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Air Progress: Development of Gun Turrets
February 1949 Air Trails Hobbies for Young Men

February 1949 Air Trails
February 1949 Air Trails Cover - Airplanes and RocketsTable of Contents

These pages from vintage modeling magazines like Flying Aces, Air Trails, American Modeler, American Aircraft Modeler, Young Men, Flying Models, Model Airplane News, R/C Modeler, captured the era. All copyrights acknowledged.

Pilots of the very first airplanes used for military purposes simply fired pistols and rifles from their open cockpits toward ground targets, and even other airborne targets (airplanes and balloons). Soon thereafter, machine guns were mounted to the upper wing and/or wing struts of biplanes. Once synchronization mechanisms were developed to permit firing through the propeller, guns were mounted directly in front of the cockpit, on the fuselage, giving the pilot the advantage of directly sighting for firing. When the target is large and/or the size of the ammunition is large enough to inflict significant damage regardless of where it hits, then being able to draw a visual bead on the sweet spot is not as important. Next came separate gunners who were stationed above, below, in front of, and behind the pilot, depending on the design and size of the ship. The gunner had freedom of movement to move the gun around relative to the way the airplane was pointing, and he was not encumbered with having to fly the plane at the same time.  As the speed of airplanes increased and hardening against gunfire advanced, larger projectiles and the guns which fired them were required, and soon they were too heavy for the gunner to support and manipulate, so articulate mounts were developed. By the time World War II came around, aircraft, armament, and mechanics were sophisticated enough to facilitate power-assisted guns that easily move the hardware according to the gunner's command. That relieved not just the weight of the gun, but also compensated for the multiplied effort needed to counter G-forces which could cause unbearable effort on the part of the gunner. Negative G's were just as bad. A wildly maneuvering airplane undergoes constant changes in G forces, which are difficult enough for the human passenger to accommodate without needing to also facilitate the effects on the guns. Master artist Douglas Rolfe provided this group of drawings representing the evolution of turrets. It appeared in a 1948 issue of Air Trails magazine.

Air Progress: Development of Gun Turrets

Air Progress: Development of Gun Turrets, February 1949 Air Trails - Airplanes and RocketsBy Douglas Rolfe

The very first military airplanes had no provisions for armament, except of the most primitive kind. During the early days of World War I, when the average top speed of even the fastest planes was not more than 80 mph it was possible to employ primitive fixed gun mounts, but as the war progressed and. air speeds mounted the fixed mount was found inadequate. This led to the invention of the Scarff ring, a manually operated rotating mount which permitted the gunner to swing his guns in a complete circle and elevate or depress them with the minimum of exertion.

As air speeds again mounted it was found that open gun mounts were as useless as the old fixed mounts. Slip-stream pressure alone made it difficult for the gunner to man his guns with accuracy. This difficulty led to the development of enclosed mounts, many of which were merely blisters with manually operated guns such as the Armstrong Whitworth turret.

In the old days open sights were deemed adequate. Then appeared the ring-bead sight and, later, a sight which was supposed to provide compensation for wind and drift. The reflector sight, developed during the last war, is still generally employed but the remarkable increase in air speeds since the war suggests that this form of sight is obsolescent.

Typical Scarff Type Ring

Basic element of most early manually operated gun turrets.

Frazer-Nash Semi-Enclosed Armored Turret

This hydraulically operated turret appeared in 1936. It afforded the gunner some protection against the slipstream and, in lesser degree, from enemy gunfire.

World's First Genuine Power-Operated Turret

Produced in 1934 the Bolton Paul Turret, shown here mounted in the nose of a Bolton Paul Overstrand Medium Bomber, had pneumatically operated turning mechanism.

Early Type Bubble Turret

This single-gun manually operated Armstrong Whitworth Turret was actually little more than a semi-enclosed modification of the old Scarff Ring. It was obsolete long before 1939.

Improved Twin-Gun Bubble Type Top Turret

Completely mechanized turrets of this type were first introduced during World War 2. Electro-hydraulically operated, with servo-fed ammunition belts and reflector sights, they revolutionized turret design.

Typical U.S. Type Twin-Gun Turret Assembly

Top Turrets such as this protected our attack planes and medium bombers from enemy attack in last war.

B-29 Remotely Controlled Turret Installation

General arrangement of the forward upper and lower gun turrets which are aimed, trained, and fired by remote control.

Typical British Type Multi-Gun Tail Turret

Formidable batteries of machine guns mounted in this manner put a sting into the tail of the heavy bombers used by the Royal Air force over Germany.



Posted May 11, 2024

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