" (timer) on each aircraft which counted down the predeterined interval necessary to release the bombs at the same point in space, and a less experienced "toglier" would release the bombs.  Thus the "pattern" produced by the bombs dropped by the whole formation - usually a Group of three 16 aircraft Squadrons, would be determined by the thightness of the formation.  A single bomber would probably miss the target, but a formation of 48 aircraft, with a good lead bombardier" produced a fearsome barrage.  When formation bombing was used to help the British and Americans break out of the initial Normady beachheads (Caen and St. Lo), German commanders reported that their troops who were not killed outright, were driven mad by a barrage that seemed to last forever.  Unfortunately, such concentrated firepower, so close to the front lines, led to a lot of friendly fire casualties too, including U.S. Lt. Gen Lesley McNair.

Not only was it difficult to fly formation, but they were hard to form too.  A Group would depart their base and the lead aircraft would fly wide, sweeping turns, with each succeeding echelon flying a tighter, faster climb until they were assembled into their "Box" formation. If they had to penetrate weather, flying solely on instruments, the formation was slower and more dangerous.  Even after the formation was gathered, the Group needed to meet its initial fighter rendezvous, usually over the channel.  For the heavies (B-17s and B-24s) on the long missions deep into Germany, there would be multiple meet-up with different groups of fighter escorts, sometimes as many as three.  So, missing the first rendezvous was a problem, but they couldn't wait for fear of missing the next.  The B-26 missions were not so long range, but they still often had escorts (usually "Spits"), but they would make one complete circle at the rendezvous and head on, fighters or no.

So formation flying is just one of the realistic problems faced by the B-26 pilots that we wn't be able to simulate for this project, but it is far from the only one.  The others are Flak and Interceptors.  I will have more to say about those in a subsequent post.

For the moment, I have assembled a selection of early 387th BG missions which will be assigned flights.  Often, the 387th visited these targets more than once.  So, we will encourage you to try these missions, score your bombing accuracy, and then refly them (if you want) in the hopes of getting better weather, or doing better navigation or more accurate bombing.  Currently I am deeply involved in trying to enhance FSX/P3D scenery in order to make the targets more realistic and more easily identifiable.  This is hard work and I'm having to learn a lot about FSX scenery that I didn't know.  Fortunately, John - who understands this stuff - has exhibited his characteristic forebearance and agreed to help me out.  I'm not sure I am a good enough student to succeed at this, but I'll give you the best targets I can.  Fortunately, nobody has gotten to England yet, but one is almost here, so I have to get going.  Stay tuned.

Mike

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3 weeks 1 day ago #16968 by airhogg
Mike:
Just completed Phase 3 of your 387th mission. I didn`t think l was going to get this far when l started but as I continued with all the flight missions, you had me hooked. Phase 1, was a little shaky but manage to muddle through it.
Phase 2, was my favorite. Dropping those M117 bombs at different altitude and hearing the explosion 30 seconds afterwards, was the high light of this missions. l did quite a few practice runs. When it was time to do the actual bombing flight, since I didn`t have an active bombardier station, l used landmarks for markers. It came down to timing: Where and when to drop. l think I did alright.
Phase 3 believe it or not, was my biggest challenge. Flying all that distance using NDB`s and heading only, was mentally exhausting. But after the first flight, l learn from my errors. l got lost near the east coast, so l flew North for Langley AB.I knew it was on the South end of a peninsula according to my aeronautical chart...(my Plan-G). So, for all my other flights, so this didn`t happen again, l use as many NDB`s with a wide range signal, along my flight route. l may have to zigzag my way there
but, I`II get there. Surprisingly it worked. The only thing about this is, you have to monitor your flight from the start to the finish. If you have inclement weather along the way which l did frequently, it just adds to your task. (How l missed my GPS) Anyway, l arrive at EGSX airport, parked my plane under the trees, now waiting for future orders of when to fly again. In the meantime, l may have to visit John`s adventure pack about the bombing of the German Battleship Tirpitz again. l aching to drop a few more bombs on her with the B-26 Marauder just for fun...

439-Larry

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3 weeks 1 day ago #16969 by Westcoast
Hi Larry,

I'm very glad to hear that you have enjoyed and been challenged by the 387th BG flights. It's too bad that your B-26 doesn't have the bombardier's position in the nose, as that would probably help the accuracy of your bombing. Is there some reason you didn't use the Martin Schupe B-26 that I referenced?

Long distance navigation with no radio navaids other than NDBs, particularly over water or at night, is indeed tricky. As I practiced it, I got better, but you're right, it requires constant attention. I used he winds aloft information provided by the simulator, something the WWII pilots didn't have. They did have some sort of drift meter, which allowed them to determine the speed and direction of the aircraft's ground track, which could then be compared with its heading and indicated airspeed (corrected for pressure altitude) and used to determine the direction and speed of the winds aloft, if the navigator could see the ground. Learning to use the E6B aviation "computer" allowed me to do these calculations rapidly and make pretty accurate landfalls for most of my transatlantic ferry flights.

The problem in combat was even worse. Because of the way that German Flak was aimed at bombers passing overhead, pilots had to make frequent, unpredictable changes in heading to avoid being shot down. So, the navigator had to keep close track of these, both to vector the pilot towards the IP (initial point) for the bomb run, and then to give the pilot a vector for home after he pulled off the target. The need for attention to detail, speed and accuracy in these tasks is the reason that the most intelligent aviation cadets (determined by examinations) were selected for navigator training. The second best went to bombardier's school, as they had to learn to operate the complex Norden bombsight.
In trying to develop the skills to do dead reckoning navigation, I suffered from the absence of big, large scale plotting maps of the sort that must have been available to USAAF navigators and I have not been able to learn much about them or find a contemporary source. I've considered trying to tape together charts produced by Plan G as a substitute.

Just today, with John's help, I finally made a minor breakthrough in learning to acquire and place scenery objects in FSX scenery which will allow me to build more realistic bombing objectives for the 387th missions. I have a good deal to learn yet, and the work is slow and painstaking, but I think this will enable me to provide targets which can be identified from the air and bombing runs that can be evaluated for accuracy. I'd like to combine these missions with more detailed history of the 387th BG, and of the progress of the overall allied war effort in western Europe

Look for the first "tranche" of Phase Four flights to be coming out soon.

I see that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are developing a new TV miniseries for HBO titled Masters of the Air about the Eighth Air Force. It is being produced by the same people who did Band of Brothers and The Pacific, so it should be very good.

Mike

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