The Honeywell C-1 Autopilot was an electronic-mechanical system designed to reduce the amount of fatigue that pilots felt while hand flying the aircraft for long periods by automatically flying an airplane in straight and level flight. It could also be used to fly the aircraft through gentle maneuvers such as banks, turns and slight altitude changes. When coupled with the Norden bombsight, it created a stable platform that was necessary to bomb targets accurately from high altitude.
This autopilot consisted of two spinning gyroscopes located in cases attached to the airplane. One gyroscope, called the Flight Gyro, was located near the aircraft’s center of gravity and detected changes in roll and pitch. The Directional Gyro, located in the bombsight stabilizer, detected changes in yaw. Using a series of electrical signals, the C-1 Autopilot controlled the aircraft with servos connected to the control surfaces of the aircraft. Either the pilot or the bombardier could control the aircraft.
The C-1 Autopilot system was used extensively in WW2-era bomber aircraft of the US Army Air Forces, including the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator and the B-29 Superfortress. The control panel would typically be installed at the pedestal between the pilot and co-pilot. The C-1 revolutionized precision bombing in the war effort, and was ultimately used on the Enola Gay and Bockscar B-29 bombers that dropped atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, bringing the end of hostilities of WW2.
We have a proud local connection in that these panels were manufactured by Honeywell here in the Twin Cities. Prior to WWII, Honeywell had gone through a successful period of growth and global expansion in the technology sector. With the outbreak of war, Minneapolis-Honeywell was approached by the US military for engineering and manufacturing products and included the C-1 autopilot, the turbo supercharger along with tank periscopes, camera stabilizers and more accurate fuel gauges, among other things. During the war and post-war years, Honeywell manufactured over 35,000 autopilots and thousands of the Norden bombsights under contract.
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