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21st century steam gun

This report covers:

  • Sworn to secrecy
  • What is a steam gun?
  • The concept
  • Reloading for you
  • A legal airgun
  • Second prototype
  • Pre-Production model
  • The best part
  • .72-caliber behemoth
  • Summary

Yes, I know today is April 1 and I am supposed to write a special April Fool’s blog for you. Well, let’s wait on that because I have a special announcement of tremendous importance. I received a phone call from Ed Schultz of Crosman last night and he told me their steam gun is perfected! He is sending me the first production rifle (they will be produced in New York) to test for you and he says I should have it in two weeks.

Sworn to secrecy

I have known about this one for perhaps half a year, but I promised not to say anything. Ed started work on this rifle the day he was hired by Crosman the second time. I reckon he was working on it before that but his non-compete agreement with Sig probably makes him only admit that he started when he got back to Crosman.

What is a steam gun?

Steam guns existed before the start of the 20th century. They were created to launch dynamite projectiles with less impact, to lower the risk of their exploding in the breech. The dynamite cruiser Vesuvius used steam cannons to launch heavy projectiles up to a mile with some accuracy. Steam power isn’t as sudden as black powder and can even be less violent than smokeless powder, so it is ideal for this.

Vesuvius
U.S.S. Vesuvius with two guns down and one elevated. From
Gas, Air and Spring Guns of the World.

Ed built a prototype .25 caliber steam gun and drove a 27.8-grain Benjamin dome to 1,796 f.p.s. Then he drilled out the back of the pellet head to get a little more water inside and got it up to 2,195 f.p.s. This wasn’t a complete gun — it was just a testbed. But it proved to him that the concept worked.

The concept

Ed was messing around with a handheld stun device when it started raining. As drops of water entered the spark of the device, they flashed to steam instantly with a loud pop. He knew what that meant and started work on his gun.                                    

He chose a .30-caliber big bore for his experiments because the size of the bore allowed easier access to things. As it turned out, that became the prototype gun. He got 100-grain projectiles up over 1,700 f.p.s. within three weeks of starting the project.

Then he took a $300 barrel blank from Lothar Walther and attached it to his prototype. He then shot groups at 25, 50 and 100 yards. The barrel was just a blank so it acted like a bull barrel, and he was putting five .30-caliber bullets into a 3/4-inch group at 100 yards. That was when he invited the executives at Crosman to watch him shoot the rifle. Naturally he had to let them try it, too. The prototype is very rough and weighs 11 pounds, but Ed says he saw a 6-pound big bore inside.

Reloading for you

The bullets (these are NOT pellets) are long with a deep hollow base. You put water into the base of the bullet and then press in a wax plug that has two stiff electrical wires passing through it. If you press in the plug until it is flat the excess water is forced out, making the amount the same every time and making you a reloader!

When you load the bullet into the breech it stops at the rifling and the bolt presses slightly forward, making the electrical wires contact two copper rings on the bolt face.

When the trigger fires a spark arcs at the end of the wax plug inside the bullet and the water flashes to gas. The steam that is instantly created propels the bullet.

Hunting Guide

A legal airgun

Since water flashing to steam is not a true chemical reaction, Crosman’s attorneys have determined that the rifle is not a firearm and can therefore be sold by non-ffl dealers to anyone who can legally own a pellet rifle. This gives real centerfire capability to the airgun community!

The executives were amazed by the prototype and gave Ed immediate development time and resources to continue, plus they paid his costs to that point. They started the marketing team on a name for the new rifle. So far the two front-runners are H2OMuch and Darth Vapor, with the latter in a slight lead.

Second prototype

Ed took the time they gave him and built a second prototype rifle with all of the improvements gathered from testing the first one. This rifle weighed 7 pounds with a full wood stock and got the same velocities as the first, plus, with a barrel rifled in-house by Crosman, it was even slightly more accurate. The execs were even more pleased and pledged the money for a synthetic stock made from military-grade material — no hollow plastic stock here! They were able to print a prototype for Ed to test while the molds were being made. That alone trimmed off 7 ounces of weight and made the rifle virtually indestructible. All that took place in January of this year.

