There is a persistent myth, even among military members, that certain types of rounds can kill a human without actually impacting. Myths like "it can snap your neck as it passes by" or "it can tear your arm off if it passes near you". Most examples I've heard deal with .50 caliber sniper rounds, although I've also heard the same about the A-10 Warthog's 30mm rounds. Any validity at all? What about artillery or other types of munitions killing by merely passing near a target on its flight path?

  • 3
    It goes without saying that artillery rounds of sufficient size can kill you by exploding nearby. Mar 21, 2011 at 19:01
  • Yea but if you read the last line it specifically clarifies "...killing by merely passing near [a person] on its flight path".
    – Dogmafrog
    Mar 21, 2011 at 19:36
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    This has become such a persistent question asked on the Mythbusters forum that we have a "sticky" section at the top of the "Weapons" thread dealing specifically with myths associated with the .50 BMG. Although it's true that supersonic projectiles can create a very localized sonic boom (audible as a loud crack if you are close) no damage results. Even the big .50 BMG projectile is still quite small, and simply can't move enough air to cause any damage.
    – M. Werner
    Mar 31, 2011 at 1:28
  • I've heard a similar thing about the 5.56mm round. Allegedly, it's so fast that it has a lethal effect even if it only flies past your skin, causing some nerves to go into some kind of "fireworks" mode. I've yet to see any proof of this story, however.
    – doppelfish
    Oct 31, 2012 at 22:02
  • A-10 30mm rounds obviously have other mechanics of kill besides direct hit, as they use mix of high-explosive incendiary (HEI) and depleted uranium armor-piercing incendiary (API), typically 1 HEI per 4 API.
    – vartec
    Feb 26, 2014 at 17:00

1 Answer 1


I think there's an episode of Mythbusters that disproves the .50 BMG killing by pressure waves claim. They shot several times through a narrow corridor of glass cups and not even one broke because of the alleged pressure waves from the travelling bullet.

EDIT: Here's a link for a description of this specific episode http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MythBusters_(2009_season)#Sonic_Boom_Sound-off

  • Cool. How about the Vulcan cannon or arty rounds?
    – Dogmafrog
    Mar 13, 2011 at 15:49
  • Never seen any experiments or real life reports covering these calibers, sorry. Personally, I think its the same as with the .50 BMG.
    – liewl
    Mar 13, 2011 at 17:14
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    Whilst this may technically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. Blockquotes are an excellent way to do this.
    – Borror0
    Mar 31, 2011 at 16:42
  • Pining you, can you find a better reference here?
    – Sklivvz
    Oct 29, 2012 at 14:17
  • I'm sorry, I don't know of any other relevant references.
    – liewl
    Oct 30, 2012 at 0:22

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