TAMPA (FOX 13) - In the workshop behind his home in Tampa, Dennis Cole pieces together a device with quite a story.
"This was very secret," he said as he peered down at the black metal device on his workbench.
He's an aviation historian who's restored dozens of World War II-era Norden bombsight. The devices were the computers of their day with gears instead of circuit boards.
"It had gear ratios that you put in -- different inputs based on your weapons, airspeed and altitude," he explained.
When U.S. bombers like the famous B-17's arrived near their targets, the pilot turned it over to the bombardier.
"He would actually take control of the aircraft and fly the plane simply by moving the bomb sight and keeping the crosshairs on the target," Cole continued.
And even though a crewman might say, "bombs away," no one was pushing a button.
"The bombsight decided when to release the bombs," said Cole. "When it decided everything was right, it dropped them."
Cole says the Norden sights were so valuable and secret that crewmen were ordered to destroy the sights rather than allow them to fall into enemy hands.
The bombsights are part of a history exhibit Cole is putting together for the MacDill Air Force Base Airfest this weekend.