Episode 123: Curving Bullets

Air Date: June 10, 2009

A shooter can curve a bullet around an obstacle by swinging or flicking his or her arm. (Based on scenes from the movie Wanted.)


The Build Team first went to a shooting range and set up a target with a wooden obstacle halfway between themselves and the target. Grant, Tory, and Kari each attempted to imitate the movie characters and shoot a bullet from a handgun around the obstacle by swinging the gun in an arc as they shot. No one was able to accomplish the feat. To continue testing, the team created a robot that could swing a gun at superhuman speeds. They set up a row of five large planes of paper, each parallel to the others to help determine the bullets’ paths. After each shot, they used a laser pointer to see if all five of the holes lined up. Even with the gun being swung by the robot, the bullet paths were completely straight. Finally, the team tried modifying the gun and bullets. With a de-rifled gun barrel and unbalanced bullets, the bullets tumbled through the air but still flew along a straight path.

The sonic boom or shockwave from a supersonic bullet can break glass.


To test this myth, Adam and Jamie used a .50 caliber rifle capable of shooting bullets at 1,984 mph (3192 km/hr), well above the speed of sound. They set up a series of glass panes, stemware, and light bulbs surrounding the path of the bullet. Even with the bullet passing within inches of the glass objects, nothing broke as a result of the passing bullet.

The sonic boom from a supersonic fighter jet will break glass.


Adam and Jamie teamed up with the Navy’s Blue Angels to test this myth. Adam first received some subsonic flight training in an FA-18; despite passing out and vomiting at various times, he enjoyed the experience. To operate at supersonic speeds, they had to go to a restricted zone due to FAA rules. At the test site, the MythBusters built a small cabin with a glass window in addition to parking a car and leaving a table with lots of glass objects on it. When a Blue Angel jet, with Adam aboard, flew by at supersonic speed and with 8,000 feet of altitude, barely a sound was heard. At 2,000 feet, a loud boom was heard but no glass was broken. The jet continued to make lower and lower passes, ultimately making five passes at just 200 feet. The house’s window was broken from these passes, but nothing else was broken. Because of the extremely unlikely circumstance of a 200-foot supersonic jet pass, and the minimal damage observed, this myth was declared busted.


  1. saif taifur says:

    Hi , i have a buzz in my head that i cant remove. I heard that a gun’s barrel is like spiral inside where bullets spin. It helps to the bullet to go straight. Maybe that’s the problem. Somehow using a special gun with no spiral way inside the barrel so the bullet doesn’t spin and give a random but curvy gunshot ?!!

    I know this sounds stupid and i never touch or shot an actual gun. Maybe some experts here can enlighten me.

    • saif taifur says:

      sorry. i didnt saw the later part of the show. Mythbusters yay !

    • peter says:

      removing the rifling would make the projectile unstable ie wobbles the rifling is to spin the projectile making it stable in flight thats all

    • peter clayton says:

      the rifleing is there to spin the projectile so it is stable in flight on smooth bore weapons the projectile typicly a ball has no spin and thus wobbles in flight,
      look at american football when a long kick is undertaken the spin is to stop the ball wobbling

    • Nick says:

      I wonder if having half of the barrel rifled, left or right, or top or bottom, would have the effect of curving the bullet.

  2. Chris says:

    It is possible to curve bullets and I have done and teach hundreds to do it every year. But it’s not the way that everyone here is trying to do it. I’m a master gunner for door gunners on UH-60 Blackhawks. When firing from an of axis shot in flight above 80KIAS the bullets visibly curve. This is due to exterior ballistics affecting its flight. This is why gunners have to lead targets. As the bullet leaves the barrel it will stabilize then start turn into the prevailing wind. The air rushing past can also cause the bullet to jump when fired from the left side or drop when fired the right side because it cause it the spin in the bullet to change speeds. This is all documented in army FM 3-04.140 Appendix A and can be seen with any weapon firing an off axis shot in flight at high speed.

    • peter clayton says:

      the reason to lead the target is so the target can run into the round
      the same is true of shooting at aircraft if you take a spot in the air in front of the plane where the plane will be when the bullet gets there you will hit it, if you fire directly at the aircraft by the time the bullet arrives where you saw the aircraft due to the forward motion of the aircraft the bullet will arrive behind the plane thus missing it.
      unless your shooting at a hovering helo

  3. Abhay says:

    Firstly, an object travelling at the speed of sound doesn’t create a sonic boom. Sonic boom is created when the object crosses the sound barrier. And the effect is more pronounced if this happens slowly giving enough time to form a compression wave-front. In case of a bullet there is no way we can get a sonic boom anytime during it’s flight. And that explains the unshattered glass.

  4. peter clayton says:

    on the curving the bullet the tests they set up did not fire the gun while the gun was moving on the test the gun is curved then the curving stops then gun fired
    to work the firing must occur during the curving or moving the gun in a circular motion

  5. Gib Sinep says:

    To Peter Clayton; You really should read the Army manual that Chris mentioned. Bullets curve all the time !!!

  6. Seajane says:

    Ok, all day today Mythbusters has been on and the Bullet Dropped vs Shot show has totally got me adedctid to the SBU so very sweet. I currently have a row of unicycles in my garage from mini 2 footers to an 8 footer, and THIS will be my next one!!

  7. Tommy says:

    Golf balls curve very well, and Adam had trouble doing small scale test with a paintball gun because the balls would curve. maybe the mythbusters could take a closer look at golf balls and paintball guns. Put the two together and figure out a way to make it work with real guns.

  8. Tommy says:

    Also in the movie clip the mythbusters showed you can see 3 indentations when the bullet leaves the gun. Maybe that had something to do with it. Either way i think we need a revisit. I really liked this myth :).

  9. Chris says:

    They should also check the history of Ottawa Airport. To quote Wikipedia: “The terminal building was originally scheduled to open in 1959, but during the opening ceremonies, a United States Air Force F-104 Starfighter went supersonic during a low pass over the airport, and the resultant sonic boom shattered most of the glass in the airport (including the entire north wall) and damaged ceiling tiles, door and window frames, and even structural beams.”

  10. Tim says:

    What about round balls? If you had a non rifled gun firing a round ball that was a little too small for the barrell could you control the curvature of the of the bullet’s path by swinging your arm like in the movie? Putting a spin on it like a pitcher does on a baseball. Or more directly controlling the way paitballs curve when shot.

  11. Jon says:

    They gave up without testing the most logical way to create a controllable curved trajectory for a bullet… First off, they should have tested a sphere (ball) shaped bullet as well. The rifling is key here, if they would have changed (not gotten rid of) the rifling to create either a left or right spin to the bullet, there would DEFINITELY be evidence leading to the opposite conclusion than the one they came to. The same physics applied to this theory is evident in several examples such as: placing spin on a billiards ball, bowling balls are used this way a lot, and most obviously when a pitcher throws a curve ball in baseball. I’m no genius, but this seems obvious to me lol!

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