POP! Goes The Hydrogen Howitzer

Military models are great 3D printing projects, even more so if they are somewhat functional. [Flasutie] took it a step further by engineering a 3D-printed howitzer that doesn’t just sit pretty—it launches shells with a hydrogen-powered bang.

This project’s secret sauce? Oxyhydrogen, aka HHO, the mix of hydrogen born when water endures the electric breakup of electrolysis. [Flasutie] wanted functional “high explosive” (HE) projectiles to pop without turning playtime into emergency room visit, and 30 mm was the magic size, allowing the thin-walled PLA projectile to rupture without causing injury, even when held in the hand. To set off the gaseous fireworks, [Flasutie] designed an impact fuze featuring piezoelectric spark mechanism nestled within a soft TPU tip for good impact sensitivity.

The howitzer itself is like something out of a miniaturized military fantasy—nearly entirely 3D printed. It boasts an interrupted thread breech-locking mechanism and recoil-absorbing mechanism inspired by the real thing. The breechblock isn’t just for show; it snaps open under spring power and ejects spent cartridges like hot brass.

Watch the video after the break for the build, satisfying loading sequence and of course cardboard-defeating “armor piercing” (AP) and HE shells knocking out targets.

The World’s First Microprocessor: F-14 Central Air Data Computer

When the Grumman F-14 Tomcat first flew in 1970, it was a marvel. With its variable-sweep wing, twin tail, and sleek lines, it quickly became one of the most iconic jet fighters of the era — and that was before a little movie called Top Gun hit theaters.

A recent video by [Alexander the ok] details something that was far less well-documented about the plane, namely its avionics. The Tomcat was the first aircraft to use a microprocessor-driven flight system, as well as the first microprocessor unit (MPU) ever demonstrated, beating the Intel 4004 by a year. In 1971, one of the designers of the F-14’s Central Air Data Computer (CADC) – [Ray Holt] – wrote an article for Computer Design magazine that was naturally immediately classified by the Navy until released to the public in 1998.

The MPU in the CADC is called the Garrett AiResearch MP944, and consists of a number of ICs that together form a full computer. These were combined in the CADC with additional electronics to control many elements of the airplane automatically, including the weapons system and the variable-sweep wing configuration. This was considered to be essential based on experiences with the F-111 and its very complex electromechanical flight computer, which was an evolution of the 1950s-era Bendix CADC.

The video goes through the differences between the 4-bit Intel 4004 and the 20-bit MP944, questioning whether the 4004 is even really an MPU, the capabilities of the MP944 and its system architecture. Ultimately the question of ‘first’ and that of ‘what is an MPU’ will always be somewhat fuzzy depending on your definitions, but there is no denying that the MP944 was a marvel of large-scale integration.

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Teardown Of FGM-148 Javelin Missile’s Guidance Computer

You know it’s a good teardown when [Michel] starts off by saying to not ask him where exactly he got the guidance section of an FGM-148 Javelin from. This shoulder-launched anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) is a true marvel of engineering that has shown its chops during recent world events. As a fire-and-forget type guided missile it is designed to use the internal IR tracker to maintain a constant lock on the target, using its guidance system to stay exactly on track.

FGM-148 Javelin schematic overview. (Source: U.S. Army, FM 3-22.37)
FGM-148 Javelin schematic overview. (Source: U.S. Army, FM 3-22.37)

Initially designed in 1989 and introduced into service in 1996, it has all the ceramic-and-gold styling which one would expect from a military avionics package from the era. Tasked with processing the information from the IR sensor, and continuously adjusting the fins to keep it on course, the two sandwiched, 3 mm thick PCBs that form the main section of the guidance computer are complemented by what looks like a milled aluminium section which holds a sensor and a number of opamps, all retained within the carbon-fiber shell of the missile.

In the video [Michel] looks at the main components, finding datasheets for many commercially available parts, with the date codes on the parts confirming that it’s a late 80s to early 90s version, using presumably a TMS34010 as the main CPU on the DSP board for its additional graphics-related instructions. Even though current production FGM-148s are likely to use far more modern parts, this is a fun look at what was high-end military gear in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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Retrotechtacular: The Gunsmith Of Williamsburg

A modern firearm is likely to be mass-produced using high-precision machine tools, and with a uniformity to the extent that parts from one can be interchanged with those from another. This marks a progression of centuries of innovation, in gunsmithing, in machine tooling, and in metallurgy. In the 18th century there was little of the innovations found in a modern weapon, and a rifle would have been made entirely by hand through the work of a master gunsmith. The video below the break is a fascinating 1969 film following Wallace Gusler, the gunsmith at the museum town of Williamsburg, Virginia, as he makes an 18th-century muzzle-loading flintlock rifle from raw materials. It’s a long video, but it leaves nothing out and has a really informative commentary we’re told from the gunsmith himself.

