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In which I am crabby about viral archery videos.

Yes. I've seen the Lars Andersen archery video*. Everybody can stop sending me links to it now.

Speaking as a mediocre archer in my own right, and as somebody who's written three novels with a Mongol archer as a protagonist and done a fair amount of research on the subject of worldwide bow techniques...

That guy's a really good marketer.

But he's not actually doing anything we didn't already know about, he's not shooting in a manner that would be at all effective in combat or for the historically more common purpose of feeding his family, and his quiver-handling skills are worthy of the "before" segment of an infomercial.

I'd like to see him cut a sandwich with a regular knife! It might result in an explosion.

Here's the thing. He's basically misrepresenting a bunch of well-known techniques in non-Western-European archery as his own invention or "rediscovery" (bonus cultural appropriation!), and into the bargain, he's not actually putting any strength into that bow of his.

One of the things about archery is that arrows (even war and hunting arrows) are very light. E=MV^2, as we all know, right? So, if the mass of your projectile is slight, it needs to have a pretty good velocity to do some damage. Where that velocity comes from, in a bow, is the power. And where that power comes from is--surprise--your trapezius muscles.

Not your arms. And not actually the bow: the bow is a mechanical device that transforms back and shoulder strength into velocity, by means of storing the energy you use to draw it. It's more or less a simple mechanism that you spring-load with physical force, and then release. The more energy that bow is physically capable of storing, the more energy it takes to draw the bow.

This is what we mean when we say a bow has a "draw weight." I own two bows--a lightweight recurve, very simple and primitive, and a medium-weight compound bow, which are the ones with pulleys and stuff. (The pulleys are there to create a mechanical advantage, but they don't make it significantly easier to draw the bow. What they do is make it easier to hold the bow in a full draw. This is called letoff, and there's a bunch of technical stuff about round pulleys vs. oblong pulleys and you probably don't care about it anyway--and I don't understand it well enough to explain it even if you did. There are books, you can read some.)

Anyway. The reasons archers draw the way we do--which is to say, standing sideways to the target, less-dominant arm extended and slightly flexed with a relaxed wrist and loose grip on the bow; dominant hand brought back to the jaw or ear; dominant elbow raised and drawn back--is to engage the back muscles and create a broader draw. A significant portion of the power of your draw comes from those final inches, because of the way that springs work.

The thing he says about modern archers only drawing with one arm, by the way, is patent nonsense. Anybody who's had half an hour of archery instruction at a range populated by people who know what they're doing has been told to push the bow away with the bow hand as they simultaneously draw back with the draw hand.)

Also having a reliable anatomical point at which to anchor your draw, and a reliable stance, means that you have a reliable point of aim. Incredibly minor alterations in biomechanics--something as invisible as tensing your neck, or not fully broadening your back--can send an arrow wildly off course over distances as short as ten or twenty yards. Something as major as moving your draw point an inch? No freaking telling where that arrow is going.

When you are drawing a bow correctly, there is a feeling of being inside the span of the bow, a sense that the bow and your body have melded and that you are as much suspended in the tension of the bow as the bow is drawn by you.

Is this effective? Well, worldwide, millions--perhaps hundreds of millions!--of men and women successfully feed their families using this technique to this very day. They have cable channels up in the high digits where you can watch them do it. Whole cable channels devoted to stalking and killing deer and bear with a bow. Turkeys, too. Wild boar. Yes, it's effective.

Anyway, back to Mr. Andersen. His draw is likely to be largely useless for killing anything larger or farther away than a paper plate. It's any which way, and it's insufficient for power. (Also, hunting and war arrows are, generally speaking, much larger and heavier than what he's using there. E=MV^2, after all. Size does matter.)

Compare his release to that of Adama Swoboda (below), and see that Swoboda, even shooting fast, brings the bowstring back to his jaw. Andersen is shooting so fast that he doesn't have time for a full draw.

His tactics, though--speed shooting and so forth--are suited to a shorter recurve (like a Mongol, Hun, or Indian bow), which is designed to be shot in motion and from horseback.

If you're using a very heavy, penetrating bow such as an English/Welsh longbow, different tactics apply. For one thing, a heavier-limbed bow has a lot more mass, and accelerates the arrow in a different way. A laminated Mongol-style bow relies for its power on some gloriously advanced materials hacks involving laminating substances with different compressibility to one another and making them fight. They're snappy, and because they are small the tips of their limbs whip back into position speedily. You can't speed-fire a longbow that way, because the limbs of the bow are large, there's more mass to be moved, and they derive their draw power from compressing a quantity of wood. (They also make use of the varied compressibility of different substances, by the way--but those substances are the heartwood and sapwood of a young tree. Nature provides the lamination itself!)

(And massed fire with the things is indeed withering!)

And Mr. Andersen is firing so fast that he's not actually even getting his Asian-style bow to a full draw! He's basically doing the equivalent of swinging a hammer from the wrist; just plinking away, not really thumping on anything.

You can, in fact, fire these bows quite quickly. I've included some Youtube links to videos of people using them more correctly below. You'll notice that the master archers in those clips are handling their bows quite differently from Andersen. (He also has a death-clutch on the grip, which affects your aim rather badly. Proper grip on a bow is tender enough that when you loose the arrow, the bow actually rocks back against the web of your thumb.)

Meanwhile, to continue debunking his claims that modern archers don't use a right-side draw and that he's somehow reinvented the technique of keeping both eyes open:

If you look closely at the links below, you'll see that one of the Mongol/Hun techniques is indeed a right-side draw, and that a number of archers shoot with both eyes open. (This actually has more to do with whether you have a strongly dominant eye or not, in my experience, than the style of archery you prefer.) Another technique involves whipping the arrow from a quiver opening at your shoulder over your head, and not doing any of Andersen's dramatically inept banging it against the side of the bow. (Another infomercial moment.)

(I feel like Kirk in Wrath of Khan--"He's thinking in two dimensions!")

Andersen also neglects to mention (or possibly is not aware) that there are about seventeen different possible ways to grip a bowstring (not counting modern trigger or twist-style releases), and that one of the technical challenges of anyone who shoots a bow suitable for hunting or war is preventing nerve damage to the fingertips on the draw hand. Possibly because he's using a light bow and not drawing it to its full potential. The classically Asian/Mongol draw uses the thumb to hook the bowstring, with a flat-sided ring carved from animal horn to protect the thumb. (Tabs, archery rings, and so forth serve another purpose beside protecting the archer's fingers. They also provide a smooth surface for the string to slide off of, so that the friction of the archer's fingerprints snagging on her serving does not affect her aim. Yes, that's all it takes.)

You'll also notice that the traditional archers linked below have no problem keeping arrows in a quiver on a cantering horse!

Andersen's various trick shooting bits pretty much have to involve prepared materials. I feel like the Mythbusters have adequately debunked arrow splitting and arrow catching. (I myself have split a modern aluminum tube arrow on more than one occasion, which always makes you feel good but gets expensive.) The armor piercing trick is actually not particularly impressive. That looks to be costume chain, which is basically snipped bits of spring steel twisted together like a bunch of keychains. You can pull it apart with your hands.

And as for his shooting a guy across a table thing--I wouldn't try that with *gun*, frankly, let alone a bow. FBI guidelines for an officer armed with a firearm to safely kill an attacker armed with a knife are... 21 feet. Inside that range, and you are very likely to get cut.


*If you haven't seen it, there's an embed and an even eyerollinger response than mine over on Geek Dad. I saw a link to this post just as I was completing my own rant, or I'd probably have saved the time and just linked over there.


Here are some examples of similar rapid-fire and archery-in-motion techniques as used by modern archers, and a nice video of a military historian talking about some of the same things I have--and making some points of his own.



You do not fire a bow! Unless you set it on fire. You shoot a bow.


That's one reason I loved Game of Thrones. "Nock! Aim! LOOOOSE!"


Pedantically, historically true, Dirk, as "fire" is of course a back-formation from matchlocks.

However, in a modern-day archery range or hunting situation, it's pretty common to hear people speak of firing a bow rather than loosing or shooting one, especially in specific context of rapid-fire or dry-fire. (Also, obviously, by analogy to firearms!) This usage is attested from the 1580s, so it's hardly a modern perversion.

A fair number of practical archers also hunt with rifles and black powder, and would look at you funny if you said "loose."


I think the olympics should include archery from horseback, filmed by drones. Not sure where you would put the spectators.

(Yes, I realize this comment is only vaguely related to the post. It's the best I can do on a Friday.)



Do not derail, annoy, or otherwise mess with the honourable guest bloggers, or I will be forced to take time out from this very important business trip to kick your ass.

In particular, do not derail a comment thread with idiotic quibbles before it even gets started. (Broken links, mis-spellings, okay: quibbles, not so much.)

Am I understood?


The Mgmt.


We are probably within spitting distance of being able to film archery from the arrows without the necessary electronics being so big and heavy they impair the ballistics significantly. Hmm, must suggest that to the IOC :-)


This is a great takedown of an annoyingly self-promoting video (and that's before we get onto his dubious grasp of historical iconography).

One thing I would say about his death-grip: I've seen this a few times in the past with instinctive, largely self-taught archers, and it does seem to have an advantage in horizontal accuracy at short range. One that I knew of had got into this habit by training shooting at squirrels running up and down a very narrow tree. He was typically very accurate on line, but his vertical accuracy was atrocious.


As I said else-net, this guy tells us not to trust Hollywood, which is about the most truthful aspect of the video.

The Hollywood version of the lone archer is about as accurate as the Hollywood version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

(And I wonder how many hours of video had to be edited down to get those stunts.)


It's currently illegal in competition archery to have any electronic components on the bow.

More importantly (for the archer), at competition level (even the mediocre rubbish I shoot), weight differences of 0.5 grains (about 30 milligrams) or anything loose on or in the arrow can make enough difference to totally destroy your score.

Not saying it's out of reach, but I doubt any competition archer would willingly use the kit: too much chance of destroying the score.


Great article, but I really feel that both your post and the Geek Dad one are a bit... pedantic. He certainly get some of his history details wrong - I'm grateful to you and GD for pointing them out clearly - and his demonstrations of the 'problems' with longbows and quivers are overblown (IMO for comic effect, but YMMV). However, I think his core point is perfectly reasonable: popular culture generally ignores non-longbow, non-quiver shooting; recurves are better in a few ways, particularly speed; look at these fun trick shots.

I saw a great analogy elsewhere: it's like a group of rifle sharpshooters criticising a six-shooter showman on his technique. Yes, his technique is low-powered and close-range, terrible for hunting or most warfare... but that doesn't mean those skills were never useful, just niche; and they sure do let you do some fancy shooting.

Incidentally, you should check the description on the original video; he says that the chainmail was riveted, and he was using a sharpened bodikin arrow. He also clarifies that he's mainly addressing Hollywood and popular culture when talking about quivers etc. Finally, he says the final trick was firing an aluminium arrow against a bamboo arrow, and describes it as "pure luck".


That's a shot that has occasionally been faked for the movies, and doing it for real would be cool, but what would the Archer's Paradox do?

If I remember right, the force on the nock bends the arrow, starting an oscillation that means the flights don't touch the bow-stave. What I don't know is how much the arrow-head wobbles, and whether any camera PoV would be stable in axis. Would the image wobble like crazy?

If there was a target with enough contrast to use as a reference point, you might be able to stabilise the image, in post-production at least.


Ms. Bear, Thank you. That entertained and taught me something. I'm no archer, but that helped clarify what was wrong with that video. And it taught me why I was the only one from my daughter's school to even hit the target at the overnight camp.

Agent0090 and Charlie, For the life of me, I can't figure out which would be cooler. Charlie, could we use your pull with the IOC to also include a Hogan's Alley? Or some of the various military pentathalons (with live grenades to keep the audience on their toes)? ;-)


It would be a really interesting bit of image stabalization, to the point that you'd probably not be able to tell the result came from the raw feed, but that is a cool idea. I will say, as someone who knows next to nothing about archery, apparently the audio track makes the video, because I watched it with the sound off and the whole thing looked ridiculous instead of awesome.


Dr. Demento--

The exception I take is not with his trick shooting. Trick shooting is actually pretty cool.

It's with the video's claims that he's "re-invented" lost techniques that real people really use every day in the real world, and that "Hollywood has it wrong" when he's basically Legolasing all over the place. It's the disinformation that I dislike.

(There's another video where he does a Legolas-style orc-shoot with direct comparison to movie clips, by the way.)

I've often said that the unbelievable thing about Hawkeye is not that he can shoot an arrow into a USB port--it's that he gets the damned thumb drive in right way up the very first time!


By pure luck, I missed the video of the archer until after the debunking/criticism of the technique surfaced.

It certainly is cinematic, if not realistic, as Bear has indicated.

The upshot of this is that the bow is one of the great military and economic inventions in all human history, in all of its aspects and variations. I seem to recall an "ultimate weapon story" where the kicker/reveal is that the ultimate weapon is the bow and arrow,. and the story is really set in an ancient society.


Lego-lasing: killing orcs with coherent beams of plastic bricks.



Hawkeye pulls off the USB arrow because he uses special SHIELD USB sticks that are symmetrical: they cannot be put in upside-down. They have the technology.

One of the most awesome USB stick that I have is from Wil Hindmarch's Always/Never/Now game Kickstarter, it's a swing-out built in to an aluminum body the size of a business card. THE most awesome is from the Unshelved Kickstarter: an 8 gig stick that looks like a library card catalog drawer.


I see your "arrow cam" and raise you: the drone could be the target for the archer on horseback, and the viewer could select footage from from the drone, the arrow, the archer, and the horse (each of which is available as a VR feed).


(I'm correcting Andersen's last name, as it was pointed out to me on Twitter that notwithstanding the video caption, he spells it with an e.)


A lego laser gives you the more humane options of just walling them off or scattering the ground with bricks that are really painful to step on.


@dr_demento - if he was using a bodkin arrow, that shot means nothing. Bodkins are designed to punch through armour - you could push a bodkin through mail using your pinky finger.


WRT arrow mounted cameras, the main problem with that is that the fletching gives your arrow spin to stabilize it (they shouldn't wobble too much, I think that depends on the shaft material). Maybe you could do something with high-speed cameras and picture stabilization, but it'll probably still be rather nauseating. And forget about getting a thumb drive in the right way.


Does it matter? Either way, he can pierce riveted mail. So all the complaints elsewhere about it being a pathetically light bow that couldn't possibly work in combat are nonsense.


or scattering the ground with bricks that are really painful to step on.

You call that Humane? Ouch, ouch, ouch.

The exception I take is not with his trick shooting. [...] It's the disinformation that I dislike.

Fair enough - I obviously took a different set of complaints from your post than you intended, sorry.

I still think you're looking at it differently; he's saying these techniques are unknown and lost compared to Hollywood and Robin Hood, while you're saying that anyone who knows anything about Mongol horse archers is well aware of them. You're both right.

I agree that he should definitely be clearer about their origins and present practice - mentioning it outside of his YouTube description would be a good start! - but I reckon it's an error in degree, not in kind. He's not saying he invented it, just researched it, and overstating the degree of research...


As a palate cleanser, I was going to post this link to a pdf article on Papuan archery (it opens as a pdf), which so far as I can tell isn't fake. This isn't about trick shooting, but about a bow and arrow design which looks incredibly primitive but actually works about as well as any other longbow, due to some non-obvious and thoughtful design features.

The hook here is that I think the arrows are heavy enough that you could mount a lipstick camera in place of the point, if you could figure out a way to cushion the impact from a five foot arrow powered by a 90-pound bow.

It's cool that we're getting more knowledge of non-western archery. I'd also point out that there are some new bows entering the world, and not just the four-wheelers that Americans hunt with. Over in east Africa, they've been turning to chair legs and car springs for bows (I'll see if I can find the link). The "bowstring" on these gizmos is two springs with a piece of string or wire between them, and each spring is attached to an end of a chair leg or similar piece of stiff wood. Viola, a new bow design! Reportedly they are about as weak as you might imagine, but if they poison the arrows... Reportedly these are used in gang fights.

There are also reports of west African Fulani archery militia going up against cattle rustlers armed with AK-47s. This may sound like an unfair fight, but the guys with the AKs only have a few bullets, while the Fulani do poison their arrows, and they're fighting in fairly dense forests. Apparently they're more evenly matched than one might imagine.

Anyway, back to the next course of the Lars Andersen take-down.


Now I want to see Legolas fire a Lego-laser.


The video says these are extinct techniques he rediscovered - to the point that he had to inspect ancient artworks to find out how archers at the time did things. So he's not claiming any inventions, he's saying he's the only person alive who knows these techniques. Which is probably even more infuriating to people who've been practicing them every weekend for decades.


Let's look for an apt analogy... many people here know something about computers.

Suppose you see a video about a guy who says "Nobody knows anything about how programming should be done! I've rediscovered the secrets of the ancients and they make me a much better programmer than any of you!"

And then he demonstrates the awesome power and accuracy of the computed GOTO statement, which lets you jump quickly to any code path you need!

Programmers with any sort of interest in the history of their craft know very well what a computed GOTO does, and there are very, very few situations in which it is the optimal thing to use, and a lot of situations in which it will get you in trouble.

Andersen is showing off his mastery of computed GOTOs along with a bunch of tricks that will fail 9 out of 10 times, but only showing you the golden take. And that's why he makes people unhappy.


They'd probably do better if they had the time to turn truck leaf springs into crossbows:


As someone with no archery experience later than summer camp 20 years ago, my first reaction to that video was "those claims sound dubious, and the action shots are reminiscent of Lightsaber Kid in their overearnest clumsiness." Cool to get confirmation of that initial impression.


Can I idiotic quibble enough to say that kinetic energy is 1/2*MV^2? :)


The video says he found it from studying old manuscripts, not that that was the only way to find it or that no-one else knows about it. From the description on the video:

SHOOTING ON THE RIGHT SIDE There are archery traditions alive today which shoot the arrow on the right side of the bow, as I do. However, the places where most people come into contact with archery (Hollywood, The Olympics, archery clubs) do it left around the bow.

This should be in the video and not the description; the voiceover certainly oversells how obscure these ideas are. It's a big mistake.

... but I still think the criticism he's getting (elsewhere, not just here) is way out of proportion to how wrong he is. Why isn't the experts' response:

"That video shows off some amazing tricks! Andersen is clearly a pretty great trick archer. By the way, the technique he's using is not as obscure as he says, lots of people know about it! Why don't we start a recurve archery club to learn about it?"

I guess it's the internet popularising hyperbolic statements over reasonable ones; "I have invented the ultimate kind of archery" and "He has invented nothing and is terrible at it anyway" instead of "Here is an alternative kind of archery that lets me do cool tricks" and "Here is more information about it as a hobby and a sport". It seems to be a general law of internet discourse.


I guess they still use the good old Strophanthus arrow poison, or, in the context of gang warfare, have some gangs taken to raid local hospitals for neuromuscular blocking agents?

Funny thing, BTW, that I'd be somewhat hardpressed for literature on European arrow poisons, apart from the usual "stick it into the dirt" stories about military archers. Though there likely was some, one proposed etymology of Aconitum goes back to he same root as "acute", the tip of the arrow. It's also not for lack of poisonous plants in Europe, Digoxin in foxglove is not that much less toxic than g-Strophantin. In contrast, it's orally active, though, which makes it great for cardiac medicines, but maybe not so freat for hunting flesh to be eaten.

