Girardoni Air Rifle (Video)

The Girardoni (also spelled Girandoni) air rifle was a very advanced design adopted in 1780 by the Austrian Army. While the standard arm of the day was a single-shot flintlock, the Girardoni offered a massive firepower advantage to the men who carried it. The guns (designed by Bartholomäus Girardoni, of Vienna) had a magazine capacity of 22 round balls, which could all be fired within 60 seconds. The balls were .46 caliber, weighing approximately 153 grains, and were propelled at 400-450 feet per second. They were rumored to be silent, but actually had a loud report (although quieter than gunpowder firearms). One of these rifles was carried by the Lewis & Clark expedition into the American West.

The Austrian Army used them for a relatively short time – they were taken out of service by Imperial order in 1788, and issued back to Tyrolian sniper units only in 1792. The reasons for their replacement were more logistical than the result of any actual shortcoming with Girardoni’s design. The problem was that they required special training to use (compared to a normal firearm), required specially trained and equipped gunsmiths to repair and maintain, and difficulty maintaining them in combat conditions. Dr. Robert Beeman has written an outstanding illustrated article on Austrian airguns in general and the Girardoni in particular, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in more detail on these fascinating weapons: Austrian Large Bore Airguns – Girandoni style air rifles and pistols – preliminary research presentation

However, I am privileged to be able to share with you a video of an original 1780 Girardoni put together by Luke Haag for presentation at the 2014 AFTE conference in Seattle. Mr. Haag does a great job explaining the operation of the gun, its capabilities and accessories:


  1. Also note that the gun was smokeless, not because it used smokeless powder but don’t use powder at all, so the rifleman using this gun were harder to spot and have not problem with aiming at enemy caused by cloud of burned black powder.
    Also note the Zalinski dynamite gun which also was airgun but much bigger. The Zalinski gun were designed to utilize shells filled with HE which were too sensitive to be used in classic gun.

  2. I was amazed at how old pre-charged pneumatics are, long before we had electric motor driven compressors.

  3. Very impressive kit. I’ve always had a slight fascination for the Girardoni air rifle. It seems ahead of its time in a lot of ways and I wonder what could have happened if they had continued using it and improving upon the design.

  4. This gun was hated by Napoleon, IIRC he ordered to execute anybody captured with one of them after having a ”incident” with one a those shooter killing somebody very closely to him.
    The Austrians have a lot of special light infantry, the most common the Grenzers, especially formed to fight Balkan-type wars against the Turks, they used some double barrelled musket, one of the barrels was rifled for long range sniping. A very interesting weapon for his time.

  5. So in a time when 4 shots a minute is considered fast shooting, here comes the Austrian army with something that fires 5 or 6 times that amount! I don’t know if the 400 feet p/s is comparable to a standard musket of the day and I don’t know what the reach of these rifles was, but replacing them seems not a smart move.

    • That muzzle velocity is comparable to a modern paintball gun or a black powder derringer, and a little less than half that of muskets of the era. I can see why it would be considered inadequate for service in the line of battle back in the day, but it certainly seems like it would have been a worthwhile specialty sniper weapon. I can only imagine that it might have been dropped even for that role because sniping and stealthy warfare were viewed as morally ambiguous in the 18th century.

      • They were mostly dropped for being expensive and a pain in the rear. Just because a weapon is superior on its own doesn’t mean you can outfit an army with them – and a battalion armed with the state-of-the-art would pale in comparison to an army armed with the good enough.

    • Here’s the comparison;

      Typical musket (British Brown Bess, .75 cal., Long Land Service version, c.1720-1760)

      Bullet; 490-grain round ball
      Charge; ~50 grains black powder
      Muzzle velocity; 600 feet per second
      Muzzle energy; ~390 foot-pounds
      Rate of fire; 2 to 3 rounds per minute

      The Brown Bess, IOW, had about the hitting power of a hot .45 ACP or 9x19mm pistol load of today.

      Girandoni Air Rifle

      Bullet; 153-grain round ball
      Charge; air at 800 PSI
      Muzzle Velocity; 450 feet per second (best case)
      Muzzle energy;~69 foot-pounds
      Rate of Fire; 5 to 6 rounds per minute

      The air rifle hit about like a .25 ACP or .22 Short(the latter from a rifle), in the KE department.

      The air rifle had roughly twice the rate of fire of a musket, and a longer accurate range due to being a rifle. Call it 100 yards compared to 50 or so.