The film opens with a piece of wrought iron being forged into a long strip. We’ve talked about wrought iron as a difficult-to-find blacksmith’s material before here, so this immediately makes us curious as to what material the current Williamsburg gunsmiths use. The strip is formed round a mandrel and laboriously forge-welded to form a rough tube, before being bored with a series of drills and then rifled with a toothed slug. The finishing is done by had with a file, with the rough tube being filed to an octagonal shape. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Gunsmith Of Williamsburg”

The Moment A Bullet Turns Into A Flashlight, Caught On Film

[The Slo Mo Guys] caught something fascinating while filming some firearms at 82,000 frames per second: a visible emission of light immediately preceding a bullet impact. The moment it occurs is pictured above, but if you’d like to jump directly to the point in the video where this occurs, it all starts at [8:18].

The ability to capture ultra-slow motion allows us to see things that would otherwise happen far too quickly to perceive, and there are quite a few visual spectacles in the whole video. We’ll talk a bit about what is involved, and what could be happening.

Spotting something unusual on video replay is what exteme slo-mo filming is all about.

First of all, the clear blocks being shot are ballistic gel. These dense blocks are tough, elastic, and a common sight in firearms testing because they reliably and consistently measure things like bullet deformation, fragmentation, and impact. It’s possible to make homemade ballistic gel with sufficient quantities of gelatin and water, but the clear ones like you see here are oil-based, visually clear, and more stable (they do not shrink due to evaporation).

We’ve seen the diesel effect occur in ballistic gelatin, which is most likely the result of the bullet impact vaporizing small amounts of the (oil-based) gel when the channel forms, and that vaporized material ignites due to a sudden increase in pressure as it contracts.

In the video linked above (and embedded below), there is probably a bit more in the mix. The rifles being tested are large-bore rifles, firing big cartridges with a large amount of gunpowder igniting behind each bullet. The burning powder causes a rapid expansion of hot, pressurized gasses that push the bullet down the barrel at tremendous speed. As the bullet exits, so does a jet of hot gasses. Sometimes, the last bits of burning powder are visible as a brief muzzle flash that accompanies the bullet leaving the barrel.

A large projectile traveling at supersonic velocities results in a large channel and expansion when it hits ballistic gel, but when fired at close range there are hot gasses from the muzzle and any remaining burning gunpowder in the mix, as well. All of which help generate the kind of visual spectacles we see here.

We suspect that the single frame of a flashlight-like emission of light as the flat-nosed bullet strikes the face of the gel is also the result of the diesel effect, but it’s an absolutely remarkable visual and a fascinating thing to capture on film. You can watch the whole thing just below the page break.

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Trebuchet Sends Eggs Flying

Without any sort of restrictions on designs for trebuchets, these medieval siege weapons are known to send 90 kilogram projectiles over 300 meters. The egg-launching trebuchet contest that [AndysMachines] is entering, on the other hand, has a few limitations that dramatically decreased the size of the machines involved. The weight of the entire device is limited to no more than 3 kg, with any physical dimension no more than 300 mm, but that’s more than enough to send an egg flying across a yard with the proper design and tuning for maximum distance.

Trebuchets distinguish themselves amongst other siege weapons by using a falling weight to launch the projectile. The rules of this contest allow for the use of springs, so [AndysMachines] is adding a spring in between the trebuchet arm and the weight in order to more efficiently deliver the energy from the falling weight. More fine tuning of the trebuchet was needed before the competition, though, specifically regarding the stall point for the trebuchet. This is the point where the forces acting on the arm from the projectile and the weight are balanced, and moving this point to allow the projectile to release at a 45-degree angle was needed for maximum distance.

The video goes into a lot of detail about other fine-tuning of a trebuchet like this, aided by some slow-motion video analysis. In the end, [AndysMachines] was able to launch the egg over ten meters with this design. Of course, if you want to throw out the rule book and replace the eggs with ball bearings and the aluminum and steel with titanium, it’s possible to build a trebuchet that breaks the sound barrier.

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THOR Microwaves Drone Swarms

In recent years small drones have gone from being toys and photography tools to a deadly threat on the battlefield. Kamikaze drones have become especially prominent in the news due to their use in the war in Ukraine by both sides. While we haven’t seen coordinated swarms being actively employed on the modern battlefield, it’s likely only a matter of time, making drone swarm defense an active field of development in the industry.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory recently conducted tests and a demonstration of an anti-drone weapon that uses pulses of high-power microwave energy to fry the electronics of a swarm of drones. Named the Tactical High-power Operational Responder, or THOR  (presumably they picked the acronym first), it’s housed in a 20ft shipping container with large microwave antenna on top. The form factor is important because a weapon is only useful if it can reach the battlefield, and this can fit in the back of a C130.

THOR likely functions similarly to a shotgun, with a relatively large effective “beam.” This would have added advantages like frying multiple drones with one pulse and not needing pinpoint tracking and aiming tech required for projectile and laser-based weapons. Depending on its range and directivity, THOR might come with the downside of collateral damage to electronics close to its line of fire.

Drone swarms are of course the other side of this arms race, but fortunately they also have non-destructive uses like lights shows and perhaps even 3D printing.