Another thing might be socio-cultural taboo; I think it's not that far-fetched to think in a Late Germanic/Early Medieval Christian context any poison would have been seen as close to sidr, e.g. not something a manly man would do, and somewhat close to the witches to be burned.

OTOH, I have found some mention of Slavic poisoned arrows, makes this side of my ancestry even more interesting. ;)


Oh, BTW, Norse term for witchcraft?


Walks away snickering and muttering to himself. ;)



Er, yeah. That's not an idiotic quibble. That's me not having taken a physics class since 1992, combined with the old dyscalculia.

E=1/2mv^2, indeed. Just lemme go fix that.


Then, too there are the triple problems of mass, path, and nature of target. That trick-shooting (as noted in one comment above) just does not translate to military use.

  • Military use is not D&D individual encounters: It is formation against formation. Specific examples include Agincourt, Crecy, and Poitiers (for fans of the "English Longbow Reigns Supreme" school), in which hundreds of shafts were loosed simultaneously to carpet an area... with no individual aiming against individual targets.

  • The longbow in particular is an indirect-fire weapon, more effective with a looping path capable of going over obstacles. Not only does this force the target force to change its orientation (lift shields), but it moves the impact point to more-vulnerable parts of the body. No matter how good one's helm, having eyeholes is a problem... and, even more so, flinching and disorientation and stunning from being hit in the head in the first place. One of the few things that one can say Braveheart did well with its battlefield scenes was the way the arrows dropped out of the sky at their targets.

  • Armor* is great stuff in D&D and Hollywood. However, just try fully armoring a (medieval) horse, and putting a fully armored man on its back... and then getting them to move several hundred meters at speed. This is, I suppose, a corollary of the first point: The real target of military massed archery was formations of armored horsemen, or occasionally foot soldiers, moving at speed; and if the archers kept them from moving at speed by making them trip or killing horses or disrupting formations as people flinch, that's great. Horsemen standing still without the mass and energy of a moving horse are rather vulnerable to hamstringing of either horse or man; and reducing a horseman's advantage over footsoldiers from height and speed to just height is a pretty good equalizer, given the much larger target that horseman-plus-horse makes for any handheld shock/melee weapon! In short, actual casualties were just a bonus; the disruption was the primary military effect.

  • For some value of "armor" meaning "resists impact," ranging from boiled leather on up.


Could English longbowmen actually get two arrows in the air at the same time?

How many years of practice did it take to become expert with the longbow?

Did using the longbow really deform the bowman's muscular/skeletal system (I heard about a skelton of an English arch found in the wreck of Henry VIII's HMS Mary Rose that showed skeletal deformation)?

What was the effective range of the longbow against plate armor? Against mounted knights (Agincourt)? Against dismounted knights (Crecy)?

Given that an archer can learn to use a crossbow in a few days instead of the years required for a longbow,despite its longer time to load and shoot, was the crossbow overall a more cost-effective weapon?

How do English longbowmen compare to Mongol (dismounted) archers or Japanese samurai?

Was the longbow really that much better than bows of the ancient world?


"Arse" - remember you're British!


"The longbow in particular is an indirect-fire weapon, more effective with a looping path capable of going over obstacles."

Henry V basically invented what today we call a "kill box".

Speaking of Harry,was he really the hero portrayed in Shakespeare?

Then again was Richard III really a villain, or even hunchbacked?

RIII brings us to the War of the Roses. So what happened when massed English bowmen shot at each other in formation? Did they wipe each other out?


The cheap and dirty way of poisoning blades/arrows/sticks is to dip them in a mixture of blood and shit. Your enemy might survive the battle, but without some serious antibiotics they are as good as dead. Used in Vietnam war ie punji pits


"Could English longbowmen actually get two arrows in the air at the same time?" No idea, but I certainly can with a 90lb draw weight bow. An arrow shot at 45 degrees from that stays in the air a loooooong time.


"A significant portion of the power of your draw comes from those final inches, because of the way that springs work."

I can't speak to archery... but I can speak to springs.

Rest of comment deleted by moderator, and commenter banned.

  • A bow is not a Hookean spring.

  • You don't get to run an ad-hominem snark on a guest blogger in your first-ever comment.

  • Don't let the door hit you on the way out.


    Then again was Richard III really a villain, or even hunchbacked?

    Don't know about the first part, but the skeleton that was proven to be his had severe scoliosis. A few months ago I saw the show Resurrecting Richard III, the film makers found a young British man with scoliosis (uncorrected due to other medical conditions), they found that his spine was a near match to Richard's. The had armor made and trained him with weapons and techniques of Richard's time. The conclusion was that everything from the armor to the saddle would have actually helped keep him stable, despite his condition.


    Yep, the Mary Rose skeletons are one of the sources.

    Remember that English law required weekly archery practice. Quotes here include a 1541 Act with age limits, starting age-7 and classing men as age 17 to 60.

    So I think it's fair to say an archer needed at least ten years of training, maybe more. The 1541 Act seems to have been an attempt to make sure there were archers. Things were changing.

    (Flodden was 1513, Solway Moss 1542, and then you can go read Dorothy Dunnett for yourself. Accounts of Flodden suggest that archery was not very effective.)

    Armour changed a lot from the early victories (against the Scots, such as Neville's Cross, the same year as Crécy,) and after Agincourt there were also tactical changes. Even at Poitiers the are accounts of armour defeating arrows, so the English shot the horses instead (Walter of Swinbrooke). It's the styles of armour that call into question the reliability of some medieval illustrators: the armour dates the picture made as well after the battle illustrated.

    Tactically, the bowmen shot from deep formations (maybe 10 ranks) in a barrage, echoing the shooting at the clout done as practice. When Henry VIII required towns to have "butts" it may be a sign of different techniques. The men at the front were the best archers, and able to shoot at point targets.

    (In the renaissance "shoot" and "shot" were the more usual English words for battlefield missile fire, combining the new "gonnes and cracks of warre" with archery.)

    The weight and difficulty of moving in armour has sometimes been exaggerated. Olivier's Henry V does show clumsy French knights being hoisted onto their horse by cranes, but it's bollocks on that. My Grandfather was carrying more weight on the Somme. Tilting armour was heavier than field armour, but even so...


    "Olivier's Henry V"

    I prefer Kenneth Branagh's version.

    Still the coolest speech in all of Shakespeare:


    The energy of the arrow is the integral of the draw force over the length of the draw. If the bow is an ideal spring, which is not a terrible assumption for simpler bows, then not much energy is stored in the initial inches of the draw.

    The pulley system of a compound bow results in a more even draw force over the full draw, resulting in (ideally) about twice as much energy stored at the same draw weight.

    As others have noted, the draw weight is intentionally reduced a bit at full draw to make it easier to hold the bow drawn.


    The two versions have different strengths and weaknesses. I like the Olivier opening, giving an impression of the Elizabethan stage, but he glosses over some aspects such as the traitors in Act II Scene 2. It's hardly surprising, the film was released in 1944. Branagh keeps in many things that would have been difficult for earlier film-makers. Even without the WW2 propaganda angle, there's a difference in what film-makers would depict.

    I like them both.


    Points well taken.

    So which RIII do you prefer, Olivier's or Ian McKellen's set in a 1930s fascist Britain?


    beambot @43:

    Here, perhaps you'll find this link helpful.

    As you can see, each inch of draw adds potential energy to the bow--so the further you draw it back, the more stored energy the bow contains. (This has the interesting side effect, by the way, of making taller archers more effective in terms of penetrating power.

    You can get a similar effect by loading cartridges into a magazine, by the way. The 14th takes a heck of a lot more thumb strength (in order to compress the springs) than the first one, and some people (such as me) may find that last one or two all but impossible to get in there, even though the addition of force each time was, roughly speaking, the same.


    Actually, the real champion and introducer of the longbow was psycho Eddie 1 of England, who started employing masses of Welsh longbowmen on his campaigns against the Scots. The battle of Falkirk for instance as well as a number of others.

    As for the WotR, typing as someone who started re-enactment by doing this period, I can tell you a fair amount. For starters, yes, they did sort of wipe each other out and take out other footsoldiers, but most battles were fought on foot, so the armour must have been good enough to protect a fair number of folk, or else the aim wasn't that good.

    There is the famous battle of Towton, where one side was upwind of the other and loosed first, early, using the wind to their advantage, which stung the other into returning fire upwind, so their arrows fell short.


    Yes, it does matter, or else armour counts for nothing. In this case the point is that the way he is shooting has no practical use, since it probably wouldn't pierce real rivetted maille.

    People do often get funny ideas about what does and does not pierce armour, based on a non-existent understanding of the arms race that took place in the 11th to 16th centuries between armour and offensive weaponry.

    For instance maille was usually worn with some padding underneath it, to absorb energy and so on. This didn't stop bodkin headed arrows but helped stop them actually killing you outright, which given medicine at the time might not have been a great thing. Moreover, later in the medieval period people worked out that you should wear your gambeson over the maille, because all the threads of cloth got in the way and slowed the arrow enough that it didn't necessarily pierce the maille.
    Meanwhile plate armour got better and stronger and more carefully shaped so that arrows bounced off. However some modern experiments show that what is actually quite good is a brigandine, see in many pictures from the 15th century. It is a coat of small iron plates rivetted together onto a leather or canvas backing. Because it can move about the arrow hits it and the overall structure of the brig absorbs enough energy that it can't get far enough through.


    "For starters, yes, they did sort of wipe each other out and take out other footsoldiers, but most battles were fought on foot, so the armour must have been good enough to protect a fair number of folk, or else the aim wasn't that good."

    Armored archers?

    Did longbowmen ever use pavise sheilds like Genoese crossbowmen?


    Speaking or armor, I recall a history channel show which described Milanese armor of the late Middle Ages which was so good even longbows were useless against it.

    IIRC dismounted French knights (horses remained vulnerable to longbow arrows) protected by this armor even mauled armies of English longbowmen late in the 100YW.


    Hey, Guthrie!

    The brigandine effect is similar to the Japanese armadillo-shell armor in how it absorbs energy, isn't it? I wore a borrowed modern mockup suit of that in an SCA fight once, and that stuff was fabulous. I felt like a Storm Trooper. (R)


    lightweight recurve, very simple and primitive, and a medium-weight compound bow, which are the ones with pulleys and stuff Err you sure? I don't hold with modern target bows, with pulleys etc ... however. A "compound" bow ( I always understood) was made of ore than one material (hence "compound" of course & a recurve biw may be compound or "simple" - that is made of one material. The calssic "English" longbow (made from imprted wood is/was "self" ( that is cut from one piece, but was also almost compound, because of the way it used outer & inner wood from the Yew to give properties similar oto a compound bow, but without using glues .... I still have recurve all0steel bow, capable of being dismounted in to two pieces for easy transport. Relatively low draw-weight ( 32lbs @ 28" IIRC ) but quite effective....

    ATT @ 11 I've seen video ( I think from a BBC series on the Plantagenets) which showed arrows being loosed in slow-mo. They do, indeed flex, & also "swim" in the air, oscillating as they fly away from the archer.


    I think the big armor breakthrough was when they learned how to make it from hardened steel.

    BTW, the "flex" of material under the impact point should not be underestimated. When I got my first reasonably decent katana years ago I started cutting things. Inch thick green wood, water filled bottles etc - no problem. The big surprise was when I tried to cut a 4" square section of expanded polystyrene. I could not get even half way through it with a single stroke even though it weighed almost nothing.


    Nothing new there The high medieval crossbowmen used metal spring-steel (as well as it could be made then) for their "prod" (the springy bit of the bow. Problem was immenase draw-weight & hence slow rate of loose, compared to a longbowman, who, if good could loose a arrow every 3-4 seconds.

    Best material for REALLY LARGE bows id animal-tendon, wound spirally, with minimally-flexing separate arms for the bow. Waht the classical & Alexandrine Greeks called; Palintonon

    See also the inestimable J E Gordon "Structures"


    Belladonna? Hemlock Water Dropwort? Plaenty of nasty plants out there ....


    A "compound" bow ( I always understood) was made of more than one material

    The terms that are now commonly used are composite bows for more than one material, and compound bows for those using pulleys to get a mechanical advantage; I think they were both used in the sense you use in the past, but certainly for the past 20 years "compound" has exclusively referred to the bows with pulleys.


    Could English longbowmen actually get two arrows in the air at the same time? YES - I could do it on the range ... an experienced military archer - easy - make that 3 or 4

    How many years of practice did it take to become expert with the longbow? At least3 - you needed really strong shoulder/armmuscles + the control plus the knack. Films almost always show the draw-motion wrong - it's a smooth sweep, actually.

    Did using the longbow really deform the bowman's muscular/skeletal system (I heard about a skelton of an English arch found in the wreck of Henry VIII's HMS Mary Rose that showed skeletal deformation)? YES

    What was the effective range of the longbow against plate armor? Against mounted knights (Agincourt)? Against dismounted knights (Crecy)? Up to 200 metres, but better at say 80. Assuming the dreaded bodkin point here.

    Given that an archer can learn to use a crossbow in a few days instead of the years required for a longbow,despite its longer time to load and shoot, was the crossbow overall a more cost-effective weapon? No Becaue it was heavy & slow - unless you are talking about classical Greek "artillery" pieces - another subject entirely.

    How do English longbowmen compare to Mongol (dismounted) archers or Japanese samurai? Different techniques for different fields. Apples != Oranges

    Was the longbow really that much better than bows of the ancient world? For a hand-held infantry weapon YES Compared to hores-held "Parthian" bows, probably not. See "haevy / artillery" bows again ....


    Look up the Battle of Towton 35-40 000 killed in a few hours Palm Sunday 29 March 1461


    But ... it's not an Hooke's law spring & the loading is non-uniform. One adavantage of a compound recurve bow is that they are easier to drw for a given weight & they store more energy - see J E Gordon, again ...


    I think you missed the point. Yes, any bow is a system of two springs, the bow and the arrow. What I'm talking about is a system of three springs, one of which is the arrow. The other two springs are coiled, not leaf springs. They are attached one to each end of a stiff rod (in the picture I saw, it was an old chair leg), and the bowstring is tied between them. All the power is stored by of stretching the coiled springs, rather then bending the bow. As I said, it appears pretty weak, and one could even argue that technically it's something like a slingshot rather than a bow. Still, it is a new form of bow.


    My understanding is that the Fulani (and I might have the wrong tribe) use mixtures, including Strophanthus and viper venom. Reportedly everyone brews their own cocktail.

    As for arrow poisons, look up the origin of the word "toxic." The Greeks weren't very sporting, shall we say.


    How that would have compared with the Silk Underwear that Genghis Khan was said to have issued to his men...

    " Genghis Khan was once said to have issued all his horsemen with silk vests, as an arrow hitting silk does not break it but ends up embedded in the flesh wrapped in silk, allowing the arrow to be removed by gently teasing the silk open, as opposed to the usual method of removing barbed arrows, cutting them out or pushing them right through an injured limb and out of the other side. These silk vests functioned much like the padded armour used by European and Byzantine soldiers of the era, such as the gambeson."

    Doubtless its still available from the arms and armour department at Victorias Secret.


    I am not greatly into videos, for reasons that are irrelevant, but one of the things that pisses me off is the stories that have someone in a survival context make a bow and arrows and hunt food (i.e. within a day). I am no archer, but am a competent handyman etc., and that is Just Not On. What you can do, is to make fish baskets, snares etc., but those are less sexy.

    That's similar misinformation, but about bowyers and fletchers rather than archers.


    It might be, but I don't know that much about Japanese armour (Despite having read the well known reference works such as "Lone wolf and Cub" and the more academic "Secrets of the Samurai" by Ratti and Westbrook.

    Daniel Duffy #53- yes, armoured archers. You're on a battlefield, what are you going to wear? If you wear normal clothing, some guy with a knife will kill you easily. And no, I've never heard or read of the use of pavises with longbows, because longbows were generally a field weapon, and carrying a sodding great pavise about would be a pain in the neck and impossible over a long march.

    You are correct in number 54, once the French had better armour the fight became more even, but certainly in the 14th and early 15th centuries, the longbow ruled.

    Greg #62 - I don't know where you are getting your casualty figures but they are double what it was likely to have been for the battle of Towton. Most online stuff suggests up to 28,000 killed, but you have to remember that chroniclers etc were prone to lying, so for 35 or 40k dead you'd need two armies, both larger than pretty much any British army on British soil before WW1, which is very unlikely.
    Also whether bodkins are much use depends on what the target is wearing; they had developed squarer shorter armour piercing arrow heads by the 15th century; otherwise bodkins just break on plate armour.


    I hadn't realized that modern compound bows didn't do much to make the draw easier, but rather assisted with holding the string back. I could have sworn my summer camp memories indicated otherwise, but I suppose that's why we don't count information we acquired when we were seven as a research source.


    OTOH creating a spear and spear thrower is quite easy. Using it effectively less so.


    And on the Hollywood bullshit theme, just about everything you see is BS - from sparky bullets to color coded bombs to explosions to sword fighting (and don't get me started on that one...)


    Speaking of poisens?

    Tetanus wouldn't be all that hard to use in a culture that had lots of animal shit available...

    " Tetanus is caused by Clostridium tetani bacterium, which is found in soil, dust and animal and human waste faeces."

    And so forth, but it would be a bit slow.

    In casually poking about on the internet...See Wot You have done Elizabeth! ... I came across this conversation thread...

    "Omar ibn al-Khatab, the second Caliph of Islam, was killed with a poison dagger. He was stabbed while leading morning prayer and died some days later..... Yeah - assassins using poisoned blades makes much more sense as they're trying to stab one guy and get out. In that case the poison is a way of making sure it "sticks" when you hit him, and if you do your job right you shouldn't have to worry about getting into a fight so the whole "being too slow to be useful in melee combat" thing becomes less relevant."

    that led to " Henry III of France was also assassinated with a poisoned blade, wielded by a fanatical Dominican Friar "

    I didn't know that! How could they tell that the "Dominican Friar " was fanatical?


    Only fanatics attack members of the ruling class


    Unless of course the attacker is another member of the ruling class, in which case it is a noble struggle against tyranny. Get in line, peasant, you're going to go die for my honor!


    Yes, and even more so a sling - the weapon of peasant boys throughout much of history ....

    But I wasn't talking about Hollywood, so much as stuff that claims to have some authenticity, including dramatisations, mockumentaries, and so on. I have even seen it in 'proper' documentaries, where someone was shown with a knife and a log of wood, and the next shot was a dozen perfectly straight arrow shafts ready to have the flights attached.


    There is actually a lot of debate on almost all the points raised by the OP

    Understanding ancient archery is especially hard since bows and arrows made of wood and do not last , as opposed to things like swords and armor. There is not a lot of historical record, with a few exceptions like the Mary Rose find and some tapestries

    With regards to eastern archery the bows were most likely in the #75lb range wh in is about double what Lars is pulling. So it's not beyond belief that someone who was trained from birth could duplicate the rapid fire he is showing. Burst rates of rapid fire may have been more important in eastern battles Calvary on Calvary with light armor

    I think his videos are interesting (he's been publishing them for years) as he challenges a lot of basic assumptions about form , consistent anchor points, rate of fire, etc. his style probably is more like ancient horse archery whxih probably required a lot more flexibility of form and draw then saw English longbows did.

    Longbows were very specialized to pierce armor and had some pretty insane stats with regards to both the draw weight and weight of the arrow. And even with that there is a lot do debate on whether they could actually full pierce armor or relied on mass and lucky shots striking joints and visor

    Longbows an probably did NOT draw the same way modern archers do, using mostly back muscles but seemed to get their entire torso into the draw somehow (based on descriptions in some old manuals) . They also drew the arrow much farther back then we typically do, well past the ear

    With regard to "more force in the final bit of the draw" that is called "stacking" and is actually something to be avoided. You usually run into it when overdrawing the bow past the draw lengths it is deigned for

    OP has also been overly simplistic in her physics. The force in the arrow is a function of mass and velocity of the arrow true but there is an efficiency component in the bow itself.

    The power stroke of the bow is the evenness of draw weight over the course of the draw. Most bows have some taper at th beginning of a draw, they don't generally start put instantly at their maximum draw weight. Since the total energy in the bow is the area under the curve of the power stroke Laurie, you can have two bows with the same rated draw that store different amounts of energy

    You never get the same amount of energy out of a bow then you put in. The bow itself will waste a certain amount of energy inherently, however light arrows in a heavy bow will waste a lot more, so for optimal energy requires mating of arrow and bow, making sure the arrows are heavy enough to allow the bow to transfer as much energy as it can

    It's also worth not g that eastern composite bows seem to be better at the energy transfer then self bows like the longbow in general and were able to deliver more energy to the arrow. Modern compound bows are better has a lot to do with the materials of the bow


    If an archer had armor, he would certainly wear it. OTOH, metal was extremely expensive in the middle ages and the average archer wasn't rich. Even ordinary clothes were expensive before the onset of the industrial revolution.

    I'd suspect that armor became more common for non-knights as the period went on, but I wouldn't expect the average peasant archer to have metal armor. Boiled leather (cuir bouilli) is more likely.


    Er, yeah. That's not an idiotic quibble. That's me not having taken a physics class since 1992, combined with the old dyscalculia. E=1/2mv^2, indeed. Just lemme go fix that.

    Doesn't make much difference. Key point is you get a much bigger boost from going faster than making it more massive.


    Incidentally, crossbows seem to be undergoing an evolutionary change at present


    "If an archer had armor, he would certainly wear it. "

    which archer and when? There have been archers fighting in battle for 50,000 years probably

    Longbowmen in the 100 years war probably wore coat of plates or brigandines

    leather armor was less common on the middle ages then you would think and is mostly a fantasy movie thing


    I will note that the Royal Armouries in Leeds have quite an extensive exhibit on mediaeval armour, and in turn note that by the 15th-16th century a lot of plate was available -- once manufactured it doesn't decay unless you allow it to rust -- so although it was expensive (typical costs were around £3-4 for a full set in the mid-16th century; by way of measurement an infantryman might earn 1-2 shillings/week, so a full suit of armour was the equivalent of 1-2 years' salary) it was widely used by ordinary soldiers. Think in terms of buying an automobile, not buying a jet fighter. If your life depends on owning your own automobile, you suck it up and buy your automobile (taking out a loan if necessary).


    Got to remember that armor isn't just about the armor class. For example, a bunch of knights at Agincourt slogged through the mud, dismounted, during their charge against the line of English Longbows. When they got there, they were so short of breath that they could scarcely wield their weapons, and so they were vulnerable to the hand weapons of the more lightly armored longbowmen. In the press of battle, pushed from behind many of them may have suffocated in their helmets, despite being relatively invulnerable to the arrows.

    There is an equivalent in modern warfare: while we give everyone helmets and anyone likely to take fire a vest, we don't give everyone UXB or doorgunner armor, and for good reason. You don't want someone in a UXB suit lugging 40 kg of gear up a mountain if you can possibly help it.


    Archers in the 100 Years War were not peasants. They were well-paid professional soldiers, on par with a skilled craftsman of the time. The pay rate was typically 6d per day, half what a soldier at Mons was getting in 1914, 500 years later. See this page.. We have muster rolls and Exchequer accounts for such things as the Agincourt campaign.

    There were other things that didn't change much in 500 years.

    Tommy from Barrack Room Ballads

    It hasn't changed so much after 600 years.

    The Agincourt Carol


    OK, I didn't notice this was NOT a post by Charles Stross at first and this sentence, "as somebody who's written three novels with a Mongol archer as a protagonist", caused way too much confusion. Was I missing something in books I had read? Since the only books I haven't read yet are the last 3 Laundry novels, do they take an unexpected turn? Did I spend too much time trying to google for books Charles could have ghost written? Then I noticed the Elizabeth had written this. Uh, never mind...


    NO, I didn't. If you find a copy of J E Gordon, you will see a diagram of the energy stored for draw-length & weight. NOT a straight line .... A recurve bow is much more efficent. I think we were talking at crossed pirpoises or narwhals or something


    Sorry - I think I may have got the Towton figure doubled - so 20 000 dead. The bodkin was often "improved" by attaching a tiny lump of clay to the tip ... it would still penetrate "plate" at the right contact-angle.


    Logistics and finance.

    Assuming 20,000 dead on the battlefield that would mean maybe 100,000 people were involved including sutlers, hostlers, carters, servants, camp followers and such as well as the footsoldiers, knights, commanders etc.

    That's basically a medieval city's worth of people coming together in an ad-hoc manner to have a fight but without the paved roads, river transport, markets or other appurtenances of a city to keep them fed for three days before they start to starve. And who pays for this, what pool of wealth is used to support this?

    Imagine trying to run a Glastonbury-sized event with no pre-planning or finance or preplaced transport infrastructure and that's what you're hypothesizing when you say 20,000 dead on a single medieval battlefield. If that figure is remotely true I suspect most of them died from starvation or disease and not from honourable wounds.

    Of course if you really want real battlefield inflation see the battle of Kurukshetra in which, it is claimed, eighteen million men died. Yeah, right.


    Estimates of the total population of England are between 2.5 and 3 million for the 15th Century. London had a population of about 50,000, York somewhat less than 13,000.

    Within a week or two of Towton an estimate of 28,000 dead was circulating, apparently based on the estimates of Heralds. The First Day on the Somme only killed 19,240 British soldiers. Many accounts contemporary to Towton give even higher figures, but one gives a figure of 9000 dead. As for the forces involved, somewhere around 50,000 is accepted. That's an 18% death rate, from what was one of the biggest of battles in England.

    For a comparison, the armies at Naseby amounted to 21,000 men, with only 1,400 killed. The Batle of Flodden, with an English Army in France as well, may have involved more troops than Towton, probably with fewer deaths.

    You're right about the camp followers increasing the numbers that had to be moved around, but note that the Lancastrian Army was based at York, about a dozen miles away.



    All those men, and a third of a million heffalumps?

    It makes Geoffrey of Monmouth on King Arthus look like a sober and precise historical account.

    People still argue about which millenium it was in. Estimates for total world population vary by about 2:1, and suggest that the battle involved about half the men on the planet, or maybe all of them.

    They were probably fighting over a woman.


    The biggest battle ever fought anywhere was the Battle of Manchuria in August 1945. It took the second-greatest military logistics force in the world at the time (the USSR) a full three months to move over a million and a half men from eastern Germany to their start-off points surrounding the million or so defenders and that's with the advantage of planes, trains and gasoline-powered transport. The 26,000 artillery pieces and 5000 tanks and SPGs they fought with came new from the factories behind the Urals, they left their old heavy kit behind.

    Heck, the D-day invasion involved 50,000 men, the same number as it is claimed fought at Towton and that took the greatest military logistics force in the world at the time (the USA) over three years to organise, stockpile and equip with all the modern benefits of paved roads, phones, planes, trains, steamships, accountants etc.


    He also has a death-clutch on the grip, which affects your aim rather badly. Proper grip on a bow is tender enough that when you loose the arrow, the bow actually rocks back against the web of your thumb

    I saw the video before I read the thread, and thought many of the same things you did - cute tricks, done with suspiciously low draw weights from extremely short ranges.

    While I can't comment on archery, I can comment on the use of rifles... there's a definite parallel here. While Mr.Andersen's grip may be "incorrect" (I can't help but think that in an Agent Smith accent), there's probably a good reason for it, given the shooting that he's doings.

    If you look at the grip of a target rifle shooter, the forward hand tries not to grip at all, merely support from below; and common advice for the triggering hand is "the same grip you'd use on a wet pint glass". This gives you the best chance at the relaxed stability you need for sub-milliradian-of-angle accuracy (specifically for that quarter second reaction time between "decide to shoot based on your aim" and "trigger finger moves in response"). The accuracy level is "stick a 5p coin / dime to the goalpost, now hit it from the centre spot"

    I've also shot extremely accurately with a very firm (i.e. crushing handshake) grip with the triggering hand. In my defence, it was the last few shots of the match, and I was rather close to a PB... but the forward hand was still relaxed. This is the style taught to soldiers, and is necessary because of the much heavier trigger pulls on service rifles (3kg or more) and their thinner barrels being connected to the stock (you can bend the barrel away from its zero by pulling sideways on the grip at the front); it's still very accurate, allowing you to hit a head-and-shoulders target at up to five or six hundred meters - if you're good.

    This is fine for "deliberate" shooting. However, you will see a rather different style on the Youtube videos from the USA - specifically "three gun matches" (rifle, pistol, shotgun). The courses of fire in such matches appear to place a far greater emphasis on rapid individual shots, against separate targets, at close range - essentially, the same conditions as in the video.

    On youtube, you'll see the top scorers standing and firing the rifle in a "shotgun" stance - possibly both elbows out to the sides, stronger grip from both hands, probably forward hand holding the stock from the side, not underneath. This lets them steer the rifle quickly between targets; they aren't quite so worried about absolute accuracy, just the rapid movement between different aims - the aim only has to be "good enough" against what is a comparatively large target. I found a video that tries to compare the various approaches...

    If it's stupid, but it works, it's not stupid :)


    A woman with a big wardrobe. ;)

    As for the actual battle, there is some argument it was originally an internecine battle between some Indo-Aryan tribes:

    so maybe for the original battle, don't think War of the Roses in BIG, think village conflicts in contemporary Afghanistan. With chariots standing in for technicals.

    On another note, AFAIK some of the allies mentioned are the Tuscharas and Yavanas, which might be the Tocharans and Indo-Greek. And let's not forget the Hunas. Looking at the dates of the kingdoms in question might indicate a time frame.

    Basically, I guess taking the Mahabharata for real is like reading the Nibelungen or Illias as history...


    Well, that's the "stone soup" approach to toxicology, I guess.

    BTW, you might like Neuwinger's African Ethnobotany. Interesting read, though somewhat dated.


    I agree that Europe has plenty of nasties, but as mentioned, traditions of arrow poisons are hard to find.

    BTW, the two examples you mentioned might make somewhat debatable arrow poisons, atropine seems to have a highly variable lethal dose, with anything between 10 mg and hundreds of mg mentioned, though that's orally. Of course, it's incapacipating long before that, still, I'm also not aware of any group using tropanes as arrow poisons.

    Water dropwort has another problem, the causative agent, Oenanthotoxin is closely related to Cicutoxin, where wiki has this to say:

    The exact mechanism of action is not known for cicutoxin, even though it is well-known to be a violent toxin. The mechanism is not known because of the chemical instability of cicutoxin, but there have been studies that delivered some evidence for a mechanism of action.

    And chemical instability is hardly something I'd be looking for in an arrow poison.

    I guess aconitum and foxglove are better candidates, aconitum is known to have been used that way, foxglove is chemically quite close to Strophantus.


    Got to remember that armor isn't just about the armor class. For example, a bunch of knights at Agincourt slogged through the mud, dismounted, during their charge against the line of English Longbows. When they got there, they were so short of breath that they could scarcely wield their weapons

    That's true of any infantry engagement. You know why the British infantry were ordered to advance at a walk -- into machine guns -- during the first battle of the Somme? It wasn't quite as dumb as it sounds. They had to cover nearly a mile of muddy ground, sloping up-hill, to get to the German lines. If they crawled, they'd be vulnerable to shell fire; if they ran, they'd be "so short of breath that they could scarcely wield their weapons" by the time they reached the enemy. So the British plan was to hammer the German machine gun nests flat with artillery before the infantry went in. (Unfortunately their opening artillery bombardment was far less effective than expected. And the barbed-wire-cutters the soldiers had been issued with couldn't cope with the heavier gauge of barbed wire the German defenders had started using in 1915.)

    ISTR a study that suggested the weight of any army's standard infantry kit rises slowly during peacetime. Then as soon as they actually have to fight, it's cut ruthlessly until it's about 25kg, max (including uniform, helmet, weapons). Then when peace returns, it starts to creep up again ...


    Then as soon as they actually have to fight, it's cut ruthlessly until it's about 25kg,

    If only.

    Even fifteen years ago, the School of Infantry were weighing the minimum scales of kit and ammunition they advised, and pointing out that the minimum load at the start of a fight was 32kg or so.

    In Afghanistan, the addition of improved body armour with large plate inserts may have helped survival rates, but meant that even after eight years of patrolling and fighting, that the minimum load was approaching 40kg...


    Yikes. With or without vehicles for transport? (I'd expect there to be a big difference between what you're expected to carry on your back and what you can split between your back and a Land Rover.)


    On the other hand, there was quite a bit going on in metalworking in Europe over the course of the Hundred Years' War. It's rather likely that the typical soldier's armor got significantly better over the course of the war.

    See, for example,


    That's either with or without vehicles. The body armour and helmet are an instant 10kg+, the rifle is another 5kg, you'll need a kg of water, a kg of grenades, three or four kg of ammunition. That's the barest minimum, and you're already past 20kg (not including clothes, boots, a torch, your radio).

    If you're a patrol medic, you're carrying a backpack full of lifesaving kit - female medics were routinely carrying 40kg on patrols in Afghanistan.

    If not a medic, you might have a mine detector, or a manpack radio, or a manpack ECM kit, any spare batteries, any shared-out ammunition for the machine gun, a little food, any night sights, your first aid kit. Maybe some kit for obstacle crossing or getting onto roofs (some rope, ladder sections). 40kg arrives very fast.

    Once you start carrying the kit you need to survive a few days away from vehicles, marching loads will go to 60kg, guaranteed. You're adding a sleeping bag, some warm clothing, the rest of a day's food, more water, more batteries. This is the kind of load that 3 Cdo Bde carried across East Falkland in 1982...

    PS Never join the Machine-Gun platoon - if they're moving forward to set up a fire support position for a battle, they are expected to carry the gun, tripod, spare barrels, and sights, and 5600 rounds of ammunition; between three men on foot. Twenty kilos for gun and stuff, 5kg per 200rds of ammunition, and that's before helmets, water, first aid kits, radios, batteries, etc...

    On exercise, without the current 9kg body armour, I was routinely running around with 30kg of kit, because my job meant I needed a backpack radio. On one course I did, the exercise finale involved 50kg loads, and two miles across country, in forty minutes. My knees thanked me after that course :( - I was eating 5000+ calories a day, and still lost 3kg in bodyweight in two weeks.


    Just curious about how one would go about bringing archery into the future ...

    For example, would 3D printing be of any use in improving the bow/arrow design and materials strength/flexibility/durability?

    Could one load a mini-GPS into the arrow to help guide and or retrieve the arrow? Or, use arrows to stealthily implant a listening device/bug, etc.?

    And if myth-busting is an approved question/comment for this thread ...

    We've heard of and seen disproved the use of ice as a bullet ... but one CSI-type TV show did use frozen blood as a bullet. Supposedly, frozen blood might work because its melting point is much higher therefore would not dissolve/melt in flight, therefore might penetrate the skin. As to what actually killed the victim: a fatal immune reaction against the 'wrong blood type', not the wound. Anyways, any comment about using a frozen liquid as an arrow?


    A carrot sharpened to a point and frozen before being shot into the neck of the victim where they die from a severed carotid artery...


    Thanks for saving me the effort! btw ... anyone else, please google "Battle of Towton" before any more comments on that one, OK? Worth noting that, before the battle there was an exchange, via heralds, that both sides accepted that "no quarter will be asked or given on the morrow" It was the decisive "Roses" batle as a result. This was why, later after Warwick swir=tched sides, very little quarter was given at Barnet & none at all at Tewkesbury - the Lancastrian leaders who had fled after that last, to the abbey, were taken out & executed ....


    Start from the target-bow I was using ( & still have) from 1964 .. Recurved high-quality tensile steel, so made that the bow demounts into two pieces, for ease of transport when not wanted. Now make the bow itself from modern composites instead of steel (?)( Carbon-fibre + whatever ) & "sheathed" in a ptotective coating. Use modern aluminium-alloy shafts for the arrows & a modified bodkin for the tip ( Openwork, slightly spiralled, razor-sharp )

    For heavier-weight stuff, start from late model "Greek" Palintonon" with twisted "fibre" tension threads, add, hopper feed & foot or hand-cranked continuous (blet or chain-drive) drawing mechanism ( The Greeks had rapid-fire versions of these, sometimes on triremes (shudder) these can also project grenades, remember? The Romans used stone-ball-shooting palintonon to clear the walls of Carthage, before their final assualt, 146 BCE


    Modern compound bows are extremely efficient and bow efficiency and arrow eneegy are hitting points of diminishing returns. Most of the work nowadays is around accuracy, though there may be some improvement still to be made with variable draw weights that map better to the human psychology of the draw cycle

    Crossbow however are getting insane


    Current 3D printing is not known for high strength. What are you (ahem) aiming for? Archery as a war weapon?

    A bow is much quieter than a suppressed firearm, but the rate of fire is relatively low and energy transferred is more similar to a low-end pistol than to a carbine. Worse than that, really. See for a pretty good discussion of current commercial compound bows, and then remember that a Browning High-Power 9mm has a similar range but delivers more than 360 foot-pounds per bullet, and starts with a 13 round magazine that can be fired off in less than 12 seconds, then reloaded in less than 6.

    And suppressed pistols are more compact than a bow, easier to conceal. A sniper rifle offers more range. I don't really see archery coming back as a war weapon unless very strange circumstances arise.


    there is no point nor possibility of bows having much of a point in war or self defense. The do have a niche in hunting in the US at least, mostly do to the legislation around hunting seasons

    Their is some talk of that TAC15 crossbow being used by special forces for silent kills at range, but even that is pretty niche and unsubstantiated


    Sounds like a waste of an AR15. If I was designing crossbows my innovation would be a CO2 or compressed air gas assist cocking mechanism. So you could shoot 1 per second for as many bolts as you had in the magazine. Then push the draw weight to beyond 150kg.


    It's arguable which would do the most damage - a 9mm bullet or a broadhead hunting bolt.

    Both will go through you.


    103: "... severed carotid artery." (Groan... cute pun!)

    107: Two points ...

    1) I'm still trying to figure out what 3D printing is good for: it's supposed to be the up-and-coming tech, but so far, very few practical applications.

    2) Archery as a modern-day war weapon - why not?


    Of course, if the game wardens catch you with a crossbow, they'll want to know what you're poaching.

    Anyway, one can easily see archery coming back in the some post-apocalyptic versions of the future. The point isn't that guns will go away, since it's about as easy to make a muzzleloader as it is to make a sword (cf. Wallace's Malay Archipelago. Thing is, as I mentioned back up in #26, when it's relatively easy to make good bows with poisoned arrows, and either rounds are very expensive for breach-loaders or riflemen are stuck with muzzle-loaders, then the bows and guns go on a more equal footing. It's not just about the relative advantages of firearms, it's about the resource base that supports them.


    I'm not sure you could get enough energy out of compressed c02 to pull that off

    There is a LOT of energy in that Tac15 (almost 200 lb-ft), nice thing about a crank is you can trade time for energy essentially, up until the materials doesn't support it anymore.

    if you think about it as a hunting / sniping weapon high rates of fire don't really help that much anyway


    Crossbows are legal during "bow hunting season" in a lot of states in the US which is why thy are starting to get popular. While the rate of fire is less then a bow, it's a lot easier to learn to shoot a crossbow, especially for people already know how to shoot a gun.

    A bow as a war weapon you are basically talking about something that hits about as hard as a pistol and is then massively inferior in every other dimension (accuracy, portability, ease of manufacture, rate of fire, etc)


    A general point about long-range archery, and something you can see hinted at at the movies. It's high elevation fire, and air drag on the arrow will be a factor. If you were shooting in a vacuum (Insert famous Arthur C. Clarke story here) the trajectory would be symmetrical but you aren't and it ain't. The arrow comes down a bit slower than it went up.

    Some movies do try to show the clouds of arrows. English longbowmen were expected to practise shooting at the same range. I doubt the movies do better than giving an impression, but they do try sometimes.


    Well, no. You're making the same mistake as a lot of people do and saying "Hey, medieval period, primitive right? Not much metal or anything." That was sort of true during the 'dark ages', when good steel for weapons was a bit harder to find for obvious reasons. But by the period under discussion, i.e. later 14th and through the 15th centuries, you could buy second hand swords for a few hours wages, and England was exporting thousands of tonnes of pewterware every year. Extremely expensive simply isn't a good way to put it. Gold was expensive, of course. If you were really rich you could put it on your armour.

    And as for the price of ordinary clothes, we're talking comparatively here. The economy was a lot different to today in terms of where the money went, most was spent on cloth/ clothing and food.
    As for peasants and armour, again, when are you talking about? 10th century? 13th? 15th? There are muster rolls still extant that list the equipment brought to muster by inhabitants of the listed town/ village, and it is quite an impressive collection of stuff, not always new or great quality, but it included by the 15th century plate armour, iron helmets, bills, swords, bows and arrows, daggers. And they all had some form of armour.

    Charlie has already mentioned how metal armour hangs around, but armour made from cloth will last for decades too, as long as you don't leave it around outside for months on end. In fact that was the basic level of armour for everyone by the 15th century, including peasants.

    There's a lot of nonsense been passed about for years about cuir boulli being used as armour, but the simple fact is that 1) leather is expensive, 2) it isn't that good as armour except under certain very specific circumstances. The specific circumstances include probably as extra joint protection when wearing suites of maille, at the knees and elbows, before plate became more common.

    But leather as armour simply does not offer you much protection on a later medieval battlefield. Arrows will go through it, sharp things will cut it etc etc.

    So, today's lesson is: The medieval period, a lot bigger and more complicated than you thought.


    " And suppressed pistols are more compact than a bow, easier to conceal. A sniper rifle offers more range. I don't really see archery coming back as a war weapon unless very strange circumstances arise.... "

    “Unless very strange circumstances arise ..."

    Strange, Eh?

    O.K. this is Charlie's Blog with the equally - but in a different way - talented literary player Elizabeth Bear in place as Deputy whilst the Sheriff is out of town?

    So .. Not Bows, as being too obvious, but...Try this?

    Once Upon a Time, and Not so very Long Ago and maybe in the next alternative reality but One/Or Three the race between black powder and its nearest alternative was Lost by Black Powder Muskets and won by ? ....

    "Air guns represent the oldest pneumatic technology. The oldest existing mechanical air gun, a bellows air gun dating back to about 1580, is in the Livrustkammaren Museum in Stockholm. This is the time most historians recognize as the beginning of the modern air gun.

    In the 17th century, air guns, in calibers .30–.51, were used to hunt big game deer and wild boar. These air rifles were charged using a pump to fill an air reservoir and gave velocities from 650 to 1,000 feet per second (200–300 m/s). They were also used in warfare; the most recognized example being the Girandoni Military Repeating Air Rifle.

    At that time, they had compelling advantages over the primitive firearms of the day. For example, air guns could be discharged in wet weather and rain (unlike matchlock muskets), and repeatedly discharged faster than muzzle-loading guns.[1] Moreover, they were quieter than a firearm of similar caliber, had no muzzle flash, and were smokeless. Thus, they did not disclose the shooter's position or obscure the shooter's view, unlike the Black powder muskets of the 18th and 19th centuries. "

    Your Move? Though of Course Deputy Pack Leader First Class Elizabeth Bear may well pay me the Compliment of TRUMPING my Airgun card?

    Incidentally? Why hasn't anyone here mentioned just how good her “ The Promethean Age “series is? Unless we are being hosted by a Different Elizabeth Bear?

    ..Anyway, if you haven't read


    You should; it’s very cleverly done though somewhat done the time stream from its predecessors.

    Oh and ... it isn't necessary to begin at the beginning but, " The Stratford Man:

    Volume I: Ink and Steel (July 2008, ROC) Volume II: Hell and Earth (August 2008, ROC)”

    Would repay the effort.

    Still... this, following, linked, is too obviously an incidence of demonic possession from the US of A, and thus it must be another Bear who is visiting us visiting us from Over There. But Who?! - Or possibly whom - Could it be?

    “Animated Prop” indeed ...HA!


    Problem with pnemeutic weapons is the air tank. they are hard to make, the seals are tricky and don't last


    Yes, indeed...the basic problem in the Black Powder v Airgun arms race was sealing the air reservoir that powered the Air Gun. The problem was fiddly and difficult but that never stopped obsessive Technicians/Metallurgists.

    All that the triumph of airguns required was the right metallurgy at the right time and Battlefields would have become really eerily silent places by even the most modern of standards.


    I thought the problem for airguns was reloading the pneumatic reservoirs. Back when they tried them as war weapons, the rate of fire for the bullets wasn't bad, but they needed something like a compressor cart set up behind the shooters to repressurize their guns for the next ten rounds.

    Still, I doubt that we're going to see windarms replace firearms unless we get some really, ahem, interesting pressurization technologies. Gunpowder and its successors are just too good at stably storing energy in a small space for an extended time, and it's too easy to make primitive gunpowder. Heck, even the Conquistadors were out scouting for sulfur and nitre deposits to resupply from, back in the day.

    Also, to bring this conversation back around, it's easier to make a bow or crossbow that will rival a muzzleloader than it is to make an airgun that will do the same. The former basically requires a forest and (if you want a metal point on your bolt) a blacksmith's forge that can basically use a rock for an anvil and a charcoal fire to make stuff with. A good airgun requires something that looks a lot like a machine shop.


    Oh, and also .. failed to add this paragrath and link as follows .

    Sob, its Age and Decreptitude. Became 66yrs of A yesterday.

    " Girandoni Rifle 1 " as used by " Lewis and Clark during their Corps of Discovery expedition of 1803 " ...


    " ... but they needed something like a compressor cart set up behind the shooters to repressurize their guns for the next ten rounds. "

    Oh, I dont know? Did the Lewis and Clark Expedition need a compressor cart? And their air weapon had more than than 10 rounds available if the linked u tube video clip a above is to be belived.


    On old-fashioned tire pump won't do?


    compressed air is just an energy storage medium. The energy has to come form somewhere. It's either muscle power or some kind of machine or you just haul a bunch of air cannisters that are prepacked. Either way, gunpoweder is gonna have an edge longterm since it's energy is prestored and very dense


    I wonder if there were " tire pumps " before ever there were tyres? Repurposed old - at the time - odd pumps left over when air guns failed to take off as military tech and then adapted for a new purpose?


    I'd suggest looking up the Wikipedia entry on the Girandoni Air Rifle, to wit:

    "The Girardoni air rifle was in service with the Austrian army from 1780 to around 1815. The advantages of a high rate of fire, no smoke from propellants, and low muzzle report granted it initial acceptance, but it was eventually removed from service for several reasons. While the detachable air reservoir was capable of around 30 shots it took nearly 1500 strokes of a hand pump to fill those reservoirs. Later, a wagon-mounted pump was provided. The reservoirs themselves, made from hammered sheet iron held together with rivets and sealed by brazing, proved very difficult to manufacture using the techniques of the period and were always in short supply." (emphasis provided).

    The problem in the military setting is that you need to shoot a lot of bullets, whatever is powering them. 1500 strokes on a pump is a long time to reload, IMHO.


    I'm pretty sure that the Greeks had pumps that were very similar to what you would think of as tyre pumps. Used more for moving water though, and had leather washers. Okay for a while, but being made of leather and wood they wouldn't have lasted that long and would have had a lot of friction.


    " Think in terms of buying an automobile, not buying a jet fighter. If your life depends on owning your own automobile, you suck it up and buy your automobile (taking out a loan if necessary)."

    This is a bit late I know but perhaps it’s not as obvious as I had thought, and so ... what would any professional soldier who was serving in a victorious army pick up from a battle field if not the more successful kit from the bodies of the losers? Surely even a low ranking soldier could pick up useful bits of arms and armour after a battle or two? This kit could even be passed down as an inheritance to the next generation of any given military family.

    That pattern of military kit acquisition can even be seen on modern battle fields like, just lately, those of, say, Iraq?


    So .. Ancient Greeks with Air Guns? Now theres a thought!


    Not actually true.

    The Girandoni air rifle air reservoir was built into an interchangeable shoulderstock (it could be unscrewed). It held enough air for around thirty shots; the rifle itself was breech-loaded and fed from a ten round tube magazine. So it had an eye-watering rate of fire by the standards of the Napoleonic musketry era.

    Individual soldiers were issued a stirrup pump for refilling their magazines. The problem came in intensive volley fire during battle -- think Napoleonic tactics. In addition to the stirrup pump (which took a while to refill a tank) there was a cart-mounted pump that could refill a whole bunch of tanks simultaneously, with a group of soldiers or levies working the crank. So units in the field often towed one of these around with them.

    What killed the Girandoni air rifle -- apart from the mechanical fiddliness of it (which resulted in it costing about an order of magnitude more than an equivalent musket) -- was Napoleon Bonaparte. He hated and feared the things, and after he stomped the Austrian army into the mud (being Napoleon) he banned them, on pain of having the Emperor Napoleon unleash a can of whoop-ass on you. Which tended to rule it out of military use for a while.

    Later on, the manufacturing tolerances became less of an issue -- but by then, we were into the era of percussion caps and then breech-loading cartridge rifles (like the needle gun) and the like, and powder-driven firearms had more headroom for improvement.

    However, Lewis and Clark liked the air guns because all they needed was a stirrup pump, a bullet mold and a lead brick to make their own ammunition.

    For a modern analogy: the Girandoni was the 18th century equivalent of the XM25 grenade launcher -- technically advanced, very powerful, horribly expensive, a total pain in the arse to support in the field, and if anyone other than the current Top Dog was fielding it they'd ban it right quick.


    What we have these days is "asymetric warfare", where you want to fight a war but your enemy is a superpower.

    "Very strange circumstances" is the heart and soul of asymmetric warfare. You have to resort to the very strangest things you can think of, because you aren't in a position to write cheques for Predator Drones and night-vision goggles.

    I reckon bow-technology is a very plausible approach.


    I was responding to Arnold's skepticism about the Austrians lugging the cart around, but I actually agree with your assessment.

    As for a post-apocalyptic future, I'm having a bit of trouble swallowing air-gun toting barbarian warriors trotting around the vast eucalyptus forests of southern Alaska fighting the Palinites, or whatever.

    As you pointed out, airguns are fiddly to make. Contrast that with a rifled muzzle loader, which, (to quote Alfred Russel Wallace's Malay Archipelago), can be built rather more simply:

    "The workshop where these guns are made and the tools used were next shown us, and were very remarkable. An open shed with a couple of small mud forges were the chief objects visible. The bellows consisted of two bamboo cylinders, with pistons worked by hand. They move very easily, having a loose stuffing of feathers thickly set round the piston so as to act as a valve, and produce a regular blast. Both cylinders communicate with the same nozzle, one piston rising while the other falls. An oblong piece of iron on the ground was the anvil, and a small vice was fixed on the projecting root of a tree outside. These, with a few files and hammers, were literally the only tools with which an old man makes these fine guns, finishing then himself from the rough iron and wood. ...(two paragraphs excised about how they made the barrels)... The whole matter was explained in such a straightforward manner that I have no doubt the process described to me was that actually used; although, when examining one of the handsome, well-finished, and serviceable guns, it was very hard to realize the fact that they had been made from first to last with tools hardly sufficient for an English blacksmith to make a horseshoe." (Link to Project Gutenberg text)

    I tend to think firearms are here to stay, but that bows and arrows may be used in place of them when there's a lot of bow-wood and gunpowder is expensive. Windarms are incredibly cool, but they do better in alt-history with the Zeppelin fleets.


    "I reckon bow-technology is a very plausible approach."

    I vaguely remember much the same point being made in one of Gordon R. Dickson’s "Dorsai" Series.

    Maybe “Tactics of Mistake “?

    I read it a LONG time ago, and this before my first bout of Clinical Depression back at the stat of the '90s of the last century. I've lost chunks of my memory even though I have been told that I was fully and effectively functional I just can’t remember several of what colleagues told me were notable achievements way back then.

    So, with bits of my memory being missing, I'm not about to swear to it but I seem to recall that a Dorsai soldier – Generals’ - basic point was that, yes, given a sophisticated - Electronic Countermeasures Laden - battlefield of his time in the future bows might well make a comeback.


    That's always a pretty story, "My father picked it up on the field of Agincourt", but actually pretty unlikely. Because, once again, medieval life was not a role playing game. You are several hundred miles from home, and armour and suchlike is heavy. What was more likely to have happened 9 times out of 10 is that a couple of days later some richer fellow with a horse and cart would come by and buy the armour off you reasonably cheaply, but hey, at least you could get yourself dead drunk and buy a new pair of shoes.
    The armour would then end up in a store on some manor or town or castle or be reused or suchlike, elsewhere.


    Air rifles have a big limitation in that the maximum muzzle velocity of the projectile is limited by the temperature of the propellant gas and hence the speed at which a pressure wave can travel through it. KE and hence impact energy is half MV squared, of course...

    Firearms burning propellant produce a very hot gas that can push a projectile out a barrel at over fifteen hundred metres/second (for example the Rheinmetall 120mm gun firing DU penetrators has that sort of performance). Maximum muzzle velocities of airguns tend to be a quarter of that speed, usually about the speed of sound in air at STP because the compressed air doesn't get very hot in the barrel and even worse it cools down as it expands out of the HP reservoir into the barrel behind the bullet.

    Saying that the fastest guns around are airguns, sort-of but they use hydrogen rather than air as the propellant gas as it is much less dense, and they're usually two-stage with a conventional propellant charge driving a piston to compress the hydrogen behind the projectile. Light-gas guns can reach up to 7km/s muzzle velocity but they're lab test devices, not deployable weapons.


    Seriously, who would loan a year's salary to a soldier going out on chevauche? The lender's odds of seeing that guy again are not good, and we won't even get into medieval Christendom's ban on usury.

    More likely, if a common soldier had anything that expensive, it was his lord's property.


    When it comes to bows vs firearms as war weapons, there are other intangible but no less important factors than performance of the projectile.

    Pulling back a bow for shot after shot is hard work, even with modern compounds. The 16th C English military writer Sir John Smith (really) thought that only 1 in 3 military recruits were strong enough to be good longbow archers, and after a couple of months in the field that would be down to 1 in 10. But a puny and exhausted arquebusier shoots just as hard and far.

    Archers with longbows really have to stand up, and with a recurve or compound you have to be at least crouching. Even with a convenient tree, to shoot at the enemy you have to expose quite a lot of yourself. Meanwhile the guys with guns can lie down, or shoot from a hastily dug foxhole.

    You can run with a loaded gun, and if necessary fire while doing so, although not as accurately. Not really possible with a bow.

    Crossbows have most of these advantages too and did last longer as an infantry weapon in Europe because of that.


    "Air rifles have a big limitation in that the maximum muzzle velocity of the projectile is limited by the temperature of the propellant gas and hence the speed at which a pressure wave can travel through it"

    While that's true, it's misleading in that the implication is that the temperature of the air in the airgun must be low. If the air is compressed at the time of firing the temperature will be very high. A lightweight piston travels down a cylinder (driven by air, black powder or a spring), compressing air along the way. The air then bursts a disk at the end of the cylinder, allowing the air to reach the projectile. The temperature of the compressed air is very very very high. In some cases the "air" is replaced with a lighter gas for an even higher muzzle velocity. Several km/s is not uncommon for this type of airgun.

    The disadvantages for human carried guns of this type are, a very long gun, a low rate of fire and the movement of the piston (and spring) can disturb aim. Also, who actually needs to fire projectiles at 2-3 km/s?


    Airguns just don't get very hot, even with spring-driven piston mechanisms compressing the gas behind the slug. The heating effect might get the velocity above the speed of sound at STP, about 330m/s but not much more. In comparison a typical battle rifle round has a muzzle velocity of about Mach 3 = 9 times the kinetic energy at impact for the same sized bullet. The Rheinmetall DU round achieves about Mach 5 at the muzzle.

    I've never heard of a regular airgun achieving muzzle velocities of even 1 km/second. The light-gas guns, yes but they're very exotic beasts and not really applicable for military use as they are complex and heavy and expensive to feed in logistical terms.

    Railguns don't have the gas pressure wave speed limitation and they're getting up to the sort of speeds the light-gas guns manage but they're either very short-range (a few hundred metres) since the slugs vaporise due to air friction heating at Mach 20 at sea-level or they're intended for long-range bombardment being fired at high angles into thin air like a super-howitzer.


    Couple things

    • pulling a 100lb or 150lb longbow is INSANElY hard, so hard that people didn't believe it was even possible until the Mary Rose find. I am a big strong man , I shoot a 50lb recurve well and a 60# longbow less well and I cannnot get close to even pulling back a 100# bow

    • archery is an extremely hard disciple to master in general. Which is why only the English did it well in Western Europe during the Middle Ages and why there was such a mandate to face practice inside England. It takes years to make even a passable archer. Ever culture that fielded archers successful on the battlefield lived breathed and ate archery from the time hey could crawl.

    . I have been shooting on an off for 20 years (more off then on mind you) and on a good day I can do 3 or 4 inch groups at 30 meters. Which is better then most people I see shooting. However I can take a crossbow and train someone on it and they will be shoot groups like that in a few months.

    • it was "tactics of mistake" but it was spring rifles not bows that the armies used to avoid countermeasures . Flechettes powered by tightly wound springs in the clips

    You made an argument to physics.

    I disproved the physics with an example,

    Then you just deny the example in the face of evidence.

    That's a strange way to carry on a discussion. If there's a dispute between you and nature, generally the win is awarded to nature. You can maintain that "The heating effect might get the velocity above the speed of sound at STP, about 330m/s but not much more." but that's not going to cause airguns that produce 8500 m/s to cease to exist.

    You didn't initially make the argument to economics. I'm happy to admit that 8.5 km/s (above orbital velocity) airguns are expensive, unwieldy and unsuitable for military use. I never said they were. In fact I said they weren't. Nor did I maintain that "regular" airguns produce 1 km/s. I don't see how I could have said that as I have no idea what the word "regular" means in this context. However I'm completely sure I could build one in a day if let loose in a plumbing supply shop.


