August 19th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 32
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
A Fabulous Flop - The Gyrojet
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Herald contributor photo
Gyrojet pistol
Sometimes inventions are game changing and sometimes they are just bad ideas not thought through clearly. I have a few ideas in my head that may or may not be zingers but rarely share them as I usually get funny looks. One that occurred to me recently has to do with those unreadable instructions on drug and food labels. It may be that finer print is readable to those with younger, stronger eyes but at my age it is a struggle. For seniors it is particularly disconcerting and frustrating.

So how about this? How about a small scanning device the size of say an iPod that reads a code off the bottle or can and then displays in larger type what the hell the instructions and contents are. Now don't tell me about taking pictures with your I-phone and zooming in on the image. Most seniors these days are not in that game but do care about correct dosages and content of products to monitor things like sugar and salt. If we can have a scannable code like grocery stores use then why couldn't this happen for that barely discernible script that we stare blankly at on labels. Nothing complicated that would confuse those who are not of this generation of mindless device lovers who stare aimlessly day after day into their hands looking for entertainment. Just a simple little device you pass over a code and voila, all that you need to know in 14 point Times New Roman Bold.

Okay, so sometimes you have an idea and don't pass it on and then you hear its happening and you think: "The guy who invented the paper clip cleaned up; why did I sit on this one? At the recent Coleman Community Saturday Market I said to the gal doing face painting: " How about this idea? I passed it on to my daughter the artist five years ago but she didn’t do anything with it”. The idea was this. You tape templates of images like dragons and whatever onto your skin and as you are getting tanned the blocked areas of the pattern stay white and sometime later you have a sun tattoo. Temporary yes but cool and it isn’t gonna look god awful when you turn eighty. Guess what she said? "Oh yeah, they are doing it now and it is all the rage" Arrgh!
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Here's an example of a flawed idea from the 1960's that went south so to speak. Back then as NASA was preparing to send astronauts to the moon on a Saturn V rocket two inventors in San Ramon, California were hard at work trying to prove that tiny rockets, tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand, could do big things, too. These two guys worked on mostly classified military stuff but in 1965 they patented a product for sale not just for the military but for the public. It was called the "Gyrojet", a handgun that fired rockets instead of bullets. Wow, sounds good right?

It looked like an ordinary handgun and at first glance the only difference was there were holes down the length of both sides of the barrel, vents for the rocket exhaust! But this was to be no ordinary pistol. The bullet was not your typical powder with primer type ammunition. Gyro rocket rounds contained a carefully shaped piece of solid rocket fuel. It was ignited by a primer also but that is where the similarities ended. The rocket fuel burned for a short period instead of exploding in an instant and expelled the resulting hot gases through four tiny holes in the base of the rocket. Those holes, which were just like regular rocket nozzles, were angled so that escaping gases spun the rocket rapidly to keep it on a straight course.

So you ask yourself why bother with this when ordinary handguns worked perfectly fine? Ordinary bullets stop accelerating once they leave the barrel. Gyrojet bullets continue to accelerate and at 70 yards struck its target at greater speed and with twice the force of say a .45 calibre bullet. AND they could be fired underwater and in outer space. Add to that advantages like a lighter gun (aluminum or plastic), no cartridges to expel and simpler overall mechanics. The Gyrojet had almost no kick so you could fire quickly without having to re-aim.

Sounds great right? But, and it is a big BUT, there were lots of drawbacks. Lots of power at 70 yards but at point blank range, because the bullet is just beginning to accelerate, it is entirely possible that it would bounce off your chest. (No one tried that apparently). It was also probably the first gun that you could defend yourself against by sticking your finger in the barrel. (Like in the cartoons!).
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The list of problems went on to include poor design and quality control so 20 percent of the bullets were flawed. Never ignited or had to be fired twice. If the rocket bullet didn’t ignite there was no way to tell if it was a slow burner or a dud. The company advice was to only remove the dud after waiting ten seconds if it didn’t launch the second time. Yah right. You are going to stand around while other people are shooting at you and see if the bullet will go off or not. NOT!

Apparently many rocket rounds did not ignite properly, jammed in the barrel and flamed out. And some had flawed nozzles that sent the bullet in a corkscrew path. Unlike semiautomatics, the Gyrojet did not have a clip or speed loader. One had to force bullets into the spring loaded magazine one at a time and keep your thumb pressed down on top of the bullets or they would pop out. You know, like a toaster! The bullets were designed to exceed the speed of sound but that brought turbulence issues that affected their accuracy. Too weak to be effective at close range and too inaccurate to be effective at long range.

They sold in the mid-1960s for about $100 and the bullets were about $1.35 apiece. Yikes! By the 1970’s they were history but if you bought one and still have it you have a collector’s item. Handguns are worth $1500 and rifle models can go as high as $5000. And the bullets that sold for $1.35 are now worth $100 each. The Gyrojet offered the promise of a science-fiction weapon of the future but in the end it was more like something that the Jetsons used.
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150819 ~ Vol. 85 No. 32
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