Personal Defense Tip: Don’t Fly Faster Than Your Own Bullets

F-16 gatling gun shoots itself dutch

Courtesy General Dynamics

The F-16 fighter is equipped with a six-barrel 20mm gatling gun, not unlike a mini gun. It cranks out fire at the rate of 6000 rounds per minute (the fighters only carry about 500 rounds, though) and is devastating to anything it connects with. That includes the plane that fires those rounds.

As Ars Technica reports, a Dutch F-16 pilot on a training run just found out that it’s possible to catch up with your own cannon fire . . .

Two F-16s were conducting firing exercises on January 21. It appears that the damaged aircraft actually caught up with the 20mm rounds it fired as it pulled out of its firing run. At least one of them struck the side of the F-16’s fuselage, and parts of a round were ingested by the aircraft’s engine. The F-16’s pilot managed to land the aircraft safely at Leeuwarden Air Base.

If you’re wondering how that’s possible . . .

The rounds have a muzzle velocity of 3,450 feet per second (1050 meters per second). That is speed boosted initially by the aircraft itself, but atmospheric drag slows the shells down eventually. And if a pilot accelerates and maneuvers in the wrong way after firing the cannon, the aircraft could be unexpectedly reunited with its recently departed rounds.

Let’s be careful out there.

comments

  1. avatar GunnyGene says:

    Not the first time this has happened. Other gunfighters going back to the early days of armed aircraft have done the same.

    1. avatar Minute Man says:

      “fire at the rate of 6000 rounds per minute (the fighters only carry about 500 rounds, though)”

      Only 500 rounds? All that hardware for 5 seconds worth of fun? Wow! And my wife criticizes me?

      1. avatar John Clark says:

        Round limiter switches allow about 50 rounds a trigger pull. It’s like your sidearm with a 10 round magazine.

      2. avatar c. m. brown says:

        The F-16 carries 1050 rounds of 20 mm in a drum next to the Vulcan in a closed system that retains the fired shell casing. There is a burst limiter that has to be set on the ground before flight, the pilot cannot reset it in the air

      3. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

        Perhaps said wife was expecting more than “5 seconds worth of fun” when she married somebody that goes by the handle “Minute Man”.

        1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

          Now that’s mean, really cruel.

          But funny as shit…

          *snicker* 😉

        2. avatar ComfortablyNumb says:

          Well played. You win the internet for today.

        3. avatar Ves says:

          BwaaaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  2. avatar Shane says:

    WHO SHOT ME???!!!
    Oh DUH, OOOPPPSSSS

  3. avatar PJO says:

    Wait until the anti 2A left coalitions hear about this…they will be invading corporate board meetings and petitioning majority stock holders to demand safer nerf projectiles for the 20 mm M61A1 Gatling guns…

  4. avatar California Richard says:

    “Don’t play the laughing boy. There’s only two things I can’t stand in this world: people who are intolerant of other people’s culture, and the Dutch.”
    – M-61 Vulcan –

    1. avatar Leslie says:

      “Nussknacker”! The first electrically driven Minigun was developed by “Fokker-Leimberber” in 1916, dubbed the “Nussknacker” (i.e. Nutcracker)…

  5. avatar Baldwin says:

    I’ve seen this first hand on detachment at NAS Fallon, NV. The aircraft fires at a ground target and then flies through the ricochets as he pulls out of the dive at low level. Needless to say, the pilot catches a lot more than bullet holes in his aircraft back at the base.

    1. avatar troutbum5 says:

      A ricochet is a much more plausible explanation than the Viper catching up to it’s own bullets. An F-16’s max speed is about 2500 fps, and they rarely go that fast. Definitely not during a strafing run. He was more likely going about 900 fps. Not enough time to catch your own rounds. Story also says that fragments went into the engine. That’s definitely a ricochet.

      1. avatar Nam62 says:

        It;s happened before. In the 1950’s a Navy Pilot shot him self down. He increased his dive after shooting his guns and increased his speed before pulling out of the dive and flew through his stream of bullets.

        1. avatar Aaron Walker says:

          Yup , My Dad was in the Air Force and stated that these stories were NOT uncommon…

        2. avatar Hannibal says:

          Lots of stories in the military float around without having reality to back them up, though. They just get passed around as gospel forever.

          Like the Garand ‘ping’ getting people killed…

        3. avatar K42inWA says:

          Yeah, perhaps with the nose pitched up while firing you could lob yourself a bullet if you fly straight and fast under it to catch up with it, however this all seems quite unlikely. Also, even if you did, you’ve caught up to your falling bullet, the only difference in speed would be likely minor (the fall of the bullet in the vertical direction, and the difference in speed between the plane and the now somewhat slower bullet), so low potential for damage, probably. This is probably calculable for the right nerd.

