LooseRounds Tests .50 BMG’s Penetration On Cars, With Surprising Results

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Has anyone ever described to you before how a .50 BMG is so powerful, it will shoot right through a car, end-to-end, through the engine block? Well, the truth is that they may have been exaggerating, according to informal testing recently conducted by LooseRounds’ Shawn:

Last year I did a series of posts where I fired a variety of common rifle and pistol rounds into a car to see what would penetrate  different parts of the body. Today, we did a little PM on a Barrett M82A1/XM107 and decided to fire some rounds into the same car to see what would happen. We used plain ball and armor piercing.

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We all have hear about the 50s power and ability to make scrap metal out of some pretty heavy cover. I have also heard claims it will shoot  through the engine block.  So today we put it to the test.  We went the extra mile with it and even shot from only 25 yards.

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I set a “Q” target on the back side of the car to simulate some one taking cover behind the engine  and also to show any round that would go through and what it would look like.

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And then one in front for the aiming point.

As you can see in the picture, the AP round hit in the kill zone.   But it did not make it through the engine. Which also had been shot to pieces over the last few years anyway and was not in its best shape to begin with as can be seen in the picture.  Of course, ball did not even come close. and AP failed completely as well. [emphasis mine]

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With this limited test, in this limited environment of shooting from 25 yards showed the 50BMG even using AP certainly is not the ultimate weapon some may think it is.

I’ve reiterated many times that the difference in effectiveness even between disparate small arms rounds like 5.56 and 7.62 is much smaller than their difference in size would suggest, but this surprised even me. I would have expected at least the .50 BMG AP to make it through the block and into the target.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • TheNotoriousIUD

    Yeah but how many baby seals will it go through?

    • Tassiebush

      Please, please would someone make that test happen!

  • Joshua

    What?!? I was told that a round even going near the target was enough to rip a limb off at 1,000M.

    Clearly this test was rigged with hardened adamantium lacing the engine block.

    • FightFireJay

      And possibly Vibranium!

      • Joshua

        Of course! Have you seen Steve Rogers shield? Things a beast, never seen a projectile penetrate it. That must be what this engine was made of.

      • Bob

        Unobtanium

      • Ethan

        WORST. ALLOY NAME. EVER.

        lol. Not being a comic-book devotee, I did an involuntary double-facepalm when I heard that was the new ‘super-metal’. Still an awesome movie though.

  • Don Ward

    Yes. But will a cat fit inside of it?

    • Roger V. Tranfaglia

      Oh GOD NO!!!
      Not the …CAT CANNON!!!

    • Hank Seiter

      Schrodinger’s cat? Postulate: If an engine block was hit with a .50 caliber armor piercing projectile traveling 3000 fps, afterwards could an engine be found in the state of running or not running simultaneously?
      Isn’t quantum physics great?

  • iksnilol

    Screw it, we gotta go for 14.5x114mm AP.

  • MountainKelly

    Dude. It’s a lot of metal. Come on meow

  • hami

    I am surprised to hear that anyone would believe a .50 BMG would penetrate straight through an engine block without breaking apart or deflecting away internally. I always thought it was a fun exaggeration.

    • The ball round not penetrating didn’t surprise me. The AP was a little surprising, considering how small a car it was. It depends exactly where it penetrated. Going straight through the thickest part, I would not expect it to pen, but through the cylinder walls, maybe, as long as it didn’t hit the piston heads.

      • Anton Gray Basson

        The thing to remember is that an engine is effectively laminated armour. you have gaps. many grades of aluminum and steel. Who knows how it would cause the bullet to deflect. I dont think 20X99mm AP would penetrate straight through but going through doesnt matter if you crack a cylinder, cylinder head, knock out the cams, cooing jacket or oil system that engine isnt going to run long.

        • Canadian Vet

          Well, I know for a fact that the 25mm round fired by Canadian LAV III vehicles will not fully go through an engine block either. On my tour in Afghanistan, a LAV III was forced to engage a vehicle that was considered a threat and a round of 25mm in the engine compartment caused enough spall to kill 2 passengers in the back seat as well as effectively destroying the engine. But it did not go through.

          Mind you, I’m unsure what kind of projectile it fired.

        • You mean spaced armor? Yes it is, but it’s also made of aluminum, and not armor-grade aluminum, either.

