November 22nd, 2022

Bullet Flight Video Reveals Shock Wave and Bullet Base Drag

Science Accuracy Academy bullet video Schlieren movie shock wave capture

Ever wondered what the air around a moving supersonic bullet really looks like? Check out this video from the Bryan Litz Ballistics Facebook page. This is a Schlieren video* of a 6mm 109gr Berger LRHT bullet at about 2800 fps as fired from Francis Colon’s PRS rifle at the Applied Ballistics Lab.

Bryan Litz notes: “You can clearly see the compression (shock) wave at the front of the bullet. A compression wave is formed when the air has to move faster than the speed of sound to get out of the way, which is certainly the case for this bullet which is moving about 2.5 times the speed of sound (Mach 2.5).

That shock wave is the ‘snap’ you hear when bullets fly past you if/when you’re downrange. Also, compressing the air into a shockwave takes energy, and that energy comes directly out of the forward velocity of your bullet and gets converted into heat and noise as the shock wave forms and dissipates.

The turbulent wake at the base of the bullet shows where/how base drag applies. The third and smallest component of drag for a supersonic bullet is skin friction drag, which is a viscous boundary layer effect, and is the least visible in this image. So as you head to the range or the hunting stand, think about the absolute violence your bullets are committing in the atmosphere, before they even reach the target!”

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Science of Academy Contest
The Science of Accuracy Academy is currently running a contest for new subscribers. The winner receives a Vortex Fury HD 5000 Laser Rangefinder Binocular unit with Applied Ballistics functionality. Act soon — the deadline to enter is November 23, 2022 at 1:00 pm Eastern.

Science Accuracy Academy vortex rangefinder binoculars contest prize bryan litz

* Schlieren imaging makes air flow features visible. SEE Schlieren Photography Wikipedia page.

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