Girandoni air rifle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Girandoni air rifle
Girandoni Air Rifle.jpg
Girandoni system Austrian repeating air rifle, circa 1795, believed to have been taken on the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Type Air rifle
Place of origin  Holy Roman Empire
Service history
In service 1780–1815
Used by
Austrian Empire
United States (Lewis and Clark)
Production history
Designer Bartholomäus Girandoni
Designed 1779 or 1780
Weight 4.5 kg (9.9 lb)
Length 120 cm (3.9 ft)

Cartridge spherical balls
Caliber .46, 210 grains (13.6 g)
Muzzle velocity about 500 fps (152 m/s), 117 ft lbs (159 J)
Feed system 20/21 round vertical hopper
Sights Iron
Recreation of an Austrian Girardoni system Accoutrements Bag, including spare air flasks, air pump, wrenches, bullet mold and ladle

The Girandoni air rifle was an airgun designed by Tyrolian inventor Bartholomäus Girandoni circa 1779. The weapon was also known as the Windbüchse ("wind rifle" in German). One of the rifle's more famous associations is its use on the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore and map the western part of North America in the early 1800s.

History and use

The Girandoni air rifle was in service with the Austrian army from 1780 to around 1815. Many references to the Girandoni air rifles mention lethal combat ranges of 125 to 150 yards and some extend that range considerably. The advantages of a high rate of fire, no smoke from propellants, and low muzzle report granted it acceptance. It did have problems and was eventually removed from service for several reasons decades after introduction. While the detachable air reservoir was capable of around 30 shots, it took nearly 1,500 strokes of a hand pump to fill those reservoirs. Later, a wagon-mounted pump was provided. The reservoirs, made from hammered sheet iron held together with rivets and sealed by brazing, proved very difficult to manufacture using the techniques of the period and were always in short supply.

In addition, the weapon was very delicate and a small break in the reservoir could make it inoperable. Finally, it was very different from any other weapon of the time and any soldier using it needed to be highly trained.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition used the rifle in the demonstrations that they performed for nearly every Native American tribe they encountered on the expedition.[1][2]

Design and capabilities

The rifle was 4 ft (1.2 m) long and weighed 10 lb (4.5 kg), about the same basic size and weight as other muskets of the time. It fired a .46 caliber ball[3] (caliber is contested, original sources such as Dolleczek[4] describe the caliber as 13mm (.51cal)) and it had a tubular, gravity-fed magazine with a capacity of 20 balls. This gravity operated design was such that the rifle had to be pointed upwards in order to drop each ball into the breech block. Unlike its contemporary, muzzle-loading muskets, which required the rifleman to stand up to reload with powder and ball, the shooter could reload a ball from the magazine by holding the rifle vertically while lying on his back and operating the ball delivery mechanism. The rifleman then could roll back into position to fire, allowing the rifleman to keep a "low profile". Contemporary regulations of 1788 required that each rifleman, in addition to the rifle itself, be equipped with three compressed air reservoirs (two spare and one attached to the rifle), cleaning stick, hand pump, lead ladle, and 100 lead balls, 1 in the chamber, 19 in the magazine built into the rifle and the remaining 80 in four tin tubes. Equipment not carried attached to the rifle was held in a special leather knapsack. It was also necessary to keep the leather gaskets of the reservoir moist in order to maintain a good seal and prevent leakage.[5]

The air reservoir was in the club-shaped stock. With a full air reservoir, the Girandoni air rifle had the capacity to shoot 30 shots at useful pressure. These balls were effective to approximately 125 yd (114 m) on a full air reservoir. The power declined as the air reservoir was emptied.[6]


The Girandoni air rifle was an important first. It was the first repeating rifle of any kind to military service.[citation needed] It was one of the first uses of a tubular magazine.

See also


  1. ^ Wier, S.K. (2005). "The Firearms of the Lewis and Clark Expedition" (PDF). p. 12. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
  2. ^ Girandoni air rifle as used by Lewis and Clark. A National Firearms Museum Treasure Gun. at YouTube
  3. ^ The Beeman article on Girandoni air rifles in the sources section and an article in the German gun magazine Visier (issue 1/2007, page 141) claim the caliber was actually .463" (11.75 mm).
  4. ^ Die Entwicklung der Handfeuerwaffen im österreichischen Heere, 1896, Anton Dolleczek
  5. ^ A letter detailing regulations, "Signed, Vienna, 24th January 1788"; reproduced in Baker, G; Currie, C. The Austrian Army Repeating Air Rifle 2nd Ed., 2007.
  6. ^ Military writer August Haller claimed in an 1891 treatise Die österreichische Militär-Repetier-Windbüchse that the first ten shots would be effective to about 150 paces, the next ten shots up to 120-125 paces, the next ten out to 100 paces, and then the remaining air pressure in the reservoir would be too low.


  • Beeman's History on Austrian Large Bore Airguns
  • I Benemeriti Di Cortina D’Ampezzo
  • Die Windbüchse
  • [1] (original 1780 example)
  • Girandoni air rifle as used by Lewis and Clark. A National Firearms Museum Treasure Gun.
Retrieved from ""
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia :
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Girandoni air rifle"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA