Tracer

July 14, 2022

I learned on last night’s news that the prescribed burn I wrote about yesterday was not prescribed at all.  The Arkansas National Guard is on maneuvers at Fort Chaffee throughout the summer and it was the Guard that started the fire.  While the military reporting was correct in stating it was a “fire maneuver”, when it was associated with an actual fire the initial report (and me) had mistakenly assumed the cause was a fire.  It turns out the fire maneuver was a military term and not a civilian one.  The Guard had been practicing on the shooting range.  They had taken the precaution of making a 10 foot (3 m) fire break and had cleared the brush around the range with a prescribed burn, but the grass still caught fire and the fire jumped the break.  The guard was practicing using tracer bullets.

When I looked online, I found tracer ammunition (tracers) are bullets or cannon-caliber projectiles that are built with a small pyrotechnic charge in their base.  The United Kingdom was the first to develop and introduce a tracer round in a version of the .303 cartridge in 1915.  The US introduced a .30-06 tracer in 1917.  Prior to adopting red (among a variety of other colors) bullet tips for tracers, American tracers were identified by blackened cartridge cases.  The pyrotechnic composition is ignited by the burning powder when fired and burns brightly, making the projectile trajectory visible to the naked eye during day, and as a bright light during night firing.  This allows the shooter to visually trace the flight path of the projectile and then make any necessary ballistic corrections.  Prior to the tracer the shooter would have to confirm projectile impacts to determine accuracy.  As the effective range of ammunition increased this became nearly impossible even during day light.  Tracer bullets are usually loaded as every fifth round in machine gun belts, referred to as a four-to-one tracer.  Tracer fire can also be used as a marking tool to signal other shooters to concentrate their fire on a particular target during battle.

During World War II, aircraft with fixed machine guns or mounted cannons would sometimes have a series of tracer rounds added near the end of the ammunition belts to alert the pilot that he was almost out of ammunition.  The problem was that this practice alerted astute enemies that their foes were nearly out of ammunition.  A more common practice was to load the entire magazine as a four-to-one tracer.  This was used on both fixed offensive and flexible defensive guns to help mitigate the difficulties of aerial gunnery.  Tracers were common on most WWII aircraft except for night fighters.   These fighters needed to be able to attack and shoot down the enemy before they realized they were under attack and without betraying their own location to enemy defensive gunners.  The US relied heavily on tracer ammunition for the defensive Browning M2 .50 caliber machine guns on its heavy bombers such as the B-24 Liberator.

THOUGHTS:  In the UK, use of tracer rounds are restricted on National Rifle Association of the United Kingdom-operated ranges because of an increased risk of fire.  Use of tracers is usually only authorized during military training.  In the US, tracer ammunition is legal for personal use according to federal law, but some states prohibit tracer rounds from being sold and possessed by the public.  The use of tracer ammunition by civilians in the US has no practical application.  Two well-known fires were started by tracer fire in the last decade.  On February 24, 2013, a fire was started at DFW Gun Club in Dallas, Texas, and on July 3, 2018, the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt, Colorado was started by tracer rounds fired at a gun range.  There is a non-incendiary tracer ammunition which provide illuminated shots that do not produce heat or fires and can be shot indoors.  This was obviously not used.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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