A few months ago, I introduced Flat Line Bullets (view post) designed by Josh Kunz and made by the Warner Tool Company (WTC). These new monolithic, lathe-turned bullets claimed some crazy-high Ballistic Coefficients (BC). BC defines how efficiently a bullet is able to cut through air and retain its velocity down-range. If you’ve been shooting long-range for any length of time, you know BC is one of the most important performance metrics for a bullet … and you’re also well-aware of how common it is for manufacturers to bloat the BC numbers they advertise. So everyone was anxious to know, are the BCs for the Flat Line Bullet true? Well, I tested them myself, and am anxious to share the results.
I also got some insider information on some new bullets they’ve been working on, which were recently shot out to 4,700 yards! Yep, you read that correctly. The longest confirmed shot these guys were aware of was to 3,650 meters (4,041 yards) … so that is a 16% leap in range. I’ll cover more details on that in this post as well.
Are Those Crazy BC Claims Legit?
The published BC’s on the new Flat Line Bullets are substantially higher than any other bullets available in the same weights. So I started by testing by the BC’s. That is what is so attractive about these new bullet designs, so if they weren’t realistic … I knew this would be a short test.
My BC Test For The 155gr Flat Line Bullet
To measure BC, I conducted a well-instrumented bullet drop test using their 155gr 30 caliber bullet on targets at 1000 yards and 1220 yards. If the BC data is correct, then the bullet should just be approaching transonic flight at 1,220 yards, meaning that is where it has slowed to approximately 1.2 mach and may start to become less predictable. Therefore that is the ideal range to true the ballistics to.
Here are the factors I controlled to calculate the BC as accurately as I possibly could:
- I used a Remington MSR rifle that I’ve personally proven to be capable of sub-1/2 MOA precision. The barrel featured a 1:10 (recommended twist for 155gr Flat Line bullet), and had just over 100 rounds down the tube when I did this test.
- I started with a perfect zero on the scope, which was confirmed at 100 yards with the same ammo just 15 minutes before I shot at long-range.
- I used a US Optics ER-25 5-25×58 scope that was proven to have 100% true and accurate mechanical adjustments, which I showed on my tactical scope field test.
- Ranges to those targets were taken with multiple high-end rangefinders back when I did my rangefinder field test, including a $23,000 rangefinder from Vectronix.
- I recorded the muzzle velocity of every shot using a LabRadar Doppler radar, which is accurate to at least 0.1% (amazing piece of hardware that tracks the bullet velocity at multiple points out to 100 yards).
- My handloaded ammo produced very consistent muzzle velocities, with the 3 confirmation shots at 1,220 yards measuring 3109 fps, 3107 fps, and 3104 fps.
- I used a properly calibrated Applied Ballistics Kestrel to capture all the environmentals, and used the integrated Applied Ballistics physics engine to calculate the adjustments for those distances.
After all that, I recorded hits with 5.9 mils of adjustment at 1000 yards and between 8.4 and 8.5 mils at 1220 yards. 8.4 mils of adjustment gave me a POI a little low relative to my point of aim, and 8.5 mils of adjustment gave me a POI that was just slightly high. So I’d estimate the true adjustment to be close to 8.47 mils. Because the other factors were known with a relatively high level of certainty, I was then able to adjust the G7 BC on the Kestrel to see what it would have to be to align with the actual hits.
The BC I found in my test was within 2% of the advertised BC! For the 155gr bullet, they advertise an average G7 BC of 0.285 for velocities from 3000 to 1500 fps, which fits the majority of the flight during my test, because the remaining velocity at 1,220 yards was 1,543 fps according to the Applied Ballistics engine. Using the advertised BC would have resulted in an 8.3 mil adjustment at 1,220 yards. But when I tweaked the BC to 0.278, it aligned with my actual hits at both 1000 yards and 1220 yards.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a cumulative error/uncertainty of 1-2% in this testing method, because there are so many factors that play into external ballistics. I’ll also be the first to admit there could have been some error in my hold on those long-range targets. I did try my best to control/measure as many factors as I reasonably could. At least in my opinion, I believe this confirms the advertised BC for the 155gr Flat Line bullet.
Bryan Litz’s Test for The 180gr Flat Line Bullet
Back in November, Bryan Litz published a report with his results from testing the 180gr Flat Line Bullet. Bryan has collected more real-world BC’s than any other person in history, and his results are considered by many to be the gold standard. Here are some highlights from his test:
“We got the Warner Flat Line 30 cal. 180 grain FTR bullets tested for BC. We shot them from two barrels: 1:8 308 Win 24″ barrel, avg. MV ~2300 fps, and a 1:9 300 Win Mag 26” barrel at 2950 fps. These were both ‘nominal’ loads, not pushing pressure limits. Normalized results of both barrels for the average speed band 3000-1500 fps.
Results for G7 BC’s are: 0.341 and 0.342; nearly identical for the two barrels. Both cases produced SG’s over 1.5, so I’ve got confidence in the results being accurate.
Warner Tool Co. advertises G1 and G7 BC’s for two different velocity bands: 3000-100 fps and 3500-1500 fps. I’ll focus on the 3500-1500 fps band, as taking it to 100 fps can highly skew an average. WTC advertised performance for the 3500-1500 fps band is 0.348. If I calculate the G7 BC for the same band as WTC (3500-1500 fps) based on my testing, it’s 0.347.
In essence, when BC is averaged for common velocity bands, my measurements are nearly identical to the WTC advertised performance of this bullet.”
Bryan goes on in the full report to compare performance of the Warner Tool Company Flat Line Bullet with Berger 200gr Target Hybrid and the Berger 215 gr Target Hybrid, and quantifies the impact those would likely have on score in FTR matches. He then closes with this conclusion:
“As you can see, the result of the BC, MV, and wind performance on score is such that the WTC Flat Line bullet is definitely a contender among the other options currently being used to win FTR matches. This analysis focused only on the performance aspect. Precision/grouping/recoil/shoot-ability is another issue which hasn’t been fully explored yet. As more of these bullets fly downrange, I’m sure a clear picture will form as to their suitability for FTR competition in general.”
While we clearly didn’t test every bullet and scenario, two completely independent tests indicate that Warner Tool Company is not being optimistic with their published BC’s. On the contrary, WTC seems to be more accurate than many other manufacturers’ published BC’s.
What About Precision?
There seem to be many skeptics when it comes to monolithic bullets and precision. Honestly, I’m not sure if I can satisfy those guys, but I thought I’d provide as much info as I could when it comes to precision.
First, I personally went out and shot several 5 shot groups at 100 yards. I will be the first to admit, I’m not a benchrest shooter. I’m a tactical/practical shooter, so my groups don’t accurately represent what the bullets are capable of. But, I did get several ragged holes at 100 yards. There are a couple examples of my groups below. These were fired with a custom 308 bolt-action rifle, but it didn’t have any special type of barrel or rifling. It sported a Medium Palma contour barrel from Hawk Hill Custom featuring 4 groove rifling with a 1:10 twist.
But, don’t take my word for it. Instead, let’s turn to a more decorated precision rifleman: Brigadier General Eddie Newman shot rifles competitively during his entire 36 year Army career. Since his retirement in 2001, Eddie has specialized in long range rifle shooting at national and international levels. In addition to regularly taking home trophies at Camp Perry, Eddie is also a respected rifle instructor for military and civilian shooters. Here is Eddie’s report after using the Warner Flat Line Bullets:
“I was able to test and evaluate the Warner Flat Line bullets from a trigger pullers perspective while competing at Camp Perry in the NRA Long Range Championships, the U.S. Full Bore Championships and the ICFRA World Range Championships. The 155 Flat Liners that I shot were superior to any other bullets being shot in competition and performed exactly as advertised.
