Thursday, June 23, 2011

16th century technology

The 16th century saw great developments in weapons technology, much of which remains in use today. These innovations included the wheel lock, which was invented around the turn of the century, although the actual inventor is unconfirmed. In addition, sights and rifling were major advances, and ensured that weapons could be aimed accurately and that the bullet had a straight flight path to the target.

The wheel lock
Many scholars believe that the Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci invented the wheel lock, in which a gun's firing mechanism was activated by sparks produced by friction between a small steel wheel and a flint. This belief is based on drawings of a wheel-lock mechanism which da Vinci made between the 1490s and 1510. However, there is a strong possibility that the inventor was actually an unknown German craftsman because a drawing dated 1505 has been found in a German book of inventions as well as a reference in 1507 to the purchase of a wheel lock in Austria.

By 1515 it appears that wheel locks were in widespread use. A young man from Augsburg in Bavaria, southern Germany is reported to have invited a "handsome whore" to his room where, perhaps showing off his new "self-igniting pistol", he pulled the trigger and it went off, hitting her in the chin. During the plague of 1526 in Italy, Ben Vinito Cellini noted in his diary that he survived by shooting pigeons to eat with his wheel-lock rifle. It was either a good rifle or he was an excellent shot, since he rarely missed.

Across the Atlantic, inventories of public stores from the 1660s and archaeological sites show that a large number of wheel locks had reached America.
The ingenious clockwork mechanism of the wheel lock introduced in the 16th century was complex, but more reliable than earlier systems. However, the flintlock that would replace it would remain in widespread use for more than two hundred years.

The spiral grooving in the bore of a firearm, which was used to spin-stabilize the projectile and so improve its accuracy after leaving the barrel, had been developed by the early 16th century. Rifling can have either an even or odd number of grooves that produce either a clockwise or anti-clockwise spin on the projectile. Modern handguns also usually have rifled barrels.

Matchlocks with simple sights appeared around 1537. Sights are the fittings on a firearm that help the user align the weapon accurately when it is pointed at a target. The first sights were in two parts: the foresight, a vertical post mounted at the muzzle, and the rear sight, a V-shaped notch mounted as far to the rear as possible and close to the firer's eye. To aim the weapon, the firer had a sight picture with the foresight in the centre of the notch and the target at the top of the foresight. However, with adjustable sights a weapon could be zeroed or adjusted to suit the individual shooter. With modern adjustable rear lights, to move the shot right, the firer moves the rear sight to the right. The sight is normally adjusted
by two screws that can be loosened and tightened. Usually, sights have right-hand threads on their adjusting screws.
The oldest and most basic form of sight consists of a foresight at the end of the barrel and a V-shaped rear sight close to the firer's eye. To aim the weapon, the firer positions the two sights so that the centre of the target is at the top of the foresight, which in turn bisects the V-shaped notch of the rear sight.

With adjustable foresights, the firer moves the sight adjuster in the opposite direction that he or she wishes the shot to go on the target. Optical sights are more accurate since they magnify the sight picture; they may have a crosshair, pointer or dot that the firer should place in the centre of the target.

Although electronic aids have been developed to provide training for soldiers, there is still a place for the range coach — a marksman who can observe a soldier as he or she fires on the range and adjust or zero the sights through various techniques to ensure accurate shooting.

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