Do Silencers Reduce Muzzle Flash?

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I was hanging out with the guys behind Dead Air Armament a week or so ago and while we may have been sleep deprived and slightly intoxicated, we had an idea. Silencers work great when it comes to sound reduction, but how well do they work in terms of flash reduction? Well, we were in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, had a bunch of rifles, a handful of silencers, and a reasonably competent photographer (yours truly), so we decided to try to capture the difference on film. The results were pretty interesting . . .

I decided to set up the camera to have about a 1.5 second exposure for each image. This would give plenty of wiggle room to pull the trigger, and capture the entire muzzle flash in one image. Slow motion video of a muzzle flash usually shows a rolling ball of fire effect, but I wanted a way to show that entire flash in one still image. What you see is basically a composite of the entire muzzle flash ball-o-flame, which gives an excellent idea of the shape and intensity of the flash in one glance rather than having to make a GIF of each video and leaving things up to interpretation.

That first picture is the “control,” if you will. We removed the muzzle device from a 16″ barrel AR-15 rifle, and shot with just bare threads. This is what you would see if there were no muzzle devices on the rifle at all, which was honestly brighter than I expected.

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Next up is a Colt Competition muzzle brake. This device is designed solely to reduce the recoil of the firearm, and no design effort went into any flash reduction capabilities. What you see is a nice bright flash, and you can even clearly distinguish the different blast chambers on the brake. Definitely better than the bare muzzle, but not ideal.

Just real quick, a word on how flash hiders work. Muzzle flash occurs when the unburnt powder and other combustible materials in the exhaust from your barrel (along with the blazing hot exhaust gasses themselves) mixes with the oxygen in the air. When the proper air-to-fuel mixture is reached, it burns and creates the flash you see in the top image. Any muzzle device will interrupt that mixture process and disperse the burning gasses to cool them down, but exactly how well it performs that task will be based on how well it interrupts that combustion process.

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The Dead Air Armament folks have come up with their own muzzle brake / silencer mount that has some flash reduction capabilities. Instead of trying to disrupt the mixture process with a chunk of metal, they decided to try and use a port on the side of the brake to blow that flame out just like a kid blows out his birthday candles. It redirects gasses from inside the device along the side, and should (in theory) snuff out most of the flash along the side of the brake.

There are two versions of the device, a 5.56 sized one and a 7.62 sized one. So naturally we tried both.

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The 5.56 brake definitely has a smaller “halo” of brightness around it than the plain Cold Competition brake, but you can also see the impact those gas jets are having. There’s a ton of small sparks flying all over the place, almost definitely the result of that lateral force imposed by the gas jets. The overall effect is good for signature reduction, but still not ideal.

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The 7.62 version of that same muzzle brake / silencer mount shows an interesting result. There’s a visible cone of flame on the front of the 5.56 version, but it appears to be almost attached to the brake. With the larger hole of the 7.62 version, that cone of flame has been pushed out a couple inches in front of the brake. The same shooting sparks are still visible and present, but with the exception of the placement of that front cone there doesn’t seem to be any real difference in the size or intensity of the flash.

Right, enough faffing about with muzzle brakes, time for the main event.

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The Dead Air Armament team makes two fast attach silencers, the Sandman-S and the Sandman-L. I’ll be bringing you a review in a few days time, but suffice it to say they are pretty cool. The difference between the S and the L is about 2 additional inches of baffle stack, which reduces the sound of the report by about an additional 4 dB (I’ve personally tested and confirmed this, not just some manufacturer’s claim here). But does it also reduce muzzle flash?

Keep in mind that we’re testing the first-round flash here. There’s some data to indicate that with subsequent pulls of the trigger the flash is reduced due to the lack of oxygen in the silencer itself, but we aren’t testing that today.

Let’s start with the shortie.

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There’s definitely some flash there, and it definitely seems to be brighter than the flash we’ve seen with the muzzle brake. Smaller than the brake-free barrel, but present nevertheless. The brightness is probably due to the high concentration of the combustible materials — with nothing to spread them out, they clump together at the end of the can and burn brighter.

Huh, that SilencerCo brake thinger might not be completely useless after all.

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This one is the Sandman-L silencer. Two inches longer, but those two inches make a huge difference. Note that these last two pictures were taken from the same distance away, and were cropped to the same size before posting (you can see an album of the raw images here). The difference is night and day — nearly a 75% reduction in muzzle flash with just two additional inches of baffles. That’s pretty cool.

