Makers Continue to Develop Railgun Technology

Two popular YouTube makers are in the news this month for developing and testing their railgun prototypes.

Alex Smyth is a maker who enjoys shooting. The first I heard of him was in 2013 when he modified a Ruger 1022 to create a steampunk gatling gun, but he’s back in the news this week with some railgun videos.

This is the better video for visuals (the darker demonstration video is here), where Smyth fires his railgun into 3/8” steel plates in the Arizona desert. The railgun uses a copper sleeve with a vacuum tube filled with neon gas as the projectile. Two rails are built in a helix pattern to give rotation to the projectile as it’s accelerated through the rails. Smyth’s goal is that the plasma generated will dissipate when the projectile hits its target, the glass breaks and the gas / plasma escapes. Alex estimates that the sleeve is seeing speeds between 1,000 and 3,000 feet per second.

Ziggy Zee has also been testing his electric gun over the last few months. His gun uses a machined aluminum clip as the projectile. He says that aluminum was chosen for high conductivity, low melting point, high boiling point and low mass. Fifty six capacitors allow the gun to create 27,000 joules of energy at 400 Volts and the system weighs a total of 250 pounds. This video is Ziggy’s first test of the system, and includes a healthy dose of cursewords and experimental glee.

It’s amazing to see makers experimenting with guns we associate mostly with video games, the Navy’s Zumwalt class cannon, and a terrible GI Joe movie. There are obvious safety concerns over firearms in general but these specific new applications. There are also legal questions raised in the comments of each of the videos. The US ATF’s Top 10 Frequently Asked Firearms Questions and Answers says that firearms can be lawfully made provided they are not for sale or distribution, the maker is legally allowed to possess the firearms, and the rifle does not contain ten or more imported parts.