In competition I shot three different bullets; the Sierra 2155, Berger 155.5 and the Warner 155 Flat Line. During four of the matches I alternated bullets every other shot to see what effect this would have on bullet performance. I shot the APA Quad lock that was barreled by WTC throughout all competitions. The Berger “Triple Nickel” shot big groups out of the 10 twist barrel probably because I was jumping them .055″, although the 2155’s shot great out of the same barrel with the same jump. The Flat Liners shot like a magnum compared to current Palma bullets which gave me a psychological boost while shooting them. While comparing shots on target during a match, when I was blown out for a mid-ring 4, most others had a 3 or 2, confirming ballistic superiority.[Eddie’s description of the target rings is referencing the international competition 5-V target, not the US standard 10-X target.] Alternating bullets and powders seemed to have no effect and barrel clean-up was always very easy with no copper or roughness evident after minimal cleaning. At 900 yards Flat Liners shot a full 7 MOA lower than 2155’s and at 1000 yards they shot 4 MOA lower than Triple Nickels traveling at 3025 fps.
Performance indicators and results are difficult to quantify in a rifle match, however in a big shoot like the WLRC the picture becomes clear by the end of shooting. The first three matches were “pony” because of good conditions and you could not afford to drop a point. The last three matches were what I would term “Varsity Shooting”, here you had to employ the correct tactics or get burned badly, which is what happened to many good shooters. Through the combination of using superior ballistics, and making fewer mistakes than most, I was able to finish in the top 10% of all shooters, 40th place overall. I consider this to be proof positive that the Flat Liners are the “real deal” and not just merely numbers on paper. I was 13th USA shooter in the aggregate.
The legality of using Flat Liners in ICFRA matches seems to be in question. UK shooters, when questioned by me were “firm” that Flat Liners were not legal for any ICFRA competition. USA and Aussie shooters had no idea one way or the other. I believe some politicking will be required to bring pressure to bear on the ICFRA council so they will come out in support of the new projectiles. Factors such as the negative environmental impact of lead and embracing new technologies cannot be ignored for long. Was it in violation of ICFR rules to use Flat Liners during the WLRC? They did examine one of my cartridges but I think they only weighted it. If the ICFRA council gets pushed into a corner on this issue right now by a complaint alleging a rules violation, I believe they would rule against Flat Liners. For this reason I do recommend that members of the international shooting community, National Governing Bodies or NRA, who favor using the new technology bullets be contacted to make this an agenda item for the next council meeting. I believe the next council meeting is when they set the rules for 2019 in Trentham, NZ. Time to call in markers?
I will have to add that I used both the NRA UR and USA Fullbore Championships for testing, evaluation and train up for the WLRC. Given the time constraints I had no other choice. I was very impressed as to how easy it was to work up a very accurate load for the Flat Lines.”
Eddie clearly believes the Flat Line bullets live up to the hype. But there are a lot of skeptics out there that have heard huge claims from monolithic bullets before, only to see them struggle to perform at the top levels of precision. Unfortunately, I can’t provide any conclusive answers, and I’ll simply have to reiterate Bryan’s point that precision/grouping/shoot-ability hasn’t been fully explored yet. While I did test their BC, a true precision test would require hundreds if not thousands of rounds down range and I don’t have the time or budget for that. Having said all that, it would be hard to argue with the performance Eddie achieved with Flat Liners in the ICFRA World Range Championships. Unlike previous monolithic bullet designs, Eddie seems to have already provided strong evidence that these can perform at the highest levels.
Lots of guys have asked about the price, which is available on Warner-Tool.com. But here are the prices for the Warner Flat Line Bullets for informational purposes, at the time this was written:
- 30 Cal. 155gr Palma = $65 (Box of 50 bullets)
- 30 Cal. 180gr FTR = $70 (Box of 50 bullets)
- 30 Cal. 198gr = $75 (Box of 50 bullets)
- 338 Cal. 255gr LRBT = $86 (Box of 50 bullets)
So price is a down side. These bullets are more expensive than traditional jacketed bullets. It looks like Berger 30 Cal. 155gr Hybrids are currently selling for around $53, so these would be 23% more expensive. They certainly aren’t something that you’d go plink around at the range with, and they’re probably more expensive than some guys are willing to pay. But there likely is a market for guys who’d be willing to pay a more for a boost in ballistic performance. The question is just how much more are you willing to pay? And please don’t feel like there is a one-size-fits-all answer to the “Is it worth it?” question. Something is worth it if the benefit exceeds the cost … to you. If it’s worth it largely depends on what money means to you. We all come from different circumstances.
