What's the truth about 50 cal guns vs. jetliners?


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DeseoUnTaco
July 29, 2005, 08:52 PM
The latest hysteria is that 50 BMG rifles could be used to take down jetliners. For example: http://www.50caliberterror.com/

There was a thread a while back where I analyzed what I thought were the risks, and concluded that a 50 cal "sniper" rifle could not effectively shoot down a jetliner. A half a dozen 50 cal machineguns mounted in a cluster, with some tracer ammo, might be able to, but a single 50 cal rifle would be basically useless.

But I admit, I'm no expert on these things, so I asked an expert, and here is what I found. The quoted parts are from my email to him, and then there's his response:

> [this part from me]
> However, I can't find any evidence that these rifles
> are actually capable of bringing down an airplane in
> flight, and from what I know about guns (a lot) and
> what I know about airplanes (not much) it seems like
> these powerful rifles don't pose any special threat to
> jetliners.

[this part from the expert]
First off, I'm not an NRA member and *not* the type of guy who gets worked up over the Second Amendment, but my feeling is that invoking "terrorism" in this discussion is a cheap shot (no pun) and a ploy. Not that Conservatives haven't been doing the same thing ad nauseum, with far more menacing implications, but still. The truth is, there are so many ways for a perpetrator to damage or bring down a plane. This is just one of them, and not a very efficient one. Terrorists have limited resources and don't normally put their eggs in a basket with such a questionable likelihood of success. Why should somebody waste his time messing around with rifles when a simple, undetectable bomb can do the job guaranteed?

> Hitting the plane while at altitude: Impossible. Out
> of range for this rifle. The plane could only be hit
> just after take-off or just before landing.

Well, I see your point, and you're right, but what do you mean by "just before?" FYI, at five miles from a runway, a landing plane is typically about 2,000 feet over the ground. On takeoff it depends, but the gradient is usually much steeper.
[note: He may not realize that these rifles can't be used for aimed fire at elevations of 2,000 feet, and that it would be necessary to "lead" the target to get a hit at that speed, and that the only effective way to aim in a situation like that is to use a machinegun with tracers, not one of these sniper rifles, and even with an MG with tracers it would be an extremely challenging/lucky shot]

> Hitting the body of the plane (during take-off or
> landing): the bullet could zip all the way through,
> causing damage the plane, the luggage, and perhaps
> passengers. The plane would continue whatever it's
> doing.

Probably.

> Hitting the wing (fuel tanks): Fuel would start
> leaking and the plane would need to get back on the
> ground ASAP, but there would be no explosion.

Not necessarily ASAP. There are often numerous separate tanks, and it likely wouldn't be all that rapid of a leak. A tank *could* explode, but in most cases would not.

> Hitting an engine (hard to do!): Might be able to
> cause an engine fire which could be dangerous, but the
> pilot would probably be able to shut off fuel to that
> engine and get it on the ground. Pilots are trained
> for dealing with engine fires and flying with one
> engine out.

It might cause a fire, but there are always fire extinguishing systems for the engines. The greater likelihood would be internal damage causing some type of failure or mandatory shut-down. There's the possibility of internal damage resulting in a catastrophic failure, where pieces of the turbines or compressors actually burst from the cowling, but this is impossible to predict. In any case, flying with a failed engine is not a big deal.

> Hitting a hydraulic line (lucky shot): I assume it
> would still be possible to get the plane on the ground
> because I assume that critical hydraulic systems are
> redundant.

They are, yes. Loss of a hydraulic system would not result in a crash.

> Hitting the cockpit and shattering a window (lucky
> shot): I'm not sure what would happen to cockpit glass
> if it got hit by a 50 BMG. If it shattered and the
> plane is moving at 500mph, I would assume that pilots
> would lose control and be in trouble. I assume this is
> some very tough laminated glass which would not
> shatter, in which case the pilots would be able to get
> the plane back onto the ground.

I really don't know what would happen, but cockpit glass is *very*
strong. I once saw a video of two men trying to shatter a cockpit windshield
with a sledgehammer, and they could not so much as crack it. That said, the
danger here would be the window fracturing and causing a decompression. Decompressions alone aren't apt to be perilous, but combined with a blown out windshield...who knows? Planes have survived windshield blow-outs before. In any case, this would take a very lucky shot.


Best,
Patrick Smith


He said I could post this if I attributed it to him and included a link back to his website and book. I appreciate the time he has taken to answer these questions, and I hope the moderators won't mind a commercial message here:

Patrick Smith, 39, is an erstwhile pilot and air travel columnist.
Patrick has visited more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat.
He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
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CAnnoneer
July 29, 2005, 08:58 PM
I can't imagine how a sniper rifle can be used against fast-moving targets (e.g. a plane?!). It makes no sense to me technically. This must be a just pretext for political play.

CAnnoneer
July 29, 2005, 09:00 PM
This must be just a pretext for political play, is what I meant to say. That's what happens when the same word can be used as an adverb and an adjective.

Cesiumsponge
July 29, 2005, 09:04 PM
A few sheets and bulkheads of of aluminum and steel. Someone should reconstruct a "typical" airplane section and shoot it with various rifle calibers. One would likely find they all penetrate the plane. Of course, this wouldn't help us. It would in fact demonize all rifles as "powerful airplane taker downers". It would likely be prudent to note that the "explosive decompression" scenario posed ad infinitum by Hollywood has proven to be grossly false in the world of real people and physics.

It would be nice to give these naysayers a chance to hit...say a car-sized vehicle at 100 yards moving at 60mph with a small .22LR rifle and see if they can do it. Then tell them to do the same thing with a 50lb rifle at an object moving in the sky at 500mph at a few thousand feet of elevation. Give them all the mathematical formulas required to calculate lead for bullet flight time, then how to calculate for crosswinds, which one couldn't measure at 2000 feet of vertical distance since there are no airborne indicators.

I bet they couldn't even keep a 40x optic centered on the plane while in flight.

carebear
July 29, 2005, 09:07 PM
If you mean a political play by those who want to ban all guns one at a time by demonizing them with lies (Feinstein, schumer et al) then the ".50's shoot down planes" issue is just that.