Pre-Production model

Last night Ed told me that his design has advanced to the pre-production stage. The new synthetic stock is now available and on the pre-production rifle. Ed tells me this rifle weighs 6 pounds, five ounces. He shot five bullets into 0.331-inches at 65 yards on the day he called me, and he’s just getting started.

The word to produce has been given and BB Pelletier will receive the first rifle off the production line. Crosman is going with a plain brown cardboard box with a printed paper label to avoid the cost of lithography, because they know their customers will be shooters who know their stuff — not discount store commandos. They also know that firearm shooters are now well aware of big bore airguns and they believe this one will blow their minds!

The best part

Are you ready for this? Crosman knows their chief competition very well and they know this rifle can’t sell for wads of money. At this time the rifle is caliber-specific, so they have to compete on something other than the flexibility their competitor has. Ed was pleased to tell me the initial run of 500 rifles will retail for $799. They will shoot 100-grain lead projectiles that get 642 foot-pounds at the muzzle. Yes, friends, this is a deer rifle for sure! But wait…

.72-caliber behemoth

Ed tells me that a true big bore, possibly a .72-caliber behemoth, is being developed. He has already prototyped it and has gotten 1,250 f.p.s. from a 600-grain bullet. That’s 2082 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle! The one big problem with this one is recoil. This rifle kicks so hard that it broke a printed stock after five shots.

In two weeks I should be able to begin reviewing this amazing 21st century .30-caliber steam gun for you.

Summary

Now, about the April Fool’s day blog — I know you guys love those reports and I promise to get to one real soon. How about today?

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

57 thoughts on “21st century steam gun”

  1. BB,

    I am so glad that I pay attention to the calendar. The first clue was that Ed Schultz actually bought a Lothar Walther barrel! The second clue was that the Crosman executives went out to watch him shoot! Anyway I do think that shootski has been shot out of a steam catapult more times than I have fallen for your spiels.

    Siraniko

    • Siraniko,

      You would be right about the Cat Shots outnumbering your falling for Spiels…but then my Free Deck Launches (FDL) probably outnumber them too! (For those that care to know FDL were done with the piston prop aircraft when not heavily loaded with ordinance and fuel.) The steam catapults used up large quantities of fresh water which the desalinators could hardly keep pace with. So if your aircraft was light enough and the ship had enough wind over the deck you did the launch without the aid of a Cat Shot. The fresh water situation got so bad at times (often on the older boats) that a shower was mostly/all salt water…the wrong formula soap is the worst bathing mess/experience on Earth!

      shootski

  2. B.B.,

    Good one!

    The U.S.S. Vesuvius rang a distant bell in my brain, so I looked it up. A “dynamite gun” ship used in the blockade of Cuba in the Spanish-American War.

    Very cool story, both yours and the true one of the ship.

    Michael

    • That’s a dy-no-mite story! This is a true one. You all feel free to think it an April Fool Tall Tale. My paternal grandpa and a couple of his brothers were draft-age lads in Spain at the end of the 1890s. At the time Spain was fighting rebel Moroccans in its N African colony.

      To avoid being sent there, they thought it smart to head to Cuba, then another Spanish possession. It worked for a while until another of the periodic insurrections against the Spanish Crown broke out in 1895. So, they got drafted into the Spanish army. Because grandpa had flat feet, he was assigned to an artillery battery at Morro Castle in Havana and never fired a shot in anger by the time the war ended with the US intervention in 1898.

      His two brothers did experience the excitement of being aboard a troop train headed to the interior of the island which was derailed by the Cuban rebels. They managed to survive without a scratch. Shortly thereafter, the show was over. Eventually they headed to New Orleans and there they stayed. Guess they thought it was safer to be there, with the Cajuns and the alligators. Hope you don’t find this a BORE, amigos!

      • FM,

        My great grandfather fought in the Spanish-American War. I remember seeing his uniform on a mannequin in a museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin when I was a boy.

        That is an excellent story you have there. You should write a short story of it. It could be very Hemingwayesque with the brothers drinking Sangria (like they drink in Pamplona in “The Sun also Rises”) when they decide to leave Spain for Cuba, and then drinking Cuba Libres or Daiquiris (Hemingway’s favorites) in Havana when they decide to go to Louisiana. The train derailment, of course, should make up about 2/3 of the story.

