During WW2, some aircraft had gun cameras that activated whenever the guns fired, so that people on the ground could evaluate performance and help with kill ratios and other statistics. These were actual video cameras, using film.

I want to know, where were the guns cameras mounted? And how much performance penalty did they incur, in terms of weight and drag added? I cannot imagine that they were actually inside the cockpit, because video cameras back then were big things.

  • 14
    $\begingroup$ "movie cameras" not "video cameras" $\endgroup$ – A. I. Breveleri Jan 20 '20 at 7:00
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Video is an electronic medium... $\endgroup$ – J... Jan 20 '20 at 13:10

It was a small 16mm film camera usually mounted, in single engine fighters, in the inboard area of the wing, within the leading edge behind a little window (the P-38's is also about the same location between the center pod and left engine) or in the nose in twins.

Look carefully at a lot of gun camera film on something like a P-51 when the sun is lighting up the prop from behind and you can see that the camera is viewing through the lower left quadrant of the propeller arc, being just a couple feet to the right of the left side wing guns. Most fighters only had up to 30 seconds of continuous firing time in ammunition, so it didn't need to have a really large film supply.

On some systems the camera could be set to run only during firing or could be run independently and there was a little flag that appeared in the upper left corner of the film image and lifted out of the way when the guns were firing and dropped into view then they weren't.

A lot of pilots started to do away with tracer ammunition when lead computing gyro gunsights started to appear in 1944, so often the little flag is the only way you can tell the pilot is firing other than bullet strikes (and vibration from the guns sometimes) when you watch gun cam movies where no tracer is being used.

The weight penalty was negligible, only weighing a few pounds, and the drag penalty was also negligible, being buried in the leading edge behind a clear panel, like a small landing light.

  • $\begingroup$ Does your first sentence apply to all aircraft, or to a particular country's air force? It's not clear how inclusive you mean to be. $\endgroup$ – Toby Speight Jan 20 '20 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ Most of the details would apply to US/UK fighters. German fighters similar as per Peter's answer. Not quite sure what the Japanese and Soviets did. $\endgroup$ – John K Jan 20 '20 at 13:05

German fighters used the BSK 16 (Ballistische Schussmess Kamera [Ballistic Shot Measurement Camera] 16mm) which was mounted in the wing root in case of single-engine aircraft. Twins would carry the camera usually in the fuselage nose. It contained black&white film material for a maximum of 200 seconds of filming.

Activation was either together with the guns or by a separate switch. Another switch would control the heating element for the camera and a control light in the cockpit would indicate camera operation.

Since the cameras were fully enclosed within the structure, performance was only affected by their additional mass.

Robot II camera in the wing leading edge of a FW-190 A3

Robot II camera in the wing leading edge of a FW-190 A3 (picture source)

BSK 16 being mounted in the nose of a Bf-110

BSK 16 being mounted in the nose of a Bf-110 (picture source)


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