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How to build railguns and coilguns, continued...
Early Efforts to Build Electromagnetic Superweapons

The first large EM gun test was suggestive of tribulations to come. In 1903 a crowd gathered at the Festival Hall at the University of Oslo, Norway to witness a firing of K.B. Birkeland’s 6.5 cm caliber, 4-m coilgun. He had successfully tested it twice during the previous year, and promised the audience that his latest gun would fire without flash or noise. Despite this, a short circuit caused it to self-destruct explosively. Birkeland never fired another railgun.

During World War II, Murphy’s Law (if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong) struck again as a German team built and tested their first large-scale railgun. This 2-m long gun accelerated 10 grams to 1.08 km/s (3,888 km per hour or 2,333 miles per hour). This was only as fast as a rifle bullet, and not nearly as good, because this railgun melted its projectiles. The Nazi government promptly terminated the project, as shooting melted bullets seemed rather silly. 

Japanese researchers took the coilgun route. These scientists told their military leaders they could accelerate a 2 kg projectile to 2 km/s (7,200 km per hour). But reality struck and they only achieved 335 m/s (a measly 1,200 km per hour or 724 miles per hour), too slow to compete with ordinary guns.

From 1951-1954, Britain’s Royal Aircraft Establishment tried to better the German railgun, launching projectiles of up to 4.5 kg, but only reached 457 m/s. During 1957-1957 in the U.S., a team at Zenith Radio Research Laboratory used a coilgun to accelerate projectiles weighing up to 86 gm. However, they fell far short of the Japanese record, reaching a peak velocity of only ~ 200 m/s.

It seemed like the harder they tried, the wimpier their guns became.

At the 1957 Hypervelocity Impact Symposium, researchers with the U.S. Air Force concluded that “it is not likely that electromagnetic gun techniques will be successful in the near future.” The supporting technologies of pulsed power, materials science, and analytical tools were too immature, and the competing technologies too successful. It was the end, yet again, of research in the field.

Back in the mid-1970s, nothing about Dr. Harry Fair hinted that he would someday lead a crash program on electromagnetic launch (EML). Back then, he was leading a team of solid state physicists at the U.S. Army’s Picatinny Arsenal. Their job was to help the U.S. Army build better guns. One of these projects was to double the range of the 155 mm howitzer without changing its hardware. Its propellant, back then, was single base nitrocellulose. Other researchers had developed a more powerful triple base propellant consisting of nitrocellulose, nitroglycerine and nitroguanidine. This gave the howitzer the extra range, but at the cost of raising the temperature of the combustion gasses. This, in turn, caused the gun barrel steel to become softer. Becaused of this, instead of being good for thousands of rounds, these barrels wore out after a few hundred shots. The user community said they couldn’t live with this.

You can get yourself killed note: I won’t provide links to any explosives manufacturing sites because following written instructions is a good way to get yourself  killed. There are many safety problems that you have to understand. Way too many. If you forget or don't know any of these safety issues, sooner or later you will blow yourself up. Trust me on this, I learned about explosives with plenty of hands-on help from experts, and only after studying plenty of college chemistry. (You can read about my explosives adventures in the book Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly Over the Edge.) One of my friends had the bright idea of using potassium chlorate and red phosphorous powder in a homemade cannon. When the doctors got done with him he looked like a mummy, wrapped all over with bandages. He's lucky to be alive, even though he's missing some body appendages.

Evil Genius Tip: If you really, truly want to become an awesome bomb maker, the best place to study is New Mexico Tech, which offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in explosives engineering. They once built and exploded a bomb so big it simulated anuclear explosion (many, many tons of a fuel/air explosion plus lots and lots of thermite).

Next: Dr. Fair's Nutty Ideas project --->>


       © 2013 Carolyn Meinel