          • Anton Gray Basson

            Yes, better way of putting it.

    • Asdf

      Back in the 70s, people claimed that the .357mag would go right throug an engine block as well. At least we are a little more realistic today.

  • Alex Nicolin

    Bring a 14.5x114mm AP round.

    • Jon

      I just was thinking how absurd is to think .50 is the ultimate bullet having the bullet you comment in world wide usage.

  • Mystick

    To be fair, that rifle is “short” for the .50 BMG. Fire it through a full M2 barrel. Or one of the uppers from Watson’s Weapons(which is a re-purposed German M2 barrel)… You’ll see a much higher muzzle velocity, therefore penetration.

    • Shawn Thompson

      lol/ no, you wont

      • Martin M

        There is some truth to Mystick’s point. The longer barrel will create higher velocities. Distance to the target isn’t going to alter velocity enough to matter under 100 meters.

    • Hank Seiter

      Yep, you’d get higher velocity but that would only ensure the AP round would possibly fragment even sooner. Maybe a sabotted Tungsten penetrator or possibly a depleted uranium projectile might penetrate further, particularly if given a fps assist from a longer barrel. But the simple physics is there isn’t enough energy or mass present for a BMG .50 cal bullet of any kind to make it through the equivalent of twelve inches of steel – even “soft” steel – in the real world. 3000 fps or 3500 fps, same result … FAIL.

  • me ohmy

    it isn’t, it is a giant 30-06 and intended to do better. but unless you use a VERy sophisticated bullet.. it is still just a rifle with a very big bullet. but it is a VERY EFFECTIVE big bullet too.

  • matthew_carberry

    Anybody brought up the excuse there was a steel brake drum and wheel in the way too? Couple sets of leaf springs and brackets? 😉

    I think a lot of folks attribute to individual rounds the demonstrated effects of multiple shots over a long-period of time. The .357 is “a manstopper”, but no one remembers the times it didn’t. The demonstrated effects of M2 MG fire in multiple wars don’t necessarily translate to just one given round shot at one given engine, though that’s the way we visualize the round itself.

    • The Brigadier

      That’s also why .50 caliber rounds are most effective against vehicles in belt fed machine guns versus single fire Barrett’s. One or more rounds hitting an engine block is going to stop the vehicle. I saw AKs on full auto dismember Jeeps while we we were running for our lives looking for adequate cover.

      As far as .357s being man stoppers that’s pretty much true. Small hole going in, big hole coming out. Most people don’t last long after getting hit from one. In 1980 or 81 a giant fat man who was a farm laborer in Maryland killed his boss farmer with a shovel and went after the farmer’s wife. She called the Maryland State Police who arrived fairly quickly while the giant chased the woman around the farm yard.

      Six officers shot him with full cylinders (36 rounds) of 158 grain .357 bullets and the man still tried to brain them. The had to run, turn and shoot and keep on running. Several officers were hit by the flat end of the shovel and had some broken bones. It took several of the officers who quickly used their speed loaders and then shot him about ten more times before he finally died. The coroner said the man’s thick, dense layers of fat effectively stopped the deadly rounds. Gives one pause doesn’t it? Head shots are always better for almost every caliber.

  • valorius

    A .50 will destroy an engine, but from most angles it would hit too many sturdy metal things to shoot through one.

    I doubt even a 14.5mm would do much better.

  • valorius

    This test is racist!

    • Shawn Thompson

      you are so right. I picked that car because it is black

  • Depends where they hit on the block. If the round had to go through a block long-ways and through a piston/s then, well, you know. I bet you could send an AP round through the crankcase of a static old SBF with ease (weak castings).

  • glasswolf

    Unless you’re using military u235 rounds, your test is invalid. Sorry.

    • Anonymous

      Where does one order some of these uranium-tipped .50 BMG rounds?

      • nadnerbus

        I think they carry them on Amazon

  • n0truscotsman

    Thats something you dont see very often on the civilian side: a kryloned Barrett 50. <3

  • Bill

    There’s an old video floating around of federal agents on a range blasting the hell out of a car, which, after having multitudes of pistol, rifle, and I think shotgun rounds fired into it, is started up and driven away. Several targets placed inside only suffer minor damage.

