Retrotechtacular: Fire Control Computers in Navy Ships

Here is a two-part Navy training film from 1953 that describes the inner workings of mechanical fire control computers. It covers seven mechanisms: shafts, gears, cams, differentials, component solvers, integrators, and multipliers, and does so in the well-executed fashion typical of the era.

Fire control systems depend on many factors that occur simultaneously, not the least of which are own ship’s speed and course, distance to a target, bearing, the target’s speed and course if not stationary, initial shell velocity, and wind speed and direction.

The mechanisms are introduced with a rack and pinion demonstration in two dimensions. Principally speaking, a shaft carries a value based on revolutions. From this, a system can be geared at different ratios.

Cams take this idea further, transferring a regular motion such as rotation to an irregular motion. They do so using a working surface as input and a follower as output. We are shown how cams change rotary motion to linear motion. While the simplest example is limited to a single revolution, additional revolutions can be obtained by extending the working surface. This is usually done with a ball in a groove.

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Giving an RC tank a fire control computer


[Vincent] plays around with remote control tanks, and even though his current model is a WWII-era armor piece, he’d still like modern accoutrements such as a fire control computer and laser sighting for his main gun. His latest project did just that (French, Google translation) with the help of an Arduino, a few modifications to the receiver, and an IR rangefinder.

The stock RC tank includes servos to move the turret and the requisite electronics to fire an Airsoft gun. The precision of the mechanical movements inside the turret weren’t very precise, though, so [Vincent] had to gear down the servos to turn large movements into slight adjustments. After that, he installed an IR rangefinder and laser diode onto the barrel that allowed the gun to sight a target and read its distance.

After some experimentation with the rangefinder and laser, [Vincent] plotted data from firing a few BBs at a whole bunch of distances and targets. The graph came out fairly linear, and after plugging this into a graphing calculator, he was able to find an equation that took into account the distance and angle so the Arduino-powered fire control computer would hit its mark.

The accuracy of the gun is very impressive, all things considered. [Vincent] is able to accurately fire BBs downrange and hit an 8×12 cm target at five meters. You can check out that action below.

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