I’d like to tell you a story about a man named Rob Furlong. Mr. Furlong is a Canadian, formerly of Her Majesty’s 3rd Battallion (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry) Furlong’s job with the Canadian military was one that most of us (okay, mostly us guys) would think was kind of cool.
Rob Furlong was a sniper.
Well, not just a sniper. It turns out that Furlong was THE sniper. In 2002, he set a record for the longest confirmed combat kill, at 2,657 yards (2,430 meters). Coincidentally (or not), the previous record holder, Master Corporal Aron Perry, was on Furlong’s team. (Must be something in the poutine.) By the way, Furlong’s record was broken in 2009 by British sniper Craig Harrison. Perhaps afternoon tea trumps poutine.
What does this have to do with math? Well, if we take our education about snipers from popular culture, Furlong and his companions are some kind of Jedi Master/Zen Monk types who rely on mystical instincts to hold a stick very steadily for a long time.
Not so much.
Consider gravity. Over 2,657 yards, Furlong knew his bullet was going to drop almost 300 feet so he had to aim high. Wind resistance? Check, adjust for that. By the way, what’s the temperature out? Turns out that gunpowder burns at different rates at different temperatures. Speaking of air, how high above sea level are we? I only ask because the bullet travels farther in the thinner air at higher altitudes. Also, what direction are you facing? If your target is to the east, you’ll have to aim a bit lower, due to the Coriolis Effect.
In other words, Rob Furlong is a highly trained mathematician who can kill you from over one and a half miles away.