Thursday, June 30, 2011

Smokeless propellants

Poudre B or poudre blanche (white powder, to distinguish it from black powder), was the first smokeless propellant, developed around 1885 by Paul Vieille. Made up from nitrocotton and ether-alcohol, unlike black powder it did not produce clouds of white smoke when it was detonated. Subsequently, the prolific Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel added to the growing list of smokeless powders a substance called ballistite.

Ballistite contained two powerful explosives: a low-nitrogen content nitrocotton, gelatinized by nitro-glycerine. Meanwhile in Britain, Sir Frederick Abel and Sir James Dewar used acetone to produce probably the most effective and widely used smokeless powder propellant - cordite made from highly nitrated guncotton and nitro-glycerine. Mineral jelly was added to act as a lubricant. Now when rifles were fired the battlefield would no longer be enveloped in "the fog of war".

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