    Nonetheless, fire that .50 BMG at an engine that’s running, and see how long it keeps running. Fire it into a jet engine and duck, cause chunks of turbine blades will travel far, fast. Put one into 200 to 300 horsepower outboard motors and watch really fast boats slow down really fast. Cessnas don’t take off if a .50 BMG bullet hits the engine. Radios and radars don’t work with a half-inch hole or two or three in them.

    It’s an anti-materiel round, not a machine tool. If you want to drill a hole through something, use a drill press or a lathe. If you want to wreck it, use a 700 grain bullet. And always have a Plan B. Like additional 700 grain bullets.

    • Tassiebush

      Bill I think you’re right and stories of a .50bmg taking out engines has evolved into it passing through them!

      • Bill

        And it goes both ways – thanks to the movies people think one 9mm round will turn a car into a blazing fireball.

        • Tassiebush

          From my limited experience mucking around shooting a car penetration ranges wildly on normal body panels. .223 softpoint, buckshot and smaller shot wouldn’t injure an occupant through a door. 12gauge slugs in contrast go through door seat and far side door without any sign of slowing. Hehe none caused a fireball!

    • Guido FL

      Next test start out with a virgin target not a wreck please. AND try .50 cal vs 20 MM !
      There was a reason the 20 mm cannon was born.

    • Rodford Smith

      Modern inline engines, yeah. Shooting a cylinder of an old radial aircraft engine, maybe not. 🙂 There are multiple tales from WWII of planes making it back to base with an entire cylinder shot away.

      • Bill

        If I’m attacked by a Fokker Tri-Wing or somebody in a F8 Bearcat, I’ll remember that 😉 Actually, with the Dehavilland Beavers, mid-50s airliners and Antonov AN2s flying around the Third World, it could be good to know. Or just wait until all the oil leaks out from natural causes.

  • Martin M

    Don’t you know, 30mm is the new .50BMG.

  • Wetcoaster

    Reminds me of The Box O’ Truth tests against sand – since the .50 BMG looks and acts like a gigantic rifle round, it stands to reason it’ll be similarly torn apart when it starts passing through a lot of stuff at high speed. After all, AP is designed to penetrate a thin amount of armour and retain enough energy to do some damage to whatever is immediately behind it. Shooting it into debris like that chewed up engine block is closer to firing it through a bunch of water, and we know how that usually works out (very rapid velocity loss).

    • Rodford Smith

      The Mythbusters repeatedly fired a .50 rifle into water at about forty-five degrees. Each time the bullet broke into fragments within feel of entry.

      They were ready to run if they punctured the bottom of the pool. That turned out to be unnecessary. 🙂

      • Geoffry K

        Mythbusters also use a .50BMG fired by Kari Byron at their phone book armored vehicle from uphill about 50 yards and one shot fractured the engine block and disabled the vehicle. Not to mentioned totally ripping through both sides of the van and the phone books in the cargo area.

  • guest

    Engine blocks make poor choice for examination of penetration. What kind of engine? A thick walled steel diesel? A thin walled aluminum gasolene engine? What part of the block? The oil pan, the cylinder, maybe trough the crankshaft?
    We’re talking completely random number here, maybe from 5 to 50mm RHA or more!

    So every time I hear claims of penetration of an engine block I can’t take it seriously, as much as it would be a serious way of testing a revolver’s reliability in russian roulette style.

  • BillC

    Your tags are wrong. “M80/M80a1”

  • Joe Schmoe

    The test is invalid, the bullet is EXTREMELY fragile at ~25 meters.

    I don’t remember the range for the bullet to become “hardened” for a .50 cal, but for the .308 175gr used by my M24 it was between 45-90 meters, but will only achieve full penetration at between 200-600m. That is due to the extreme stress the bullet is under having shrunk and stretched in order to fill the barrel and the grooves.

    Here’s a breakdown of penetration of cover by ranges:

  • Pete Sheppard

    Use an M2…eventually SOMETHING gets through…

    • Ethan

      Yeah… sort of a Rinse and Repeat until satisfied exercise..

  • greensoup

    Even a small engine is going to be like 6ish inches think lengthwise at the minimum if you managed to miss all the brackets, ribs, pistons by total luck. According to the data I see best case AP 50 BMP is going to do like 3.5-4 in Aluminum.

