The A/P25S-5AFoliage-Penetrating Gyrojet Signal Kit: The Failed Buck Rogers Rocket Gun Finds a Viable Mission

Captain Barton fell breathlessly against the roots of a gnarled tree that seemed older than time itself. The flickering flames of what had only moments before been a $35 million AH64E gunship lit the surrounding jungle in desperate, hungry tones. He looked back at the wreckage now fully involved and choked at the thought of his co-pilot. He was lucky to have clawed his way clear of the wreckage. The tattered arm of his Nomex flight suit and his several burns were mute testament to his fruitless efforts to pull his friend clear. He felt the pain well up in his chest but pushed it someplace else. There would be time for that later. Now he just had to live.

The A/P25S-5AFoliage-Penetrating Gyrojet Signal Kit was the ultimate develop-ment of the revolutionary 1960’s-vintage Gyrojet rocket gun.

His first priority was to get away from the crash. The fire would attract the Tangoes like moths. Given that whoever had triggered the SA-14 that brought his aircraft down was likely still nearby, distance meant life. Barton glanced quickly at his compass, took a general heading east, and stumbled into the jungle blackness.

He pushed on for maybe an hour, stopping periodically to check his survival radio. He had the earpiece in place so it wouldn’t make any noise, but he had yet to make contact with his wingman or AWACs. He knew they would be looking for him. For now, however, he was still on his own. That thought threatened to conjure panic. Like so many other emotions this surreal evening, he tucked that away someplace. He’d panic later. Now he still had to move.

After another 30 minutes he felt like he could safely stop and take stock of his situation. The glow of his burning aircraft was barely noticeable in the distance, and he had followed rising terrain to a small hilltop. The suffocating overhead foliage enveloped him like a thick black blanket. With fingers trembling in the darkness from a toxic combination of shock and fear, he keyed his radio and made a call in the blind.

“Any station this is Stryker 06, down and evading after being brought down by enemy SAM. How copy, over?”

“Roger Stryker 06, this is Stryker 23,” the familiar voice came back immediately. “Nice to have you back in the world of the living. Can you give me a cardinal direction from the crash site and your status? We have an MV22 that will be onsite in eight mikes.”

The voice of CWO3 Donny Ahern, one of his unit instructor pilots, was like that of an angel. They had clearly scrambled the ready team for CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) when he went down. Barton fought back a sob as he acknowledged the call and fished into the inside of his survival vest for his pen flares. Snapping one of the thumb-sized cartridges out of its holder and slipping it into the end of his pen gun he alerted the other Apache, held the launcher aloft, and cycled the striker. The little rocket jumped out of the gun and snaked up through the jungle canopy to arc another three hundred feet or so before burning out.

“Stryker 06, this is Stryker 23, I have your position. We will orbit and keep the savages at bay until the MV22 arrives. You’re safe now, boss. I’m minding the store.”

As the sound of rotors grew closer Barton let himself sink to his knees and relax for the first time in two hours. The exhaustion and overwhelming emotion caused him to shudder slightly. He knew that Donny in the other Apache could see everything with his Passive Night Vision System. All that remained was to ride the jungle penetrator up to the MV22 and freedom.

Each rocket projectile has a small metal disk at its base presumably to help protect the percussion cap.

This civilian Orion plastic flare pistol runs about $50 from our local Wal-Mart. The Gyrojet rocket flare kit is military grade.

The A/P25S-5AFoliage-Penetrating Gyrojet Signal Kit comes with a cartoon set of instructions that explains the basics of operation.

Origin Story

Robert Mainhardt and Art Biehl formed a partnership in the early 1960’s to explore a radical new concept in firearms. Biehl and Mainhardt proposed that a handheld rocket launcher could be feasibly produced that would provide better penetration than a conventional bullet with minimal recoil. Originally built in .51-caliber, these revolutionary weapons were called Gyrojets.

In 1962 these two men enlisted Nick Minchakievich to help improve the stability of their projectiles. Nick’s first versions employed retractable fins that were effective but unduly expensive to produce. Initial proposals included pistol, carbine, rifle, and light machinegun variants. The largest diameter rockets tested were 20mm.

Minchakievich ultimately addressed the rocket’s inaccuracy by boring the efflux ports in the base of each round at an angle. Two ports pushing comparable amounts of high-speed gas tended to cause the rounds to spin tightly about their axis, greatly enhancing their accuracy. This method of manufacture was also more economically practical than incorporating a set of spring-loaded fins on each round.