Do silencers reduce muzzle flash? Yes, yes they do. Do they eliminate it? Heck no, at least not for the first round. In fact, it might actually be worse than the muzzle brake alone. But the noise reduction coupled with the flash reduction is nothing to sneeze at.

I gotta try this with more cans . . .

comments

  1. avatar s says:

    “Slightly intoxicated”?? Alcohol and firearms NEVER go together.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      They do when you are in an isolated forest location and everyone follows all four safety rules to a “T”.

      If you have drank so much that you can no longer follow all four safety rules, then you should not be handing a firearm.

      Note: I would actually add a fifth safety rule … people who are not shooting should NOT walk out in front of someone who is shooting. If you are intoxicated to the point that you might stumble in front of a person who is shooting, then you should stay away completely.

      1. avatar Jeremy B. says:

        This is like saying, “it’s okay to drink and drive as long as you’re not yet drunk and can still stay in your lane”.

        Except it’s not okay. Judgement is affected, reaction times increase, and risk desensitization all make this a horrible idea.

        Just dont drink and shoot. And certainly dont report about it, talk about irresponsible.

        1. “This is like saying, “it’s okay to drink and drive as long as you’re not yet drunk and can still stay in your lane”

          No, it’s like saying it is okay to drink and drive if you are driving on the Bonneville Salt Flat.

        2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

          Jeremy B.,

          If a person has one or two drinks, what is irresponsible or unsafe about target shooting if they are in an isolated forest location and everyone can follow all five safety rules to a “T”?

    2. avatar Kyle in CT says:

      I suspect the idea was formed over some frosty beverages, not executed. As a rule though, yes, that’s one to live by.

      1. avatar Red in Texas says:

        Clarification, or complete omission would have been wise then. Yes, or no?

    3. It’s only separated by tobacco in the ATF, so it can go together.
      What about a guy like me that drinks all day? Am I not allowed to shoot my guns?
      Here’s the deal. If you would do something stupid with a gun then you are more likely to do it when intoxicated. If you would never do anything stupid with a gun then you are not likely to do anything stupid while intoxicated.
      Booze is a truth serum. It makes nymphos have sex, it makes dumb asses do dumb stuff. If Mitt Romney got drunk he would probably start singing show tunes but he would not try to make the moves on your daughter.
      Alcohol doesn’t make a person bad. It makes bad people do bad things.

      1. avatar Jeremy B. says:

        It’s not about good and evil, its about making someone incompetent and accident prone.

        Dont take Nyquil and operate heavy machinery.
        Don’t drink alcohol and operate guns/cars.

      2. avatar Geoff PR says:

        “Alcohol doesn’t make a person bad. It makes bad people do bad things.”

        My personal observation is that ETOH has good way of stripping away pretense and exposing your core personality. A wise man once told me in choosing a spouse get them really drunk one day or night and then pick a fight with them. That will give you an idea of what they’re actually like when times get unpleasant.

        In my case, I’m not a nice drunk. 🙂

        Downright vicious, actually…

        “What about a guy like me that drinks all day? Am I not allowed to shoot my guns?”

        My observation was that was it had a nasty tendency to eventually end up not well.

        Really unpleasantly not well.

        But that was me… Just say’in…

      3. avatar twency says:

        “What about a guy like me that drinks all day?”

        A guy that drinks all day should think about becoming a friend of Bill W.

        1. Well I don’t drink sodas or iced tea and with meals I always have a beer or wine. For breakfast I have coffee with a kick. Today it was Kirk and Sweeney 12 year Dominican rum. Sometimes it’s Woodford Reserve.
          I will make an appointment when I start swallowing Listerine or raiding the cupboard for the vanilla extract.

  2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Hmm. Very interesting. What is the total turn-around time these days for tax stamps on suppressors?

    Any by total turn-around time, I mean the total time from when I send in the first correspondence to the time that I receive the tax stamp in the mail.

    1. avatar Chris says:

      I just ordered two suppressors on 10/20/2014 and received my stamps on 2/5/2015. I also have 2 friends that each ordered in November (days apart) and received their stamps on 3/10/2015 and 3/12/2015.

      Hope this helps.

      Chris

  3. avatar TTACer says:

    Very cool. Please follow up. Second shots, wet, different baffles, etc.

    1. This is the alcohol talking but what about a flash hider mounted after the sound suppressor? Shot Show 2016 here I come!

