Aiming High… and Deep

  • August 15th, 2005

Engineer’s Ballistics Research to Benefit American Troops

by Caitlin Tudzin and Mary Wymer

A University of Alabama engineering professor and his student team are researching ways to improve projectiles’ ability to penetrate sand, soil and other targets in an effort to assist American troops.

Funded by the U.S. Air Force, the research led by Dr. Stanley E. Jones, Cudworth Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics at UA, involves developing smaller, faster and more versatile air-launched weapons. The findings will help determine the right kind of steel casings for these new devices.

“The main goal of this research is to develop a way for the armed forces to know the top speed at which they can fire a projectile so that the projectile penetrates through to the target,” said Jones. “The challenge has become increasingly difficult, because our adversaries have realized the limitations associated with conventional penetrator technologies, and they have continued to bury their critical assets at greater and greater depths.”

Typically, target penetration depth increases with projectile impact speed when the projectile is fired at a speed lower than critical velocity, Jones said. If the projectile is fired at a speed higher than the critical velocity, it typically buckles soon after it penetrates the target and immediately ceases target penetration. Enemies of the United States realize if targets are buried deep under the sand, chances of destruction are slim.

Jones began the research in 2003. The Air Force is awarding him $480,000 for research over five years. So far, the group has developed stability criteria for long cylindrical projectiles, which are those without nose geometry. His team is working on a new differential equation, incorporating the nose geometry of a projectile and resulting in a new critical velocity estimate.

“Using the results generated by the new differential equation, we hope to establish how significant nose geometry is to the analysis,” explained Jones.

If Jones’ team is successful, the Air Force will have a new penetration model to use in their research, testing and design of new projectiles.

Further Reading


The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.