          I doubt in any training circumstance, they’d let a plane fire with the nose over the horizon (because the possible range would be vast). The pilot would have to be over an ocean, otherwise the Dutch would be firing into another country. Also, lining up so perfectly to catch the bullet on the descent, especially over such a long distance that it would have to travel, would be pretty insane odds given cross winds, and any in-flight direction changes (even small ones).

          Ricochets off the ground sound way more likely. If it was so possible to catch up to your own bullets in mid-air, there would probably be some training requirement that pilots make a 5 degree turn after firing to avoid the possibility, but I’d bet this is not a concern.

        4. avatar Arizona Free says:

          Becoming an ace just got easier. At the John Kerry School of purple hearts you become an ace and get an early ticket home from a war zone. Next stop Washington DC.

        5. avatar Hummm says:

          Another “No Nothing” Dupe to US Military History speaks out. Go back and play with the Grand Dupe of Nothingness “Alex Jones”…

        6. avatar LarryinTX says:

          One problem with your analysis, there, K42! 20mm is explosive ammo, would be blowing holes in your pretty airplane at any velocity.

  6. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

    And in other ‘fighter’ news, we have the first crash of an F-35 :

    “Japanese F-35 crashed into Pacific, rest of fleet grounded
    Wreckage recovered, search for pilot continues.”

    https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/04/japanese-f-35-crashed-into-pacific-rest-of-fleet-grounded/

    1. avatar Binder says:

      Big whoopee do. F-16 drop out of the sky at a far faster rate. Hell, we lost 6 of them in 6 months at one base.

      1. avatar jimbthepilot says:

        Hence the affectionate nicknames among the rest of the USAF fighter community:
        “Lawn Dart”, “Disposajet”, POS.

      2. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        The 16s are being retired out, and some are being converted into drones for gunnery – missile practice…

      3. avatar Leslie says:

        You’re right the F-16 is such a bad design, that the Taiwanese Air Force just placed an order for ~66 F-16V’s in March 2019. Real “SH|TTY” Fighter Design…

      4. avatar LarryinTX says:

        F-16s don’t cost $150+ million a pop.

  7. avatar Michael says:

    Until synchronized aircraft machine gun fire was perfected pilots blasting off their own propellers was a real hazard. The best technology always comes from the best weapons. -30-

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      “Until synchronized aircraft machine gun fire was perfected pilots blasting off their own propellers was a real hazard.”

      The first attempt to cure the ‘I shot the propeller off’ problem was to armor plate the propeller blades next to the propeller hub. This proved problematic from a ‘dynamic balance’ point-of-view, so a better solution was sought.

      Success was found when they decided a linkage could be used to not fire the gun while the propeller blade was in front of the barrel :

      “A synchronization gear, or a gun synchronizer, sometimes rather less accurately called an interrupter, is attached to the armament of a single-engine tractor-configuration aircraft so it can fire through the arc of its spinning propeller without bullets striking the blades.”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synchronization_gear

      http://digg.com/video/bullets-propeller-slow-motion

      1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        1. Why is the engine turning with the prop? Apparently, museum curators aren’t what they used to be, either.

        2. avatar jwm says:

          Gringo. ww1 aircraft had engines that turned with the props. Some of them. I don’t remember which, I believe the Pup but could be wrong, threw so much oil out during every flight that the pilots carried rags to wipe their faces and goggles off.

          I’ve always been amazed at what older generations thought was acceptable SOP.

        3. Thanks! Glad I asked.

        4. Thanks! As if shooting the props off wasn’t bad enough, they needed a work-around for perforating the jugs. Clever!

        5. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

          “…they needed a work-around for perforating the jugs. Clever!”

          The cylinders usually were not in line with the barrel…

      2. avatar Hannibal says:

        Armoring the propeller because you keep shooting them off… definitely a ‘bright idea’ from a military guy.

        As bad as it is to shoot your prop off I’m not sure I would want to be the pilot that has to shoot into an armored propeller knowing that those bullets are going to have to go somewhere once they hit the armor.

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          Hey, guys, let’s be fair. Armoring the prop had zero to do with a 10 zillion dollar research contract, and everything to do with “Hey, Joe! That Hun is pissing me off every day! Can’t you rig something so I can SHOOT the sumbitch, without shooting my prop off like last time?”

  8. avatar Chris T in KY says:

    This is the reason why the 50 cal was replaced in the F 86 and all subsequent jet fighter aircraft. With the exception of the B-52 tail guns. Those guns were very effective. Several MIGs fell to these guns during the vietnam war. But where latter also replaced with a 20 mm cannon.

    1. avatar guest says:

      That’s not the reason.

      1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        “That’s not the reason.”

        Well, what is, asshole?

