Ball turret

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Ball Turret
Air Ministry Second World War Official Collection CI1028.jpg
A crewman poses with the Sperry ball turret of a Royal Air Force B-24, Burma, c.1943-1945
Service history
Used by United States, United Kingdom
Wars World War II
Caliber .50 BMG

A ball turret was a particular form of spherical-form, altazimuth mount gun turret, fitted to some American-built aircraft during World War 2.

The ball turret's spherical shell accommodated the gunner together with his guns and sights; ammunition was fed in from the outside. The most common one was manufactured by the Sperry Corporation.

Sperry ball turret[edit]

Interior of the Sperry ball turret of a preserved B-17 (2008)

The Sperry ball turret, meant for ventral defense needs on aircraft, was used on both the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator as well as the United States Navy's Liberator, the PB4Y-1.

The Sperry ball turret was very small in order to reduce drag, and was typically operated by the shortest man of the crew. To enter the turret, the turret was moved until the guns were pointed straight down. The gunner placed his feet in the heel rests and then crouched down into a fetal position. He would then put on a safety strap, close and lock the turret door. The gunner sat in the turret with his back and head against the rear wall, his hips at the bottom, and his legs held in mid-air by two footrests on the front wall. This left him positioned with his eyes roughly level with the pair of light-barrel Browning AN/M2 .50 caliber machine guns which extended through the entire turret, and located to either side of the gunner. The cocking handles were located too close to the gunner to be operated easily, so a cable was attached to the handle through pulleys to a handle near the front of the turret. Small ammo boxes rested on the top of the turret and the remaining ammo belts were stowed in the already cramped turret by means of an elaborate feed chute system. A reflector sight was hung from the top of the turret, positioned roughly between the gunner's feet.

The turret was directed by two hand control grips with firing buttons similar to a one-button joy stick. The left foot was used to control the reflector sight range reticule. The right foot operated a push-to-talk intercom switch. The turret's was normally electrically powered in azimuth and altitude. A detachable hand crank was available for backup, but this could only be operated from the outside of the turret - in the event of a power failure, another crewman would crank the turret into the vertical position to allow the gunner to exit.[1]

On the B-17 the turret was close to the ground, but had enough clearance for takeoff and landing. However, the gunner did not enter the turret until well into the air, in case of landing gear failure. During take-off and landing, the turret had to be positioned with its guns horizontal, pointing aft. As the guns had to be vertical before the gunner could enter or leave the turret, a set of external controls were fitted so the turret could be repositioned while unoccupied.[2]

In the case of the B-24 the Liberator's tricycle landing gear design required that the turret mount be made upwardly retractable into the lower fuselage while the aircraft was on the ground, since with the ball turret deployed for operation, the shell of the turret would be too close to the ground. For both aircraft types, there was no room inside for a parachute, which was left in the cabin above the turret. A few gunners wore a chest parachute.

Erco ball turret[edit]

An Erco ball turret
Erco Ball turret, on display at National Museum of Naval Aviation, FL.

The Erco ball turret was the bow installation in the Navy's Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberator and PB4Y-2 Privateer airplanes. It served a double purpose, taking care of any bow attacks on the Liberator as well as being used for strafing in anti-submarine warfare. Since this turret is of the ball type, the gunner moves with his guns and sight in elevation and azimuth as he moves his control handles. It is a relative of the Martin 250SH bow turret of the PBM-3 twin-engined patrol flying boat and has many points of similarity in design and action.

Popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Kenneth Cleveland Drinnon (2004). Wings of Tru Love: A WW II B17 Ball-turret Gunner Memoir. Xlibris Corporation. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-4653-9776-8. 
  2. ^ Kenneth Cleveland Drinnon (2004). Wings of Tru Love: A WW II B17 Ball-turret Gunner Memoir. Xlibris Corporation. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-4653-9776-8. 

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