By David Crane
defrev at gmail dot com
January 29, 2009
DefenseReview ran into Rob Silvers (a.k.a. Robert Silvers) of Advanced Armament Co. (AAC) fame at the AAC booth at the very tail end of SHOT Show 2009, whereupon Rob showed us the ballistic computing software application a.k.a. ballistics calculating software application he had designed for the Apple iPod Touch and iPhone and that Knight’s Armament Co. (KAC) is now marketing for use with the KAC SR-M110 SASS (Semi-Automatic Sniper System) sniper rifle. It’s called BulletFlight (also written "Bullet Flight"), and it’s a cute little iPod Touch/iPhone software app for long-range-interdiction specialists a.k.a. snipers that may just prove to be a handy and effective little electronic tool for U.S. military snipers, provided the iPod Touch and/or iPhone can handle the rigors of the military sniper’s mission(s) (more on that below). Silvers designed BulletFlight under his Runaway Technology, Inc. company banner.
While a ballistic calculator/ballistic computer/sniper app for the iPhone perhaps isn’t groundbreaking (the iSnipe ballistics calculator, made by Web Diligence, was the first iPod Touch/iPhone sniper app introduced to the market), the KAC BulletFlight military-grade ballistic computer app is certainly interesting and worthy of mention.
Actually, the most interesting aspect of…
Bullet Flight is the world media’s reaction to it, which has been straightforward and positive overall–with a few notable hysterical and hyperbolic exceptions–considering the software is specifically designed to help professional snipers utilize an iPod Touch or iPhone (the products of ultra-liberal company Apple, Inc.) to assist them with neutralizing, i.e. liquidating, i.e. ventilating, i.e. killing enemy combatants with long-range shots to the head, neck and/or torso (chest). Speaking of ultra-liberal Apple, it’s interesting that they even approve tactical firearm/sniping-related software applications like BulletFlight and iSnipe for sale on iTunes. Don’t get us wrong, we’re glad they do, and they should. Our military is one of the primary reasons they (Apple) can do what they do. It’s just interesting.
Anyway, Defense Review now has BulletFlight running on one of our iPhones, and it’s a cool little app. However, the version we downloaded recently only has three pre-programmed weapon/ammo profiles. These are the KAC M110 SASS with M118LR 7.62x51mm NATO (7.62mm NATO)/.308 Win. 175-grain (175gr) Long Range Sniper ammo, KAC PDW 6x35mm with 65-grain (65gr) ammo, and KAC SR-16 14.5" carbine with M855/SS109 ball 5.56x45mm (5.56mm NATO)/.223 Rem. 62-grain (62gr) ammo. The official BulletFlight ballistic computer page on the KAC website states that Bullet Flight also includes weapon profiles for the Barrett M82A1/M107 (a.k.a. Barrett Light-Fifty) .50 BMG anti-materiel rifle, USMC M40A3 7.62mm NATO sniper rifle, and U.S. Army M24 7.62mm NATO Sniper Weapon System (SWS), but that doesn’t appear to be the case on the version that we recently downloaded from Apple iTunes. It would appear that the user can add additional weapon/ammo profiles via the "Modify" function.
BulletFlight allows the operator to input range to target, temperature, barometric pressure, angle to target (as measured by the built-in accelerometer), wind speed, altitude and humidity, and then calculates and dynamically generates a detailed firing solution out to 2000 meters, indicating the number of windage and elevation clicks the shooter has to make on his scope. The shooter/sniper can enter the relevant data into either the imperial or metric fields, and the other unit of measure will be automatically updated. The "Calculate Simple" target distance/range wheel is a nice feature for making quick scope/targeting adjustments.
According to the KAC website, "environmental calculations are based on the Sierra bullets model, as detailed in their external ballistics literature."