        If you’re gonna drop a turd, back it up with facts…

        1. avatar Draven says:

          because fifty cals weren’t doing enough damage to shoot down enemy planes. There’s a reason that everyone else’s post-WW2 and late WW2 fighters had 20+ mm cannon.

  9. avatar 10x25mm says:

    Worse things can happen. In October, a Belgian mechanic destroyed an F-16 on the ground at Florennes Air Base by firing the M61A1 Vulcan in another F-16 he was working on.

    NATO forces are not what they used to be.

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      …and not too long ago, a fighter on the ground fired a live missile into another parked fighter…

      1. avatar neiowa says:

        “Ace” John McCain was involved in the same on the flight deck of a carrier. Only SOB to destroy 3 taxpayer owned aircraft thru criminal negligence and still get promoted to Senator/wannabe President.

        1. avatar Hummm says:

          How do you get “Promoted” to “Senator”! This ISN’T the Roman Republic…

        2. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

          “How do you get “Promoted” to “Senator”!”

          Never heard of the ‘Peter Principal’?

          Incompetence gets pushed up the ladder…

        3. avatar J.T. says:

          McCain had zero responsibility for the Forrestal fire. Don’t spread bullshit. His plane was on the edge of the flight deck with the engine pointed off the side of the ship so there were no aircraft behind his. The rocket came from a F-4 that was across the flight deck and had it’s nose pointing at the A-4s of White and McCain so there was no way a “wet start” from McCain set it off.

        4. avatar jwm says:

          Citations, please. I know mccain was involved in an incident on the deck of a carrier. A very bad incident. But I never heard it was his fault.

          I’m not defending mccain. But carrier operations are very hazardous and damaging or losing aircraft is fairly common. Lots of pilots have done it more than once.

          The first time a woman pilot was killed trying to come aboard a carrier some of the guys I knew said, basically, ‘See, women can’t handle the job’. Ignoring completely the fact that male pilots died every year, year in and year out, doing the same job.

        5. avatar LarryinTX says:

          I loved flying. Did some amazingly stupid things and survived. Never had any desire to land on a carrier. Call me chicken. Just had dinner with my instructor from pilot training back in 1969, who ended up a 3-star, he actually *did* land on a carrier, since he was in command of a joint task force which included 2 carriers, figured he should make a visit. He always was a badass.

  10. avatar Marcus says:

    That is still pretty hard to do as the jet would have to accelerate faster then the rounds decelerate in the aircraft and would have to be in a fairly straight directional path at that. Muzzle velocity of 3,450 is pretty irrelevant as the round travels that in addition to the current speed of the aircraft not to mention factoring in the aerodynamic coefficient at high altitudes which much less.

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      “…as the jet would have to accelerate faster then the rounds decelerate in the aircraft and would have to be in a fairly straight directional path at that.”

      No, it would not. One scenario : The aircraft’s nose is pointed upwards when the cannon fires, and the aircraft happens to end up somewhere at the bottom of the shell’s ballistic ‘arc’…

  11. avatar MLee says:

    I fly single engine land….like a C172 and never have fired a gun out a plane yet, so I think I’m safe. I did drop a cup of piss once….not far from where DB Cooper bailed out.

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      TTAG’s Nick Leghorn has hunted hogs with a full-auto from a helicopter, and has the video to prove it…

    2. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      “I did drop a cup of piss once….not far from where DB Cooper bailed out.”

      Careful – An occasional hazard of the folks that drop human ‘cremains’ from aircraft in flight botch the release and some of the gritty ‘ash’ blows right back into the window of the airplane.

      Don’t give yourself a ‘golden shower’…

  12. avatar jwm says:

    I don’t think that if I fired a burst out of my 20mm gatling gun straight ahead that I could catch up to the projectiles in my 4 cylinder 4runner.

    I was unaware of this when I last cruised i80 across Nevada and Utah. I did note on previous occasions that when I pop the roof hatch and extend the Vulcan it creates quite a bit of drag and slows the vehicle down. Throw in the recoil factor when I let loose a burst and the rig is barely faster than a Prius.

    1. avatar No one of consequence says:

      Fire it backwards. Thrust booster and the discourager all in one!

      1. avatar No one of consequence says:

        Damn auto correct … Tailgater discourager.

        1. avatar jwm says:

          I always figured the links and shell casings just shitting out the back of the toyota would cause tailgaters to back up.

    2. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Dunno if it is still available (NOT tech savvy), but there was a video of an F-4 of some persuasion, probably an F-4C, which was loaded up with *fifteen* Vulcan cannons in pods. In a test run all 15 were fired at once and the aircraft (in full afterburner) essentially came to a stop, dropped several thousand feet in the recovery.