    Is this 450 m/s airgun a "regular" one? Is 120 m/s more "much" more?


    You tone strikes me as a bit close to trying to pick a fight with Nojay, so you may want to keep that in mind in the future, please.


    As far as name spellings are concerned, I suspect it's "Adam Swoboda" (not "Adama").


    ISTR a study that suggested the weight of any army's standard infantry kit rises slowly during peacetime. Then as soon as they actually have to fight, it's cut ruthlessly until it's about 25kg, max (including uniform, helmet, weapons). Then when peace returns, it starts to creep up again ..

    You don't need even a fight for that, at least not for what happens really. From my (admittely meager) experience in the military (8 months of conscription service in the Finnish Army) there is a standard for what the infantry should have in their kit and then there is the reality of what they will take when ordered to do so.

    Most people start almost immediately thinking what they needed the last time and what they can do without. Of course during peacetime exercises, the things you need are different from what you would need in a war. Anyway everybody wants to carry as little as they can.


    "close to trying to pick a fight"

    I don't see it but I'm terrible at interpersonal stuff, so I'm happy to be corrected.

    [snip a bunch of self justification]

    However it's completely unimportant to me to win this one. If you're a moderator and I've overstepped the mark, do please delete my posts (including this one). I'd rather not get a life ban for a genuine mistake, but if so, well I brought it on myself. Won't stop me buying books or looking in on the blog.


    I have a lifetime discount store card at Pedants'r'Us so I'd just like to point out that a light-gas gun doesn't use air (it uses a nitropropellant for the piston driver and hydrogen or helium in the barrel) so it can't really be called an airgun.

    Yes the compression heating effect of a piston-driven airgun can produce a muzzle velocity above the speed of sound in air at STP, but it's still not a lot compared to regular propellant-driven ammunition. My own experience shooting piston air rifles is that they're piss-awful for accuracy with a large weight moving within the mechanism before the bullet leaves the barrel and disturbing the aim.

    When I started shooting modern precharged air rifles (like the Napoleonic Wars era rifles mentioned earlier) the improvement in accuracy was eye-opening. The muzzle velocity isn't as high as spring airguns because of the physics involved.

    Thinking about it I wonder if some form of electrically-powered gas pre-heater in the chamber of a precharged air rifle would boost the muzzle velocity... hmmm.


    May I remind all that air-guns in the UK (except in Northern Ireland which is different) are required to deliver less than 12 ft-lbs of muzzle energy lest they be classed as firearms, with all the hassles that entails. This leads to small metal pellets at around the speed of sound.

    The limit for air pistols is lower. There is a still lower limit that is applied to paintball markers.

    Most air rifles sold in the UK are built to deliver close to the limit, whatever their power mechanism. One exception may be rifles built for target shooting.

    The "traditional" airgun uses a spring piston mechanism. A few use a more expensive gas-strut.

    Some air-guns use CO2 bottles or cartridges: since the gas pressure is temperature sensitive they're unlikely to deliver high power.

    "Pre-Charged Pneumatic" would be the label used for one of those Girandoni guns. The modern PCP uses 3000psi and technology related to diver's air bottles. They use standard sizes of airgun pellet, not the .46 lead ball of the Girandoni.

    A UK-legal airgun can be used to hunt rabbits. Headshots only, and similar effective range to a shotgun. The single-pellet precision of an airgun can be an advantage over a shotgun for pest control in urban areas. Air-guns can also be fitted with a silencer.

    (your humble correspondent is now imagining pest control foxes rappelling from the St Pancras rafters to deal with those pesky pigeons.)

    Because air-guns in the UK bypass so many of the firearms hassles, I suspect you may risk contact with the mall-ninja type if you do a web search. What do you need a 9-power scope for at less than 30 yards?


    First off, I have no weapons expertise whatsoever ...

    Even so ... the notion of using bows and arrows, air guns does have some appeal if we're talking about alternate history lines, etc. Anyways, I'm visualizing using air guns, or even a compressed air-assisted pump-action cross-bow as a weapon, and am of the impression that all of the elements were known and available a long time ago to create such as weapon.

    Consider ...

    Pig's bladders (footballs) have been around for millennia, so people clearly knew that compressed air could be made and then stored/carried.

    Animal innards (incl. intestines) also used for millennia for sausage making, violin strings, snow shoes, etc.

    Foot-activated bellows - ditto.

    Soldiers marching many miles hauling heavy kits - ditto.

    Tar/pitch and/or grease used as water-proofing and to increase the strength, flexibility and durability of textiles/materials - ditto

    Clogs strapped on to regular footwear to travel through mud/excrement, etc. - also ditto

    Now combine all of the above into this: small platform bellows worn as clogs, attached to feet of soldier, bellows pumps air via small critter intestine attachment wrapped around into soldier's calf into pig bladder casing that holds/stores compressed air until needed. (Sort of an Air Jordan runner that actually does something useful.)

    If the effects of (a) mirrors in channeling/directing light and (b) heat/light on compressed gases were also common knowledge, then you'd have very low-tech renewal power for your compressed air weapon.


    Aside from "Dune", another short story by Frank Herbert "Cease Fire", and "The Forever War" are there any other SF stories where pre-gunpowder weapons like blades and bows dominate the battlefield?


    Because air-guns in the UK bypass so many of the firearms hassles, I suspect you may risk contact with the mall-ninja type if you do a web search. What do you need a 9-power scope for at less than 30 yards?

    Since airguns are used for hunting small game (rabbits and squirrels) and pest species (the same, plus gophers), I suspect that you need a scope because you're trying to hit a target that's less than 1" across (the animal's skull), for a humane kill.

    As one airgun site pointed out, the problem with airgun pellets is that they aren't bullets, and when they get up around the speed of sound, they tend to go off-course. This is both a blessing and a curse, really. The blessing is that a subsonic pellet doesn't sound like a firearm and won't scare the neighbors or the prey. The downside of course is that it hits with lower speed and at a shorter range, so you've got to use a different set of ammunition and tactics.

    Note that they do make airguns to shoot large game, and these things look a bit like modern versions of the Girandoni. For one example, check out the Quackenbush air gun site, if you want to see people and dead animals. So far as I can tell from a cursory reading, the Quackenbush models are two-shot guns that shoot large-caliber bullets at subsonic speeds and don't have a magazine.


    I have an imprecise memory of a story in which Aliens do something magical to high-pressure combustion, which kills guns and internal combustion.

    They expect to find peaceful humans when they come back.

    Steam powered catapults. Swords and bows.


    "ISTR a study that suggested the weight of any army's standard infantry kit rises slowly during peacetime. Then as soon as they actually have to fight, it's cut ruthlessly until it's about 25kg, max (including uniform, helmet, weapons). Then when peace returns, it starts to creep up again ..."

    I often carry up to that weight, and discovered that I was slowed down only pro rata - not as much as the walking texts said I would be. I eventually found an expert on the area, and it appears that practiced people can carry up to about 33% of their basic weight without losing efficiency (i.e. they are slowed down only pro-rata). Beyond that, some activities become a LOT harder. Well, 25 Kg is 35% of 75 Kg ....


    "Dies the Fire" series by Stirling is the one you guys are thinking of. I quite enjoyed the first trilogy but it jumped the shark pretty fast after

    Godlike aliens much with laws of physics to force a return to ealrier levels of technology


    " Since airguns are used for hunting small game (rabbits and squirrels) and pest species (the same, plus gophers), I suspect that you need a scope because you're trying to hit a target that's less than 1" across (the animal's skull), for a humane kill."

    Laser Sights? Readily available these days but not so long ago they were the Toys of Special Forces/Military and or Police.

    It was once demonstrated to me, by a farmer, that the Country Side Folks problems with Foxes - as Menaces to Chickens and so forth - were easily to deal with a combination of Night Vision Sight and or/Laser Spot and a shotgun.No need for all this pouncing about on horseback with a pack of hounds that will tear the Fox apart if only they could catch it.

    Mind you a clean kill - with due allowance made for maiming the poor beast from time to time - wouldn’t allow the Countryside Sports Enthusiasts to 'Blood 'their children ..

    WARNING! Personal prejudice follows with Links the second of which is rather nasty...

    and ..


    That certainly fits with my recollection, but I am not at all sure that it is the book/story I read. Was there a shorter version of the same basic idea in one of the There Will Be War anthologies? I think I did see it in an anthology. I am not sure the author was Stirling.


    I have an imprecise memory of a story in which Aliens do something magical to high-pressure combustion, which kills guns and internal combustion.

    They expect to find peaceful humans when they come back.

    Steam powered catapults. Swords and bows.

    I was wondering whether it might have been The Day The Machines Stopped by Christopher Anvil? I seem to recall that some event suddenly altered the band structure of metals, causing them to become less reflective, and — more importantly — causing electronic circuits not to work. Maybe electric circuits too, so that spark-ignition engines would fail, which squares with your memory of killing internal combustion engines. Not sure about the steam-powered catapults. I do seem to remember that society became far from peaceful, and in general, rather horrible in a survivalist sort of way.


    "Jumping the shark" reminds me that a trireme could get going pretty fast. Mongol archers on water skis had extraordinary maneuverability so they could evade enemy missiles while shooting at a high rate from their composite bows.


    Sorry, forgot to put the HREF in. That should have linked to The Day The Machines Stopped .


    S.M. Stirling's Emberverse

    of which "Dies The Fire" is part.

    Frequently used SF trope, used in Patrick Tilley's "Fade-Out" novel from c.1974

    See also the YA novels of Peter Dickinson, as made into the 1975 Children's BBC TV show 'The Changes'.

    Technological collapse was big in the 1970s...


    Interestingly, you only saw the move at the top level target single-shot air rifle from lever-compression spring piston to precharged, about twenty years ago. These days, of course, a lever-charged air rifle (with a wooden stock) is... Quaint. They're just as accurate, you just want to minimise firer movement between shots.

    I did one British 10m Air Rifle Championships in the late 90s with a brand new spring rifle (and a loaner when the seal went, halfway through a match - don't worry, I was there to keep my wife company and for some cross training, not as a contender). There were only a few precharged rifles on the point, IIRC. These days, it's amost all precharged. Seeing a piston gun would be like spotting a Martini action at a smallbore shoot :)

    The target air rifles still have to comply with the 12 ft/lb limit; although I've never seen a measuring machine for airguns, so proving would be a problem... The reason for the lower paintball limit was that imported guns were pushing beyond the limit, and certain nutters figured that replacing the paintball with a ball-bearing had a spectacular effect. ISTR it was a similar reason that taking a pocketful of marbles to a football match is a bad idea, the nutters were using them as caltrops against police horses...


    What, you never read "The Amtrak Wars" back in the 80s? Lots of airguns...


    "caltrops" ? Nah. There's a much better way of totally distracting police horses ... have bag-full of pny cubes ( Compressed horsefeed) in your pocket & just hold you hand out ... Horse goes "MUNCHIES!" - forget crowd-control ....


    Precharge air rifles have a regulating throttle in the supply system. Out of the box they're tuned to about 11.7 ft/lbs (or about 16 Joules in Real Money) for the British market.

    You can imagine that the throttle can be easily bypassed... US model precharged air rifles run up to about 24 ft/lbs out of the box which is a significant fraction of .22LR ballistics.


    The hook here is that I think the arrows are heavy enough that you could mount a lipstick camera in place of the point, if you could figure out a way to cushion the impact from a five foot arrow powered by a 90-pound bow.

    If we use paper targets like on indoor pistol ranges, and hang the target line about half way down maximum range for the bow, that might get us a shallow enough and slow enough landing angle for the cameras to survive?


    My father, who was farming in her days when horses did a lot of the work, would tell a few stories of agriculture-related political protests. They were sober, responsible, men who were wearing heavy boots and were not intimidated by Police horses.

    My recollection of his stories was that the Police were not quite sure how to handle what happened.

    A modern protest that may have had some of the same features was the Countryside March in 2002.


    {back at the OP} I've never seen the subject videos, but I know enough of archery to cheerfully agree pretty much all your points, with the note that "English Longbow" deployed in battle was an area weapon and not a target shooting weapon. If a stand of, say, 400 longbowmen are loosing one arrow every 6s each, then if they're all firing the same azimuth and elevation a similar area to the one they're standing on will be subject to a bombardment of about 1 arrow per square foot per minute. That explains the "past the ear draw" because we're not aiming, just trying to store as much energy as possible to get the peak range and velocity at the target area.


    Technological collapse was big in the 1970s...

    And ever since World War III was envisaged: see Quote Investigator's article "The Futuristic Weapons of WW3 Are Unknown, But WW4 Will Be Fought With Stones and Spears". That quote had been on the tip of my mind since I read Antonia's comment. There's a variant that mentions bows and arrows rather than stones and spears, bringing one back to the question of how much technology, and how stable a society, is needed to support effective archery. Including all the training that I've learnt here is required.


    "Target archery" is a literally Stone Age technology. Being able to do it literally helps you to eat.

    "Mass archery" (see my 11:13, presently #167) may be Iron Age, and certainly requires society to support a body of men who can devote several hours a day to archery practice rather than devoting their entire day to sleeping, getting and eating food, and similar activities of "just living".


    The stand versus the rank is one reason muskets took over from the longbow on the field of battle.

    Bowmen operated in a stand or block, firing for area effect at distance at a high angle over the men in front of them. Musketeers and later riflemen couldn't do that as they fired almost horizontally hence the adoption of the rank as a battle formation. The best that could be managed if time and ground permitted would be three ranks, prone, kneeling and standing for volley fire or the rear rank walking through and preparing to fire after the front rank had fired and started reloading.

    The problem with a stand of bowmen facing a rank of musketeers is parabolas. A rank is thin front to back and an arrow has to hit within the rank somewhere to do any damage. If it lands in front of the rank or goes over their heads it does no good, and at distance an arrow is fired high in a parabola but it comes down more vertically as it loses velocity which further reduces its chances of hitting something vital.

    A musketball, however has a much flatter trajectory and it's likely to hit someone in the stand it's fired at given the distances involved (typically a hundred metres or so). Closer in the bowmen would have the advantage in terms of rate of fire but the musketeers wouldn't close with them unless their commanders were quite stupid, they'd just stand off and use their range advantage to defeat the bowmen at two rounds a minute.


    The problem with a stand of bowmen facing a rank of musketeers is parabolas.

    The same problem exists with modern infantry weapons. You can have a weapon that shoots a lighter, faster, bullet - which then has a flatter trajectory, and is less vulnerable to range estimation errors. This is important if you're attacking, and you're shooting at smaller targets in cover.

    Unfortunately, those same lighter, faster bullets tend to be moved more by the wind (to the extent that a stiff breeze at right angles to your aim will shift 5.56NATO a foot or so off-aim at 200m, whereas the older, heavier 7.62NATO would only deviate half as far) This is important if you're defending, and you're trying to make best use of weapons at longer ranges, against taller targets out of cover.

    The primary reasons for the change from heavier to lighter were the weight issues mentioned up-thread - you can carry twice as many of the lighter rounds for the same weight. If you google LSAT, they're trying to lighten it again by another factor of two...

    Another aside, is that this is why we see the Trooping of the Colour. If your smoothbore muskets are horribly inaccurate, and only operate slowly, en masse, at short ranges, then your minimum effective group of musketeers is probably a hundred or so.

    Your key battlefield advantage is the ability to move such groups of a hundred around, and arrange them so that the multiple ranks of musketeers are face-on to their target. Every second counts - hence the significance of foot drill, and any contemporary comments about "well-drilled troops" being a compliment.


    The UK persevered with an 800m battle rifle and round (the SLR firing 7.62mmx51) when most other militaries had moved to a 300m rifle and round (assorted national-version lightweight rifles chambered for the US/NATO 5.56mm round or the AK47 variants firing 7.65x39).

    We were just starting to roll out the L81A1 when the Falklands happened which turned out to be a windswept bugger-all-cover 800m battlefield, not the expected 300m main event in bushy, wooded and built-up West Germany, Belgium, France etc... I recall one combat report form the Falklands where British troops came under fire from well-dug-in Argentinian .50 cal M2s at 2000 metres. Luckily they had some Milan anti-tank missiles with them which worked quite nicely as bunker-busters at that range. Using 5.56mm would have been like spitting at them.


    Which goes to show there's no weapon perfect for all environments. And ultimately, it does make sense to arm for the expected scenarios - it might not be the best option in other cases, but preparing to fight the combined militaries of the Walrus Penguin axis instead would be rather silly.

    (I was reasonably good with the 7.62, but never got to try its replacement. Since I'm now way too old to be called up, that's no longer an issue.)


    Amen to that! There's a great essay about how there is no best sword, and I agree that we can extend that to weapons in general. No best gun, no best bow, no best way to fight.

    That Papuan arrow I mentioned back in #26 has, for whatever reason (possibly lack of suitable feathers) no tail vanes, but the Papuans compensated nicely by front-weighting a very long arrow, so the long shaft of the arrow serves as the stabilizer and the arrow flies straight when shot from one of their bows. Other arrows range from the tiny little poison injectors of the !Kung to the pound-through-an-oak door clothyard arrows of Ye Olde England.

    As for English soldiers getting outgunned in a foreign land, this has happened before. I'm particularly reminded of the First Afghan War, where the British parked themselves in a fort in an Afghan valley. The troops were armed with mass-produced muskets, while the Afghans were armed with hand-made jezail rifles that had a much greater range and were more accurate. The Afghans took the high ground, started firing down on the British forces as they retreated from that fort, and I believe (perhaps apocryphally) that one British soldier made it back to India from that disaster.


    Elphinstone's retreat from Kabul, though the adjectives are important - Indian sepoys and a Greek civilian also made it, and over a hundred prisoners were later released.


    "Target archery" is a literally Stone Age technology. Being able to do it literally helps you to eat.

    I did a quick search to find out when bows and arrows are thought to have started. 64,000 years ago, according to "The Complex Thinking Behind the Bow and Arrow", an account of research at Tübingen and elsewhere:

    ... no less than ten different tools are needed to manufacture a simple bow and arrows with foreshafts. It takes 22 raw materials and three semi-finished goods (binding materials, multi-component glue) and five production phases to make a bow, and further steps to make the arrows to go with it.

    The original paper is at "Thinking a Bow-and-arrow Set: Cognitive Implications of Middle Stone Age Bow and Stone-tipped Arrow Technology", but paywalled. The abstract says, if I understand it correctly, that designing these two inter-dependent tools (bow and arrow) is cognitively more complicated then designing either of them independently.


    " I'm particularly reminded of the First Afghan War, where the British parked themselves in a fort in an Afghan valley. The troops were armed with mass-produced muskets, while the Afghans were armed with hand-made jezail rifles that had a much greater range and were more accurate. The Afghans took the high ground, started firing down on the British forces as they retreated from that fort, and I believe (perhaps apocryphally) that one British soldier made it back to India from that disaster." “As for English soldiers getting outgunned in a foreign land, this has happened before. I'm particularly reminded of the First Afghan War, where the British parked themselves in a fort in an Afghan valley. The troops were armed with mass-produced muskets, while the Afghans were armed with hand-made jezail rifles that had a much greater range and were more accurate. The Afghans took the high ground, started firing down on the British forces as they retreated from that fort, and I believe (perhaps apocryphally) that one British soldier made it back to India from that disaster."