Alright, so what do we think about the KAC BulletFlight ballistic computer app? We like it. Like I wrote up top, it’s a cute and fun little sniping application, and it may prove to be quite effective in combat. Time will tell. We do have some concerns, however, about the iPod Touch and iPhone hardware platforms, not the app/software, itself. In the photos, you’ll notice that KAC has developed an iPod Touch mounting rig that mounts to the M110’s side rail. The rig incorporates an OtterBox for iPod Touch Armor Series hard case. DefenseReview doesn’t know if the rig allows for an iPhone-specific OtterBox case. Either way, the OtterBox protective hard case is all well and good, but it isn’t going to protect the iPod Touch’s or iPhone’s electronics from the high-G jarring effect of the rifle’s recoil, nor is it guaranteed to adequately protect either device from military abuse under adverse combat conditions, even if the iPod Touch or iPhon is securely ensconced inside it. Also, while Defense Review doesn’t have much experience with the iPod Touch, we have considerable experience with the iPhone, and we can tell you that the iPhone’s operating system/software can be glitchy, and program/function loading delays are quite common.
So, even if the iPod Touch and/or iPhone can handle the shock/impact of firing and/or normal military-type abuse under adverse combat conditions, do you really want to really on it and it alone for your ballistic computer when you’re out there in the field in the middle of bumf%#! nowhere and you need that first shot to count? Let’s say you think you can count on it. What about the iPod Touch’s and/or iPhone’s respective battery life? Is it adequate? I’ll tell you what: you’d better get yourself plug-in backup battery/charging unit like the RichardSolo 1800 for iPhone (and possibly iPod Touch–if the 1800 is compatible with the iPod Touch, which we don’t know, yet). And, if you do that, can the RichardSolo 1800 handle the above-described shock forces and military combat abuse, itself?
What about the iPod Touch’s and iPhone’s respective light signatures in low-light conditions? Isn’t it going to light up the sniper’s face if it’s mounted on the rifle, as pictured? Is there a Reostat-type dimming app available for the iPhone’s display screen, so you can dim the screen’s light output accordingly? Is KAC going to offer a red filter and/or infrared (IR) filter for the screen?
Before any of that happens (Reostat function or filters made available), the quick and easy answer in combating recoil impact and light signature to leave iPhone off the rifle when shooting and cover the screen with your hand to hide your location. Just don’t use the mount.
Bottom line, the KAC Bullet Flight app is perhaps a neat thing to have as a backup to a true, ruggedized military-grade ballistic computer, but we wouldn’t advise a BulletFlight-equipped iPod Touch or iPhone being the only ballistic computer you carry with you, especially until Apple addresses our durability and light-signature concerns. Again, just to be clear, this is an Apple problem, not a KAC or Runaway Technology problem. Assuming U.S. military snipers sign off on Mr. Silver’s/KAC’s ballistic calculator app creation, which they indeed may, the real test will be the Apple iPhone’s and iPod Touch’s hardware and software reliability and durability under adverse combat conditions, including firing conditions while the iPod Touch or iPhone are connected to the gun during firing and/or carried separate from the weapon to the fight. Apple may want to consider manufacturing a ruggedized version of the iPod Touch (and/or iPhone) with hardened electronics specifically designed to be able to handle recoil forces of weapons up to .50 BMG (.50 Cal.) caliber–or at least .338 Lapua Magnum (.338LM)–at high round count, as well as any/all other impacts the device is likely to suffer during transport and deployment.
If any of our readers have additional concerns about the BulletFlight app, the iPod Touch, or the iPhone iPhone for combat use, please drop us a line at defrev at gmail dot com. We’re interested in your thoughts and opinions.
In the meantime, if you’d like some more specifics on the KAC BulletFlight ballistic computer app, the following information comes directly from the BulletFlight page on the Knight’s Armament Co. (KAC) website:
On the main screen, you can select a rifle/ammo profile and opt to predict a bullet path. You can also edit profiles, change options, or get information.
To enter a new profile select "Modify" and fill in the fields.
