LOS ANGELES — Ammunition used by duck hunters may become the newest weapon in the fight against terrorists on airliners. Bismuth Cartridge Co. has a bullet it says can bring down the bad guys but not the planes.
Armed federal sky marshals protecting passengers aboard commercial aircraft may someday be forced to fire their weapons, leading to fears bullets could penetrate the fuselage.
Bismuth bullets have the same stopping power and ballistic characteristics as lead, but disintegrate into the consistency of talcum powder when they hit a solid surface of some substance, like an airplane fuselage, concrete floor or metal target.
“What was originally designed to aid duck hunters may now become one of the newest weapons in the worldwide fight against terrorism,” Bismuth President Ken Elliott said. “We feel this is the ideal ammunition for use in high-risk environments.”
Bullets made of bismuth, a material similar in weight to lead, were developed in the early 1990s as an alternative to steel pellets after the federal government banned environmentally unfriendly lead shot for hunting water fowl.
Publishing magnate Robert E. Peterson, an avid hunter, acquired the patents for making the shotgun shells and Bismuth started working on the pistol bullets about 18 months ago. A rifle bullet is also planned.
Bismuth ammo is well-suited for close-quarters combat, like what could occur on a hijacked aircraft, Elliott said. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is currently testing it.
Bismuth is conducting its own tests to refine the bullet to see whether it can be made to break apart even faster than it does now. It then plans to show it to the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs the air marshal program.
“There are a number of issues and remedies that the civilian population has to offer the government. This is another that may work out and certainly (Bismuth) can follow the protocols for that,” FAA spokesman Jerry Snyder said.