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Prior to the introduction of electronic means of navigation the only way to fix an aircraft's position at night was by taking star sights using a sextant in the same manner as that used by marine navigators for hundreds of years on board ships. To do this requires a 360-degree view of the horizon and the astrodome was devised to allow an uninterrupted view of the sky from horizon to horizon.
Astrodomes were prominent on multi-engined aircraft of the Second World War, such as the Liberator and Dakota, as a considerable part of their operations and other flying were carried out at night. Similar astrodomes were used for sighting and firing remotely-operated gun turrets, as with the B-29 Superfortress which used a trio of them in the rear fuselage for its quartet of remotely-operated fuselage-mount turrets — the single FDL 131Z forward remote dorsal turret on most later examples of the Heinkel He 177A was sighted from an astrodome located forward and offset to starboard just behind the cockpit, which rotated to traverse the turret it controlled.
- astrodome, definition at Webster's Online Dictionary
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