This guy, however, is presenting his informed opinion why such a scenario is unlikely in the extreme, thus it is a "good thing" for our side.

Kurush
July 29, 2005, 09:11 PM
Great interview carebear. The antis don't care about the truth, but evidence like this can help win over moderates.

Lone_Gunman
July 29, 2005, 09:21 PM
I sure don't want to be the test case for an airplane shot with a 50 BMG.

Nehemiah Scudder
July 29, 2005, 09:35 PM
Why can't we have a 5 mile DMZ around the airports? That'd kill a couple of birds with 1 stone.

SMMAssociates
July 29, 2005, 09:39 PM
During WWII, just for example, US Forces in the Pacific Theater had a devil of a time dealing with Japanese Kamikaze aircraft while using .50BMG style weapons set up in antiaircraft configurations, as well as other even more powerful weapons.

(About the only guaranteed technique from a ship was having a 16" round pop nearby.)

The idea that a single round from a physically heavy gun that's "handheld" might take down a heavy jet is pretty silly.

It could happen, of course, but any old hunting rifle probably would have a better chance ("leading" the bird, etc.). A big hole v.s. a little hole probably is irrelevant except for the larger diameter of the damage area.

As I see it, the other problem is doing this from something other than a large anti-aircraft mount, 'cause this would only work near an airport (preferrably on the runway's centerline - a side shot would be much more difficult), is that you'd be awfully visible to the guys standing in the tower over there with binculars wondering what that gadget was.... Even with the incredible effective range, you'd likely have to be in the airport's fence line, too!

Nonsense....

Which, of course, is part of the anti's stock in trade.... :fire:

chris in va
July 29, 2005, 09:45 PM
I think what the anti's are saying is a 50 could be set up toward the end of the runway in someone's house where the jet is coming/going TOWARD you, in essence hanging still in the air. They don't mean firing at it perpendicular.

Pretty goofy regardless. I'd suspect a terrorist would rather fire off a heat seeker than a 50 cal.

beerslurpy
July 29, 2005, 09:47 PM
If 50 caliber worked as an airplane-downing round, the germans and americans would have stuck with 50 caliber machine guns instead of switching entirely to 20mm and 30mm cannons. The simple fact of the matter is that you can shoot the hell out of any large plane (be it a bomber or passenger liner) with 50 cal and it will keep on flying. And that is assuming you can get close enough to actually score hits. Your chances of hitting a plane at 30k feet with even a hail of 50 caliber fire from machine guns is infintesimally small.

The germans were arguably those who most advanced the use of artillery as an anti-aircraft weapon. It is telling that they completely abandonded all weapons short of the massive 88mm flak round. And its employment consisted of using a dense hail of shells against relatively low flying prop planes to produce arguably inconsistent success.

In other words, it is complete horsecrap.

The only single shot weapon capable of shooting down a jumbo jet is a radar guided missle with a decently big warhead to break up the airframe. Even a heat-seeking missle will only go after one of the many engines on a jumbo jet, with only a chance of a one hit kill.

carebear
July 29, 2005, 09:55 PM
Great interview carebear. The antis don't care about the truth, but evidence like this can help win over moderates.

Kurush,

Much as I'd like to claim it, this un's the great job of DeseoUn Taco.

boofus
July 29, 2005, 09:56 PM
During the Korean War the US air superiority fighter was the F-86 Sabre. It was armed with 6 .50cal machineguns. I remember reading somewhere that an average of ~12,000 rounds were fired for every enemy MiG shot down.

Now try that with a bolt action or even semi auto .50cal rifle. If you assume the rounds come in 10 round magazines and it takes 90 seconds to fully load a magazine. On average it will take you 30 hours to load enough magazines to bring down a small plane. The average amount of ammunition required would weigh ~4200 pounds, if you don't count the weight of the magazines. Like to see feinstein carry that around.

Say you take careful aimed shots. Maybe one shot every 2 seconds to try to be accurate. It would take avg 6.6 hours of continuous shooting to bring down a plane, and that's without accounting for barrel cool down or mag changes!

So you are looking at paying $3000-8000 for the rifle, another $3500 in ammunition, 30 hours of loading magazines, hauling at least 4250 lbs of gear to the airport, 6.6 hours of shooting to bring down a plane, on average. That's if you can keep the plane in range for 6 hours and hit it occasionally. A larger plane like an airliner would take even more hits.

taliv
July 29, 2005, 10:00 PM
erstwhile pilot != expert

Tylden
July 29, 2005, 10:13 PM
This is so typical of the ploys the anti-gun liberals use. Sadly, many people believe whatever they read in the papers or hear on the news and accept it as fact. Whether or not it's true or not doesn't matter....it did make quite a splash in the news and scared a lot of people in an effort to convince them that "guns are evil". In a way, this is almost a terrorist act within itself.... sometimes freedom of the press can be a dangerous thing indeed. :fire:

Kurush
July 29, 2005, 10:20 PM
Much as I'd like to claim it, this un's the great job of DeseoUn Taco.Whoops! Anyhow great work DeseoUnTaco.

jefnvk
July 29, 2005, 10:30 PM
Your chances of hitting a plane at 30k feet with even a hail of 50 caliber fire from machine guns is infintesimally small.

Would a .50 round even go 5 miles straight up?

Anything a .50 can do to a plane, a .30 can probably also do. The ballistic differences between them, while impresive, probably isn't the spread needed to do any more damage.

Geno
July 29, 2005, 10:37 PM
I recently saw a show on a department and a terrorist situation. The police tried to shoot-out the jet's tires to stop it...they had to take cover quick!!!! The bullets bounced right back in their faces. They later learned that the tires are 70+ steel ply!!!! I seriously doubt a .50 BMG would take them out.

I save seen, have video footage of .50 BMG being shot into full tanks, and full gas cans...they do NOT explode. Even partially empty/full tanks/cans do not explode. To create the "explode scene" as on TV, one has to make it happen by setting a fire source beside the tanks for when shot and fuel SPLASHES out.

