So this is about the closest photo I have of my own making related to the subject.
Anyhow, about 50 years ago there was this guy Don who worked at the UT Astronomy Department, and he left and formed his own engineering company. He rented offices on Lamar Blvd. and later moved to space in the back of a pharmacy he had built for his wife, who was a pharmacist. Anyhow we did some contracts for the university, and we were looking around for other work.
The Federal Register lists open contracts for bid, and one Don spotted was for the design of a machine to unscramble 20mm ammunition. Yeah, there is a lot of story there, but first we had to figure out how to win the contract.
The problem was this. The war in Vietnam was winding down, but they still needed scads of 20mm ammunition, and the stuff was shipped to the field in crates. But guns needed the cartridges linked into belts, and they already had machinery for that. Ah ha! I had some experience with that. On the Kitty Hawk we had a belting room with one of the machines, and I had worked with it ten years before.
But the problem is the belting machine has a tray, and you load the cartridges into the tray, which was curved into an arc, because the cartridges are bigger around at one end, so when they roll they roll in a circle. The belting machine is powered, so as long as you kept the tray full of cartridges and the link feeder full of links, then the machine would spit out long chains of belted ammunition.
But the problem was you had to hand transfer cartridges from the crates and place them onto the tray. The military saw this as a manpower-intense activity they wanted to eliminate out in the field. That’s where we came in.
Statement of problem:
- You have a bin full of pilled up cartridges.
- You want to sort them out so the pointy ends are all in the same direction.
- And you want to feed the sorted cartridges onto the tray.
We saw the main problem to be getting all the pointy ends in the same direction. But wait. Surely this problem has been solved before. Yes, of course. In a bowling alley. The pin spotters sweep all the pins into a bin behind the end of the lane, and they line them all up so the small ends are pointing in the same direction, then they feed them into the spotting machine. How did they do that?
We went to a nearby bowling alley. The manager listened, and he was agreeable. He allowed us to go and look. We looked. Yes! That’s how they do it. If you feed a random bowling pin into a chute with a drop-off at the end, the narrow end is lighter and will protrude farther before toppling into into the cavity below. All you have to do is to put a shelf past the end of the chute to catch the small end while the fat end goes over the edge and falls first.
We obtained some dummy cartridges from a surplus store, and we made a movie. These were the days before camcorders. And we wrote the whole thing up, and we submitted our proposal. And we got the contract.
What to do next? We needed to go to Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, MO. Don and his partner Don and I put on our business suits (I had to purchase one), and we flew up to Missouri to check it out. And that’s what got me to thinking about this, because the contractor operating the plant was Remington Arms, and I noticed on the news this week they were filing for bankruptcy. But to the plant and what is really interesting.
We got the plant tour. Here is where they made the 20mm cartridges. Here was the machine that assembled the brass casing, the primer, and the warhead. In case you did not know, 20mm rounds are explosive. And here was the very machine. And it was pushing the cartridges out onto a flat surface, and they were all standing upright with the pointy end up. And here the cartridges were pushed out as more fed onto the flat plate, and here the cartridges fell off the edge of the flat plate into a bin, creating the problem we needed to solve.
I tell you I almost blew the whole deal. I was tempted to remind Remington they should not do that, but then there would be no problem for us to solve. And that was that.
Except I learned what will absolutely amaze you. These 20mm cartridges were coming out of the plant at about $1.00 each. Mind you, this was 1971, but that was still cheap.
Wait, there’s more. Remington took us around to see the machine making 7.62mm ammunition. It was a sight to behold. There was a lot of chugging going on inside, and there was a chute at one end, and out that chute flowed a river of 30-06 cartridges. A river that never stopped. And I believe my memory is correct, but they told us these were being produced for a penny a piece. Shooting enthusiasts, eat your hearts out.