      1. The SUU-16 20mm Vulcan Cannon Pod used in Vietnam each weighed ~1,730 pounds for a total of ~25,950 pounds. Maximum Ordnance Load for the NINE F-4C was just over ~16,000 pounds, approximately 10,000 pounds LESS than the F-4C was capable of carrying…

  13. avatar Michael says:

    Is it true that if the pilot of a Warthog coordinates his rate of fire and his thrust just right that he can actually make the A-10 hover? Asking for a friend. For Geoff and all the others, the depth of unusual knowledge is the best feature of TTAG. -30-

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      “Is it true that if the pilot of a Warthog coordinates his rate of fire and his thrust just right that he can actually make the A-10 hover?”

      “The average recoil force of the GAU-8/A is 10,000 pounds-force (45 kN), which is slightly more than the output of each of the A-10’s two TF34 engines of 9,065 lbf (40.3 kN). While this recoil force is significant, in practice a cannon fire burst slows the aircraft only a few miles per hour in level flight.”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GAU-8_Avenger#Recoil

      The aircraft’s empty weight is 24,959 lb (11,321 kg), so I’ll guess that no, it won’t hover, but depending on what airspeed it’s at, it may slow it down enough to stall it. Stalling that close to the ground is potentially lethal.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairchild_Republic_A-10_Thunderbolt_II

      “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the A-10 Warthog’s Big-Ass Gun”

      https://medium.com/war-is-boring/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-the-a-10-warthogs-big-ass-gun-54796e1b5b81

    2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      Michael,

      Caveat: I am definitely NOT an A-10 Warthog pilot, designer, nor consultant.

      I have heard that Warthogs decelerate noticeably when they fire their cannons. Nevertheless, based strictly on general engineering principles, I would be incredibly surprised if they could somehow “hover”.

    3. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Best briefing I got on the A-10 was in 1975, before it was operational. Story was that the engines automatically throttled up when the gun was fired. Also, please recall that the rate of fire was selectable, 6000 rpm was rarely used, I saw it on an F-4 exactly once (the guys on the ground were shooting at the aircraft, tends to piss them off)

  14. avatar ACP_armed says:

    Gotta to say I’ve never heard that one before.

    I’ll say no… If the plane is going so slow that the recoil of the gun firing stops all forward movement the wing would no longer have enough air flowing over it to be making lift A.K.A. a stall. Which is not a good thing if you want to get back to base without hitching a ride with SAR… No lift, no fly.

    1. avatar ACP_armed says:

      My comment is to Michael.

      1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        I have heard the pilot can definitely notice the reduction in airspeed when it’s fired, and that can be used as a strafing strategy while in a dive. Ballistic ‘speed brakes’, but only as long as your ammo holds out…

        1. avatar Leslie says:

          I would think that only plausible if the Aircraft is Flying Parallel with the Ground and not at a Downward Angle…

        2. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

          When the nose is pointing down, as in strafing, you dial back the throttle so you you don’t overspeed the airplane. Gravity is going to increase your airspeed, so it’s very plausible the 10,000 ponds of recoil from the gun could be used as a means of speed management while firing in a dive…

        3. avatar ACP_armed says:

          I can believe there is some speed reduction when that gun is run.

          Accelerated stall? what accelerated stall, I’m not going fast enough!

        4. avatar LarryinTX says:

          The concept of using a stream of 30mm high explosive, incendiary, and depleted uranium slugs running 3000+fps, costing more than $100 each, simply to adjust the speed of your airplane is very amusing.

      2. avatar Michael says:

        I thought the Warthog story was just so much prop wash…oh, wait a minute, they don’t do props all that much anymore. A good pilot will never let a little thing like aerodynamics get in the way of a good story. “There we were, 30,000 feet, one wing hanging off, almost out of fuel, anybody got some chewing gum, I put on two different color socks this morning”…pilot stories can be… challenging. -30-

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          No, no, no, that is just ALL wrong, you didn’t even include the secret code! It’s more like, “there I was, *no shit*, 30,000 feet in my O-2, upside down and out of control, MiGs to the right of me, MiGs to the left of me, I got one with a smoke rocket, then another with my .38 Combat Masterpiece shooting out the side window … ” and it kinds trails off after that, but I remember it was all true!

  15. avatar glenn sammon says:

    f16s only carry 500 rounds, or 515 in a “tight pact” not 1050 rounds.

  16. Now this is something that tankers never have to worry about.
    There ain’t no way an M1A1 tank is ever going to catch up to its own 120 mm APFSDS cannon shell!
    Not that some tank drivers haven’t tried…

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Some tankers have to worry about such things! When a F-16 pulled up behind my KC-135 tanker to be refueled, I did not have any confidence we could outrun his 20mm being fired from behind us. Fortunately, the drivers were very cautious, since if they killed us, they would have to walk home.

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