You may enter data into either the Imperial or Metric field, and the other unit will be updated automatically. If you enter a value that is too high or too low, the field may automatically change to a common value. Consider this a hint to change the field once more to a value that is reasonable. Most fields are self-explanatory but if you have questions please contact us before use. Here are some fields that need special attention:
For scope clicks, put in how many MOA (minutes of angle) the bullet impact will change for each scope click. Note that there are two fields – one for H (horizontal) and one for V (vertical). Some scopes, but not many, have different settings for each turret.
For BC (ballistic coefficient), note that Standard Metro G1 drag-function BC must be used (not ICAO values nor any other drag function). Nearly all manufacturers provide their BC values exclusively in Metro/G1 format. If you only have a singular value, place it in the first field, and make sure the other fields (including the Fps fields to the right) are set to 0. If you have more values, start at the top and work down – and ensure that the additional fields are set to 0. Note that the purpose of the Fps fields are to give the velocity threshold that will decide if the next-higher or next-lower BC is used.
When you are happy with your data, edit the profile name at the top and select Save. If the profile name is already in use, that profile will be updated. If it is not in use, a new profile will be created.
The "Remove" button will erase a profile, and the "Cancel" button will revert to the main screen and not save anything.
Now in more detail, from the main screen, you may select a stored profile and select "Calculate Ballistics" or "Calculate Simple". For the first button, a number of fields will appear, and as you change values, the results will update. Anything you place in these fields will be saved for the next time you return to this screen. They will also be saved and used in the "Calculate Simple" screen.
The Range-field is the distance to the target. The Temp is the current temperature. The correction factors based on the local environment were coded based on correction factors provided by Sierra’s (the bullet manufacturer’s) external ballistic research. Pressure needs the local atmospheric pressure as reported by a weather station (which does not factor in altitude). If you are not sure what to enter for any value, picking something out of range will often automatically put in a reasonable value for your consideration, but please verify that this is what you would like to use. Angle is the angle of the rifle’s barrel from -90 to +90 degrees. 0 means that you are shooting level. You may press and hold the "GET" button to use the mobile-device to read the angle. Releasing the button will lock in the result. Note that the automatic get will generally not return more or less than 45 degrees because it switches modes depending on the orientation. If you are not getting the angle you desire, please enter it manually. Wind Angle is 90 degrees for a cross wind, 0 degrees is toward the rifle, and 180 degrees is downrange.
The output will show the predicted bullet impact above or below the LOS (line of sight) in inches or cm (change the units from the "Options" button on the main screen. The second output value is the height in MOA or mRad (milliradians) above or below the LOS (also depending on the setting under Options). The third value is how many clicks to adjust your scope from zero (this refers back to when you set up the amount that MOA changes per scope click). Below that is the windage output. This will update based on the wind-speed and direction you entered. Finally, the lowest display will estimate velocity and energy at the target using units as configured from the "Options" screen. "Time" is estimated flight time from the rifle to the target and may help you with predicting how much to lead the target based on its speed.
If instead you had pressed the "Calculate Simple" button, you will have less information to enter to allow for use under stress. This screen is best to use once you are in position, as environmental conditions typically do not change. Rather than a text-box to enter range, there is a large selection wheel. The wheel allows for entry using yards or meters, depending on what you have set on the "Options" page. Wind velocity is still settable with a text-box but wind direction is only settable from the full calculate page. It is important to note that the environmentals, including wind angle, and other settings (including rifle angle) you have set on the full calculate page are still being used – so make sure that they match the current conditions. The output values on this page work just as they do on the full version except that the font is larger.
Note that many manufactures have BC data available from their website. Also note that while we made our best effort to provide a reliable solution, there is no guarantee of any specific results so please spend time to verify the results against printed ballistic charts before using this application.
Photo Credit(s): Knight Armament Co. (KAC)
Company Contact Info:
Knight’s Armament Co. (KAC)
701 Columbia Blvd.
Titusville, FL 32780
321-607-9900 Main Office
321-607-9900 Ext.1330 Domestic Sales Office
321-607-9956 Foreign Sales Office
[email protected] Military Sales Email
[email protected] Commercial Sales Email
iPod Touch mounted on M110 Sniper Rifle (The Firearm Blog)