“Triggers: Weapons that Changed the World” premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on the Military Channel. It’s a show made for gun nuts with a special interest in military hardware, which describes more than a few of you readers.
Each episode focuses on the evolution of a class of weapon–handguns, rifles, machineguns and so on. It’s very much a hands-on program: host Wil Willis assures me that he and his guest experts shoot every weapon they talk about on the show, ranging from the obscure to the iconic to the just plain big. Along the way they evaluate the guns for accuracy, power and other crucial attributes of a combat arm.
Willis took time to answer a few of my questions about the show, beginning with his own military background.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your own interest with and experience with weapons of all kinds.
A: I was born into a military family in 1975 and lived on military bases until my father’s retirement in 1991. My brother joined the army and served in the first Gulf War, and I joined after I graduated from high school in 1993. I served in the Army’s 3rd Ranger Battalion on active duty from October, 1993 until February, 1998, then in active duty as an Air Force Pararescueman from June, 1998 until March, 2007; and I performed one year of reserve duty with the Air Force from August, 2007 to August, 2008. I learned how to employ weapon systems that ranged from the 9mm Beretta, to the M240G machine gun, to the 60mm mortar, to the STINGER missile system.
I loved the services for different reasons. I can never replace the camaraderie and ground tactical training that I had in the Ranger Battalion. But, I loved the job of being a Pararescue Jumper. The search and rescue aspect of the mission really appealed to me as did the advanced training such as military free fall, scuba and National Registry Paramedic certification.
Q: What kind of tests do you run on the weapons in the show to see which is “best in its class?”
A: The tests vary from show to show, just know that we shoot every gun we talk about.
Q: How do you test accuracy, reliability and stopping power/lethality?
A: Accuracy is a hard thing to test because often the weapon’s capabilities are limited by the competency of the shooter. The best that we can do is allow me to shoot the weapons and then make a determination of which is more accurate and why. Malfunctions during our test and historical testimony become the basis for our evaluations of reliability. We measure stopping power and lethality in a variety of ways, using everything from ballistic gel torsos, to coconuts, to cars, to test the penetration power of the weapons.
Q: What was the biggest surprise to you in testing the weapons used in Triggers?
A: We fired an AT4 CS-TW shoulder mounted rocket inside of a 10’x10′ building. Typically the standoff behind the standard AT4 weapon system is 60 meters due to the extreme back blast and concussion. It was amazing.
Q: Did you find any famous weapons to be overrated?
A: The most overrated wasn’t necessarily a gun, but the platform from which the weapon was employed. I didn’t care for the MP5 in the suitcase configuration. Cool concept, not at all practical.
Q: Let’s talk about the 1911 since this is its 100th anniversary and handguns–with an emphasis on the 1911–are the subject of the first episode. What did you discover during your testing of the 1911 for Triggers that explains the gun’s longevity?
A: The 1911 is simple. It’s tough. It’s sexy. It feels good in your mitts. The action is smooth and easy to control. It is accurate and powerful. It’s a semi automatic which means that is rechambers and recocks the next round for you. When empty, the slide locks to the rear to facilitate a rapid reload. The magazines concept is an evolution that persists to this day. The 1911 is STILL used by military forces today because it is without question BAD ASS!
Q: What’s the biggest gun you test on Triggers?
A: The M777 Paladin is the biggest weapon that we cover this season. It is actually a self propelled artillery piece that fires rounds weighing 98lbs each!
Q: Which is the most unusual?
A: Some of the more unusual weapons we tested were pistols like the duck foot which had three barrels that all fire simultaneously with the squeeze of a single Trigger. The Swedish leather cannon [a light artillery piece made during the 30 Years War using a thin barrel tube wound with leather straps to reinforce it] we fired was actually a historical event. No one had actually ever shot live ammunition from one on U.S. soil. So we not only explore history on the show we’re making some too.