        Michael

        • Thanks for the compliments Michael. I would guess grandpa and the great uncles were drilled on the use and maintenance of the 7mm 1893 Mauser bolt-action.

          Interestingly, when my dad was 14, by then living in Havana, he went to work for an American gent who was a veteran of the Spanish-American war; he had shipped out to Cuba from Tampa and apparently after the war ended and after his discharge, he decided to stay. My dad said he was a good boss and recalled he hailed from Lima, Ohio.

          • FM,

            A lot of American soldiers decide to move back to a country they were in during wartime. The most famous example was probably the “Lost Generation” of Americans who moved to Paris immediatelyu after WWI.

            My great grandfather was from Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

            Michael

      • FM,

        I could not reply to your post under the Eagle Claw. If you are not in the market for a PCP, instead of the HW30, I would recommend the HW50 or even the HW95. Very likely you will very quickly become bored with the HW30. If it is 25 yards or less, you cannot miss. With the HW50 and HW95 you can reach out a little further. I have been seriously considering the new HW80 SL. A lot more challenging to shoot, but it is a nice hunk of eye candy.

        • RR, already have an HW95 in .22 and like it mucho, it’s still breaking in and FM is still zeroing in on the Golden Pellet for it, which is a big part of the fun and challenge.

          Since my outdoor range is barely 25 yards, thought the HW30 would be a good one for it. And hope there will be more PCPs in the future as well. Thanks for the advice!

          • FM,

            For 25 yard shooting, the HW30 is superb. The HW50 has a little more punch, but less than the HW95. If you ever feel the need for that HW95 to live somewhere else, it would have no problem finding a place here at RRHFWA.

      • About the Vesuvius and U.S. pneumatic cannon more generally:

        Here are a couple of relevant links:
        https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/v/vesuvius-iii.html
        (This appears to be the primary source for the Wikipedia article.)

        http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/WNUS_Zalinsky.php
        (quite a lot more information)

        It is interesting that the Army set up at least four coast-defense batteries using similar pneumatic weapons. The dates suggest that the Vesuvius’s cannon were viewed as more successful than we see in modern accounts: Vesuvius was commissioned in 1890. In 1894 and 1895 the Army installed 3-gun pneumatic batteries to defend New York and San Francisco. In 1898, after Vesuvius’s bombardment missions in the Spanish-American War, the Army refurbished the New York and San Francisco batteries, and in 1901 they installed a second battery outside NYC and another new battery outside Savannah.

        Because of improvements in propellants and explosives, the pneumatic guns had a fairly short period of use: Vesuvius was converted to a torpedo test ship in 1904, and the Army batteries were removed about the same time. (The San Francisco guns were decommissioned in 1905.)

        These sources give somewhat different specs for the pneumatic cannon:
        1000 psi
        range with full-size shell (15″. 1,150 lb): 1.5 nautical miles (3000 yards).

        The Army guns also used sub-caliber shells with longer ranges; maximum with a 6″ shell was 5000 yards.

        Guy Carden

  3. “So far the two front-runners are H2OMuch and Darth Vapor, with the latter in a slight lead.”
    B.B., I loved the ‘Darth Vapor’ part! Happy April Fool’s Day! 🙂

  4. B.B.

    I remember seeing a clip of an old black and white movie about one of Jules Verne’s books. I think the title was From Earth To Moon. In the movie, the space capsule with the astronauts was launched using a long cannon.

    I’m still waiting to see that “space capsule cannon launcher” become reality!

  5. Great one BB!

    I was hoping for a good April Fools blog and was not disappointed 🙂

    …hmmmm wouldn’t the steam cause rust in the bore? You might want to suggest a stainless steel barrel the next time you talk to Ed. LOL!

    Wonder if a petroleum based “propellent” would work, gasoline has about 6 times the power of gunpowder. What do you think? The hammer spring would inject some vaporized fuel into the chamber and fire a piezo-electric spark to ignite it. Lock-time might be an issue though. …Sorry, couldn’t stop myself from speculating. 😉

    “Darth Vapor” eh? Funny ’bout that, I’m in the middle of binge-watching the whole Star Wars series.

    Happy (April Fools) Friday all!

    Hank

  6. I think we’ve been (steam) punked.

    I remember reading about the Vesuvius in this blog before, but what I learned is that water turns into steam when an electric current runs through it. Of course, in chemistry class, we ran a current through water and collected hydrogen at one end and oxygen at the other end. If you mix that together and combust that mixture, you have what launched the space shuttle into orbit. In any case, applying steam to a barrel is probably a good way to rust out a lot of barrels, unless you are religious about cleaning before storing them.

    Oh and Remington experimented with an electronic ignition rifle, the EtronX.

    Also Darth Vapor was a bit H Too Oh Much. Will dark siders now be “vaping”?

    Finally, since when was a Crosman barrel more accurate than a Lothar Walther? ‘Demz fighting words. No offense to Crosman.

    Really enjoyed your blog today, B.B., No fooling about that. Happy April 1st.

  7. Heard Remington is working hard to develop their powdered H2O formula to simplify loading this rifle and making it friendlier to use in water-scarce areas like California – where in any case it has been pre-emptively banned.

    It would steam FM up if he put in an order for this gun with Crosman only to receive the dreaded “out of stock” notification!

    • FM,

      You have the right to get all steamed up. After reading your comments yesterday I hear the scientific community has brought forth a request to have ” UNOBTAINIUM ” be added to a new Periodical List of Elements.

      Way to go FM !

      BobF

  8. BB-

    You, and Ed, must ignore the naysayers. I for one fully support the blending of new and old technology. A joke, indeed. Pending your upcoming review, I foresee owning one of these, and it will be the first batch, too. Learned my lesson on the SIG ASP. Now, there was a great joke, right, SIG?

    Anyhoo, I think I spy an unannounced feature that Crosman’s marketing team should play to the hilt. Explore additives to the water contained in the bullet base. What an aid to marksmanship when one can see the projectile’s vapor trail. Now, with this new technology, one needn’t depend upon the vagaries of atmospheric conditions for a reliable indicator of the bullet’s path.

    And what about adding a little color to the mix? I could see special holiday packs of additives available at PA for Halloween (orange and black), Christmas (red and green), etc. The 4th of July pack-red, white and blue, of course- would need to be available year round for patriotic themed events and Veterans funerals. Which brings me to the second model that needs to be in the Darth Vapor line of steam guns. That’s right. A replica Garand M1 Rifle. But I think the best selling color pack for PA will be The Baby Reveal. It will also be the most expensive pack, since all of the color combinations for all possible genders will be included…..

  9. So two April Fools jokes – a steam powered rifle and Crosman barrels being more accurate than Lothar Walther barrels. We do get our moneys worth with BB!!!!

    Fred formerly of the Demokratik Peeples Republik of NJ now happily in GA

  10. “Darth Vapor” I thought. Right, like Crosman’s lawyers would let Crosman incur the wrath of The Mouse! Unless! They already had a deal with Disney.. think of the marketing possibilities, even product placement. The Imperial Troopers might finally get guns they could hit somebody with!

  11. Have you all seen the new pellet builder from PA? Check it out!

    Personally, I need silver pellets for hunting werewolves around my neck of the woods. Please, P.A. add that to gold and platinum. I ALSO want to fill the hollow points with garlic in case I see a vampire or two.

  12. Sounds like a win win. Light weight-All you would need is a barrel, magazine, small rechargable battery and push button for a trigger. Powerful-A little more water, a lot more speed. No mention of price though, should be fairly inexpensive. What maybe a hundred bucks or so. So that makes it a win, win, win. I’ll take two. A small bore and a big bore. (Or will the barrels be interchangeable?)

    • Don,

      I got the idea from National Cap Corporation, where I worked during college. They were exploring the idea of blasting aluminum slugs with water that vaporized with a spark and blew the slug into a mold.

      BB

      • I wish my thermodynamics was still fresh in my head. Just the thought of trying to optimize the guns components gives me a headache. I think the gun would have a relatively short barrel though. How hot would the barrel need to be so it does not condense the steam?

        It seems many of the components of my low pressure pellet gun could be adapted to a vapor/plasma gun; especially with it tethered to a wall socket and a nice big capacitor. I think it would need a titanium/ceramic chamber though. I don’t think the steel barrel would last long.

        Very tasty food for thought.
        Don

  13. B.B. and Readership,

    I was ho-hum about the .30 caliber big bore performance.
    But This This is NO SHI+P [Sailor Talk ;^) ] had a bit of blood pressure rise on mention of the:

    “72-caliber behemoth

    Ed tells me that a true big bore, possibly a .72-caliber behemoth, is being developed. He has already prototyped it and has gotten 1,250 f.p.s. from a 600-grain bullet. That’s 2082 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle! The one big problem with this one is recoil. This rifle kicks so hard that it broke a printed stock after five shots.”
    I have been on ZOOM Conference with Ed most of today about the advantages of Superheated Steam over regular low pressure Steam for the .72 Cal! Getting the Superheater engineering done will take about six months. It will be available on the Mkll and as a drop in retrofit for the Special SITH Edition a Numbered First 500 .72 Cal. Darth Vapor!
    Initial computer modeling indicates as much as a 92% increase in KE and potential MV as high as 2999 FPS with a seamless 1:7 Tungsten Barrel with a TOP SECRET recoil elimination concept!

    Happy April 1st everyone!

    shootski

  14. I wish to thank you guys for sharing the links for the U.S.S. Vesuvius and the dynamite guns. Being an old swabbie, when I began learning about airguns, I also learned of the Vesuvius and had to know more. I have photos of below decks of the airguns and the magazines, which operated like the cylinder on a revolver. Although it had quite limited range and questionable accuracy, half a ton of explosives going off nearby likely get your attention.

    It would be kind of neat to have one of those shore batteries up here at RRHFWA. Talk about big bore.

  15. This talk of water and electricity pushed me to remember an experiment in my high school chemistry class. We had dual glass reservoirs that we could fill one with hydrogen and one with oxygen. The ratio was just the same as it came from the water 2 atoms of hydrogen to one atom of oxygen. We opened a valve between the two reservoirs, mixed the two gasses and the ignited the mixture with a spark. When the mixture was ignited it turned back to water in the glass container. No explosion just a pop and water instead of gas.

    I may not remember it exactly but if the proportions are correct the result of igniting 2 atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen is water.

    Don

    PS: igniting hydrogen in air will not burn cleanly into water and can cause an explosion if contained.

      • I think so, not sure I have seen the whole movie. I will look for it. I just read a review, it sounds like a good movie.

        Yep even burning gasoline in your car produces water.
        Don

        • Benji-Don,

          And…we had water injection systems on some of our big radials (not to burn) but to be able to keep cylinder heads from melting along with the compound turbochargers pumping all that air into the intake manifolds to meet up with that 115/145 AvGas; the purple dyed liquid TNT!!

          Can’t get that 115/145 anymore!

          shootski

  16. This was sent to me but belongs on this blog.

    Message Body:
    Just saw your 1st of 5 new talks to new shooters. I am exactly a fallen away 6ppc competitor.
    I have a Air Arms .22 PCP and shoot in my basement range. I can usually hold .100” 5 shot groups but I have gotten to the point that my second shot goes 1/2 pellet high. I have done everything I can think of to keep groups small except what you said today. How do I follow through. Please direct me to where this information can be found. And thank you for everything you have shared with me so far. This hobby is very fortunate to have you.
    Thanks, JM

    BB

    • JM,

      I think you may have a faulty magazine, unless you used a single shot tray.

      But for follow through — I call it the artillery hold. Read and watch this:

      /article/The_artillery_hold_June_2009/63

      BB

      • B.B.,

        The artillery hold may well help if it isn’t a faulty magazine issue but staying IN the scope and trying to SEE the pellet trace to the target might be something for JM to give a try if he doesn’t already.

        shootski

  17. RidgeRunner,

    That other RRHFWA is South of Park City and West of Midway, Utah in the shadow of Mount Timpanogos; a place called the Sundance Ranch in olden days.

    I don’t think it would be good for you and your home life to go hang out there either!
    Been reading The Accurate Rifle, by Warren Page, after stumbling across it in a book box in the gun room. An old book from 1973 but fun to read and see how the powder burning gear has changed but the problems of obtaining accuracy are much the same today only with slightly smaller groups at maybe a bit more distance. Airguns have more potential for real improvement just now. Warren said back in ’73 that the (PB) rifleman had finally gotten the manufacturers of ammo and components attention.

    Two more fingers of Bourbon, neat, it is! ;^)

    shootski

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