YOL 2015 – D9 A Piece for Optical Conversation

Posted: March 10, 2015 in YOL 2015
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Inspired by high speed photography

A conversation piece inspired by high speed photography

My involvement in lighting was born from a graphic arts and photography background, so imagery remains a core interest of mine. Design 9 was inspired by a particular image of a rifle scope being shot through by another rifle, creating an eruption of glass that caught the light. We’ll get to the reason this was being photographed, and why in a moment. First, what intrigued me was how high speed photography today catches moments in time that are beyond human comprehension. We are blind to most wavelengths of energy, we know that. But, what we seldom recognize is that the slowness of our visual processor is such that we comprehend only a fraction of what is actually happening around us. Time lapse and high speed images catch a fraction more of this missing perception. Time laps images capturing the blooming of flowers, showing that these organisms live in a slow motion universe outside our comprehension. High speed photography shows us the micro-moments that occur while our feeble brains process sampling of bits.

Image out-take of the high speed photography caught by the Mythbusters

Image out-take of the high speed photography caught by the Mythbusters shows the spray of glass from the bullet entering the scope, which inspired me to attempt to create a static object that produced a similar visual impact, representing a successful result.

High speed video images of bullets blowing through fruit, and in this case a rifle scope, capture the impact and movement of an object weighing a few grams, traveling at 2000 feet per second, revealing the release of the energy this creates.

Now to the specifics. D9 is a conversation piece, meaning it is designed specifically to start or incite a conversation, even an argument. The visual effect I was attempting to capture was This particular image from an episode of the Mythbusters (History Channel property). They were testing whether the legend of Carlos Hathcock shooting a sniper through his scope in a legendary incident in Vietnam, was mechanically possible. In this, they placed several scopes some distance down range and shot rifle rounds through them to either deem it plausible or busted.

Conversation Note 1: The test was flawed in that it did not test period correct, North Vietnamese  optics. First, the optics of that day were not variable, thus were far simpler than the compound optics tested in the episode. I’ve dismantled several scopes over the years, and can confirm that the internals of modern scopes would be impossible to penetrate. In fact, the scope used in this design took a great deal of effort to “disassemble” with a steel rod and hammer, as the center section (area under the turrets) is very dense in compound lens segments of very small diameter. Fixed, simpler scopes do not include this denseness. Further, the tests did not represent the actual energy of impact accurately, as the distance of the shot was less than 50 yards, let alone 500.

The optics of a bullet passing through a scope are compelling, and invisible to us without high speed photography.

The optics of a bullet passing through a scope are compelling, and invisible to us without high speed photography.

Optics of Discussion. In thinking about this design, I was captured by the various “optics” involved. The optic of the angles and geometry involved in the shot, the optics of the and within the scope being shot. the optics of the shooters scope, the optical challenge of shooting through a tube that is 1″ in diameter, with a thin shell presenting an entry target of 1.5″, from a distance of 500 yards (a little more than a quarter mile), the optic imagery of the bullet passing through the glass, and the unavoidable optic of the repercussions of such an accomplishment. I was also captured by the reaction of the glass, and the release of energy in both the entry and exit directions (shown in tests by others) when the shot is made. Its all very intriguing, which is what makes it such a compelling story / legend.

Any deviation from a straight through shot would likely have resulted in less than a straight through result.

Any deviation from a straight through shot would likely have resulted in less than a straight through result.

Conversation Note 2: The scope Hatcock used was an 8 power Unertal and the distance the shot was taken from was 500 yards. The claim is that he saw a glint of light from his target, which he used as a point of aim. The optical field of view of an 8 power scope at 500 yards is around 75 feet. Thst  means he was able to recognize and place a target that was 1/600th the field of view, smaller than the width of the cross-hair wires inside the scope of the day. While not impossible, this is on the very extreme edge of it.

Conversation Note 3: The glint from the targets scope indicates the sun was behind Hathcock, and that his target was aiming at him directly into the sun. With a field of view of the same 75 feet, he was not only fighting the glare from the sun through optics with marginal clarity, he was seeing Hathcock in the shadows at the same 500 yards? This seems the most unlikely aspect of this story.

Conversation Note 4: At 500 yards, for the bullet to travel through the scope tube, the angle would have to be essentially perfectly in line with the scope axis, as any deviation from that angle would result in deflection defeating the the result. That means zero wind drift effect, and zero angle of inclination between the shooter and the target. This seems optically possible, and practically on the verge of impossible.

Conversation Note 5: The bullet would need to not only travel the distance of 500 yards but still have enough energy to drive through the scope itself. At that distance, a 175 grain 308  bullet would still be carrying an energy of 1167 ft. lbs of energy, about the same as a 22 LR bullet at point blank range. This seems enough energy to drive through the scope glass. Whether or not there would be enough energy or enough of the bullet itself intact after blasting through the glass is another story.  It is possible that the lower energy state is what kept the bullet from exploding when it struck the scope, which renders any tests done with higher energy states for verification totally invalid.

That all said, Hathcock was one of the best shooters of the time, decorated many times, and recognized for his contributions. Nothing here is intended to defame that. His credibility is what makes this whole story so intriguing, as he had no reason to fabricate such a story at all. I have seen some truly jaw dropping shots taken by marksman in my own 40+ years of shooting to know that there are people who know how to place shots with precision beyond human comprehension, high speed images or not. The shot is not impossible. The bullet, once loosed, was going to travel through a spot in space down range equal to its physical diameter of .308″. That could have, indeed, been within the diameter of the objective bell opening of a scope.

My goal was not to prove or disprove the legend. My goal was to create a static object that presented the visual, or optics, of the composite moments of the bullet traveling the last 24″, and the spray of glass that would have resulted in both directions. The glass spray was created by printing two structures on the SLA machine in transparent material, then coating those with clear urethane, which was then dusted with shattered glass. Internal to the scope are 2 LEDs aimed outward. The top turret cover is a dimmer knob, while the section of rifle below, printed on the FDA machine (sanded and painted) houses the driver and a military style on-off push-button switch to cap the whole design aesthetic.



  1. Ken Reynar says:

    Very interesting study that resulted in another cool piece of art. Bravo!

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