Okay … More On That 4700 Yard Shot!
Jon O’Neill has been aggressively pursuing the dream of pushing what a shoulder-fired rifle is capable of for more than a decade. Jon is the owner of 50 West Armory, a gun shop in Chantilly, VA that also offers gunsmithing services. But it’s much more than a dream to Jon. Over the past several years, he attempted to partner with multiple companies in the firearms world to devise a rifle/cartridge/bullet combination capable of ridiculous distance. All of that means work that is very custom, which means very, very expensive. At this point the endeavor has cost him over $250,000.
Along the way, Jon experienced multiple setbacks and failures. A few of those were either dangerous enough or frustrating enough to cause most people to sideline the project, but Jon O’Neill either has supernatural passion and drive, or he’s incredibly stubborn and a little crazy. Like so many innovators in history, it may be a little of both!
When Jon first contacted Josh Kunz about this project 5+ year ago, Josh quickly dismissed him because at the time Jon didn’t have the ATF exemption showing they could legally work on a project that might considered a “destructive device.” But a couple years later, Jon did get that exemption, and teamed up with Warner Tool Company and Josh to try to turn the dream into reality.
Jon had already designed a cartridge and rifle, and over the past few months, Josh designed a new bullet that maximizes BC and accuracy potential, and addressed the issues the other manufacturers and bullet designers couldn’t.
“The 14.9” Cartridge & Flat Line Bullets
Jon and Josh decided to name this new cartridge “The 14.9”, which is wildcat cartridge based off a 20mm Vulcan case (20x102mm). As Josh was telling me about this cartridge, I asked what powder he used that was slow enough. The powder with the slowest burn rate I was familiar with was something like Hodgdon’s 50 BMG powder. Josh said if they’d have used that powder, the gun may have exploded catastrophically, because it’s burn rate was still way too fast. Glad I’m not the engineer behind this project! They ended using “a proprietary blend of canon powders” for this new cartridge to get the desired burn rate and pressures. Josh said one pound of powder would load less than 20 rounds. That would mean there is over 350 grains of powder in a single round!
Here is a couple photos to give you some perspective for the size of this round:
For the bullet, Josh designed a scaled up version of the 30 caliber and 338 caliber Flat Line Bullets they released last year. It was WAY scaled up. Where the 338 caliber Flat Line bullet weighs 255 grains, the 14.9mm bullet weighs 1,460 grains. That is more than 5 times as big! The bullet has a diameter of 14.9mm, which is 0.587 inches. A 50 BMG has a typical bullet diameter of 0.510 inches, so the 14.9 has a 15% larger diameter than a 50 BMG. Josh said he learned a lot through the design and testing process for this large projectile, which he’ll now be able to apply to smaller caliber bullets.
Just to be clear, 0.880 is the G7 BC and not the G1 BC. G1 and G7 are two different methods of calculating ballistics. G1 is the old system for measuring BC and is suitable for flat based bullets, but many bullet manufacturers use this coefficient for boat tail bullets as well. G7 is an updated equation and the better system for measuring a ballistic coefficient of modern boat tailed bullets. Many of you probably know that, but here is some extra-credit trivia you might appreciate: the 1460gr bullet actually best fits the G2 standard projectile. It is such a departure from the standard shape/size of most bullets, that Josh says the G2 method (a far less common standard for shoulder-fired rifles) is actually more appropriate.
|Bullet||G7 BC||G1 BC|
|Warner 338 cal. 255gr Flat Line||0.400||0.814|
|Berger 338 cal. 300gr Hybrid*||0.417||0.812|
|Hornady 50 cal. 750gr A-Max*||0.508||0.991|
|Warner 14.9mm 1430gr Flat Line||0.880||NA|
*Note: The Berger and Hornady BC’s shown are from Bryan Litz’s latest bullet reference book. It includes real-world, measured BC’s for 400 different bullets.
One problem these guys ran into was that some ballistic engines either don’t allow you to enter a BC that high, or they won’t calculate distances that far. That’s what I call a “champagne problem.” When you have a problem like that, you break out the champagne. It definitely makes you feel like you’re in uncharted territory.
