What is a Bomber?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: David Lloyd, Greg Goebel, Theresa Martinez
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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A bomber is a military aircraft which has been designed and equipped specifically for the purpose of dropping bombs onto ground and submarine targets. In contrast, a fighter is an aircraft which is used in air to air combat, equipped to attack other planes. Historically, bombers were highly specialized aircraft; in the modern era, the distinction between bombers and fighters is often less clear, as aerial combat is much less common than it once was.

The credit for the first aerial bomb belongs to the Italians, who dropped grenades from planes in 1911. In the First World War, a variety of aircraft including blimps were used to drop bombs, and in the Second World War, the bomber came to be a very important tactical tool, with many militaries having an assortment of bombers in their library to choose from, from long-range tactical bombers to close air support bombers, used to help troops on the ground. Many bombings of the Second World War are quite famous, thanks to the devastation they caused. London, for example, was heavily damaged by repeated bombings, courtesy of the Germans, and the city of Dresden was also seriously damaged in an extensive firebombing in 1945.


There are a number of different styles of bomber. A tactical bomber is a bomber which is designed to carry a significant payload to a major and often distant target, such as a munitions depot or manufacturing facilities where objects of military use are being produced; some of these aircraft are capable of carrying nuclear weapons for strategic nuclear strikes. A tactical bomber is used for short-range sorties, dropping bombs on various locations in close proximity to the bomber's base. Close air support bombers are used to assist ground troops when they are facing heavy opposition. Dive bombers, now largely obsolete, would dive towards their targets before releasing bombs to ensure greater accuracy.

The payload on a bomber varies, with many modern bombers carrying an assortment of weapons. Thanks to the extremely sophisticated technology used to design bombs today, the bombs can be programmed to seek specific destinations, using GPS tracking and various monitoring devices to lock in on a target. Precision bombing is used to isolate very specific targets, which can be useful in urban environments, where people want to target structures of military importance without hurting civilians. Alas, such technology is not always perfect, and a few notable gaffes have been noted with intense interest by the media.

Many modern aircraft are fighter-bombers, equipped to drop bombs and engage enemy aircraft, in the event that they encounter them. These aircraft have flight crews which vary widely in size, depending on the age and style of the aircraft, and they are supported by extensive ground crews who keep the planes functional, check on their payloads, fuel them, and perform other tasks.


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