Well, when I started writing that last article on personalized drag models being the final frontier of predictive ballistics, I honestly believed I was going out on a limb and trying to predict something that might be years away. It turns out it was only months away! Welcome to the future! 😉
One of the biggest benefits I get as the author of PRB is getting to meet industry experts and have interesting conversations with the leading minds in various fields related to long range shooting. I absolutely love those conversations, and value them more than any payment I could ever receive. When I write an in-depth article on a technical topic, I reach out to a couple people who are subject matter experts to fact check my rough draft and give me honest feedback before I publish. I never want to become a source of bad information, and these guys help me with that commitment. Their time is always in high demand, so I’m sincerely grateful for their help.
When it comes to ballistics, at the top of the list of experts you’ll find Bryan Litz and his team over at Applied Ballistics, and Dave Emary, long-time Chief Ballistician at Hornady. Those guys fall into what I describe as “scary smart.” They’re doing much of the cutting-edge, primary research that is pushing the industry forward. So as I was writing the last two articles (Article 1 | Article 2), I reached out to those guys and they were kind of enough to read through my drafts and offer some valuable input and corrections before those were published.
A major part of that content was related to what I was referring to as “Personalized Drag Models,” which was the idea of creating a drag model for your exact ammo fired out of your exact rifle. As I covered in the last article, there are several factors that can slightly affect the drag of the bullet, such as the barrel twist and length, if a muzzle brake is used and which specific type of muzzle brake, and even the type of gun powder in the ammo. Knowing that, wouldn’t it be cool if we didn’t have to use a single BC number to calculate our ballistics or even a bullet-specific drag model, but could somehow use a high-resolution Doppler radar to measure the exact drag of a specific bullet fired from our specific weapon system and ammo … and then somehow feed that into the ballistic calculator on my Kestrel or phone app? The problem is the equipment necessary can cost over $100,000, but I suggested a couple possibilities in the last post that I thought were plausible to get personalized drag models into the hands of the shooting community.
When Bryan Litz and Robert Brewington (co-owner of AB) had a chance to read through my rough draft, they must have had a good laugh, because they were already well down the path of weapon and bullet specific drag models! They were even calling them Personal Drag Models! They quickly replied, “Cal, you are most definitely clairvoyant! You are 100% correct in assuming the next frontiers are in profiling and characterizing complete weapon systems. Everything in the system does really matter and even identical weapons can have subtle but meaningful difference in drag profile. We are literally sorting out right now how to make Personal Drag Model generation possible for the masses.”
How crazy is that?! Towards the end of my last article I wrote, “While we’ve come a long way, and the technology and data we can take advantage of today is amazing – fully personalized drag models don’t seem to be farfetched. In fact, it seems like an obvious next step in the progression.” So while I shouldn’t be surprised, I certainly wasn’t thinking it’d be that quick! The Applied Ballistics team usually seems to be thinking a few steps ahead of most people, and that proves to be true again in this instance.
While we’re all aware of Applied Ballistics and their significant contributions to the shooting community, most of their work is related government-funded research and development for defense programs. AB is absolutely committed to helping our soldiers be more effective in combat and protect American lives. However, as the AB team furthers the science of ballistics through those high-budget defense projects, they take lessons and advancements learned and try to disseminate those in a way that can be easily applied by the masses. This is a great example of that. Here is how Robert explained this initiative to me:
“As you know and understand from running a business, it’s not cheap to send people, equipment, and resources across the country, so we’re trying to work through what that might look like. Big picture: We want to make Personal Drag Models (PDM’s) accessible and a reality for the shooting community. Our goal is to try to find a way to keep the cost to the end-user very low, or even free if possible, so this can have a legitimate impact on the masses. This seems to fit nicely with our new Applied Ballistics Training Division, which is a mobile entity. We’ve even started working on a mobile lab that will be decked out with all the latest equipment and technology.”
– Robert Brewington, Co-Owner of Applied Ballistics & Accuracy 1st
Recently, they announced the Applied Ballistics Mobile Lab is now a reality! Its maiden voyage was out to a private event held at Todd Hodnett’s ranch in west Texas. Todd is one of the premiere long-range shooting instructors in the world, and he runs Accuracy 1st which trains Tier 1 snipers and other elite marksmen. Here are a few photos from that event:
The next stop for the AB Mobile Lab was the NRA National Championships at Camp Atterbury. Applied Ballistics hopes to bring their mobile lab to these kinds of large and/or special events to give shooters an opportunity to shoot under their Doppler radar and have PDM’s generated for them. While they haven’t worked out all the details of what this will look like long-term, they may try to add an additional day onto extreme long range rifle matches or training seminars to offer this as an optional, low-cost service for everyone who signs up. They’ve also been talking to a few large optics, firearms, and ammunition companies about sponsoring special events to help spread the overhead costs associated with this effort – and possibly offer the service for free to anyone who attends!
One of the upcoming events where you can access the Applied Ballistics Mobile Lab is the 2019 Precision Rifle Expo, which will be held September 28-29, 2019 at the Arena Training Facility in Blakely, Georgia.
It’s super-exciting to think that the average shooter could have access to shoot under a Doppler radar, and have a drag profile created for their unique weapon and ammo. While I was at the King of 2 Miles extreme long range rifle match a few weeks ago, I talked to a few of the top competitors who were able to do just that and were using Doppler data recorded for their weapon/ammo in their firing solution at the match. That even included a couple shooters outside of the Applied Ballistics team, so this concept seems to be catching on. I can’t wait until I have the opportunity to do this myself! When I do, I’ll be sure to let you guys know more about how the process works and what the results are in terms of hits at extreme long range in the field.
Beyond Personal Drag Models
One last thing I’m excited about is that as shooters fire different weapon systems under the radar, the Applied Ballistics team will be collecting a lot of high-resolution data. Over time, they’ll compile a massive sample size of Doppler data for weapons with virtually every permutation of characteristics, and then they’ll be able to analyze that data to get a better understanding of the variance you can expect to see from different factors.
“The problem is more complex than just drag,” Robert explains. “It also has a great deal to do with changes in internal ballistics, and we’re working on ways we can make that more predictable as well. Hopefully within the next several months to years new products will start becoming available to manage all of this much more holistically. I personally am very excited for where all of this is headed.”
So they’re not only providing a great service to the shooting community (as if that wasn’t enough), but will be furthering the science of accuracy in other ways at the same time. I won’t even guess at what we may learn from all that, but I bet the AB team finds some way to use it to help us get more first-round hits in the field.
Bryan Litz Receives NDIA Carlos Hathcock Award
In related news, Bryan Litz was the recent recipient of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Carlos Hathcock Award. The Hathcock Award is named after the legendary Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock, II, USMC, and is presented to recognize an individual who has made significant contributions related to small arms weapons systems which have improved the capabilities of the U.S. military. Congratulations, Bryan! That is well-deserved recognition.