    One British - Fictional - Doctor had every reason to be grateful for the extraordinary loyalty of his servant under that fire... " The Afghans took the high ground, started firing down on the British forces as they retreated from that fort ...

    " "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" contains the only other reference to the injury. Here Watson is a little ambiguous; he tells us "the Jezail bullet which I had brought back in one of my limbs as a relic of my Afghan campaign throbbed with dull persistence." received in the line of duty during the Battle of Maiwand. Watson was almost killed in the long and arduous retreat from the battle, but was saved by his orderly, Murray. When Watson first returns from Afghanistan, he is "as thin as a lath and as brown as a nut." His more normal appearance is hinted at in "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton": "... a middle-sized, strongly built man--square jaw, thick neck, moustache ...". In The Hound of the Baskervilles he notes that he is "reckoned fleet of foot". By 1914 (in the story "His Last Bow"), he is described as "thickset". He is evidently not ill-favored, as Holmes several times jokes about Watson's success with women. "

    ' ..jokes about Watson's success with women .." so, we can narrow down the location of Watsons Jezail bullet wound, eh?

    Oh, and air rifles as tools of assassination ...

    “Colonel Sebastian Moran is an ex-army colonel and the right-hand man of Professor James Moriarty. Sherlock Holmes's miniature biography described him as the "second most dangerous man in London." ... Moran followed Professor Moriarty to Switzerland, and, after Moriarty perished at the bottom of the Reichenbach Falls, attempted to kill Holmes by rolling boulders down on him. Holmes escaped, but was forced to remain officially dead for several years, knowing that Moran would be gunning for him as soon as he revealed himself. Instead, Holmes waited for Moran to slip up and incriminate himself.

    After the collapse of Moriarty's criminal organization, Moran returned to London and earned a living by playing cards at several clubs. When one of the other players, Ronald Adair, noticed that Moran won by cheating and threatened to expose him, Moran murdered Adair with a silent air rifle that fired revolver bullets, crafted especially to Moriarty's specifications by a blind German mechanic.

    Dr. Watson and a returned Holmes took the case, and Moran attempted to kill the detective by firing his air rifle from a vacant house opposite Holmes' residence at 221B Baker Street. Holmes having anticipated this, Moran shot a wax effigy of Holmes while the real Holmes, with Watson and Inspector Lestrade, hid nearby to seize Moran. "

    " Moran murdered Adair with a silent air rifle that fired revolver bullets, crafted especially to Moriarty's specifications by a blind German mechanic." ..As you would of course!


    Apologies for the thread distraction, but I hate to let urban myth spread :)

    at 2000 metres... Using 5.56mm would have been like spitting at them.

    Likewise 7.62 - after 950m it's subsonic, the tracer burns out at 1100m, and the only way of employing it would be either map predicted fire by the MG platoon, or correcting observed strike (namely, watch the earth jump about - a bit tricky in the dark, or at 2000m). So you wouldn't, you'd just whistle up the mortars or artillery. If you had a tank in support, you might use that.

    7.62 is now recognized to be too heavy and overpowered for everything other than MG and sniper/marksman use. In fact, if you look at the No.9 Rifle and TADEN, the UK had already decided after WW2 to follow the path of an intermediate cartridge, using a 7mm cartridge.

    Here's the Pathe newsreel describing them:

    Unfortunately, the USA insisted that the new NATO standard round was 7.62, and we (like the rest of NATO) followed them in the name of standardisation. Just in time for the USA to decide that it had been wrong, and switch to 5.56.

    The other point of correction is that the Falklands reinforced the choice of 5.56, rather than the opposite (the L85A1 was far from introduction in 1982, they only turned up in 1985 and weren't ready even then). There was a perceived need to carry much more ammunition, and the official minimum scaling went from four 20-rd magazines; to six 30-rd magazines and a bandolier/charger to fill another five magazines.

    There was a duty rumour at the time that some found it rather convenient that the Argentinian Army used the same ammunition, fired from the metric version of the same rifle, using compatible magazines...

    Having done School of Infantry courses using both calibres, I can confirm that I spent a lot more time on exercise with 7.62 trying to reload my magazines and worrying about where the resupply was, than I did with 5.56...


    On the topic of 1970's disaster SF, is there anything like it now? I mean we have all sorts of problems right now and only getting worse, but are authors responding in a similar way to how they did then? I can't think of many at all, but then I've not been reading that much the last few years, at least not that much that was written in the last 15 years and was inspired by the current goings on.


    Does the Hunger Games count? Anyway, there seems to be quite a thread of dystopian SF in the young adult market. I'd say it's got quite a future ahead of it, if people keep reading what they imprinted on as kids.


    That's a point; a lot of the 1970's SF was read by/ aimed at teenagers, so in that respect perhaps things haven't changed so much.
    However we can objectively prove that young adults now have had it worse and will have it worse than their parents generation, even if they have spiffy computers that's no compensation for not having a job.


    I only ever shot the Century ranges at Bisley a few times and only once from the match rifle tables at the 1100m point. I hit the butts, I think. The targets were in no danger from me.

    Saying that some of the other folks were doing quite well that day. Not surprising as we were playing with some of the first prototypes from a company you might have heard of, Accuracy International as it was later known, based on the Parker-Hale PH14.

    Sure, at 2000m even 7.62mm is very much spray and pray unless the MG crews can dial in to the targets via fall of shot or have prepared elevation and bearing maps but they only usually do that for defensive positions, not assaults. The .50 M2s they were facing were at their limit too at 2000 metres. Unless the Argentinians were totally stupid they would have elevation and bearing maps covering the approaches the British forces were advancing through...


    That chimes. I asked Firstborn (who has just hit Secondary School) what he wanted to read among my shelves of books, and he said "dystopian". He chewed up The Hunger Games, and really enjoyed Simon Morden's Metrozone novels.

    Not to worry, he's just started the Fuller Memorandum. Case NIGHTMARE GREEN beckons...


    There was quite a lot of 'Club of Rome' inspired stuff like Alternative 3 around in the 1970s, even excepting the post-nuclear holocaust books around in the 1970s like Z for Zachariah which was YA book, IIRC.

    I think I was thirteen when I read it.

    Down to a Sunless Sea by David Graham, also sticks in my memory from about then.

    There's quite a lot of dystopian stuff today, Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, but the 70s and 80s seems to be high point of post-apocalyptic-society-as-entertainment.


    We might get back to those kinds of stories. I suspect that what helped to spur the post-apocalyptic stuff was the Club of Rome Report and dreads over nuclear war. Rightly or wrongly we're no longer worried about nukes, but the problem with climate change is that no one wants to talk about what things will look like if we screw up and stick to the business-as-usual emissions path. Most books on climate change say only the equivalent of "civilization will end, we don't want to go there" and go on to talk about how we have to change things drastically right now.

    (Tooting my own horn warning). I've been working on a speculative science book on the theme of what would happen if the worst predictions of climate change came true, and humans didn't go extinct. I should have it drafted this year, and with luck it'll get published next year.

    One thing I've learned in doing this book is that it's hard to get one's head around how climate change, sea level fluctuations, melting ice sheets, post peak resources, mass extinctions, and prior societal responses to changing climates all mesh together. And I've got a pretty good background in environmental science and ecology too. It's far from impossible, but it's a tedious enough chore that I suspect that most sane SFF writers would rather make up a future and populate it than try to be even semi-realistic.

    To give one example, what will people be eating and wearing in, say, Edinburgh if global mean temperatures are 8oC higher than today, say 300 years from now? How about if global temperatures average 5oC higher and it's 5,000 years from now? The prediction I'm using is that it will take 100,000-400,000 years for the carbon we emit this century to entirely leave go out of the air and for global average temperatures to return to 20th Century normal. That gives us a lot of potential future history out there to explore if you simply assume that humans won't go extinct. My guess is that long after we've been forgotten, our history subsumed into the legend of Atlantis or something similarly inane, the carbon we're blowing right now will still be shaping our distant descendants' lives. Isn't that an inspiring legacy?

    At the very least (and it is the very least) it's a change from all the "we'll be extinct in a few decades either due to transhumans wiping us out or us going extinct due to our own stupidity" droning that was so prevalent a few years ago. Hopefully that's worth something.


    No-one's mentioned Neville Shute - "On the Beach" was as dystopian as it gets... (OTOH, "Round the Bend" made a big impression on me, as did "Trustee from the Toolroom").

    When Firstborn was in Primary 7 (seventh grade), he was studying WW2, but pestering me to read some Warhammer fiction. I'm generally skeptical of MilSF, so I insisted he read Alistair Maclean's "HMS Ulysses" before I'd let him read anything from the Black Library (I then let him read OGH's short). Didn't push it as far as "The Cruel Sea", though.

    These are definitely not cheerful texts - (nearly) everyone dies, after all. "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch" is another that truly made an impression on a young me. I'd forgotten "Down to a Sunless Sea", I'll throw in Richard Ben Sapir's "The Far Arena" as a fondly remembered book from the 1980s...


    We visited Vindolanda last summer (Roman fort along Hadrian's Wall, and well worth a visit). What was interesting was their comments about a different local climate two thousand years ago, and it being warmer, with rather different vegetation.

    For clarity, I am not an MMGW denier, it was just interesting to note that these cold frozen wastelands of the North... Haven't always been :)


    Absolutely! That's actually been a real blessing for me (even in the atheist sense), because there's a reasonable amount of information for all sorts of minor climate fluctuations. I think the 17th Century's "General Crisis" is even more telling, because the Little Ice Age basically went on throughout the entire century, but by the end of that rather bloody era (it's the mess between the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Enlightenment in Europe, and the Ming-Qing transition in China), people had started figuring out how to deal with those brutal cold snaps and droughts, and the famines and revolts stopped happening. They were lucky enough to be facing the similar climate changes every decade or two, and after a while, the survivors knew what to do.

    Of course, scaling a 1-2oC fluctuation up to an 8oC directional change is a bit of a mess, mostly because things change, and change some more, and change some more, so that each generation gets a different climate than its parents faced (about 0.5-1oC warmer and weirder)for about 10 generations before things stabilize. Even describing the changes involves a lot of guesswork.


    Grossly off topic of course, but do you address various climate engineering technologies? Many people are already debating which method of tinkering with the planet is optimal, so once climate change gets really annoying I'd expect at least some of them to be tried.

    I strongly suspect that our first attempts will teach us that climate is complicated and that we're not controlling nearly as well as we'd thought we would...but I expect someone to at least try.


    "Trustee from the Toolroom" is one of the great misleading titles of our time, and a nerd read from the time before there were nerds. It does seem to be two separate books though internally.

    "On the Beach" was written at the time everyone was terrified of the Evil Monster Radiation and somewhat prone to exaggeration (see also the Godzilla movies). I've heard that one of the leading anti-nuclear figures, Dr. Helen Caldicott credits reading that highly exaggerated work of fiction as a major reason for her opposition to nuclear power.


    Yeah, I know all that; it doesn't actually invalidate my original point that mass longbow isn't aimed, but is an area effect weapon. Actually, so is musket fire.

    Having said that, I reckon your argument about direct vs parabolic trajectories isn't perfect either. Musket is incapable of parabolic fire, but longbow can perform direct fire. Also, in parabolic mode, contemporary accounts suggest that longbow would fire over 200 to 300 yards effectively, and the effective range of black powder musket (penetrating range against clothng, never mind an armour) is about 80 yards, so skilled longbow aren't at that much of a disadvantage against musket. Where the "force multiplier" comes in is that you can train mass force musketeers in months, where you need a decade or so to train longbowmen (and there are no shortcuts; this is about building bone and muscle bulk rather than just muscle memory).


    Cheers, but I deliberately didn't say "Neolithic", "Paleolithic" or whatever. My point was simply that we have records showing that plain wooden bows and flighted flint-headed arrows exist before the start of the Bronze Age, and probably before the start of agriculture.


    Not surprising as we were playing with some of the first prototypes from a company you might have heard of, Accuracy International as it was later known, based on the Parker-Hale PH14.

    Not quite...

    Malcolm Cooper competed with a Borlo action - a flat-bottomed action (rather than the round actions still beloved of most). Nice guy, only met him once unfortunately.

    For their first, the "Precision Magazine" (Model PM), Accuracy International bolted their own flat-bottomed action directly onto an aluminium chassis, which was then clad with green plastic. Everyone else was still bedding their actions directly into wood or fibreglass. AI won the contract for Hereford, and then for the whole British Army (and tweaked it to win the Swedish, and then the Dutch, and basically everyone else). They took it up to 0.338 for the Long Range Rifle requirement (0.50 was heavier and less accurate) and managed to sell more, including winning the German Army competition in 0.300 Win Mag (allegedly in spite of a certain degree of favouritism towards German firms...)

    The Parker-Hale was the competition - and an attempt to give the sniper rifle contract to a jolly decent (albeit not too competent) firm, to "defend British jobs". Having lost, they were given the contract for the L81A1 Cadet Target Rifle - which seemed to be out of service more than it was in. The L96 / L118 has sold around the world, the PH, err, didn't.

    Sure, at 2000m even 7.62mm is very much spray and pray unless the MG crews can dial in to the targets via fall of shot or have prepared elevation and bearing maps but they only usually do that for defensive positions, not assaults.

    The stated range for GPMG in the Sustained Fire role was 1800m, with strike observed; or 2500m for map predicted fire (my best man ran the MMG Platoon, I was Recce). Map predicted fire is fine if you've got a Vickers, but more effectively delivered by mortars if you haven't.

    One of the fun tasks for Recce was always "identify the enemy's registered defensive fire targets", although exactly how was worryingly ambiguous. Scare them, and see where the shells/bullets go? Sneak close enough to see where the guns point when they aren't doing anything else? Either way, I was glad I never had to do it for real.

    The reason you use MG in the assault (and typically look for around a 600m range to get an optimum "beaten zone") is because shells burst in a "circular" fashion. As your own troops approach the enemy, you have to either stop firing shells, or move them on to deeper targets (see "creeping barrage"). The MG is there because if it's off to one side of your attack, a section of them can keep shooting to suppress the enemy position for that last hundred or more meters (i.e. minute or four) between "artillery stops" and "own troops reach enemy position".


    The thing is, I was at an archaeology conference a couple of weeks ago and someone commented that Roman Britain, and one lecturer said that southern Roman Britain had had a mediteranean climate.
    Which those of us of a more scientific bent had problems with, but didn't have time to go and hassle them about it.

    Paleoclimatology is a difficult topic, and I'm sure we don't have a great idea how warm it was or wasn't in Roman times. People keep maundering on about vineywards, but 1) we are currently growing and selling wine from north Yorkshire, and 2) the wine then was probably pretty crap made using vines that were good at growing and not much else.

    So I'd take comments about the climate back then with a barrel of salt.


    The thing is, actual scientists have already look at fiddling with the climate, but people keep ignoring them and rabbiting on about shiny things.
    Scientists and those who pay attention to them already know that climate is very complex and attempting to do anything to it is also very complex and difficult and will have side effects. For instance seeding the ocean with iron is not supported by scientists, but amateurs and idiots keep doing it or supporting it. Putting lots of sulphur stuff into the atmosphere is sometimes pushed by idiots, often very intelligent idiots, but nonetheless would lead to a massive amount of acid rain, which would stress out already badly stressed ecologies. Nuking a volcano to get lots of aerosols isn't a great idea either.
    About the only one that might be is a soletta in space, but that doesn't address oceanic acidification. Basically we're left with de-carbonising the economy, which is entirely possible using current and likely technology, but the vested interests are obvious.

    An indication of how bad things already are, even with only a little pressure from climate change, is that you can't find ecologists and their ilk who say "Oh, it's all going to be okay, there's nothing to worry about." They're running around tearing their hair out or crouched in a corner crying. By contrast you can still find people with actual climatology expert status who deny some aspects of AGW.


    How much worrying is warranted probably depends where you live. Proposed climate shift will probably not cause too much inconvenience weather-wise at high latitude North. Equatorial may be a different matter. How is Canada and North Asia going to fare?


    How is Canada and ... going to fare?

    Depends. Toronto or the permafrost near the Arctic Circle?

    Toronto may like it.


    Tha AI folks took a clean-sheet approach to sniper/long-range rifle design but they started with existing 7.62mm hardware before rolling their own. It was a Big Thing back then (early 80s or so) building an alloy and composite furniture rifle rather than going with classic wood or fibreglass-bedded wood.

    As for the .338 Lapua that came out of the fact that the next military NATO round up from 7.62mm was the .50BMG which was an anti-materiel round and not that accurate out of the box. The .338 was another clean-sheet concept, an accurate match-grade long-range rifle round tuned to fit a clean-sheet rifle design rather than riffing off existing ammo and hardware. Even then there were .338 Magnum bullets, cases, actions and barrels to be had on the market for medium and large-game hunting but the sniper version of the .338 bears little or no resemblance today to its progenitors other than the calibre.


    Basically we're left with de-carbonising the economy...

    I'd think fiddling with atmospheric CO2 would be the last thing you'd want to try, media sound bites to the contrary. If you're trying to moderate the planet's climate it's helpful to use a method with a lag time less than years or decades.

    Even if humans never even once push the wrong button, Earth is still only one Mt. Tambora event away from another Year Without a Summer; the climate cooling system should be quick to adjust or turn off when we need to.


    Umm, before I get all crabbit, I would seriously advise you actually familiarising yourself with the scientific literature on climate, climate change, the role of CO2 and so on.

    Because from the standpoint of an amateur in such matters who is nevertheless familiar with much of it after over a decade of reading, your comment is pure mince.


    Not helpful: using insults.

    Helpful: explaining why the statement is wrong. (Less insulting, and, of course, I'm also curious why.)


    Right, now, where your comment goes wrong is firstly, that we are already fiddling with atmospheric CO2, so being concerned about reducing how much we're fiddling with it seems a little misplaced. Secondly, in a more concrete analogy, your comment is just totally wrong. Think of CO2 levels as like how much water is in a bath. It starts at equilibrium, with the water in from the tap equal to that leaving by the plughole (where a lot of it ends up recycled into the tap water, but lets not make it too complex), then we turn the tap open a lot more and let more water in. Hence, it starts to get deeper and maybe too deep for us to use, say for bathing our child or something.

    Worrying that we're going to turn the tap down too far and have the water level drop is misplaced, because we simply don't have any way of doing that, short of nano-wibble-tech which we don't have. De-carbonising the economy will merely turn down the tap enough to return things to equilibrium, over a period of centuries, not a few years. What would run the risk of sucking too much CO2 out the atmosphere in an uncontrolled manner would be something like oceanic fertilisation, if it actually worked well enough, but it doesn't and may have side effects which would also reduce the possibilities for using it. Oh, and it would require a massive effort to produce and spread tens of thousands of tons of iron dust, which would be rather expensive.

    Suggesting that we keep pumping CO2 in the atmosphere just in case we get a big eruption is rather a dodgy application of the precautionary principle, and ignores oceanic acidification. Moreover part of the problem with volcanoes is the stuff they emit which blocks sunlight. This is not a problem if you simply stop the emission of CO2.

    About the only thing which might meet your criteria is a sun shade, but that doesn't deal with oceanic acidification and requires a great deal more money and development than people seem to want to think about, as well as potential for accidents or terrorism and the sheer amount of material necessary to throw into orbit to make it.


    Well, I did say the comment was mince, not his head or something...