There are some great videos on the markets that talk about these sorts of issues. They were produced in the late 80s early 90s. All this business about the feared .50 BMG is just a sickening, political joke. Makes me want to build one from a legal-to-buy kit just to tick 'em off. Course, I'd choose to make and register mine as a single shot pistol to make it more dangerous...concealable!! Oooooo! :rolleyes:

Doc2005

CAnnoneer
July 29, 2005, 10:42 PM
At distances where you would care to use a scope, you would have to shoot well in front of the plane anyway, making the scope useless.

If there is no scope, what kind of a sniper rifle will it be? :rolleyes:

The only plausible way to down a plane with a rifle is to satisfy all of the below conditions:

1) plane must be at very low altitude, prob. no more than a few hundred meters
2) rifle must be set on auto and fired at with 50 to 200m lead depending on the speed of the plane
3) rounds must hit something to start a fire, or take out the pilots

The chances for all of this happening - extremely slim.

The chances of this happening with a bolt-action sniper rifle - virtually nil.

Methinks, why don't the sides ask for an expert opinion from the Air Force and the Marines. Maybe because they know what the answe will be:

"What?? Hahahahahahahaha :D "

Vang
July 29, 2005, 10:45 PM
Nehemiah, do you realize how many people live within 5 miles of an airport? I mean, all of downtown Chicago is within 5 miles of an airport.

Cavalry
July 29, 2005, 10:50 PM
They say a .50 can disable a plan wile on the ground or during landing, but I ask this, why no fuss about the 700 nitro express?

Kurush
July 29, 2005, 10:59 PM
Would a .50 round even go 5 miles straight up?Sure, if you live on the moon ;) Otherwise no chance.

rick_reno
July 29, 2005, 11:03 PM
They'd say a 50 could bring down the moon if they thought it would sell.

thebucket
July 29, 2005, 11:04 PM
What do you mean a .50 BMG isn't dangerous to airplanes? Look what boxcutters did to 4 of them! If boxcutters are that dangerous, guns must be Satan's Own Black Anti-Aircraft Hand! :evil:

Oh and :neener: to Sarah Brady and company!

Boats
July 29, 2005, 11:08 PM
http://www.daveswarbirds.com/b-17/photos/body/side1.gif
88mm FlugzeugAbwehrKannone

Over 200 documented bullet holes in Butch O'Hare's Hellcat which he RTB.
http://www.flightjournal.com/fj/images/plane_profiles/hellcat/shot_up.jpg

The VPC's Tom Diaz and Dianne Feinstein are in bad need of .50BMG suppositories. :evil: One itty-bitty round ain't that dangerous.

DeseoUnTaco
July 29, 2005, 11:23 PM
Would a .50 round even go 5 miles straight up?
Yes, if you attach it to the front of a rocket that's capable of going 5 miles up. I doubt it would go even one mile straight up.
Whoops! Anyhow great work DeseoUnTaco.
Thank you! By the way, Salon's "Ask the Pilot" column, written by Patrick Smith who is giving me the expert opinion here, is a great column. I recommend it for myth debunking, air trivia, and enjoying reading.
The simple fact of the matter is that you can shoot the hell out of any large plane (be it a bomber or passenger liner) with 50 cal and it will keep on flying.
Basically, that's what I assumed, and seems pretty obvious when you think about it.

Now here's the question: At the very top of this thread, I made a link to 50calterror website, so that readers of this thread have the opportunity to hear my side of the argument, their side of the argument, and the opinion of an expert who isn't an NRA member and doesn't get too worked up about the 2nd amend. I wish there were someone at 50calTerror.com who I could contact and who would do me the same courtesy: present a link to this thread so that visitors to 50calterror.com can make their own fully-informed opinions, too. It would be great if 50calterror.com got some expert opinions.

I love their quote from the brochure where it talks about using a 50 cal to destroy aircraft. What that means is that a sniper carefully targets the engine or some critical part of a helicopter, etc, while the thing is motionless on the ground, and shoots it, rendering it unflyable. That's a far cry from knocking one out of the air, which, as we can see in this thread, is close to impossible.

Marshall
July 29, 2005, 11:28 PM
Are the windows in commercial airliners bullet proof, passenger and pilot area?

Harry Tuttle
July 29, 2005, 11:29 PM
http://premium1.uploadit.org/docZox///VPC50bmg.jpg

Cavalry
July 29, 2005, 11:30 PM
not .50 proof

Kurush
July 29, 2005, 11:33 PM
Are the windows in commercial airliners bullet proof, passenger and pilot area?Airliners are not armored in any way. "Bullet proof" is a bad term BTW, not too many things other than sand dunes are really bullet proof.

beerslurpy
July 29, 2005, 11:33 PM
Small debris and birds get sucked into jet engines all the time and the engines dont explode. You have to remember that you can put a half inch hole in many parts of even the engines and nothing bad will happen. It isnt like a car engine where a fragment of metal can get wedged in the side of a piston or jam a valve open. Any damaged bits knocked loose will just get shot out the back of the engine.

Something that puncures a fuel line would be more serious, but that is why all airplanes since nearly the dawn of flying have had fuel cutoffs for each engine. And all airplanes today and earlier could fly with disabled engines. Remember that these were the same engineers that designed only slightly different planes to drop bombs over enemy territory while being shot to pieces.

In any case, it is stupid to assume that nothing on a plane will fail, malfeasance aside. Everything is redundant as hell including pilots and engines. Intentionally causing minor failures with projectiles is not more likely to cause an accident than accidentally caused minor failures.

And this is assuming that someone shoots the plane as it is taking off.

Jrob24
July 29, 2005, 11:38 PM
Would hitting the fuel tank with an incendiary round work?, or does the fuel need to be vaporized?

beerslurpy
July 29, 2005, 11:38 PM
Are the windows in commercial airliners bullet proof, passenger and pilot area?

It doesnt matter since the windows arent a structural component of the airplane. The whole point of the skin of the plane is just to make it aerodyanmic and make it easier to keep the plane pressurized. If you perforated it with bullets the inside would be noisier, but it would still stay mostly pressurized and it would still be capable of maintaining altitutde if desired.

In the past, bombings have only been successful when they actually severed one part of the airframe completely from another so that the main part of the plane was lacking a tail, wings or cockpit, all of which are needed to fly it. Even a plane with no engines can land without killing the passengers although it would be far from pleasant.