The Gyrojet’s greatest assets were also its greatest liabilities. The solid fuel propellant was hydrophilic. This meant that even scant amounts of moisture tended to deactivate the material and cause misfires. Early versions of the repeater launchers were also unreliable and inaccurate. The very nature of a rocket gun was also such that the round took time to accelerate. While these projectiles ultimately produced a respectable velocity of around 1,250 feet per second, they took about thirty feet to get there. If your target was close to the muzzle he was generally safe.


14-16) Modern tactical rotorcraft are immensely capable combat tools. Ex-quisitely well executed and profoundly expensive, these machines bring unprece-dented capabilities to military commanders.

Salesmanship

The 1960’s were heady times in America. The space program was in full swing, and the nation was ripe for a new firearm that looked like it stepped out of a science fiction serial. With stars in their eyes over potentially lucrative government contracts, the fathers of the Gyrojet peddled their wares to the US military.

The military was ramping up for Vietnam during this time and felt that this would be a come-as-you-are war. With no measurable benefit above conventional firearms, the Army and Air Force soon lost interest in the novel little weapons. Frustrated with their inability to market their wares conventionally, the Gyrojet Company reached out to Hollywood.

Gyrojets on the Big Screen

James Bond seemed the logical recipient of the most advanced rocket gun on the planet. In You Only Live Twice, the fifth installment of the fabulously successful series, Bond’s ninja support team is armed with Gyrojet rocket rifles. They use these guns to dispatch Spectre agents with vigor.

Nick Minchakievich approached Gene Roddenberry about including Gyrojet rocket guns in his radical new science fiction TV series Star Trek. Though he was enamored with the concept, Roddenberry felt that the crew of the Enterprise should be armed with a ray gun rather than a rocket pistol. However, had things gone just a bit differently Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock might have explored their strange new worlds with Gyrojet rocket pistols dangling from their belts instead of the more familiar phasers.

Performance

Typical Gyrojet projectiles possessed about twice the kinetic energy at their maximum velocity of a standard .45ACP round. However, at the apogee of their development Gyrojet rocket guns could still only boast about 17 MOA accuracy. This equated out to about 4.5 inches at 25 yards.

About 1,000 Gyrojet rocket pistols were produced during the course of the production run. These lightweight zinc alloy guns were about the same size as a 1911 yet weighed a mere 22 ounces. These pistols featured an internal magazine that had to be tediously reloaded from the top one round at a time.

Gyrojet rocket guns came in a variety of flavors. These are two of the long gun sorts.

The Gyrojet Finds Its Mission

The real problem with the Gyrojet rested in the fact that it simply did not offer a substantial improvement over conventional firearms. Gyrojet weapons were less accurate, less robust, and less convenient than comparable firearms of similar dimensions. However, where the concept truly excelled was in the field of survival flares.

The A/P25S-5AFoliage-Penetrating Gyrojet Signal Kit consists of a pen-sized launcher and a plastic bandoleer containing seven rounds of rocket ammunition. Flares are available in red, blue, white, and green. The bandoleer and launcher are typically tied together with a length of nylon lanyard. All of the flares I encountered while on active duty were red.

To operate the device one would simply extract a flare round from the bandoleer and insert it butt-down into the open end of the turned aluminum launcher. There is a small disposable metal disk that rides underneath each round in the bandoleer presumably to protect the primer from the inadvertent ignition. The flare is held in place by friction driven by a small spring-steel collet.

An Army Aviator’s survival gear is typically just baggage until you need it. At that point this gear can mean the difference between life and death.

To fire the gun you simply point the launcher upward, manually retract the striker knob, and release it. The striker rides forward under spring pressure to ignite the cap in the base of the flare. There is no trigger or lock position for the striker. You just pull it back and let it go. There is also no manual safety.

Unencumbered the flare will rise about 1,500 feet. When fired through overhead foliage the little rocket will tend to bounce from limb to limb yet still follow a generally upward path. I have fired these flares through modestly heavy spruce trees and found them to do a surprisingly good job of penetrating light foliage. Total burn time is 9 seconds, and the flare produces about 2,500 lumens. While not quite silent the flares don’t make a great deal of noise when fired.

The flares are indeed brilliant in the dark and fairly easily acquired in bright daylight. Military manuals list the signal as being visible for three miles in bright daylight and ten miles at night. The entire apparatus is adequately robust and quite lightweight. They always rode in an inside pocket of our SRU-21/P survival vests with the flare bandoleer toward the skin. In this configuration, the vest remained comfortable even during vigorous movement.

Though I never directed one of these pen flares toward a terrestrial target, they would seem intuitively nasty though inaccurate on the receiving end. The lack of a barrel of any sort would make them an area weapon at best. Our instructors in survival school did caution us vigorously regarding the dangers of discharging these devices and counseled us to treat them like the weapons they were.