      Keep in mind that muskets in the battle line were pointed, not aimed; the order was “Ready, Level, (Right or Left Oblique), Fire!” The air rifle was issued to marksmen who, it may be assumed, were trained to actually aim at a single target.

      The air rifle was a low-powered weapon, even by the standards of the day; frankly, most issue single-shot flintlock pistols hit harder. They fired musket-sized balls at around 400 FPS with a “half” or “bled” musket charge; that still yields about 175 FPE, or about the energy of a .38 S&W with a 146 grain bullet, circa WW2. the air rifle was a wounder, and with a hit in the right place would certainly kill, but a “stopper” it was not.

      For a comparison, let’s look at the British Ferguson breechloading rifle, .702 caliber;

      Bullet; 450-grain round ball
      Charge; ~55 grains black powder
      Muzzle velocity; 750 feet per second
      Muzzle energy; ~560 foot-pounds

      That’s about the ME of a hot .357 Magnum revolver load, or a medium-velocity .44 Magnum load. We are up in serious “stopping” territory, on a man-sized target, here.

      And as seen in the video, the air rifle wasn’t even “silent”; it had a loud and distinct “crack” when it fired. So forget use as a “suppressed weapon”.

      So, what good was it on a battlefield?

      Not much, really. Except, in the hands of a marksman deployed as a skirmisher ahead of, or on the flank of, your battle line, it could be an effective way of targeting officers and noncoms as the attack was thrown in. Officers on horseback made very conspicuous targets, and noncoms were quite visible as well, usually interspersed along the enemy firing line.

      Kill them as your attack went in, and you stood a good chance of disrupting the enemy’s command and control at the worst possible time- for him.

      Note that the range would be short (under 100 yards), and the “crack” of the air rifle firing would be lost in the general tumult of the musketry going off.

      The French revolutionary armies used riflemen (with “orthodox” muzzle-loading flintlocks) in just this way. Known as francs-tireurs, they could “maneuver as they saw fit, advance or retreat as needed, and once they had induced maximum confusion in the enemy’s ranks, the mass of men behind them would roll right over them”. (Connections, by James Burke.)

      The air rifle would be a logical weapon for such “free shooters”. Keep in mind that with its higher-than-average rate of fire, if the first round didn’t kill the Colonel, you could always shoot him again. And you didn’t have a big cloud of powder smoke saying “Here I Am, Shoot Me!”

      I’d heard that the story about the death sentence for Austrian snipers caught with one of these was a myth, but I can see why Napoleon might have been a bit worried about these. He’d have been a prime target for an Austrian “scout/sniper” armed with one.


      Hogg, Ian. Guns And How They Work. London; Marshall Cavendish, 1979

      Ramage, C. K. (ed.) Lyman Black Powder Handbook. Middlefield, CT; Lyman, 1975

      Burke, James. Connections. New York; Little, Brown & Co., 1978.



      • These:
        Bullet; 153-grain round ball
        Charge; air at 800 PSI
        Muzzle Velocity; 450 feet per second (best case)
        Muzzle energy;~69 foot-pounds
        Rate of Fire; 5 to 6 rounds per minute
        ballistic data makes a questionable sniping rifle from Girardoni. Low muzzle velocity makes bullet sensitive for wind and time of travel is long. And also I suspect than MV can vary depending on that the air tank is full, half-full or almost empty, which makes sniping even harder.

        • All true. But we’re talking about short-range ambush sniping, not long-range work. The Austrian skirmishers would likely have been working from any available cover; the French ones did the same.

          It’s roughly the same way VC ambushers “bounced” U.S./ARVN patrols in the A Shau Valley, except that they’d be doing it in the middle of a Waterloo-style field battle.

          In a situation like that, at ranges under 100 yards, the confusion works for the skirmisher, especially if he has a weapon that’s the tech-level equivalent of a submachine gun. Firepower vs. hitting power, not that any weapon of the time was a barn-burner in the muzzle-energy department.



      • Not powerful enough then basically, would it have been better in say .25 cal more velocity, better penetration, with less “umph” but there’s a limited amount of “umph” available from 800 psi presumably…

      • Re: The febrile ft-lbs of the air-rifle in the video, it’s worth noting that Beeman quotes significantly more energy from other Girandoni rifles. For example:

        “Larry Hannusch (personal communication, Nov. 27, 2002) reported that he has fired his own large bore Girandoni-system rifle (by Lowentz) producing 200 ft lbs. muzzle energy at 750 psi pressure, but that a muzzle energy of up to 150 ft. lbs. would be more typical at conservative pressures.”