Anyone remember that plane that fell from the sky right after 9/11? Was it determined to be a bombing or not?

Old NFO
July 29, 2005, 11:41 PM
The only single shot weapon capable of shooting down a jumbo jet is a radar guided missle with a decently big warhead to break up the airframe. Even a heat-seeking missle will only go after one of the many engines on a jumbo jet, with only a chance of a one hit kill.

You're close Beerslurpy, however, there is what we used to call the "Golden BB". Having been on the receiving end of 50 cal and 20mm anti-aircraft fire while flying, I can tell you it is NOT pleasant, it is also very hard to hit even a slow moving plane like the P-3 I flew in (8 flights shot at with 1 round hitting the tail of 1 P-3).

Having said that, I also knew people that were shot down in Hueys and A-4's/A-6's/A-7's by a single AK-47 round in the "right" place aka "Golden BB".

Washing Machine Charlie (VC Sniper at Da Nang) shot down a C-45 flown by Air America taking off from Da Nang in 67 or 68 with a "Golden BB" that penetrated the windshield and center punched the pilot, so it can happen.

Also, windshields are tough, but not that tough- They cannot take a bird strike directly in the windshield without shattering, so a 50 would penetrate easily, assuming one could actually hit the windshield (the odds would be astronomical with anything less than full auto with tracer (obtw, tracer actually has a different path than a non tracer round in air).

You would really need someone like Dave M to take the shot, due to the lead required (good wing hunters make good fighter pilots/gunners as they inherently know where/how to lead a shot at a moving target).

And as Boats has demonstrated, if you don't get a Golden BB, you can get home with an amazing number of rather large holes in the bird and will continue to fly.

Having said all this, I agree with Tylden- Too many people automatically believe what they read/see on TV and "assume" it's correct. :cuss:

Harry Tuttle
July 29, 2005, 11:44 PM
Crash: loss of vertical stabilizer and shedding of both engines on American Airlines Airbus Model 300-600, followed by crash into residential area shortly after takeoff from JFK International. Deaths: 265. Belle Harbor, NY, USA. (November 12, 2001)

beerslurpy
July 29, 2005, 11:46 PM
But there isnt a golden BB location for a single bullet to take out on a commercial jet. Even the pilot on a commercial jet is redundant.

Using a machine gun would help obviously, but someone lobbing enormous volumes of tracered 50 cal at airplanes taking off would probably draw a lot of attention really quickly.

Cavalry
July 29, 2005, 11:46 PM
Congress should ban all birds, they have been known to bring down jet liners :rolleyes:

Harry Tuttle
July 29, 2005, 11:48 PM
Airliners are stout enough to stand up to some serious damage:
http://www.aloha.net/~icarus/243a.jpg
Aloha Airlines 737 airliner: blowout of upper fuselage skin
Maui, Hawaii, United States
April 28, 1988
Deaths: 1

No unusual occurrences were noted by either crewmember during the departure and climbout. As the airplane leveled at 24,000 feet, both pilots heard a loud "clap" or "whooshing" sound followed by a wind noise behind them. The first officer's head was jerked backward, and she stated that debris, including pieces of gray insulation, was floating in the cockpit. The captain observed that the cockpit entry door was missing and that there was blue sky where the first-class ceiling had been. The captain immediately took over the controls of the airplane. He described the airplane attitude as rolling slightly left and right and that the flight controls felt "loose."

Old NFO
July 29, 2005, 11:49 PM
Crash: loss of vertical stabilizer and shedding of both engines on American Airlines Airbus Model 300-600, followed by crash into residential area shortly after takeoff from JFK International. Deaths: 265. Belle Harbor, NY, USA. (November 12, 2001)

Harry, that one was actually caused by voticies generated by another large passendger jet, which caused the Airbus to shed it's stabilizer. Once that happened, there was no saving it.

Marshall
July 29, 2005, 11:50 PM
Yes I do remember that, I, to this day, am skeptical and I am not much of a conspiracy guy either.

I have noticed that everytime there has been an explosion or large roaring fire at a oil refinery, it's always been blown off to be something operational. :scrutiny:

We have had no successful terrorist acts since 9/11, you think they would tell us and give the terrorist the media coverage and satisfaction if they didn't have to? ;)

Marshall
July 29, 2005, 11:52 PM
I thought he was talking about the plane that blew up after take off from NY or somewhere. That's the one I was referring to.

Old NFO
July 29, 2005, 11:53 PM
BeerSlurpy, there is always a Golden BB- I'm not going to describe it here, but it does exist, including for airliners... :(

beerslurpy
July 29, 2005, 11:58 PM
Yeah marshall I meant exactly that one. It was right after 9/11 and I remember everyone saying how the airline industry was screwed if it turned out to be terrorism. They did some sleight of hand about waiting for an investigation and that was pretty much the last I heard of it.

I dont know what to say NFO. I realize you have a billion times more knowledge of being shot at in planes but I cant think of any glaring vulnerabilities in commercial airliners, at least as far as 50 cal rifle fire is concerned.

Waitone
July 30, 2005, 12:10 AM
Sarah and VPC needed a new boogie man since the last one (assault weapons) tanked. So the picked the .50 "sniper" rifle and began to invent fact.

Marshall
July 30, 2005, 12:19 AM
beerslurpy,

Yea, I remember the first reports were from witnesses that said they saw the huge explosion and someone said they thought they saw a missle of some kind. All that went away real quick. Wasn't there even a video of it all?

Kurush
July 30, 2005, 12:25 AM
People see all kinds of things that aren't there when they're scared. Remember the lady who said she saw wires sticking out of the Brazilian guy?

DeseoUnTaco
July 30, 2005, 12:37 AM
BeerSlurpy, there is always a Golden BB- I'm not going to describe it here, but it does exist, including for airliners...
That's what I'm trying to find out. Honestly, I don't believe there is a Golden BB-spot on a jetliner, that a single bullet (50 cal) could hit that could cause the plane to come down. I believe that if you thoroughly soaked the plane in bullets from a cluster of mounted 50 MGs, then yes, it would finally come down, but I don't see any evidence that there's some magic spot that will bring down the plane. Why would anyone design a plane with such a vulnerability? There's two of everything except the airframe itself, and it seems like all successful attacks (or disasters) that bring down a plane involve gross damage to the airframe. There's no spot on an airframe where one (or even a dozen) 50 cal bullets would break it.

Kurush
July 30, 2005, 12:49 AM
http://www.ntsb.gov/publictn/2002/AAR0201.htm
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was a loss of airplane pitch control resulting from the in-flight failure of the horizontal stabilizer trim system jackscrew assembly’s acme nut threads. The thread failure was caused by excessive wear resulting from Alaska Airlines’ insufficient lubrication of the jackscrew assembly.

Contributing to the accident were Alaska Airlines’ extended lubrication interval and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) approval of that extension, which increased the likelihood that a missed or inadequate lubrication would result in excessive wear of the acme nut threads, and Alaska Airlines’ extended end play check interval and the FAA’s approval of that extension, which allowed the excessive wear of the acme nut threads to progress to failure without the opportunity for detection. Also contributing to the accident was the absence on the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 of a fail-safe mechanism to prevent the catastrophic effects of total acme nut thread loss.

beerslurpy
July 30, 2005, 01:01 AM
No no no, there were two separate crashes, one before and one after 9/11. I remember them both because my mom was on a flight landing 5 minutes before the first crash at the same airport.

The first one was attributed to some sort of static electricity problem or a fuel leak or something even though multiple witnesses described a trail of fire/smoke before it fell apart. Some theorize that a nearby naval ship fired a missile at the plane as part of what was beleived to be a naval exercise. Didnt get to hear a lot of details on that theory either.

The post-9/11 one involved a plane taking off from JFK (I think) and falling into a neighborhood in brooklyn immediately afterwards. I think that was the one that got attributed to some sort of tail stabilizer failure but again who knows the truth.

SMMAssociates
July 30, 2005, 01:02 AM
I'm sure there's a "Golden BB" for about anything....

The fighter pilots and AA gun operators probably know some of them.

The sniper in Vietnam likely had a lot more chances to practice than the average terrorist would, too.

As we've been discussing, having R. Lee Ermey show up here at my place to criticize my typing is probably more likely than a single .50 taking out an airliner.

What's going on, of course, is something else entirely. When the anti's hear anything that's going to sound good - "super accurate", "long range", "super velocity", "can penetrate body armor", the jump up like my dog when I rattle the "treats" jar....

Then when it turns out that the weapon is somewhat marginal - like the .50BMG, which, regardless of the fun aspects, is seriously expensive to play with, or the little .17FN (or whatever it's called - notice that flap vanished?) which is kind of marginal (IMHO) as a varminter, then they try to demonize it, and get it banned.

The result is a list of guns that look nasty, so they are banned.... Or the idiotic "system" the Clinton AWB used. Traps for the unwary, mostly....

And we lose guns one at a time....

The "trigger locks" thing that looks like it'll be on the "frivolous lawsuits" bill, is another example of incremental disaster. First it's "must be sold with". Then "must have built in", or "must be used", etc. Eventually we get to DC's arrangement where the gun can't be easily rendered functional when stored in your own home....

Having failed to defeat us in total, they want to do it in detail. Logic has no place here.... Vote early and often....

Get rid of the "feel good" people who like to "do something" because it'll look good in the paper, but, in practice, will be, at best, worthless.

DeseoUnTaco
July 30, 2005, 01:07 AM
Kurush, I am corrected. There is a magic spot on a DC-80 where a failure of a single part brings down the plane. I'm quite surprised by that. I note that the DC-80 is an old airplane, and I think designers have gotten more safety-focused since then.

But none of this has anything to do with 50 cals. You could have a terrorist camped out near every airport in the US taking shots with 50 cal rifles every day and it would cause a lot of expensive repairs, it might kill an unlucky passenger if the bullet happened to hit him, and it would cause a lot of planes to have to land and make repairs, but I still don't think it would take down a plane. Maybe if they did it for a hundred years they would eventually get just the right shot.

Going back to the original subject, as Patrick said, they won't mess around with rifles that have barely any chance of working when they can use a known-to-be-effective method like a bomb.

chopinbloc
July 30, 2005, 01:19 AM
okay, so we know that hitting the plane itself would extremely difficult, let alone hitting any crucial component. so rather than endlessly debate astronomically improbable what ifs, why don't we try to find a way to educate people? the antis have a massive machine working for them but we have to do something to get the truth out, right?

KC&97TA
July 30, 2005, 01:58 AM
we should inform the anti's that a 25mm with a HEDP tip would be a much better choice too shoot an air plane out of the sky, than a weak little 50 cal

I think the best way for terrorist to attack would be to drill holes in the run way when nobody was looking and place land mines in the holes :uhoh:

here's a link to the 25mm - fixed link

http://www.military.com/soldiertech/0,14632,Soldiertech_XM109,,00.html

artherd
July 30, 2005, 03:45 AM
So you are looking at paying $3000-8000 for the rifle, another $3500 in ammunition, 30 hours of loading magazines, hauling at least 4250 lbs of gear to the airport, 6.6 hours of shooting to bring down a plane, on average.

Dang! Where can I get .50BMG rounds for that kinda money?!??!

Try more like TWENTY FOUR GRAND worth of shells for 12000 rounds.

artherd
July 30, 2005, 03:48 AM
> Hitting the cockpit and shattering a window (lucky
> shot): I'm not sure what would happen to cockpit glass
> if it got hit by a 50 BMG. If it shattered and the
> plane is moving at 500mph, I would assume that pilots
> would lose control and be in trouble. I assume this is
> some very tough laminated glass which would not
> shatter, in which case the pilots would be able to get
> the plane back onto the ground.

I really don't know what would happen, but cockpit glass is *very*
strong. I once saw a video of two men trying to shatter a cockpit windshield
with a sledgehammer, and they could not so much as crack it. That said, the
danger here would be the window fracturing and causing a decompression. Decompressions alone aren't apt to be perilous, but combined with a blown out windshield...who knows? Planes have survived windshield blow-outs before. In any case, this would take a very lucky shot.