Ruminations

The Gyrojet is little more than a footnote to the evolutionary arc of military firearms over the past century. Brilliantly conceived yet fatally flawed, the Gyrojet lacked the performance to compete with contemporary conventional firearms in either handgun, rifle, or light machinegun roles. Had it not been of the unconventional application of this technology as a survival tool the Gyrojet would be all but unknown today.

First introduced operationally in 1970 and ably serving downrange even today, the Gyrojet pen flare kit is compact, lightweight, and effective. In this guise, military aviators have undoubtedly consumed untold thousands of these clever little rockets in the forty years that the device has been in service. For this particularly unique application, nothing else can really compare to the radical effectiveness of the Gyrojet rocket gun.

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About the author: Will Dabbs was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, having been immersed in hunting and the outdoors since his earliest recollections. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi and is the product of a traditional American nuclear family. Where most normal American kids get drunk to celebrate their 21st birthday, Will bought his first two machineguns. Will served eight years as an Army Aviator and accumulated more than 1,100 flight hours piloting CH47D, UH1H, OH58A/C, and AH1S helicopters. He is scuba qualified, has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning, and has summited Mt. McKinley, Alaska–the highest point in North America–six times (at the controls of a helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains). For reasons that seemed sagacious at the time he ultimately left the Army as a Major to pursue medical school. Dr. Dabbs has for the last dozen years owned the Urgent Care Clinic of Oxford, Mississippi. He also serves as the plant physician for the sprawling Winchester ammunition plant in that same delightful little Southern town. Will is a founding partner of Advanced Tactical Ordnance LLC, a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturer and has written for the gun press for a quarter century. He writes solely to support a shooting habit that is as insensate as it is insatiable. Will has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than thirty years and has taught his Young Married Sunday School class for more than a decade. He and his wife currently have three adult children and a most thoroughly worthless farm dog named Dog.

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Brian Kelsay February 13, 2018, 9:47 am

    I clicked on the article as a long-time sci-fi buff. I recall old stories by Robert Heinlein from the 50s and 60s and other authors up through the 80s where this futuristic weapon was light and accurate. I would be interested to see, with our modern manufacturing and propellants if we couldn’t make this a more effective weapon at slightly closer ranges and more accurate at further ranges. I always imagined it as a cartridge that could strike easily up to a half mile.

  • Jesse Cole February 11, 2018, 6:02 pm

    I for one, enjoyed your story. I immediately clicked on this write up as soon as I saw “gyrojet” in the title because I just recently read an article in American Rifleman about the various improvised, special weapon systems used in Vietnam by a highly covert US Military unit called, MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam – Studies & Opservations Group). Some examples being, the golf ball sized “V-40” mini grenade; various exploding-projectile weapons; a field modified “compact” M60 & a 500rnd backpack drum & a flexible feed belt (the kind used on aircraft), etc.
    Anyway, one of the weapons mentioned in the column dedicated to suppressed pistols used by this unit, was the “13mm Gyrojet Rocket Pistol”, made of plastic & stamped steel. Not much was said about any specific instances where it was used, only that despite it being slow to reload & having limited accuracy, the gyrojet pistol did in fact see combat action w/this Spec.Ops unit in the jungles of Vietnam.
    But, now I know that it has been, & still is being employed during search & rescue ops. & that is does a damn good job for assisting in locating downed pilots. Plus, I’m happy to see ,IMO, a really cool piece of gear find its place in real life military operations.
    Great write up. Semper Fidelis.

  • BRASS February 5, 2018, 7:45 pm

    Visually this reminds me of the pencil flare kits I used to carry in my aviation survival vest while a Marine. A pencil type flare gun to launch a what looked like threaded .38 S&W Special wad cutter ammo (it wasn’t of course but the resemblance led to that description years before I first heard it), the cartridges and gun held in a red plastic case with a lanyard.

  • Fred gasparino February 5, 2018, 1:28 pm

    I’m curious of the context of the first part of the article, IE was this an excerpt from a book, a short story, or just your ramblings as an intro to the Gyrojet.

    • Will February 5, 2018, 11:19 pm

      The intro is just my ramblings. Gun writing could hardly pass for work, but short stories of this sort are pure recreation.

  • Thomas Gaffey February 5, 2018, 12:10 pm

    MBA, (the name of the company) operated on an old missile base in the mountains east of San Francisco and produced much more than the GyroJet. During Vietnam they also produced perimeter defense devices and chaff rounds for the ALE-38 chaff dispensing jet. Basically everything they made had a rocket in it. They also made the cigarette rocket Bond used in the movie. They may have cured the ballistic problems, at one test firing of a .50 mg they almost blew out the back of the test range. My father-in-law worked for them for some years in design.