        Although Beeman quotes several other Girandonis that run at 200 ft-lbs or higher, I suspect that velocity might vary pretty wildly from gun to gun. (As it does today, according to No doubt age and wear affect velocities significantly too, so brand new 1780s-issue rifles might have been rather more powerful.

        • What does the “febrile” mean, in regards ft-lbs. Or is febrile a word in itself, out of interest Mick? I know, 12ft lbs is the legal limit for airguns in the U.K but I know a .177 spring is more powerful than a .22’s but it’s not, because the pellets not as big or something i.e. The same spring in the .22 makes it over 12ft lbs… Is that not relevant? He he, er from 800psi would a .25 cal ball and a .46 cal ball not have the same ft lbs thing, lost myself. In regards what your saying, do you mean the rifling might have worn down or something so air escapes?

          • Sorry, perhaps “feeble” would be more apt. I meant “febrile” as in sickly and weak; something not up to the task. (My dictionary tells me it technically means “feverish”, so perhaps I should stop misusing it…)

            Re: energy levels, (from my very basic understanding,) when measuring ft-lbs, the velocity has more of a bearing on the result than bullet weight. So if you used exactly the same powder charge to launch, say, one 115 grain 9mm bullet and one 147 grain 9mm bullet, the 115 grain would have more ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle, simply because it’s going significantly faster. Hence why 9mm NATO ammunition usually has more energy at the muzzle than standard .45 ACP, despite the larger calibre burning more powder to launch its bigger, slower projectile. I’m sure someone on here will be able to explain it better or correct me if I’m wrong.

            Re: parts wear, yes, a looser fit between ball and bore is going to be one factor. As is that sliding breech-block, which is bound to cause air leakage where it wears. I should imagine any corrosion in the channel between reservoir and chamber is going to restrict airflow too. And although it’s a relatively low-powered arm, that brass frame is going to stretch eventually.

          • Yes it does appear a bit feeble Mick in comparison to gunpowder, within the constraints of the space available i.e. Say a entire bottle per shot, as oppose the powder required to match that velocity type thing, that was probably the downfall of the military airgun.

  6. A fascinating and most interesting article leading to yet more interesting commentary from knowledgeable FW contributors. I take it that the Dr. Beeman in question is the very same “Beeman”, along with his wife Toshiko, of air rifle fame?

    I won’t belabor the point, but, speaking of Lewis & Clark, here is a great link to get us started on the long road to at least one major branch of the discussion on this subject if we choose to pursue it — by Frederick J. Chiaventone.

    From this thread, it isn’t too difficult to expand into and explore in detail a much-forgotten part of firearms history. Incredibly fascinating historical stuff that sometimes boggles the mind. Hope all will get to enjoy this wonderful aspect of our collective interest!

  7. Hey, boyz, a very interesting weapon, I am half-austrian and did not know it exhisted… hi
    Anyway Austrians are renomated to have some genius solutions in fire-arms but you can tell by the name, this invention was another ITALIAN brother to Leonardo da Vinci hi hi.
    Also, still recalling the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire and knowing it’s not a forgotten weapon because it is very recent, will you ever bring the Hungarian Gepard .50 recoiling barrel
    heavy rifle to yr test-field ?
    Ciao, thanx for all you do to improve our knowledge of fire-arms history

  8. I have a question. Why are my tax dollars paying for the redundant parasitic goons at the ATFE to learn about 250 year old air rifles. Don’t get me wrong I understand why they would want to learn about cool weapons I just don’t understand why I have to send them to Seattle in order to do it. As government waste goes I guess that’s small potatoes but still ticks me off. If im missing something here feel free to tell me.

    • AFTE has nothing to do with BATFE (notice the different order of letters). The name comes from Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examination, in other words it’s a forensics association which as law enforcement and civilian members from all over the US. Go to to see yourself.

  9. That’s a really cool design for 1780, and it’s super that chap still has one. Did the bullet magazine/loading mechanism not end up being used in a flintlock of some sort out of interest?

  10. I see that now Euroweasal. They should really change that name and thanks for the correction. It makes since now.

  11. without my knowledge an order for a girondi air rifle was placed on my Visa card last evening. Furthermore I have no need of one and would ask you do do everything possible to cancel it at once. I intended to buy a tee shirt. My e-mail is: Sincerely, Dick Guillemin

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