Yet he was surprised by the FOOM!

FOOM!The story says he was a “respected military reservist.” That is, before he got the bright idea of using a .50 tracer round as a firework.

By heating it with a blowtorch.

With his parents and sister right there. 

Let’s run that equation, shall we? Cordite + h (heat) + containment vessel (i.e. fixed ammunition) + t (time) = you guessed it, FOOM! And a trip for two to the hospital for removal of embedded brass shards, burnt and unburnt powder, and all the usual FOOM by-products.

As the French-looking Secretary of State, currently playing Lee at Appomattox with some random gang of mullahs, might have said whilst tugging his long chin, “Quelle surprise.”

The family was outside their home with the reservist, who had recently served in Afghanistan and returned home in the fall of 2014 with a souvenir — a .50-caliber machine gun round, said the commander.

“It’s one bullet but it’s not a regular bullet. It was a tracer round which, if you take the bullet out of the shell and light it on fire, it will act like a flare or a firework. So he took a blow torch to ignite it and he lit the bullet tracer round but it did not act like a firework,” said Moravec. “It exploded. It was a flash explosion.

“What he thought would happen didn’t.”

via Reservist, family injured by souvenir machine gun bullet – Lake County News-Sun.

Famous last words, those: “What he thought would happen, didn’t.” Seriously? What in the name of the naiads of Niffelheim (yes, we’re mixing our mythologies in shameless pursuit of alliteration) did he think would happen?

We could have told him what was going to happen: “A couple of you knuck-heads are getting a bolance ride.”  And indeed, the 25-year-old Prometheus and his 23-year-old Kid Sister got hauled to the ER, defragmented (it’s not just for hard drives any more!), and patched up. Mom and Dad were more lightly injured and refused medical treatment.

Way to make the reserves look like the Short School Bus version of the military, kid.

Still, the momentary lapse of forebrain activation that leads to “accidents” like this (scare quotes, because there’s nothing accidental about heating propulsive powder in a contained space and getting a bang) is not reserved for any particular unit, branch or contingent. A brash young SF soldier of our acquaintance did something nearly as stupid with a .50 round in Afghanistan. (Alas, he was an 18B). He has adjusted well to life with nine fingers, so there is that.

20 thoughts on “Yet he was surprised by the FOOM!

  1. sammage

    So the .50 round seems ill-advised for home use as a hammer or a firework…I’m glad it still works for it’s intended use.

  2. TRX

    A .50 round loaded with Cordite? The Brits mostly converted over to conventional powders in the 1950s. Almost anything loaded with Cordite classifies as “collectible” nowadays.


      I came here to make a comment how cordite has not been used in small arms in the US for a very long , long time, but I see I was beat to it.

      Kinda reminds me of the old media chestnut. “the smell of cordite was still in the air” though it was more likely IMR. since there is no way it could be cordite unless the gun fight took place with old British bolt action rifles. I always shake my head at this.

      I wonder if maybe that “tracers” may have also been something more like APIT

  3. Aesop

    As your drill sergeant told you, “There is always the Ten Percent.”

    Please, someone, tell me that even off duty this is UCMJ-punishable by reduction to civilian, first-class, permanently, and that he’ll also be prosecuted under the terrorism statutes for rank stupidity of the highest magnitude.

    Clearly, he’s already got the makings of a great NYTimes reporter, just based on his intelligence level.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Excellent report, and it looks like NBC’s Rossen is another phony who built his career on a haircut and willingness to lie. News racket’s full of them.

        You can tell when they’re lying. Their lips move.

  4. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

    The word cordite like shrapnel is now far removed from Cordite, a stringy propellent used by the Brits in the early smokeless days. It’s been used ala, “the smell of cordite hung in the air…” And is effectively synonymous with gunpowder. Like shrapnel is to frag, Dr. Shrapnel be damned.

  5. Martin S

    and “i love the smell of cordite, morning, day or night” rolls better off the tongue than “i love the smell of nitrocellulose etc.”

  6. Jorge

    What makes .50 so dangerous when misused this way? I have heard of folks (for whatever reason) tossing pistol and normal rifle ammo on campfires with no injuries, but doing it with .50 (even non tracer) seems to invariably lead to explosions and injury.
    Is it a different type of powder? Stronger case? Or just the massive amount of powder present in .50 BMG versus everything else?

    1. Hognose Post author

      200-250 grains of powder, and a heavier case that produces larger fragments that retain their velocity further from the burst case.

      There was an individual recently killed by an uncontained burst of a 7.62 x 39 round. Firing an SKS had a Fail To Fire. Pulled bolt back, unfired case in chamber also failed to extract but remained in chamber (it may have been a swollen or badly resized case that did not let the action go into battery, and then stuck in the chamber — that’s purest speculation, though). Shooter fumbled the bolt and released it, it stripped a new round and tried to load it into the chamber with a round in place. Point of bullet fired forward cartridge, and fragments from the cartridge struck shooter in the lower body including one that is thought to have struck a large abdominal vein or artery. Individual exsanguinated before transportation was possible.

      Anything that can propel a small piece of metal at supersonic speeds (or in the case of the .50, a 650-750 grain piece of metal at ~3,000 fps!) needs care and respect.

      1. Miles

        Waaaayy back when Ich Bin was still on active duty, I was on a survey team after a gunner and his assistant managed to detonate an M60 in a similar manner as that SKS.

        Happily both fragmentees survived.

        1. Hognose Post author

          The Army was probably more distressed over the loss of the 60! There’s always a few new grunts coming down the pike, but machinery costs money.

          1. Miles

            The SMs involved were mentioned in one terse sentence by (I suppose) their company CO since he was the only one there wearing rail-road tracks.

            Everyone concerned was really more interested in specifically how the gun *KaBoomed*. Probably they were trying to find a reason to make the gunners pay for it.


      the primer in a BMG case alone is dangerous in a fire. I have been present when LE EOD burned old 50 BMG for disposal.

      While regular small arms ammo being burned in the open is relatively harmless. . as harmless as burning ammo can be anyway. though the old western where men through roundsin a fire causing them to fire and kill other, is complete myth and impossible. Dealing with the 50 BMG is another animal. The primer is considerably more dangerous. And that is just talking about ball ammo. I have seen live primed empty 50 BMG cases in a fire blow 5 or so feet in the air and off to the side just from the primer detonating.

  7. Hognose Post author

    To the commenter who did not want his comment to be seen by the public: done. We wish your son well in his new life, and well, the guy in the comment who, like the star of this post, tried so hard to reenact a Dalton Trumbo pacifist agitprop film (to wit, Johnny Got His Gun), we wish him well and would bet he’ll never do that again.

    Sometimes guys with lots of experience get complacent and make fatal mistakes. At that location they’re fortunate it was just high explosive.

    To those who noted that “Cordite” is not what’s in .50 rounds True dat. It’s an Olin/Winchester ball powder, usually WC867 or 872 depending on the load. The smaller grained stuff from rifle calibers is not recommended! Way too fast-burning.

  8. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

    That tracing compound burns really really fast, usually while going down range really, really fast. Ignited manually it would probably look a lot like a detonation. If he souvenired one of the more exotic rounds it might’ve been worse.

  9. Bill T

    The other ingredient in many of these mishaps is Sour Mash or Hopps. Makes you wonder if any of that was included here.

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