Home > Research Papers > Courtney: Studying the Internal Ballistics of a Combustion Driven Potato Cannon using High-speed Video

Courtney: Studying the Internal Ballistics of a Combustion Driven Potato Cannon using High-speed Video

2013 May 10


Figure 2. Average velocity of cylindrical potato projectiles vs. barrel position for each experimental propellant.

A potato cannon was designed to accommodate several different experimental propellants and have a transparent barrel so the movement of the projectile could be recorded on high-speed video (at 2000 frames per second). Both combustion chamber and barrel were made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Five experimental propellants were tested: propane (C3H8), acetylene (C2H2), ethanol (C2H6O), methanol (CH4O), and butane (C4H10). The amount of each experimental propellant was calculated to approximate a stoichometric mixture and considering the Upper Flammability Limit (UFL) and the Lower Flammability Limit (LFL), which in turn were affected by the volume of the combustion chamber. Cylindrical projectiles were cut from raw potatoes so that there was an airtight fit, and each weighed 50 (+/- 0.5) grams. For each trial, position as a function of time was determined via frame by frame analysis. Five trials were taken for each experimental propellant and the results analyzed to compute velocity and acceleration as functions of time. Additional quantities including force on the potato and the pressure applied to the potato were also computed. For each experimental propellant, average velocity vs. barrel position curves were plotted. The most effective experimental propellant was defined as the one which accelerated the potato to the highest muzzle velocity. The experimental propellant acetylene performed the best on average (138.1 m/s), followed by methanol (48.2 m/s), butane (34.6 m/s), ethanol (33.3 m/s), and propane (27.9 m/s), respectively.

Studying the Internal Ballistics of a Combustion Driven Potato Cannon using High-speed Video
E.D.S. Courtney AND M.W. Courtney
1BTG Research, P.O. Box 62541, Colorado Springs, CO, 80962
United States Air Force Academy,
2354 Fairchild Drive, USAF

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