The best of B.B.: Can nitrogen be used in PCPs?
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- The argument
- So, is nitrogen dangerous?
- Oxygen can kill you!
- So what? We’re talking about nitrogen
- What about other gasses?
- Show some respect
Tomorrow is Thursday, December 24. It’s Christmas Eve. On that day I’m running a special blog that allows you readers to do most of the writing. We will all tell which airgun we would like to receive for Christmas, and I will start it in the text. Be thinking about the one airgun you want the most this year.
I realize that not all readers celebrate the Christmas holiday. But don’t let that deter you from commenting. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this exercise is open to all readers.
I’m running some Best of B.B. reports to give myself some time at Christmas. I have family and guests this week, and I can’t get to the computer as often as I would like. This report was first published back on January 15, 2008. I have updated and added a few things to it for today.
This report was requested by reader Pestbgone, but from my years working at AirForce I know that a lot of other shooters also wonder about it.
Here is the argument – Air is composed of approximately 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen and the remainder a smattering of other gasses. With nitrogen as the principal component, these people want to know why a precharged airgun can’t be operated on it exclusively. Nitrogen is more readily available to many of them (welding), and if it can be used it will lessen their airgun support problems immensely. I will address the issue today.
What I used to tell people who called in to AirForce with this question is that we only recommended our guns for use with breathing air and no other gasses. The seals in our guns were selected for use with air (a true statement) and we could not be responsible for their use with any other gas (also true). What drove that answer was product liability.
Do you have any idea of how much money an airgun manufacturer pays EVERY YEAR for liability insurance? It’s a heck of a lot more than most of us make. I’m not talking about the level of liability the company is insured for, just the actual cost for the coverage — the bill! The cost is based in part on how many guns you expect to sell, so as you prosper, your rates increase, because the insurance company’s exposure increases.
To even get covered a company has to have solid product literature, solid technical data on its products and a solid base of information that directs the customer in the safe use of the product. Remember, and this is no laughing matter, that there once was a man in the U.S. who sued a lawnmower manufacturer for damages he received when he picked up the mower deck while his lawnmower was running, in an attempt to trim his hedges! He won a settlement for that! That’s why all mowers sold in the United States today have a kill switch that must be depressed at all times for the mower to run. It’s that spring-loaded bar you have to squeeze when operating the mower.
So, is nitrogen dangerous?
Will nitrogen hurt your PCP? No, it won’t. Nitrogen is an inert gas that doesn’t react with most things. Oxygen, on the other hand, supports combustion, and the oxygen that both medical personnel and welders have access to has been known to blow up airguns!
Oxygen can kill you!
Now, here is the bad news. While nitrogen is relatively harmless, oxygen can kill you! Oxygen supports combustion so violently that it overwhelms people standing near. A fire in a room saturated with pure oxygen is so violent that people inside have almost no chance of escaping.
Do you think that nobody would be stupid enough to try using pure oxygen in a PCP? Think again. It has happened many times, once probably resulting in death. That one happened in England in the 1990s, but take a look at Pyramyd Air’s experience with it.
This Fire 201 9mm rifle was filled with oxygen instead of air. The caliber doesn’t make any difference. It’s the oxygen that does the damage. It caught fire while being shot and melted the rifle as seen here.
This is what happens when a VERY HOT flame is held against aluminum for a long time! It looks like a cutting torch has been used on this gun from the inside out. This was a Fire 201 9mm rifle.
Note the discoloration of the anodizing. Forensic scientists use clues like this and the bending of the steel barrel to determine how much heat caused the damage and how long the fire lasted.
This is the SECOND time Pyramyd Air has had to deal with this same problem. The first time a medical technician called in to ask them why his Career 707 was shooting a blue flame out the muzzle on every shot! Had his rifle exploded and he survived, don’t you think he would have tried to make them pay for it?
So what? We’re talking about nitrogen
What this has to do with nitrogen is simply this, PEOPLE DON’T PAY ATTENTION! For instance, nitrogen can come in tanks compressed to 6,000 psi instead of 3,000 psi. I once met a guy who thought the way to fill a PCP was to connect the hose to the gun and open the valve as fast as he could. The gun filled right up in a couple of seconds, though it did get hot. If you don’t understand why, please re-take your high school general science class where they explained about the heat generated by compression.
Now, you take a paintball player who has access to nitrogen in 6,000 psi tanks and the same attitude as the guy I just described and you will have large pieces left to bury. But, take a medical technician with the same attitude and access to pure oxygen and the pieces will be both smaller and probably well-roasted.
What about other gasses?
What about helium, people ask? Yeah — what about it? Will is make a pellet go faster? Yes. Do I care? No. I have firearms for whenever I need to go faster or hit harder.
Show some respect
Guys, these are AIR guns, and they need to be operated with some respect. Yes, the shark blowing up in the movie Jaws was Hollywood theatrics, but we are dealing with some serious technology here, and we need to respect it. It’s funny watching someone else on You Tube shoot a propane tank with a .22 rimfire and get consumed in the resulting explosion. It’s not as funny when you’re the one at ground zero.
So, what am I saying? I’m saying that our current precharged airguns are built to operate on breathing air and that’s how they should be used. Let’s leave the serious accidents to the skateboarders, stunt cyclists and the people on America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Editor’s note: Since this report was published, AirForce Airguns has started advertising that their guns may be used with compressed nitrogen, as well as air.