The photo below shows the relative size of the components compared to a $100 bill. Jon and Josh said the $100 bill was fitting, because that is about what it costs to shoot one round out of the 14.9!
Using their proprietary blend of cannon powders, the 14.9 cartridge was able to launch the 1460gr bullet at 3250 fps!
The rifle they used is highly custom. As they were telling me about going out and firing it, I asked the same thing you may be thinking: “What in the world is the recoil like on that thing?” Josh gave me the generic answer everyone uses to describe any big bore cartridge: “It’s about like a 12 gauge shotgun.” I have to admit, my first thought was “Yeah … right.” I was certainly skeptical of that assessment, but it turns out the rifle weighs just over 100 pounds before optics. After optics, it weighs just a little more over a 100 pounds. 😉 That heavy weight can drastically reduce felt recoil, and likely makes it manageable … maybe similar to a 12 gauge shotgun!
The rifle is a based on a magazine-fed, tube-style chassis from Anzio Ironworks. For the scope, they used a Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56 on an ERA-TAC mount featuring 70 MOA of adjustable cant. That huge amount of cant allows them to make use of more of the scopes internal adjustment range, and when you’re shooting to the distances these guys are after you need all the adjustment you can get.
There aren’t a lot of places where a rifle like The 14.9 can stretch out to what it’s really capable of. These guys gathered in a valley out in the desert, and began by shooting at 2300 yards. They had a chronograph setup at that distance, because the real goal of this outing was to gather ballistics data for this new bullet. They also zeroed the scope at 2300 yards. Here is a quick video of when they were trying to get dialed in. Ballistician Josh Kunz is behind the rifle.
After they’d collected some ballistics data, they decided to stretch it out a little further. First they shot at 2400 yards, then they back way up to 4245 yards, and finally 4700 yards. The ranges were measured using a Vectronix rangefinder. For the further distances, they had to range from the shooting position to a vehicle about half-way to the target, and then range from the vehicle to the target to get the total distance. They also double-checked the ranges using GPS. At 4700 yards, the guys ran out of room, because they were backed as far as they could go on the opposite side of the valley. So they were limited to just 2.67 miles! (Another “champagne problem!”)
This particular outing was primarily for proof of concept and to gather ballistics data, and not to set any official records. So they didn’t shoot for confirmed hits on a particular size target. They simply piled up a few rocks and set out an old propane tank for a point of reference for aiming. You can see a couple of the bullet impacts in the photo below. Even though they only had a 3mph full-value wind, Josh said he still had to hold well off target to account for it, because of the huge amount of time the wind had to affect the trajectory of the bullet. The time of flight to 4700 yards was 7 seconds! It then took another 13 seconds for the sound to travel back to the shooter’s position, so 20 seconds elapsed between when the rifle was fired and the impact was heard. That’s almost enough time to go out and get a cup of coffee!
Josh said when they shot at 4,245 yards, their target was a creosote bush that measured 42″ across and was 36″ tall, and they recovered bullets that had passed through that target and splashed into the sand behind it. That target would be just under 1 MOA at that distance.
The two guys below, Randy Morgan (left) and Josh Kunz (right), constitute the inaugural members of the 4700 yard club!
Jon and Josh were very excited about the results they saw on this outing, and they believe there are a few advancements they can make over the next couple months. “We are planning another trip to shoot 5400+ yards. We have a location picked, and we are working out the supporting details for chronographs, load data, and changes to propellant and ignition to increase the consistency. There is a lot of testing we want to do before we make another attempt,” explains Josh Kunz.
When I asked Jon and Josh how far they thought was possible, they both smiled and said they’re not sure. Josh said the bullet still had a significant amount of velocity left at 4700 yards, so they don’t feel like they’ve even started pushing what the cartridge and bullet are capable of. While it may be wishful thinking, they weren’t sure a 5 digit number is out of reach. Wow! Don’t we live in a fun time in history to be able to do stuff like this?! I can’t wait to hear how this develops and what other ways the Flat Line bullets shake things up in the near future.
For more info on Flat Line bullets, visit Warner-Tool.com.