    Also one of the reasons I keep banging on about oceanic acidification is that we don't really know how it will impact global ecologies, but it affects a lot of forms of life which are the bases of the food pyramid, so if you cause them to have trouble living, you lop off chunks of the ecosystem, which in turn reduces its complexity, and given humanity is already mowing down species without even realising it, and something like 80% of commercial fisheries in the world are already overfished, it seems a bit important to reduce the stress on the oceans. Acidification is just one stressor, and there are plenty more to be dealt with, but this one we can actually deal with.
    Of course we could just ban fishing, but some people might complain about starving to death. This is what makes climate change a hard political problem rather than a scientific or engineering one, it impacts so many other issues which taken by themselves are not immediately difficult or dangerous, but add in climate change and things get messy and very dangerous.


    Cheers, but I deliberately didn't say "Neolithic", "Paleolithic" or whatever. My point was simply that we have records showing that plain wooden bows and flighted flint-headed arrows exist before the start of the Bronze Age, and probably before the start of agriculture.

    Yes, I meant my comment to be interpreted as agreement with you...


    I'd disagree here. There's a book called A Reef In Time by J.E.N. Veron that discusses it as does David Archer in a paper or two and his book THe Long Thaw, and IIRC you can find something about it in IPCC5. If that's too much reading, google "reef gap" and look for the pages that mention paleontology.

    Basically, once the ocean saturates with CO2, the carbonic acid starts eating away at all the carbonate (limestone, shells, etc). This will likely kill all the coral reefs (not the corals, but the reefs. Go read Veron to understand what the difference is), along with the everything that depends on reefs. That will take about five million years to recover, if we follow the pattern from previous reef gaps in the fossil record.

    During that time, the ocean will probably be full of jellyfish and squid. If we're very lucky and eelgrasses and mangroves survive, we might have some decent coastal habitats that can serve as fish nurseries. If we lose either (especially the mangroves), we'll be left with a very barren ocean with a few rapidly speciating generalist survivor species, most of which (possibly) won't be edible by humans. Over the next five million years or so, there will be a lot of evolution, and assuming humans survive (which I think is actually quite likely), everything in the oceans will be evolved to surviving whatever we throw at them. If you think fishing is hard now...

    The tl;dr version of this is that we've got things pretty darn good right now, and it'll suck for eons if we trash it.


    That's fine, you're just backing up what I am saying. I'm a bit too freaked out by it all to do some proper research...


    Well, that's one reason I'm writing that book.


    It was a Big Thing back then (early 80s or so) building an alloy and composite furniture rifle rather than going with classic wood or fibreglass-bedded wood.

    Indeed. I suspect that one of the handcrafted Caig/Walls rifles used by Malcolm Cooper was the one with the Borlo action. Jock Allan had a similar smallbore rifle - probably its "brother" (IIRC notable because it didn't have an ejector; you had to manually remove the empty case from the face of the bolt / extractor)

    The first alloy target rifle stocks to really "succeed" (as opposed to various one-offs or minor production runs) were the HPS Ultra, and the Walther KK200 stock that may or may not have been developed after they saw the HPS stock in test. These were first taken up in the Olympic rifle events, which since the 1970s have only used smallbore (0.22RF) and air (0.177) rifles.

    The alloy stocks changed the game somewhat; these days, you'll see Bleiker, Gruenig&Elmiger, Anschutz, Walther, and Feinwerkbau with their aluminium stocks. Even the 10m airguns are now alloy... Shooters don't need to worry about rain or humidity, and the wood swelling against the action. I got one of the first Ultras in the late 1990s, and still use its descendant. They're more robust, as both Malcolm Cooper (a BBC reporter broke his wooden stock at the Olympics, the Russian team armourer fixed it) and a teammate of mine would attest (!£$%&*@! Heathrow baggage handlers somehow broke his wooden stock while it was inside its case - on the way out to a competition)

    Nowadays, wooden stocks exist because they're cheap, light, and "good enough" - and because local manufacturers in strong domestic markets with infrastructure investment don't see any need to change what works (e.g. the US). While Sergei Martynov uses a battered old Anschutz in a wooden stock to keep winning medals and setting records, he's increasingly in a minority.

    PS A clubmate who competed successfully in Match Rifle (the 1000/1100/1200yard stuff on Stickledown that you described) was using 8mm back in the mid-80s; no-one serious about their shooting was running 7.62 for that discipline by then. You did occasionally see them firing from the supine position, which always raised an eyebrow.


    I was a member of That Club at Bisley in the late 70s and early 80s, the one at the disreputable end of Club Row. Lots of interesting kit passed through its doors at times, sometimes courtesy of Hooligans visiting the manager who was one of theirs (we were usually asked to drink up and go somewhere else when they were due to arrive). The guys from the Swiss embassy would use us as a base when they came to carry out their regular militia qualification shoots, for example so we got to handle SIGs and the like which were quite exotic beasts at that time.

    The AI prototypes were just being fired from the match rifle benches to give them a severe test -- their maximum effective range in service use would have been 600 metres or so with 7.62mm match ammo. They weren't pukka target rifles of course, not for the sort of shooters Fultons catered to.


    I will confess to having been sponsored by Accuracy International (briefly) in the late 90s - they were the importers for Lapua Midas ammunition, and Eley Tenex was going through an uncharacteristic quality dip apparently caused by a new CEO with ideas about "value engineering" (long since resolved to more than everyone's satisfaction).

    Anyway, when the L96 turned up in British hands, they extended the "service range" of the sniper rifle from the 600m of the L42, to 800m. My best man and I (as TR shooters) got pinged to run an introductory shoot for the battalion, shortly after the shiny new kit turned up, and we were getting the untrained drivers and medics happily grouping shots well within the target at 400m. It was very easy to use, and easy to use well.

    The story went that AI got a call from the Swedes in the 90s, after they'd been delivering the Model AW. "Hi", they said, "one of your rifles just did a 1" group for five rounds".

    "Ohhhh", said the AI person, because a 1" group at 100m is the edge of the specification, namely a minute of angle "that is the edge of the spec, although we would hope to do better"

    "No", said the Swede, "the 1" group for five rounds was achieved at 900m - we thought we'd tell you". Apparently it was a perfect day, a perfect shoot, and well into the right-hand side of the probability bell-curve...


    They weren't pukka target rifles of course, not for the sort of shooters Fultons catered to

    I will refrain from "cutting comments" about Fultons. They haven't got a great reputation of late, courtesy of a gunsmith friend...


    Sean, Guthrie's #200 is just using Scots words, not actually insulting.

    In standard English it reads "Before I get annoyed (with you) I would seriously ... a decade of reading, your comment is complete nonsense." Ok, that's still unhelpful in terms of moving the argument forwards, but that's a different thing to being rude to/about someone.


    I had to go away for a few days (work) and thought the conversation would have gone on a bit more.

    Since it hasn't, and my main point seems to have been missed, I'll ask for elaboration. Yes, we know that atmospheric CO2 is a major factor in climatology. (Not the only one, but one that plays well on TV.) Yes, it's a good idea to stop making the problem worse. However, I'd like to know what fast response methods for climate engineering may be on the table.

    We can certainly hope that nobody ever makes a mistake or discovers that what's been done previously isn't the best way to handle the problem at hand - but experience shows that developing any new technology will include the learning experiences that come from doing it wrong at least once. If humanity tries intentional planetary engineering - and we may find we have to! - I think it would be very good to use methods which don't have decades of lag time between deployment and feedback. Sooner or later someone would want to address a current situation rather than planning for what's predicted a generation or two hence. Many of the suggested options, while having different problems, offer the advantage that their heating and cooling effects can be changed quickly as the operators may need to do so.


    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for making me dig a little deeper.

    here's an open access article from Nature Communications about model runs testing the effects of "afforestation, artificial ocean upwelling, ocean iron fertilization, ocean alkalinization and solar radiation management." I'm still processing the paper, but their abstract says: "We find that even when applied continuously and at scales as large as currently deemed possible, all methods are, individually, either relatively ineffective with limited (<8%) warming reductions, or they have potentially severe side effects and cannot be stopped without causing rapid climate change. Our simulations suggest that the potential for these types of climate engineering to make up for failed mitigation may be very limited."

    As for large scale underground carbon sequestration, aka "carbon capture and storage", that's getting a lot of press at the moment. Unfortunately, to quote an article in The Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering(pdf link), "Published reports on the potential for sequestration fail to address the necessity of storing CO2 in a closed system. Our calculations suggest that the volume of liquid or supercritical CO2 to be disposed cannot exceed more than about 1% of pore space. This will require from 5 to 20 times more underground reservoir volume than has been envisioned by many, and it renders geologic sequestration of CO2 a profoundly non-feasible option for the management of CO2 emissions."

    Obviously these are the party poopers, not the cheerleaders. Still, I'd suggest being very skeptical of anyone who claims that we can engineer our way out of this, especially if you can check their numbers. If we go with the RPC 8.5 "business as usual" carbon emissions scenario, the carbon will stick around for hundreds of thousands of years without any cleanup efforts, and I don't think any geoengineering proposal is planning to succeed on time scales that long. It's simpler and more effective to limit emissions now, painful as that sounds.


    I've never read of any that meet your rather strict criteria.

    As for CO2, it get mentioned a lot because 1) the media are shit, 2) communicators like to keep it nice and simple, 3) it and methane are the main ones that we produce and can control the output of.


    And don't forget that methane breaks down into CO2 rather rapidly in the atmosphere, fortunately.

    I'm still trying to get my head around claims that CFCs were greenhouse gases. So far as I can tell, this was disproven, part of an effort to show that it wasn't about CO2, but if anyone knows better, let me know.


    Last I knew they were greenhouse gases. If Realclimate is lying to us who do we trust? "These updates added land use/land cover changes to albedo, decadal trends in volcanoes, and (in 2000) made the subtle point that the greenhouse effect from CFCs was offset a little by the impact CFCs were having on the ozone layer."


    Well, I don't think RealClimate is lying. It's just that trying to track down CFCs in the literature got messy, which appears to mean that I got off track. Thanks for finding this.

    Anyway, the awkward part about CFCs is that it looks like they have a positive effect (primarily in the Antarctic?), but it's interesting that they show ozone as negative. Is that the negative effect of removing ozone in the Antarctic?


    From memory, yes, the ozone hole means more IR escapes or something like that, I forget the details. Search Realclimate for more information about it.

    I can find loads of papers re. CFC's and the greenhouse effect using google scholar, here's the top one: From 1975: "The infrared bands of chlorofluorocarbons and chlorocarbons enhance the atmospheric greenhouse effect. This enhancement may lead to an appreciable increase in the global surface temperature if the atmospheric concentrations of these compounds reach values of the order of 2 parts per billion."


    Define "rapidly". Last time I saw the numbers go by in an article about anthropic climate change it said that methane had a half-life of about 7 years in the atmosphere, that is of a unit of methane released today, half that amount will still be present 7 years from now.

    Fracking releases a lot of methane and the dash to gas is not helping. Originally it was thought moving away from coal would reduce the anthropic heat buildup effects as we'd burn less fossil carbon for the same amount of heat and electricity generation but the escapes of methane from drilling, fracking and gas production and transport are eating into that margin. Coal might actually be the better bet in the long term or at least until anti-nuclear hysteria dies away and we end up doing the right thing after trying everything else first.


    "until anti-nuclear hysteria dies away"

    I don't think it's hysteria, it's just a very poorly articulated feeling that requiring the public to carry the risk of nuclear without any compensation isn't fair.

    If people knew that human error would make their city uninhabitable for longer than a human life time, but they'll be handsomely compensated, there wouldn't be much opposition (in my opinion anyway).

    Experience shows that isn't the case. For all practical purposes nuclear power is uninsured. Even in Japan (major, affluent country) displaced people are not compensated and are living in temporary accommodation.

    Of course to properly insure people you'd need to carry about a million dollars insurance for each resident within say 100 km of the plant. For most first world plants that means they should have in the order of a trillion dollars insurance. Carrying that level of insurance would cost somewhere around 10 billion dollars per year. That's about 50 cents per kWh in insurance alone. That makes it completely uneconomic unless it either exists on massive government subsides or local people are just forced to carry the private company's risk for no fee.


    The sarcastic version of CO2's halflife in the atmostphere (in the RPC 8.5 version) is "A better approximation of the lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 for public discussion might be ‘300 years, plus 25% that lasts forever.’" (Archer, D. (2005), Fate of fossil fuel CO2 in geologic time, J. Geophys. Res., 110, C09S05, doi:10.1029/2004JC002625). Later on he adjusted "forever" down to 400,000 years.

    That's what I mean by short time: it's relative to CO2's projected life if we saturate the known sinks and all those sinks start equilibrating with each other (atmosphere, ocean, sediments, soils), plus being very slowly taken out by sediments and biota.


    Several questionable statements there and some outright falsehoods...

    The Japanese people displaced by anti-nuclear hysteria from their homes in the vicinity of the Fukushima plant are definitely being compensated, getting paid a couple of thousand quid a month each now and into the forseeable future. They could return home in many cases as the areas they lived in have been decontaminated and are safe now but anti-nuclear hysteria has caused them to have doubts and they are reluctant, even with generous extra payments and extra support from local and national governments. Instead many of them have made their homes and lives elsewhere and they will never return for that reason. The government and TEPCO are further compensating these folks in such cases for the value of their properties.

    The other forgotten evacuees, the tsunami survivors don't have it so good but they're not the victims of anti-nuclear hysteria so they don't get the press pages.

    As for the insurance deal, how much do the coal-fired generators pay to cover toxic releases into the environment and the resulting medical problems and deaths they cause every day under normal working conditions, or oil companies to cover spills and accidents? Why is nuclear power singled out to have to carry such a great financial burden when the others don't? The reason is anti-nuclear hysteria, not present for other methods of generating electricity which actually kill and poison people every day in normal business-as-usual operation. Of course they couldn't actually get insurance since they're an ongoing disaster, not benign in regular operation like nuclear power.


    100 000 yen is about 1/4 of 'a couple of thousand quid'. It's less than 1/8 of the average wage. 120 000 people are still in temporary accommodation. The government has set the exclusion zone not 'hysteria' and tepco has refused to pay people who were not in the government mandated 20 km zone. The people in the much larger area that is unsafe have no compensation. Tepco has refused to comply with the decisions of the dispute resolution board. I would continue to maintain that people within 100 km of the plant were for practical purposes uninsured. I still think that if proper levels of insurance were in place, opposition to nuclear would evaporate


    Oh and if I had control of such things I wouldn't single out nuclear. I wouldn't let any industry externalise all their costs and keep all the profits.


    The evacuees are getting about 330,000 yen a month for a family (£2000 or so), about 200,000 yen a month for single people from TEPCO and the government. Many of the evacuees are working and earning a wage where they are living on top of the compensation which you initially claimed didn't exist at all ("uncompensated"). The evacuees still living in the temporary accomodations live there rent-free and their compensation is in addition to that.

    The tsunami refugees get a lot less than than the Fukushima evacuees and there has been less notice accorded to them in the world's press despite the extensive loss of life and injuries they suffered as well as the physical devastation to their homes and businesses which is not the case for the compulsorily evacuated people from around the Fukushima plants and in the fallout plume area.

    As for the exclusion zones they are set by a government which has to bow to the population's anti-nuclear hysteria. Many areas close to the plant have actually been declared safe to reinhabit, in some cases after extensive decontamination efforts (much of which was window-dressing to reassure people) and testing but irrational fear holds a lot of people back from returning to their homes. Losing the evacuee compensation benefits if they return is another factor of course.


    The key thing about nuclear and coal is that they both have about 100 years of supply left at current consumption rates(with a lot of waffling in the numbers), but there's probably more burnable coal than fissionable uranium out there. Coal supplies somewhere around 20% of the world's energy needs, nuclear supplies less than 10%. Basically, if we went all nuclear, we'd get by for about a decade. If we went with 100% coal, we'd get by for about 20-40 years, perhaps.

    The waffle factor is that there's a lot of crappy coal out there, coal with rocks in it, stuff that almost (or does) take more energy to get out of the ground that you'd get by burning it. Similarly, there's apparently a lot of low grade uranium ore out there, where refining it into fuel would take a lot of energy too. Do we go there? That's the whole EROEI (energy return on energy investment) mess that some people argue about. I've stopped worrying about it so much.

    The simplest solution is to work really hard on getting global energy consumption down (primarily in the US, India, China, and Europe), because that gives us more wiggle room in how we source the energy and gives us more time to make an infrastructural change to renewables. The hard solution, which we're implementing, is to keep growing and try somehow to get to a 100% renewable (possibly plus nuclear or fusion) energy system, while burning up fossil fuels during the transition phase.

    In a century or less, we're going to get to 100% renewable power. It's either going to be after a massive crash, because the survivors are sitting around 100% renewable wood fires, or it's going to be a radical transformation that allows us to keep some semblance of what we now consider to be civilization. What we're working on now, basically, is how we get there. Personally I'd rather leave as much fossil fuel in the ground as possible, but given my normal behavior as a middle class American, I'm definitely more part of the problem than part of the solution.


    "he key thing about nuclear and coal is that they both have about 100 years "

    Not true for nuclear, that is whole "proven supply" fallacy that led the peak-oilers astray. we KMOW of that much uranium however there is certainly a lot more out there that would be easy to extract if anyone was actually looking for it. Which they are not and have not been for a long time. There are also relatively feasible ways of breeding uranium, thorium etc that would certainly kick in before 100 years passed

    You are never going to "get energy usage down" without some kind of mass die off, that has never happened in the entire history of humainty, not counting plagues


    Please stop intentionally misrepresenting what I say. My comments are on record and you won't convince anyone.

    I didn't say "All" misplaced people are "completely" uncompensated. I said "properly insure people [the private company would] need to carry about a million dollars insurance for each resident within say 100 km"

    The fact that people who are within 20 km of the plant have been partially compensated by the government in the main and the private company in part (to 100 000 yen/month, a pittance compared to the Japanese average wage of over 800 000 yen/month) does not mean that all affected people have been fully compensated by the private company. I'm sure that if my private company required you to move out of your house/farm and in return I gave you a bed in a hall and 1/8th of the average wage you'd feel less than properly compensated. I doubt that receiving a government benefit would change your mind on that.

    The fact remains that the private company didn't have sufficient funds in reserve to properly compensate people who've had their property damaged due to their actions. No nuclear generation company does. The government (which means "the people") have had to step in to fill the gap, and even then have only partially filled the gap. This means that the people have had to cover the private company's debts.

    Nor does the company have sufficient funds to clean up it's mess. It has paid about 7 billion yen of the expected 1.3 Trillion yen bill.

    The earthquake damage is a completely unrelated issue. Yes many people have suffered from this natural disaster. That's completely unrelated to the reasons people don't like nuclear.

    Characterising people with a different opinion to yours as "hysterical" is simply insulting. Please stop doing that. The fears that people hold about the nuclear industry are well founded. You may not agree with them and you're happy to carry the (very very small) risk of losing your job and everything you own in return for cheap electricity, but that doesn't mean that people who are not prepared to do so are mad.


    It's worth reading Global Crisis by Geoffrey Parker. It's about the 17th Century, which was the period between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in Europe, between the Ming and Qing in China, and the time of various revolts and civil wars (and the end of the Kongo Kingdom in the rest of the world. It was also when the Little Ice Age bit down hard.

    In that time, world population is estimated to have decreased by around 30 percent.

