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Their Arrows Will Darken the Sun

The Evolution and Science of Ballistics

Mark Denny

Publication Year: 2011

The science of ballistics has a long history and starts with one question: How does a projectile move through the air? Even before physicists worked that one out, military engineers had been tinkering with ballistic devices for centuries. The trebuchet of the Middle Ages has given way to rocket power, and the science of ballistics has evolved to match the technology. Mark Denny’s survey covers this dynamic subject from prehistory to the weapons of tomorrow. Taking the bang-whiz-thud approach, Denny first talks about internal ballistics—Bang!—from before gunpowder to the development of modern firearms. External ballistics—Whiz!—are next, with discussions about short- and long-range trajectories. Denny’s lesson ends with a Thud!—an explanation of terminal ballistics. Throughout, Denny conveys applicable physics principles in a way that will appeal to technology buffs and ballistics enthusiasts alike. His fun and factual explanations are free of complicated equations; notes cover the key aspects of ballistics physics for the more technically inclined. Denny has perfected this engaging balance of science and story. For study or hobby, Their Arrows Will Darken the Sun is an entertaining guide to the world of ballistics. Praise for Mark Denny "For a scientist, Denny's approach is delightfully down to earth."—The Age "Denny's writing is anything but dry and boring. He adeptly explains complex subject matter and does so with relatively simple language and minimal use of symbolic notation."—Bat Research News

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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pp. vi

The process of publishing a book is one that takes time and the expertise of many people besides the author. For permission to reproduce photos from his collection, I am grateful to Bob Adams. For his excellent drawings of soldiers from classical antiquity, I thank Johnny Shumate. At the Johns ...

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pp. 1-4

Ballistic science has been important to humans for as long as they have hunted or waged war, but it is only over the past 250 years that the scientific discipline of ballistics has matured from a craft art. A deep understanding of modern ballistics theory requires specialized study over several years, and yet it holds a fascination for nonspecialists. You most ...

Part I: Internal Ballistics

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Chapter 1. Before Gunpowder

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pp. 7-26

Projectile weapons are as old as our species. Before gunpowder, weapons began and ended with the rock; Stone Age man would throw a small one by hand, whereas medieval man would launch a large one from a sophisticated counterpoise siege engine such as a trebuchet. Between these two extremes, other projectiles appeared: sling stones, arrows, throwing ...

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Chapter 2. Gunpowder Weapons

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pp. 27-50

In chapter 1 we saw how the potential-energy weapons of bygone ages converted stored gravitational energy or the elastic energy of stretched sinews into the kinetic energy of a projectile. Over millennia, these weapons evolved and became impressive machines—impressive for their clever design as well as for their destructive power. Beginning in the Middle ...

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Chapter 3. The Development of Modern Firearms: New Technical Challenges

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pp. 51-73

We begin this chapter where we finished chapter 2, with rifled muskets in the middle of the nineteenth century, and will progress from these strange hybrid shoulder-fired weapons to their modern equivalent: assault rifles. In parallel, we will look at the development of ordnance over the same period. The reason for pausing at this particular time in history (around ...

Part II: External Ballistics

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Chapter 4. Short-Range Trajectories: Elementary Aerodynamics

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pp. 77-101

Internal ballistics takes place in the gun barrel; transitional ballistics happens at the muzzle; and external ballistics covers the trajectory from near the gun barrel to the target. So far in this book we have covered the path of a projectile only for a few inches or feet—while it is in physical contact with the launcher, be it a human hand, a catapult sling, or a gun barrel. ...

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Chapter 5. Long-Range Trajectories: Advanced Aerodynamics

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pp. 102-124

I ended chapter 4 by observing that a projectile with a center of pressure (CP) forward of its center of gravity (CG) would be aerodynamically unstable. This is precisely the case for our most common ballistic projectiles: bullets (and also artillery shells). Why are these projectiles unstable, and what can be done to stabilize their trajectories? We already know the answer to the second part of this question: bullets and shells are given a ...

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Chapter 6. New Technology, New Ballistics

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pp. 125-148

Weapons technology progressed rapidly in the second half of the nineteenth century, as we have seen. Innovation and technological advances continued throughout the twentieth century, at a somewhat slower pace, but the development of weapons platforms and integrated weapons systems accelerated, and this explosion (pardon the pun) of weapons technology continues today. Bigger guns fire more rapidly to longer distances, ...

Part III: Terminal Ballistics

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Chapter 7. Stopping the Target

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pp. 151-170

The purpose of a projectile weapon is, and has been since prehistory, to stop a target. To stop it from moving, from being able to hurt you, or from breathing. This purpose is not necessarily achieved simply by hitting the target; a sling stone may bounce off a leather jerkin, or a cannonball may bounce off the wooden sides of an Age of Sail ship.1 If this happens, then ...

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Final Thoughts

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pp. 171-172

I have taken you on an extended tour through the bang, whiz, and thud phases of a projectile's trajectory and, I think it fair to say, covered a wide range of projectile types. Ballistics encompasses every type of unguided projectile from a prehistoric sling stone to a HEAT missile, and from the oldest arrow to the latest anti-armor LRP. In between we have spent most of ...

Technical Notes

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pp. 173-206


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pp. 207-220


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pp. 221-226


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pp. 227-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780801899812
E-ISBN-10: 0801899818
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801898570
Print-ISBN-10: 0801898579

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 36 halftones, 54 line drawings
Publication Year: 2011