  • MAB32 February 5, 2018, 12:03 pm

    The A/P25S-5A only came in one color (red). The only ones that came in different colors were the Mk-79 flares. The Mk-79\’s came also in a 7-pack with one launcher and 7 flares. These flares could come in a pack of all white, all red, or a mixture of 3-red, 2-white, and 2-green. The Mk-79 has been around since the 1960\’s until eventually being phased out in favor for the A/P25S-5A during the late 1960\’s, at least for the Army and Air Force. It seems that the Mk-79\’s have made a certain come back during the Iraq/Afghanistan war and used for slowing vehicles down approaching checkpoints as a warning. Just FYI, the Mk-79 series of flares can only reach a height of approximately 200-250 feet. The only thing that I am not sure of at this moment is if the Marine/Navy pilots are still using the Mk-79\’s or have switched to the A/P25S-5A. As of a few years ago they were still using the Mk-79\’s.Mike
    I\’ve been collecting Aviation Life Support\” equipment and kits for over 40+ years now. If anybody has any questions or comments please feel free to send them to me.

  • MAB32 February 5, 2018, 12:00 pm

    The A/P25S-5A only came in one color (red). The only ones that came in different colors were the Mk-79 flares. The Mk-79’s came also in a 7-pack with one launcher and 7 flares. These flares could come in a pack of all white, all red, or a mixture of 3-red, 2-white, and 2-green. The Mk-79 has been around since the 1960’s until eventually being phased out in favor for the A/P25S-5A during the late 1960’s, at least for the Army and Air Force. It seems that the Mk-79’s have made a certain come back during the Iraq/Afghanistan war and used for slowing vehicles down approaching checkpoints as a warning. Just FYI, the Mk-79 series of flares can only reach a height of approximately 200-250 feet. The only thing that I am not sure of at this moment is if the Marine/Navy pilots are still using the Mk-79’s or have switched to the A/P25S-5A. As of a few years ago they were still using the Mk-79’s.

    Mike
    I’ve been collecting Aviation Life Support” equipment and kits for over 40+ years now. If anybody has any questions or comments please feel free to send them to me.

  • Norm Fishler February 5, 2018, 11:47 am

    I have several, and no, they are absolutely not for sale. One is attached to a small, canteen sized medical kit that I bought at a gun show in Puyallup, WA for $10.00, probably 30 years ago. I found the Gyro Jet flare projector about five years ago at a gun show here in NM and added it to its correct place on the outside on the kit. I have another one that I also purchased in Washington. Both flare projectors have a full compliment of flares in that plastic holder.

  • bill February 5, 2018, 10:45 am

    Nice story but are they for sale? I look to these emails for updated information about new or at lease available to the public weapons systems. While the story was entertaining it did not give any current information on this item. It was disappointing…

    • JoshO February 5, 2018, 12:19 pm

      You’re a moron, Bill.

      • Oaf February 5, 2018, 1:37 pm

        Wouldn’t be a GA comment section without someone whining about something or other, or bragging that HIS gun/doohickey/ammo/capacity was bigger, better, and badder than whatever the article was about or a snide, rude comment about Clay’s manly physique and intelligence!

  • Dan White February 5, 2018, 9:42 am

    Good story and information. Thanks.

  • Phil February 5, 2018, 8:15 am

    “Gyrojet pen flare kit” How does the ATF currently classify the thing? As a retired Army Aviator I would like to have a setup but from indications it is classified as a Destructive Device and requires a tax to be paid to possess one. I do have a SRU-21 (P) with mostly all original equipment except for .38 tracer and the pen flare. I did carry one with me while flying the AH-1G Cobra during the VN conflict. We also carried them as Standard Equipment in the SRU-21 during all tactical operations in choppers when I was on active duty 1969 – 1991. During demonstrations of the pen flare during training we never had any malfunctions. We also thought that in dire situation it could be used as an anti personnel weapon with high success.

  • Red February 5, 2018, 7:32 am

    I know this is firearms oriented publication but just as an FYI, the single most successful aid to locating our downed folks is the signal mirror.

  • akjc77 February 5, 2018, 6:55 am

    While I wouldn’t recommend adding a story to most reviews, when talking about historical objects and firearms I loved the authors story and technical descriptions !! I literally felt like I was in a Vietnamese jungle eluding gooks! 🤘🏻

  • ERIC jones February 5, 2018, 5:56 am

    I had a presentation one of theses in a wooden cas with 6 rnds. Was a sweet firearm.

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