  • Zebra Dun

    Perhaps an engine running at high RPM’s explodes after being struck by the .50 BMG and gives the impression of a through and through penetration.
    I’ve blown an entire piston and it’s connecting rod right through the bottom of a Chevy engine once long ago and did not use a bullet just the engine blowing up.

  • iksnilol

    I am pretty sure there exists 20 and 30 mm man-portable cannons (I think it’s a bit wrong to call them shoulder fired rifles).

    • Jonathan Wright

      anzio ironworks.

      • iksnilol

        Also Truvelo makes a 20 mm IIRC. Then there is the South African rifle with the sidemounted magazine.

  • USCGGM

    Love to see what an anzio iron works 20mm man portable would do to a solid cast blocl

  • USCGGM

    It’s funny when we do gunnery exercises with the M2 ‘ s we usually uses old foam buoys and those things eat .50 rounds they just pass right through occasionally you’ll get chunks torn off but mostly it’s just nice little holes

  • Aint So

    Oh please, stop wasting everybody’s time. This attempt has been tried and retried until the onset of nausea. You can probably achieve terminal penetration with a better selection of vehicle such as a Yugo or a 60’s VW Beetle. Employ a Howitzer and be done with it, I would say. Guaranteed penetration, no messy inconclusive target evaluation to worry about, and a whole lot more fun.

  • ⊕RussR⊕

    50 API vs 1.5″ steel block i shot

  • noob

    weren’t they worried about ricochet when shooting into irregularly shaped steel at 25 yards?

  • Ethan

    Because SCIENCE!!
    Great write-up man. Things are never as simple as they seem.

  • GrumpyCat

    So? How far did it go?

  • cageordie

    What some bloke down the pub thinks, having watched a lot of Dirty Harry, has no validity in real life.

    A 50 BMG AP round will penetrate 1″ of armor plate at 200 yards. An engine block, end on, is something like a foot of metal. Even if it was aluminum alloy there aren’t any man portable kinetic weapons that are likely to perforate that. The round might make it through the car after deflecting off the block, but it wouldn’t hit that target.

  • Jamie Clemons

    If someone starts shooting at me with a .50 I am hiding behind the engine block.

  • oldwestman

    I heard that a 7.62 NATO round will go through the side armor of an 113 APC if fired reasonably straight on. Having shot this round a lot I believe this is true. I cut a 4×4 2′ long in half with one round. I don’t know if I would ever want to shoot a .50 bmg at anything, it is an incredible round, that said I would not expect it to shoot through a car length wise.

  • franco Eldorado

    Engines typically are made of cast iron aluminum and steel. The cast is very hard but it breaks rather than bends. This slows the bullets quickly and then the other metals act like layers. If you were to hit it in the right spot it might go through but there just arent that many places inside an engine that don’t have many layers along with water jackets and motor oil. The pistons, rods, cams and crankshaft is all very hard and typically forged metal.

  • Hank Seiter

    I never believed the urban legend that a .50 Cal. AP round could make it through an engine block length-wise or width-wise since I’ve never seen an actual video demonstration of such a thing being possible. However, the .50 cal AP will generally disable an engine and multiple rounds would ensure that event. Possibly even a .50 cal M2 ball round will disable an engine particularly if it hits the manifold, carb/throttle body or in the thinner lower side walls of the block taking out a cylinder/piston. It appears the idea that an engine block makes effective cover with respect to “small arms” engagement remains intact. Now let’s try a 20mm round.

  • Rooftop Voter

    What great posts! I am tumbling some 50 cal cases right now. I want to get back to this and read some more. Even at the local range, I get someone who always asks the same type questions; now I can tell them the straight dope on it.

  • Me

    Well, hate to dump in your cornflakes but this is the dumbest conclusion I’ve seen on this site, based on drastically incomplete information.

    Straight-through is all that was proven with what looks like one shot. Factor in not just possible but probable DEFLECTION and I submit that one lil’ ol’ cardboard target on the other side ain’t enough to learn much more than that one single data point.

    Think about it–the inside of any motor vehicle-size engine block is full of chambers and curves and angles, even if you miss the cylinders.

    The quality of this test is right up there with the “magic bullet” JFK shooting deniers/conspiracy loons.