Jet glass IS laminated, to resist against bird strikes. It is very similar (but not identical) to laminated bullet-resistant glass on say ARMOURED CARS.

However, a .50BMG ball (and certinly AP) round will hole both.

It would likely NOT shatter, and MOST CERTINLY WILL NOT decompress the aircraft, catistrophically or not.

It will not decompress the plane either slowly or rapidly, as it will be moving at the most ~220mph on aproach/landing and be no more than a thousand or two feet in the air at most.

artherd
July 30, 2005, 03:51 AM
The only remote way a .50 could bring down a jet would be:

Set the fuel tanks on fire (damned difficult, even with API/API-T rounds.) And, nothing a .30-06 deer rifle with tracers can't do either.

Kill both pilots (really f**** damn difficult even before rotation and after power-up while plane is still on the ground, let alone in the air.) .30 cal would have hard time going through window, but easy time going through any other part of the plane.

benEzra
July 31, 2005, 09:37 AM
Harry, that one was actually caused by voticies generated by another large passendger jet, which caused the Airbus to shed it's stabilizer. Once that happened, there was no saving it.
Actually, it wasn't the vortices from the 747, it was the pilot rapidly reversing the rudder from stop to stop in response to the vortex, thereby swinging the tail out far enough that when the rudder was reversed the final time, the aerodynamic load exceeded the ultimate load of the tail and the tail came off. The plane then continued to yaw and came apart in midair.

Aviation Week did a quite in-depth study of that crash (American Airlines flight 587, I think), and a simple calculation of the force on the tail at that airspeed, yaw angle, and rudder deflection significantly exceeded the calculated failure load of the tail.

Back to the original point of the thread--even if a plane is ON THE RUNWAY and coming STRAIGHT TOWARD YOU, it is almost impossible to hit a pilot or an engine due to bullet time-of-flight issues. An anti on Common Ground Common Sense and I were debating this (he said it would be easy to take out the pilot and copilot), so I ran some calculations and posted the following reply:



"Let's explore that scenario a bit. You pretty much have to have a straight frontal shot so you don't have to lead the plane by 100 feet, so that means your hypothetical sniper will be set up at the departure end of the runway. Using his ultra-sniper camoflage skills, we'll assume he's only, say, 200 yards from the departure end. But to hit a pilot, he'd have to hit the plane before it starts to rotate, because once the nose lifts putting a round into the cockpit would be extremely difficult due to obstruction (both visual and ballistic) by the nose angle. So your hypothetical terrorist sniper would probably be looking at an 1800-yard shot, given runway distances and such.

That's right at the maximum effective range of the .50 as given by the U.S. military. Let's run some numbers on a hypothetical 1800-yard frontal shot on an airliner on its takeoff roll, to see if it's a realistic scenario.

The trajectory table below is from from http://www.eskimo.com/~jbm/ballistics/traj/traj.html. These are from a calculation I had previously run on a target five feet off the ground, but the numbers would be very close for a target 15 feet off the ground. So:

.50 BMG

Bullet: 750-grain Barnes, ballistic coefficient 1.07
Muzzle Velocity: 2800 feet/sec
Downrange Wind: 0
Crosswind: 3 mph
Temperature: 59.6 °F
Barometric Pressure: 29.92 in Hg
Relative Humidity: 0.0%
Altitude: Sea Level
Zero: 1800 yards
Target Height: 5 feet off ground

Elevation: 62.952 moa

Range.....Velocity.....Energy.......Drop
(yards)...(ft/sec)....(ft-lbs)....(inches)
...0.......2803.0.....13083.2.......-3.0
.200.......2629.0.....11509.6......119.6
.400.......2462.1.....10094.3......222.0
.600.......2301.9......8824.1......301.4
.800.......2147.8......7682.0......354.6
1000.......1999.1......6655.3......377.5
1200.......1857.0......5742.6......365.6
1400.......1722.1......4938.4......313.3
1600.......1594.7......4234.8......214.1
1700.......1534.2......3919.5......144.4
1750.......1504.8......3770.8......104.1
1800.......1476.0......3627.9.......60.0
1850.......1447.8......3490.7.......11.9
1900.......1420.3......3359.4......-40.4
1950.......1393.6......3233.9......-97.0
2000.......1367.5......3114.2.....-158.0

Target is moving toward the shooter at a speed of, let's say, 150 mph, or 220 feet per second. That's 73 yards per second. The target is roughly 4 feet high seated. The bullet at that distance is dropping roughly 4 feet per 50 yards. So the shooter would have to estimate the range to the airplane within 50 yards, when the airplane is moving at 73 yards per second, to even have a chance of hitting one pilot. That is an impossible shot even for a highly trained military sniper.

To hit the second pilot--we'll allow the hypothetical shooter two seconds to settle in from recoil and acquire a second sight picture. The still-accelerating airplane has moved another 150 yards toward the shooter, changing the bullet point of impact by 12.5 feet, but there's no time to readjust the scope so the shooter needs 12.5 feet of holdover, and still has to guesstimate the range to within 50 yards or so on a target moving 73 yards per second. A shot even more impossible than the first.

SO, I think we can say that long-distance shots on small, fast-moving targets are essentially IMPOSSIBLE with a .50 BMG rifle, even from straight ahead. If you had a .50 machine gun on a pedestal mount, and tracer ammunition so you could just walk the stream into the target (like the old .50 AA guns on WW2 battleships), maybe you'd get a hit. But not with a sniper rifle.

There's a reason why even the special forces use the .50 for disabling parked airplanes. Shoulder-fired missiles are a credible threat to airliners in the vicinity of an airport, but .50 BMG target rifles just aren't."

Dannyboy
July 31, 2005, 12:58 PM
No no no, there were two separate crashes, one before and one after 9/11. I remember them both because my mom was on a flight landing 5 minutes before the first crash at the same airport.

The first one was attributed to some sort of static electricity problem or a fuel leak or something even though multiple witnesses described a trail of fire/smoke before it fell apart. Some theorize that a nearby naval ship fired a missile at the plane as part of what was beleived to be a naval exercise. Didnt get to hear a lot of details on that theory either.

