Ask Foghorn: Gyroscopes for Guns?

Kurt writes:

I’ve always been doing photography and I remember there was a gyroscope that you could attach to say a Mamiya RB67 (which was a big pig of a camera) and handhold this at a slow shutter speed. Even though the gyroscope added even more weight, the added stability more than offset this. So the question is, do they make gyroscopes for rifles? If not someone should and make loads of money.

Yes, yes they do. But first, the why and the how.

Shooting from a solid firing position is an absolute must for placing rounds effectively on target. That’s what makes the prone position the most accurate — it provides the most stability and keeps the rifle from flopping about. The more the rifle moves, the less accurate your rounds will be.

Getting a solid firing position when your feet are firmly planted on solid ground is relatively easy. But getting a solid firing position when you’re in a moving vehicle is damn near impossible, especially when its a helicopter. Not only do you have to account for the known movement of the platform, but also anticipate any turbulence or change in direction.

That’s where the humble gyroscope comes in.

A gyroscope is really nothing more than a fast-spinning plate of metal, but the effect of that spinning is amazing. It creates something called “angular momentum,” which causes the gyroscope to be resistant to changes in orientation. In other words, when you move the device it keeps pointing in the same direction. Its this same principle that we tap into when we use rifling to spin a projectile and try to keep it on target.

For shooters, keeping your gun pointed in the same direction no matter what’s going on with the platform is exactly what you want. And because of the ability for the gyroscope to maintain its orientation, ever since the 1960′s they have been built into a number of aerial firing platforms to help the gunners stay on target.

While most of the stabilizers designed specifically for firearms are only available for military and law enforcement, there is an option available to the civilian shooter: get a kit and build a system yourself.

Kenyon Labs sells gyroscopic stabilizers and stabilizer kits designed primarily for use with photography (as our reader mentioned), but I know that these have been successfully integrated into weapons platforms for civilian shooters before. The main obstacle to this is the cost, as the starter kit runs about $3,000.

But if you have the money, the benefits of stabilizing your rifle with a gyroscope are definite and obvious. As long as you don’t have to carry it very far, that is.

[Email your firearms-related questions to “Ask Foghorn” via guntruth@me.com. Click here to browse previous posts]

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

10 Responses to Ask Foghorn: Gyroscopes for Guns?

  1. avatarjwm says:

    for me shooting is mostly about the fun and fellowship. some of these toys appear to make that fun hobby into work. too many bells and whistles and you spend more time fine tuning the gadgets than shooting. which is fine if that’s your thing. it ain’t mine.

  2. avataraaronw says:

    James Cameron’s Aliens and the first Nemesis film featured machine guns mounted on Steadicam rigs – cool idea – not really gyro-stabilizied, as far as I know, but an interesting idea, nonetheless…

  3. avatarRambeast says:

    Wind changes at altitude, the blast coming off of the chopper’s blades, and unless the shooter is mounted with a gyro too…this system will have a minimal impact on accuracy. Fifty grand a unit for almost no effective improvement is pissing in the wind for this bunch of snake oil salesmen.

    Now, mount a full auto to it, and you’re going to see a little more improvement. Just not for precision shooting.

    • avatarMoonshine7102 says:

      Actually, the gyro resists ANY movement. That’s why people mount them on cameras. Wind, vehicle movement, operator input; doesn’t matter. The gyro does NOT want to move, and so any movement will be smoothed out. The weapon will not become immobile, of course. It will just be better able to resist things like twitching, movement due to shooter breathing, and that sort of thing. You know, the kind of stuff that plays hell with precision shooting?

  4. avatartravis m. says:

    Recoil can do some nasty things to a gyroscope, if it isn’t designed to withstand it.

  5. avatarAccur81 says:

    They’ve been in use on tank turrets for quite some time.

  6. avatarMr. Lion says:

    Gyroscopes are really only useful on relatively heavy, crew-served weapons mounted to vehicles– an environment in which accuracy isn’t of significant importance as it’s almost always something belt-fed and full auto.

    In order to adapt one to a small arm, it would have to be quite small and have relatively modest power requirements– and making one that small would reduce its effectiveness to almost nill.

    In short: Waste of time.

    If you really have a pressing need to give it a try, find a friend with access to a CNC shop and have him make you one with a large brass disk suspended via roller bearings, and enclose the whole thing in a chamber that’ll hold a vacuum. You’ll want one disk spinning on each axis you care about. Perhaps $200 in materials and machining, and you’ll have something that works as well as the Kenyon units (which are essentially exactly that).

    You’ll need a fairly beefy motor to spin the thing, and a very beefy power supply. Large anton bauer camera power packs work well, which are again what is used in most pro video setups.

  7. avatarCarlosT says:

    Here’s an idea: a gas powered gyro system. Bleed off some of the gas from the barrel, use it to turn the flywheel. Saves the weight of a motor and therefore makes the unit more portable.

  8. avatarAPBTFan says:

    If memory serves Sons of Guns used a gyro for one of their projects. Helicopter mount I think?

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