Did You Know? Compressed Air Power Has Helped Defend The USA For Over Two Hundred Years.

June 24, 2014

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Many are familiar with how compressed air power has been used over the last 200+ years; manufacturing, tunneling, mining and construction. But, how many of you know that compressed air power was used directly in weapons that were used to help defend the USA?

The Girandoni air rifle was originally developed in Austria by Bartholomӓus Girandoni around 1779. The rifle was .46 caliber and used by the Austrian Army from 1780 to 1815. From 1803 to 1804 Captain Meriwether Lewis used a Girandoni Air Rifle to demonstrate the military powers of the U.S. Army to the Native Indian tribes he encountered on the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the northwest. Many consider this, along with the diligence and skill of the expedition members, as a very significant contribution to the success of the expedition.

The Girandoni air rifle used a gravity-fed magazine that held up to 30 ball shots. The rifle was loaded while holding the rifle vertically, a ball inserted into the breach, and an air flask or reservoir was then inserted in the stock. Regulations required, in addition to the rifle itself, that each rifleman be equipped with three compressed air reservoirs (two spare and one attached to the rifle). The rated muzzle velocity at full charge for the .46 caliber hull was about the same as a modern 45ACP pistol. Some claimed the rifle was effective (useful pressure) for the first 10 shots at 150 paces, the next 10 shots at about 120 paces, and the last 10 shots at about 100 paces.

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Major Advantages:

  • 30 repeating shots from one charge
  • vs. a typical muzzleloader
  • No smoke from the propellant
  • Low muzzle noise

Major Disadvantages:

  • It took 1,500 strokes to recharge the air flask
  • Sensitive to damage

This rifle is on display at the National Rifle Association Museum in Springfield, Missouri.

We hope you enjoyed our first newsletter on Innovative Uses of Compressed Air.