I believe you are referring to TWA Flight 800. I think that's what it was anyway. That would be the one that everybody seems to think was completely destroyed by a single Stinger missle.

boofus
July 31, 2005, 02:17 PM
Dang! Where can I get .50BMG rounds for that kinda money?!??!

Doh, I looked up the wrong price for ammo. Hehe yes you are correct. It would cost close to 8-10x more than the number I listed. Which makes the anti's arguments even more absurd.

For close to $35,000 for the rifle and ammunition, they could just go to some former eastern bloc nation and purchase a truckload of SA-7 or SA-14 shoulder launched SAMs and have a much more realistic chance of downing an airliner.

Actually I think for that kind of cash they might be able to find some unscrupulous, underpaid Russian air force generals that would sell them a complete MiG.

magsnubby
July 31, 2005, 06:00 PM
If Jim Rockford could shoot down a plane with a .38 snubby, then a .50 should be able to bring one down with ease.

SMMAssociates
August 1, 2005, 01:34 AM
If Jim Rockford could shoot down a plane with a .38 snubby, then a .50 should be able to bring one down with ease.

Magsnubby:

The TV people would also have us believe that a small Nun can fly....

Or that common people shouldn't have guns....

Probably not a good place to put much trust.

Regards,

Cesiumsponge
August 1, 2005, 03:13 AM
Of course, once make a big enough stink and someone proves it is impossible to hit a moving airplane out of the sky with numbers and science fact, as opposed to science fiction, they revise their argument and argue snipers shooting at stationary airplanes on the ground, which starts the process all over again.

You just can't win with these idiots. You have to educate the people who hear the voices of these idiots.

magsnubby
August 2, 2005, 12:54 AM
WHAT???NUNS CAN'T REALLY FLY??? :what:

That's just great. Next you'll be trying to tell me there's no Santa Clause. :eek:

scout26
August 2, 2005, 02:43 PM
That's just great. Next you'll be trying to tell me there's no Santa Clause.

Sorry Virginia (aka Magsnubby), there is no Santa Claus (or Santa Klaus).



Oh, there's a Santa Clause......................movie ;)

Marshall
August 2, 2005, 03:12 PM
Sorry Virginia (aka Magsnubby), there is no Santa Claus (or Santa Klaus).
Is so. :neener:

Magnum Mike
August 2, 2005, 03:41 PM
The ban of .50 caliber rifles in California is not a surprise, that's a typical "feel-good" legislation to give Californians a false sense of security.

Like many have mentioned here, a terrorist would have to shoot hundreds of .50 caliber BMG rounds at an airliner in order to do substantial damage, let alone bring it down. The fact of the matter is, modern airliners have composite materials in many areas, someone with sinister intentions would have to stand no more than 100 yards away to be able to penetrate the skin of the aircraft with a .50 BMG. Plus modern jetliners have redundant systems in case of failures in the fuel, hydraulic or electrical systems.

I'm also sure that if someone thinks he can shoot down a jetliner with a .50 cal BMG, people would definitely see him. There's heavy traffic around the perimeters of most major airports in the United States, so a terrorist a with .50 BMG will not go unnoticed.

magsnubby
August 3, 2005, 11:21 PM
I don't belive any of you. My 6 yo grandaughter told there is to a Santa. :neener:

c_yeager
August 4, 2005, 03:25 AM
The problem is that one cannot say that its *impossible* to down a jetliner with a single round of 50BMG. There is always a 1 in a million chance of hitting one of the very few parts that would matter (in theory a well placed round could kill both polits for example). As long as its not strictly IMPOSSIBLE the antis can argue that it is possible, and then their logic would be "well it COULD be used to shoot down a plane, and since there is no legitimate reason to own a .50BMG why take the risk?"

The sad fact is that this is a fight that is better counters on the basis of civil rights than science. If someone says "a 50 can shoot down a plane" one *could* argue that it was unlikely at best, however that doesnt actually counter the point. Strictly speaking a 50 CAN shoot down a plane. Its already been proven that a box-cutter can bring down multiple aircraft. The better answer to the "a 50 can down a plane" argument is this: "so what", safe airtravel doesnt trump our civil rights.

Magnum Mike
August 4, 2005, 12:43 PM
C_Yeager - Its already been proven that a box-cutter can bring down multiple aircraft.

Again, the problem is not the "box cutters", just like .50 caliber rifles. You may not see a need for a such a weapon, but there are people out there who like to have them. I have no need for one, at least for the time being, but that doesn't mean that the rest of the gun owners out there should not be allowed to own them thinking that it can make air travel safer. Terrorists are using other types of weapons and I don't think they're going to resort to the .50 BMG to cause havoc. They're the type of people who strap bombs to themselves and kill innocent civilians and with that being said, they don't have the sophistication and intelligence to come up with more elaborate ways to bring down jetliners, afterall, look at the methods they used on September 11th.

Like I said in my previous post, the 50 cal round by itself cannot bring down a jetliner, and the chances of that happenning are next to nothing. They have cockpit windows that are made of strong plexiglass material that can withstand the tremendous pressure they undergo at cruise altitudes and the stresses that are experienced in flight. Like others have said here, you'd have to shoot hundreds of rounds before you can seriously damage an aircraft to bring it down.

AZ Jeff
August 4, 2005, 12:56 PM
Kurush, I am corrected. There is a magic spot on a DC-80 where a failure of a single part brings down the plane. I'm quite surprised by that. I note that the DC-80 is an old airplane, and I think designers have gotten more safety-focused since then.

Some clarification here:

There is no such aircraft as a "DC-80". There is a DC-8, and a DC-10.

Furthermore, there are LOTS of places on an aircraft where a single point failure will result in the crash of the aircraft. The main wing spars (the beams that give the wing it's stiffness) are an excellent example.

HOWEVER..........a single hit from a .50BMG round is NOT enought to destroy that wing spar in it's entirety. So, trying to use a .50BMG to result in a "single point failure" is an exercise in futility, for the most part.

carebear
August 4, 2005, 01:01 PM
Magnum Mike,

I think you're misinterpreting Yeager. He knows that it isn't the object that is the problem.

The problem is one of credibility and basic debate technique. It is theoretically possible (although statistically stupendously unlikely, it is not "impossible") for someone to, in this case, bring down an airliner with a .50 BMG rifle.

