Monday, May 23, 2011

There's no electricity Mother *

"Railguns?" wondered Another Kiwi. "Why would anyone want to shoot a rail?"

Obviously he didn't watching that episode of Mythbusters where they build a chicken cannon to simulate the effects on an aeroplane windscreen of flying into a seagull. And the largest of the rails or Rallidae is the Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri): a lot larger than a seagull, weighing up to 4.2 kg. Any plane landing at New Zealand airports must undergo rigorous tests with railgun bombardment to ensure it can survive a Takahē strike.

The weaponised version became an important part of New Zealand's defense capability, after modifying it to fire live turbots and mounting it on a Fish Tank. Considerations of national security prevent me from saying more.

Anyway, when recent advances that allow us to fire Hugo awards through metal plates are combined with a 1999 review of railgun history,** the smart money is on a railgun featuring in every second Steampunk and Dieselpunk science-fiction novel for 2012.

I call your attention to Mr Benningfield's SIVA gun from 1844, which appears to have been the illegitimate offspring of a concert piano and an espresso machine. Mr Benningfield assures us that "There is not the least danger to spectators, nor even the appearance of danger to create fear in the most timid female. Of all the Ladies who have seen it in operation not one has been alarmed, but on the contrary, they have expressed their wonder and admiration at its power". THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID. Unfortunately the SIVA gun does not appear in any records after 1844 and we must conclude that it was HUSHED UP.

The idea was revived in WW2 on the German side by Joachim Hänsler, and on the English side by someone whose name has fallen into undeserved obscurity:
This rail gun thing (Technology, 17 July) reminded me of long ago in Cambridge, late 1939 or early 1940, when a chap took over my research room and built a small rail gun with rails a metre or so long, and firing pellets of maybe 50 grams. I was annoyed because the pellets kept taking chips off my nice panelled door.

He finally had a display for some top brass, which I attended, on a common near Cambridge, with a bigger model and a projectile of perhaps 200 grams and a van full of capacitors. We stood respectfully well back, and, on firing, the shot flew all of 7 metres, but the driving band-cum-armature flew about 100 metres. I never saw him or heard of him again.
"When details [of Hänsler's work] were discovered after the war it aroused much interest and a more detailed study was done, culminating with a 1947 report which concluded that it was theoretically feasible, but that each gun would need enough power to illuminate half of Chicago."

There's no lights on the Christmas tree Mother.


Since then railguns have been in and out of fashion. In the 1950s an Australian research group came up with a version where the conducting part of the payload -- which must maintain electrical contact with the busbars along the barrel, if the payload is to continue accelerating -- is a plasma rather than solid metal. That program stalled on account of the weapon's 5% efficiency. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for railguns during the heydays of the Space Defense Initiative in the 1980s; then at the end of the decade it all crashed and burned. But no bad idea ever went unrewarded, and now railguns are cool again.

Some people might cavil about pouring research funds into this particular hole-inna-ground but I figure that any technology that allows us to accelerate Hugo awards to hypersonic velocity is money well-spent. Next we shall learn how to fire Oscars, BWA-HA-HA! That will wipe the smug smiles off the faces of those whining naysaying skeptics with their nice panelled doors.

* Obvious title was too obvious.
** Part of a special issue on railgun minutiae.

22 comments:

fish said...

mounting it on a Fish Tank

I know how to drive one of these. Also nursing tank.

mikey said...

The young lieutenant was unshaven, wearing tattered, filthy camos. He leaped into the shell hole that served as batallion CP.

"Sir, we've pushed them back through the treeline and they are digging into a defensive perimeter about six hundred meters south" he gasped breathlessly. "The new Railguns are devastating the enemy positions."

The captain looked at him a long time. Slowly he removed his glasses and leaned forward. "Why have you stopped? Why aren't you pushing forwared?" he demanded softly, his voice low and menacing.

The lieutenant looked confused. "Sir, you KNOW that we were issued six hundred meter extension cords"....

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Even worse, that was 600 one meter cords.
~

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

the smart money is on a railgun featuring in every second Steampunk and Dieselpunk science-fiction novel for 2012.

I wrote a magnetopunk novel, but Stan Lee sued my ass.

fish said...

Change it to solar punk.

Substance McGravitas said...

I hope New Zealand has the best interests of their soldiers in mind. To this day you can see homeless Canadian veterans of the Turbot War suffering from smeltshock.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber said...

Very informative, but the thinking is too linear. What we need, see, is a long swinging arm to propel the projectile (I think I saw an appropriate one illustrated just below this post) so it will be flung rather than slid. Add a few off the shelf thermonuclear-pumped X-ray lasers to power it up and it will fling a severed head to Mars.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

How about firepunk? What if the Neanderthals invented a mammoth-hide airship?

Flintpunk? Now I'm picturing Betty Rubble in spandex and leather... brb!

Smut Clyde said...

suffering from smeltshock.

Substance McG is going to hellibut.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I'm floundering for a response meself.
~

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

* Obvious title was too obvious.

I find Your lack of focus .... disturbing.

Seriously, you want this blog to reek of effort?

Smut Clyde said...

Neither the time nor the plaice for that sort of thing.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Substance McG is going to hellibut.

You expect me to dance to that tuna?

Also, ZomPunk.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

you all make me eel.

Another Kiwi said...

We have yet to scale the heights

ckc (not kc) said...

...man, I love this plaice!

Substance McGravitas said...

Ooh, ya bin SCHOOLED.

Another Kiwi said...

The nett result is not good.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

something something something rods. and roe.

Smut Clyde said...

If life gives you herrings then WHAT? SPEAK UP!

tigris said...

What if the Neanderthals invented a mammoth-hide airship?

Done.

Well, homo erectus and wood, but CLOSE ENOUGH. Also note: first black US president!

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Also, Electricity Mothers would be shocking to Dragon-Kings.