    So fantasies about world energy use never decrasing? Actually it happens, and it has happened repeatedly. That's one of the best known times, but back when the western Roman empire and Han empire crashed, there was a similar die off and decrease in energy use.


    "In a century or less, we're going to get to 100% renewable power. It's either going to be after a massive crash, because the survivors are sitting around 100% renewable wood fires, or it's going to be a radical transformation that allows us to keep some semblance of what we now consider to be civilization"


    There's an advertising trend that characterises the renewable movement as mad greenies, when the actual case is that they're actually industrialists. We are going to renewables. That's completely certain. What's in question is will we have an industrial (possibly spacefaring) civilisation or not after the change.


    "there is certainly a lot more out there that would be easy to extract if anyone was actually looking for it"

    That's undoubtedly a true statement. However "business as usual" is not static. It depends on growth, both economic and energy use. World energy consumption grows at about 2% per annum. While there have been some reductions in energy use in some individual years in Europe most of that comes from temporary economic slowdowns and a shift in manufacture to Asia.

    There may well be enough undiscovered nuclear and coal to cover more than 100 years at current rates of consumption, but if world energy consumption growth continues at the current 2% then we'll be consuming energy at about 8 times the current rate within 100 years. That might sound unlikely, but even bringing the whole world up to the west's current levels (assuming no growth in the west) gets us to those figures.

    Over the next 35 years we'll use about the same amount of energy as has been used by all of human history. In the following 35 years, twice as much as has been used in all of human history. During the final 35 years, about 4 times as much as has been used in all of human history. 7 times more energy than we've used up to now, over about the next 100 years. That's a lot of energy. Is there that much undiscovered energy lurking around? Maybe, but in the 35 years after that we need to find that much again.

    That sort of thing doesn't continue forever. Business as usual isn't sustainable and we will eventually see the end of growth.

    Of course if we get a "Mr Fusion" that produces 1.21 jiggawatts then we'll be fine.


    There's about 3 tonnes of uranium in solution in every cubic kilometre of seawater, and more being added every year from rainfall runoff from granite mountains into rivers. The technology to extract this uranium from seawater has been demonstrated using an ion exchange resin in mats. The estimated cost of production is about $300 per kilogram, but it's not been proved at an industrial scale.

    However mined yellowcake is being sold on the world market at about $80 per kilogram. There are large known reserves of decent-quality uranium ore that are being left fallow because they're more expensive to exploit than the market will support, in part because of the low price and in part because there's not a lot of demand for uranium since it produces a lot of energy from a very small quantity of fuel.

    If mined uranium becomes scarcer a century (one complete build/operate/decommission cycle for modern reactor designs) from now its price will rise but that won't impact the cost of nuclear energy very much since the cost of fuel is a very small part of the cost per kWh. Other fuels are not so fortunate in that regard.

    Ther are also millions of tonnes of spent fuel in storage around the world and a tripling of the price of raw uranium would make that spent fuel worth processing to extract the leftover fissile U-235 and Pu-239/240 and put it back into reactors to produce more energy. However that tripling of price is a long way away -- advances in mining processes like in-situ leaching and spoilheap reprocessing are likely to keep uranium prices depressed for a long time, several centuries at least.


    "Seawater...likely to keep uranium prices depressed for a long time, several centuries at least."

    There's about 83 TJ in a kg of U235. Nuclear powerplants are about 33% efficient, so say 30 TJ/kg.

    World power consumption is about 15 TW (15 TJ/s). So if all the world's energy came from U235 you'd use about 500g/s. That's about 16 000 tonnes per year.

    Several is dictionary defined as "more than two but not many". You did say “at least", so lets call that 5 centuries shall we?

    So given 2% growth (much lower than historic growth) the amount of U235 needed each year is 16000*(1+0.02)^500. That's about 320 million tonnes of U235. Since 0.72% of uranium is U235 you need 320 million/0.72% tonnes of natural Uranium. That's about 45 billion tonnes (4.5x10^13 kg) of Uranium. If you can extract all of the 3 tonnes of Uranium in each cubic km of seawater, you'd need to process 15 billion cubic km of seawater. Sadly that's more than 10 times the entire volume of the oceans. Every year.

    Lets not be squeamish. Why stop at seawater, lets dig up the entire crust and extract all the U235. We'll assume that this can be done at no energy cost shall we?

    Uranium makes up 2.7 parts per million of the Earth's crust. The entire crust weighs about 2x10^22 kg. So multiply by 2.7 and divide by 10^6.. That comes out at 5.4x10^15 kg of uranium in the entire crust. But we've already used 2.2x10^15 kg of Uranium. Another 35 years down the track and you've used every atom of Uranium in the crust.

    I think the price of Uranium might rise somewhat...


    I still think that if proper levels of insurance were in place, opposition to nuclear would evaporate

    Me thinks you are applying logic to counter an emotional response. Which to me seems like a fail.


    Nuclear power plants cost so much because they're vastly overengineered to cope with highly-unlikely and near-impossible failure modes because of anti-nuclear hysteria. The result? Folks look at the excessively-hardened structures and go WAAAH! Scary! and panic some more.

    The one good thing that does come out of this panic-driven overengineering is that nuclear power plants last a long time -- most 1970s 1st-gen PWR designs are on schedule for a 60-year lifespan absent economic factors like cheap gas and coal being readily available and no-one caring much about CO2 levels in the atmosphere. The two essential components of such reactors, the reactor vessel and the containment structure are about as strong as they were when they were built forty years ago and all the other parts (pumps, steam generators, turbogenerators etc.) get swapped out and replaced when necessary. The control and management systems have already been upgraded to more precise and adaptable digital hardware, of course.

    The bad news is that economic markets are defined by the next quarter's financial figures and long-term proposals like building new nuclear plants are denigrated.


    Except commercial reactors can extract power from U238, not just U235. Then we have Thorium, which is around 5x as abundant as U238. Enough to keep going at present levels for a few thousand years.


    "because of anti-nuclear hysteria"

    Characterising people with a different opinion to yours as "hysterical" is simply insulting. Please stop doing that.

    The one thing that has always marked the comments page of Charlie's blog is that people are polite.

    You've now driven me off this blog permanently.

    Cheers =:)


    I am reminded of the old physicists joke about why mathematicians are the cheapest academics to hire -- "you don't need to supply them with wastebaskets"...

    Right now the 7 billion people on Earth generate and consume about 15TW of electricity, about 2kW per capita on average. First world countries like the US, the UK, France, Germany etc. consume about double that per capita, the ROTW about half. Assume everyone gets to be First World under today's conditions, that's 30TW demand.

    Assume that population doubles over 500 years to 15 billion the demand increases to 60TW of electricity. Assume we've run out of gas by that point and have to heat homes using cheap nuclear electricity (as France does today) then add another 40TW. That's 100TW demand, not the Earth-glowing-dull-red electricity consumption figure you postulated.

    It's possible, I suppose that every one of those 15 billion people NEEDS 8MW of electricity for... something. Aircon, perhaps but probably not unless CO2 levels really skyrocket. Let's assume that First World electricity consumption doubles too in that period, to 8kW per capita so we can guess that in 500 years time Planet Earth would be generating and using 200TW of electricity.

    Typical fuel burnup figures for today's fleet of PWRs and LWRs means they produce about 40MW of electricity produced per tonne of enriched fuel per year, so five hundred years from now based on my figures above that would require about 5 million tonnes of enriched fuel a year. The enrichment process to 3.5% or so for 0.7%-content U-235 that means 25 million tonnes of raw uranium metal per annum need to be mined, extracted or otherwise sourced.

    However, the fuel burnup rate I quoted is quite low -- modern operations in some reactors have improved that to about 60MWe per tonne of fuel annually, but since uranium is currently cheap and plentiful the extra efficiency gains don't provide much of a financial benefit. Other non-LWR reactor designs like the EBR-II have demonstrated burnups of 200MWe per tonne of fuel, including using spent and reprocessed fuel (which doesn't need to be mined). Presuming that's a hard but achievable limit and it can be productionised then the demand for fresh stocks of uranium metal 500 years from now drop to about 4 million tonnes per annum.

    That's still a lot of uranium. Then again the Solar System has a lot of uranium and shipping a few million tonnes of it Back Home each year would not be beyond the realms of possibility.


    It's extremely unlikly that the world population will double or that energy consumption will continue to increase by 2%/year for 100 years

    Linear extrapolations like that are very misleadng


    My god, you can be polite. Still wrong (Sean, if you're going to ban me for doing maths correctly and pointing it out to others, go right ahead).

    I was pointing out that your idea made no sense, not that stripping the crust was a realistic option.

    Your revision of my estimates still don't give a scenario where seawater can provide enough uranium. As one commenter said about a previous discussion, "holy moving goal posts batman". Despite containing such gems as "Let's assume that First World electricity consumption doubles too in that period, to 8kW per capita" when the energy consumption in the US is already higher and the highest 1st world energy consumption is nearly 3 times that... Then combine that with a 4 fold efficiency increase in reactors (which takes them to over 100% efficiency, not impossible with fast breeders, but still...), Even with all that white washing, you finally realise that there's not enough uranium in the ocean to cover centuries of use as you previously claimed. (BTW Dirk, obviously the 5 times as much thorium isn't going to last "a few thousand years") Then you get to the "holy moving goal posts", We'll get it from spaaaace.

    "...the Solar System has a lot of uranium and shipping a few million tonnes of it Back Home each year would not be beyond the realms of possibility."

    Well unless your plan it to drop the uranium into the atmosphere at 20km/s, turn it into dust, let it dissolve in the ocean and extract it later (you don't have to be "hysterical" to think that's a bad idea), you're going to need a re-entry vehicle. The Dragon capsule can return nearly 3 tonnes, but weighs 4 tonnes. So we can say that the re-entry vehicle must weigh at least as much as the payload. That's got to be the lower bound since it neglects the first and second stages needed to get the capsule into orbit and neglects the fuel needed for changing orbital height, inclination and de-orbit. Probably at least 2 orders of magnitude better than reality.

    So we'd need to put 4 million tonnes in orbit every year. (assuming we could do that 100% efficiently compared to our current efficiency of far less than 1%). 1/2mv^2... 1/240000000008000*8000 is 1.28x10^17 J. Divide by the number of seconds in a year and you end up with 5.4x10^14 Watts.

    So even assuming orbital launch is well over 100 times more efficient than anything we could do today, that's still over 500 TW, or 2.5 times the amount of energy you were planning on generating by bringing that 4 million tonnes of uranium to Earth. I haven't even bothered to add in the energy needed to move the uranium from the asteroidal refinery or decelerate it from escape velocity down to orbital.

    Uranium from Spaaaace isn't the answer.


    I apologise.

    I made a basic maths error.

    Bringing uranium back from space is somewhat energy positive (but only just)


    Despite containing such gems as "Let's assume that First World electricity consumption doubles too in that period, to 8kW per capita" when the energy consumption in the US is already higher and the highest 1st world energy consumption is nearly 3 times that...

    Both you and Nojay are confusing total primary energy use with electricity use. Divide the numbers in this table by 8760 (24 * 365) to get continuous electrical power per capita:

    According to the latest data in that table Norway is the champion of electricity use at 2.6 kilowatts per capita. The USA is at 1.5.

    When it comes to primary energy consumption per capita, the USA has been stagnant to slightly down since the 1970s. The USA has also been at below-replacement total fertility rates since 2007, joining other developed countries who got there some years or decades ago. Contrary to the hopes of economists, human demand for economic activity is not infinite and exponential growth does not go on forever.


    Hmmm, as it turns out there's not that much uranium out there anyway. I didn't realise but geologic processing (absent in asteroids) has acted to concentrate uranium in the crust. While crustal uranium averages around 2.7 ppm, meteoric material averages around 0.008 ppm. There should be no "ores" because there have been no weathering effects that could concentrate uranium, so it should be more or less evenly distributed. You'd need to process over 100 million tonnes of rock to get one tonne of uranium. The only way to separate that low a concentration that I can think of (given that there's no water or other solvent) would be a sort of giant mass spectrometer. I don't know how much energy it would take to ionise 100 million tonnes of rock but "a lot" springs to mind. Of course you'd get a lot of other pure elements that would be handy in space.


    You just pointed out the good reason to colonize planets, or at least dwarf planets that are big enough to have some sort of differentiation, if not plate tectonics and life. These processes are really, really good at concentrating elements into easily minable ores. Small asteroids have a lot in common with landfills, in that they're a bunch of well-sorted elements that take a lot of refining to make anything useful.

    As for low-energy concentrating, I'd find an organism (probably a bacterium or possibly a plant) that concentrated uranium, grind up the asteroid, and feed it into a bioreactor. That's a really slow way to do it, but on the other hand, it might conceivably give you some useful uranium in a few years, a decade or two at the most...


    Hi Heteromeles,

    I'm a huge space fanboy, but I don't think I can make a case for colonising planets based on Uranium mining. The concentration of U into the crust seems to depend on plate tectonics. There's none on Mars. Venus seems to have (or had) a form of plate tectonics and may have concentrated U in the crust but has no weathering that would lead to ore deposits. There's also the matter of delta V for return of uranium from the surface of Venus to Earth. Despite my incredible mistake in maths in the previous post, it's still pretty marginal returning U from space if it's actually in the form of ingots floating in low earth orbit. Even if U was in the form of ingots on the surface of Venus... You'd need to launch a vehicle from here, that could survive re-entry into Venus then have enough oomph to punch through 90 atmospheres of gas, then get to orbit then get to Earth, then be de-orbited. Rockets work slightly better in a vacuum, but much worse under 90 bar of 750 K CO2. The atmospheric pressure on Venus is so high that gas would flow into the combustion chamber of a Merlin engine rather than out.

    So even assuming we can engineer a magic bacteria that lives at 750 K and makes U into ingots for us to collect and carry back, that's still pretty hard.

    11 km/s to get out of Earth's gravity (payload under 1%). 7 km/s to get to Venus (payload about 5%). Re-entry and associated shielding (payload about 10%) at Venus unless you do a powered decent, then that's 10 km/s (payload 1%). 10 km/s to get out of Venus's gravity (Payload 1%, assuming you can figure out how to get out of the atmosphere first which I can't). Another 7 km/s to get back to here (payload 5%) followed by a re-entry at 11-12 km/s (think Apollo rather than Dragon, payload maybe 10% of the re-entry vehicle mass, rather than 40%). If you multiply all those together you get 0.00000025%

    Even assuming some sort of magic drive and being wildly optimistic, the returned payload couldn't make up more than 0.001% of the launch mass. The only even roughly equivalent sample return mission to date brought back one speck of dust that was visible to the naked eye despite launching over 150 tonnes for a return ratio of 0.000000003% and that didn't include matching orbital speed, landing or take off. So for 4 million tonnes returned from the magic Venus bacteria you need to launch 400 000 million tonnes of rocket every year. Even if Mars had plate tectonics, the figures are hardly any better. There's a 5 km/s improvement for escape velocity and no atmosphere problem on launch. The other figures are about the same.

    Ceres (basically all the asteroids) works out slightly more delta V than Mars. 10 km/s each way from LEO. That's about the same energy requirement as launch from surface to LEO both going there and coming back. Each change in Delta V of 10 km/s seems to end up with about 1% ending up at the final velocity. So that's 1% of 1% of 1%. Then 10% of that for the re-entry. About one 10 millionth of the launch mass is returned as payload. You could do better with solar sails, but then missions are multiple decades long and there's no uranium there anyway. Solar sails might help between planets, but they don't solve the launch from Venus's surface problem which seems insurmountable to me.


    I was sort of assuming that in 500 years time there are no other "primary" energy sources left as the ones we use now involve mostly involve fossil carbon. Either we stop committing slow suicide by not extracting and burning the last remnants of fossil carbon or we just run out of anything that can be extracted with less energy that it will take to get it out of the ground and to its destination (Energy Return Over Energy Investment or EROEI).

    At this point only nuclear electricity is a "primary" energy source that has to fill in for everything we do now, including synthesising liquid fuels for aircraft, making fertiliser etc. Yes it's not cheap but it will work and it won't double the CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

    At that point the electricity demand worldwide could well be 8kW per person. It's a ballpark figure -- 20kW is possible if we go for intensive greenhouse agriculture or direct synthesis of foodstuffs or indulge in other energy-intensive processes like direct decarbonisation of the atmosphere. I don't see the consumption as being 8MW per capita though which a steady 2% annual growth figure would suggest.


    I'd have to agree with Nojay. If you have to make everything out of electricity, you're going to need a lot of it. Right now electricity is one of the end products, but lots of things get powered directly. This will be pretty much the reverse. I think we both felt that would roughly even out.


    I'm on the fence about electricity from fission.

    First off, the arguments that population will keep expanding and energy use per capita will keep expanding so we have to be able to meet those energy goals is bogus. Population will not keep expanding. The question is whether we can keep it from crashing to a new, much-lower carrying capacity, and whether we can avoid extinction in the next thousand years or so. We will not keep increasing energy use because without new technology we don't yet know how to get, we can't.

    There is lots of uranium. As soon as the USA gives up the idea that it's more important to stop other nations and terrorists from getting nukes than to have lots of nuclear power, we will build breeder reactors to use that uranium. And it's a lot cheaper to make plutonium than it is to purify U235. Plus there's something like 3 times as much thorium. Maybe part of the reason the USA has ignored thorium is we don't like its distribution in the world.

    If we can't get anything better soon, and nuclear reactors give us 100 years breathing time to find something better, we might have to do that.

    To my way of thinking, there are two big issues with nuclear power. The smaller of them is the scale. Given the problems of nuclear contamination, there's mostly no point building small nuclear reactors. They need to be big, with a giant slow construction process and giant corporations to run them. Or if somehow they don't need that, they will get it anyway. These are not the circumstances that give us our best innovation. It will promote the sort of ownership problems we have been having in other contexts in recent years. TBTF, etc.

    The bigger problem is nuclear pollution. Currently we're averaging one medium-size nuclear accident every 25-30 years. Fukushima. Chernobyl, etc. With 10 times as many reactors we can expect a medium-size nuclear accident every 2.5-3 years. With 100 times as many reactors that would be one every 3-4 months.

    We have never yet had a big nuclear accident so we have no track record at all about them. We would have to find out how often they happen and how bad they are.

    One good thing about having a lot of reactors and a lot of accidents is that we would quickly learn how to build them better, and operate them better. But we need to factor that into the expense. Also we can't get significant private insurance for nuclear reactors because there isn't enough experience with them to figure out what the rates would be. Once we have had enough expensive accidents then private insurance will become available to some extent.

    We would develop that experience quicker if we built lots of small nuclear power plants instead of a few big ones. We would quickly learn how to build them cheap and reasonably safe, and operate them safely. But we won't do that. Maybe just as well, a big accident at a small nuclear power plant might turn out worse than we can handle, just as much as a big accident at a big plant.

    There are people who claim that "radiation hormesis" will mostly prevent problems from nuclear contamination. They think that small amounts of nuclear radiation is good for you. So even when we have hundreds of nuclear accidents, none of them will actually cause trouble beyond, say, a 10 mile radius. We would get a big break if that's true. But the evidence is not there. They claim there's plenty of evidence and the government is suppressing it. Maybe. We don't know. If they're wrong, we really can't afford to have radioactive stuff getting bioaccumulated through our crops on top of everything else.

    It's just too risky. I don't want to try large-scale nuclear power until I'm sure all the other choices are worse.



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