If we claim it is "impossible" as the keystone of our argument why the round and weapons should not be restricted, we open ourselves to contradiction. The minute we have been shown to have lied or misrepresented the truth we allow people who are against us to point that "lie" out and justifiably lower our credibility on the argument to the uninformed and undecided in general. There's no reason to give the anti's that hook, by acknowledging it, we preemptively disarm their argument and make them appear ridiculous to continue to spout it.

We're better off acknowledging the one in a million nature of it happening, by explaining, as you do in your post, why the chances are infinitesmal, but basing the meat of the argument on the fact that all sorts of things are also "possible" and many times more likely, but don't deserve to impinge on our freedoms.

The best way to sway the uninformed and undecided is by analogy to things in their daily life, say, the old warhorse of the variety of one-in-a-million car mishaps.

Don't Tread On Me
August 4, 2005, 01:04 PM
I know this has already been said, but I'd like to say it my way.


.50BMG is not a threat to a jetliner. Unless of course some miracle shot is placed on the fuel tank area with an armor piercing incindiary round. This might cause a fire or explosion.


.50BMG is not a threat to a plane in flight, on a runway, possibly, in flight....I'd like to see someone make that shot. Even near an airport, you're talking well over 800 yards..and a moving target at over 170mph. Good luck.



The whole debate is utterly absurd. The .50BMG is NOT EFFECTIVE as a sniper rifle, or single shot system. It is ONLY effective as a belt-fed fully-automatic weapon with full barrel length.

The .50's mounted on Humvee's, tanks, or other weapons of war are not used to fire 1-2 shots. They fire big automatic bursts. They usually fire on positions or lightly armored objects, or light barriers. Anything remotely tough gets a HEAT tank round, or a Helfire missle.


.50BMG used in the sniper world is only effective against personel at long distance, or against lightly armored or thinly skinned materiel. Like hitting an anti-aircraft missle battery, right on the missle sitting on the rack.


Of course, this is at the hands of a professional, military trained sniper who does it with the full dedication of his life, spends years working at it, with the finest training in the world.

They lost the AWB...not going to happen federally any time soon. .50's they can work on from a terrorist perspective. Have to ride that post-911 bandwagon ya know.


Shameless, but then again, look at who we are battling against.

dpesec
August 4, 2005, 01:22 PM
That's the real problem. Far too many people believe what the see in the movies or on TV. My girlfried asked my why I carry 2 spare mags because 1 shot would stop anybody. I asked where she learned that. She said the movies. You shoot a person and the fall backward and never get up. :banghead:

This is the problem, too many people think Hollywood is truth. I had a little chat with her and she now understands the basic laws of physics. :evil:

c_yeager
August 5, 2005, 04:19 AM
Like I said in my previous post, the 50 cal round by itself cannot bring down a jetliner, and the chances of that happenning are next to nothing.

This sentance is self contradictory. You say that it is both impossible and highly improbable for a .50 to down an aircraft. This is why the argument falls flat.

Im not countering the rest of your post because i happen to agree with you, which i thought was readily apparent.

SMMAssociates
August 5, 2005, 04:35 AM
The problem with "Junk Science" is that if something is possible, regardless of it's improbability, the "for the children" crowd will grab it and run with it.

They will, of course, not bother to mention the improbability, and the media, being uncritical of that group, won't notice it either.

A slightly cleaned and paraphrased example of a post I saw the other day:

Media Bias? If George Bush walked on water, the media would report: "President Bush can't swim." :cuss:

Regards,

Double Naught Spy
August 5, 2005, 10:00 AM
beerslurpy said Small debris and birds get sucked into jet engines all the time and the engines dont explode. You have to remember that you can put a half inch hole in many parts of even the engines and nothing bad will happen.

The engine may not explode, but even fairly small birds can cause some pretty significant damage if sucked into an engine.

http://www.compfused.com/directlink/853/

Bird strikes and birds sucked into engines cause problems for lots of planes that while not always causing crashes, do cause forced emergency landings.

http://www.birdstrike.us/birdstrike_reports.htm

So while birds and small debris may get sucked in all the time, supposedly, they also cause some very real problems.

Where a .50 comes into play is that it does NOT have to do a lot of damage to bring down a plane or to disable a plane before take off. It only needs to upset the spinning turbine's balance, fuel flow, or alter the path of hot gasses to cause an engine to fail.

With that said, terrorists and others do not us single or semi-auto .50 bmg rifles to shoot down aircraft for one simple reason...they don't have much realistic chance in hell of hitting a flying aircraft with a single shot. In combat, when planes are brought down by .50s, it is usually from multiples of .50s firing in full auto and even then, only a fraction of the rounds fired actually hit the aircraft.

An incendiary round through a wing or fuselage tank would do the trick, no doubt. Once again, it is a matter of actually hitting the plane.

I don't know where folks go the idea of 5 miles. According to the USMC, the M82A1 only has a range of 7000 yards and is only really considered effective to about 2000. Yes, there is the occasional shot greater than that range, but those are the exception shots, not the norm.

RavenVT100
August 5, 2005, 11:17 AM
Yes, there is the occasional shot greater than that range, but those are the exception shots, not the norm.

The rifle cannot shoot that way on its own. An exceptionally skilled individual needs to be behind the rifle in order to do it.

DeseoUnTaco
August 5, 2005, 12:07 PM
Exceptionally lucky shots can bring down planes. I'm thinking of the way the Concord crashed. It was going down the runway for takeoff. It ran over a small piece of metal that had fallen off another plane. That piece of metal was able to cause the tire to burst. The tire burst in such a way that a piece was expelled with enough force to pop the fuel tank. The pop was severe enough that the plane caught on fire and went down, kill everyone on board.

All that because of a little piece of metal. A terrorist could have gotten near the unway and tossed a piece of metal like that and bring down an airplane.

Except... that's one of those things that's so bizar, so out-of-this-world that it could never be done intentionally. If a terrorist really wanted to do that he would need a trainload of litle bits of metal and he would have to sit there throwing them onto runways for many decades before he would get his result, if ever.

It seems that that's the same situation with 50 cals.

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