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Can you be killed by a falling bullet?

Notes by Donald K. Burleson

February 2011

Can you be killed by a falling bullet?


It's always dangerous when somebody fires a gun into the air, but it's not always deadly because the bullet falls at only about one tenth of it's muzzle velocity.

A slow falling bullet may not have enough velocity to penetrate you deeply, since a falling bullet hits terminal velocity at only about 300 feet per second, about 200 miles per hour.

Remember, gravity continuously pulls a bullet down as a direction of the air time of a bullet. 
But what about the increasing velocity of a falling bullet?

In a vacuum, the increasing force of gravity would continue to accelerate a falling bullet until it asymptotically approached the speed of light.  (The “speed of sound” only relates in an environment with air).

In an environment with both air and gravity, a falling bullet will only continue to accelerate until the air resistance equalized with the pull of gravity, an effect knows as “terminal velocity”. 

Without air resistance a 30 caliber bullet would start at 3,000 fps and rise to 100,000 feet, taking 90 seconds to achieve peak altitude, and another 90 seconds to fall back to earth.

For example, in cats, studies have been done of the terminal velocity of cats falling from apartments in Manhattan that show cats surviving 20 story falls from apartment windows!  On average, the cats fell 5.5 stories, yet 90 percent survived their falls because of feline terminal velocity which is about 60 MPH.

A human skydiver has a terminal velocity of about 120 MPH.

But a bullet is much more compact than a cat, and eventually, the air resistance will stop the acceleration.
United States Army tests in 1920 showed that a 30 caliber bullet hit terminal velocity at about 300 fps, or about 205 miles per hour.

In sum, a falling bullet has only one-tenth of its initial muzzle velocity.






Note: The opinions expressed on these pages are the sole opinion of Donald K. Burleson and do not reflect the opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any of its subsidiaries.

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Copyright ? 1996 -  2010 by Donald K Burleson. All rights reserved.