      1. avatar Red in Texas says:

        You’re drunk, and late to the party. 😀 😀 😀

  4. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Nick,

    Can you repeat the experiment with the camera out in front of the muzzle? It looks like the flash suppressors still have a fairly visible flash signature from the rear/side, but I am curious about any signature from the front. In combat your attackers would be in front of you (hopefully) and that is the most important direction to minimize your flash signature.

    I would be curious to see how much flash is visible perhaps 10 degrees off-axis and something like 50 yards in front of the muzzle.

    1. avatar DJ9 says:

      “Seconded”

    2. avatar MoveableDo says:

      I totally disagree. For self defense situations, muzzle flash reduction is much more important from the perspective of loss of night vision in a dark interior location. Unless things go really bad, I will NOT be outside fighting across a valley and worrying about my flash signature inviting incoming fire. However, I might be worried about being blinded by my flash inside my living room as I repel a home invader.

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        Your application is valid as well. It all comes down to different threat profiles and which one/s you want to address.

    3. Maybe James Yeager would stand down range with a camera for that.

      1. avatar twency says:

        Nah, he’d make *someone else* stand downrange to get a picture of that.

  5. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    I’m surprised there is still that much flash.
    Good experiment!

  6. avatar The Best Chris says:

    Your description as to how a flash hider works was terrible. Not that that was any suprise.

    1. avatar Red in Texas says:

      So it isn’t like a carburetor? 😀 😀 😀

    2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      Please enlighten us.

  7. avatar ValleyForge77 says:

    Excellent info. Thanks for the post. The results are definitely surprising to me. I would have thought a can really suppressed the flash much more than that. Probably just reflects my ignorance on the issue however. I too would be REAL curious as to how this compares to Flash Hiders, and not just Brakes. Thanks for the informative post! I learned something today 🙂

  8. avatar chris says:

    How long until the “slightly intoxicated” snippet goes down the memory hole?

  9. avatar NDS says:

    Vuurwapen Blog did a pretty in depth test of this awhile back, flash hiders vs brakes vs bare muzzle. Very interesting stuff.

    I can say that there is a major difference between shooting with a SF brake at night (massive fireball out both sides, completely blinding to shooter and everyone nearby) and then shooting with the Socom can (first round flash is a few feet long, very faint and mostly smoke).

    Important to note also is ammo makes a huge difference. PMC XTac crap out of an SBR? Gigantic fireball every couple shots. 77gr OTM over a hot XBR 8208 load from the same short barrel make 9mm levels of flash.

  10. avatar MattInTN says:

    What about the cans with flash hider end caps like you can get for the sake? Or that goofy geometry at then end of a surefire can?

  11. avatar David says:

    I wonder how much of a difference it would make if you swamped barrels w/ a longer one that approximated the overall length of suppressor/brake/flash-hider plus barrel.

  12. avatar Andrew says:

    “Two inches longer, but those two inches make a huge difference.”

    Ha, classic

  13. avatar Geoff PR says:

    Hey, Nick-

    How much quieter would it be if you ‘stacked’ 2 suppressors?

    (For the time being ignoring the problem of alignment.)

    1. avatar Red in Texas says:

      There is a point of diminished returns, with regards to more length(volume actually), and more baffles.

  14. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    Of course cans reduce muzzle flash.

    Muzzle flash is the result of having either too much powder, or a powder at too slow a burn rate, for the length of barrel you have. You can get rid of muzzle flash without a can, flash hider or other muzzle-mounted contrivance, if you’d work up a load for your rifle that burns completely within the barrel, or you re-barrel your rifle to have a longer barrel to create more volume. That’s what you need here: more volume. If you want to use a short can for this, then get a fat short can.

    An example of this has been done with a shotgun. A fella worked up a shotgun with a barrel that was about 6+ feet long. No can, no flash hider, no brake, no nothing. Just a long, long barrel. The muzzle report is very mild and there is no flash.

    http://www.dillerdesign.com/quietgun/index.html

    Extending a barrel to allow powder to completely burn is a function of volume, rather than just length, and so the principle of longer barrels for blast and flash reduction would work much better with larger calibers (eg, a .45-70 would give you better results than a .22-250).

  15. avatar Mark Lee says:

    I am always curious why anyone still calls these cans “silencers” because everyone knows that they are “suppressors” by design and nomenclature. I have seen very few cans worthy of the silencer moniker and they are always 2-3 times the length of these varieties.

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