Recoilless rifles, aren't.
— Rule #2, Murphy's Law of Combat Operations
In the world of fiction, rocket-propelled weaponry create negligible, if any, backblast. The characters shown using such weapons are thus able to use rocket launchers with their backs to a wall or within an enclosed space; as if the rocket just levitates away instead of being accelerated by the thrust of a strong jet.
In Real Life
, if you fire a recoilless rifle or rocket launcher in an enclosed space it will create so much pressure that you have a high chance of being killed by it. Additionally, firing them with your back to a wall will result in the hot rocket exhaust being deflected back at you and severely burning or possibly killing you. Not to mention that standing immediately behind them will result in grievous injury or death. And then there's the fact that the huge flash of flame and cloud of smoke coming out of the back of the weapon (and maybe even a big black triangular scorch mark on the ground behind you, pointing directly at you, depending on the weapon and the terrain) will probably be highly visible to anyone looking in your direction, no matter how well camouflaged you were a moment ago, so you will gain the immediate, sincere, and complete attention of everyone on the battlefield.
Note however, that this does not apply to all recoilless weapons: there are some rocket launchers which utilize some kind of "soft launch" to eject the rocket from tube before firing the motor. Others may utilize counterweight or frangible material that counterbalances the effect of recoil and/or reduces the effect of backblast. Nevertheless, many contemporary and most past rocket launchers or recoilless rifles lack these sort of features, and among their number are those that are most often portrayed in media.
See the Law of Inverse Recoil
for a related weapons trope and Toasted Buns
for another trope involving missing rocket exhaust. Real Life
aversions may be related to Too Dumb to Live
This trope is so common that only aversions and subversions should be listed.
Aversions and Subversions:
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Anime and Manga
- Averted in Mobile Suit Gundam when a civilian helping to fire malfunctioning missiles from an aircraft doesn't realize she needs to get out of the way after setting them off and is blown out of the plane.
- Averted in Katekyo Hitman Reborn! when Tsuna finds that firing his X-Burner without firing a blast of equal force backwards at the right angle produces a very violent recoil.
- Averted in Pokémon of all places. An early Johto episode had Jessie and James steal the Mon of the Week (Donphan) with what appeared to be a shoulder-fired net. It had a backblast.
- Averted in Gate, where a soldier attacking a dragon with a Panzerfaust actually checks to make sure nobody is behind him before firing. One of the peasants witnessing the fight mistakes his attack for a magic spell: "Bakblast Clir".
- Averted in the first issue of Transmetropolitan, Spider destroys his local bar with an RPG, then complains bitterly about how cold the inside of his car is since crude rocketry took out the passenger side window.
- Subversion: Back when long-running furry anthology Furrlough was still military-themed, there was a one-page comic called Recoilless. A pair of soldiers are retraicing their steps to find a missing rocket launcher and find it in the hands of an enemy squad, who are attempting to figure out how to use it. They load the gun and fire it, only to have the backblast kill the three soldiers standing behind the firing enemy soldier. The soldier's commander yells at him for apparently firing the gun wrong, and then has the soldier turn the rocket launcher around. Certain that they've now figured out how to fire their new toy, the enemy soldier's two commanding officers proudly step back to watch it fire... and are promptly blown up by the firing missile. The last remaining enemy soldier, seeing the carnage behind him, quietly sets the launcher down and sneaks away.
- Averted in the Mass Effect fanfiction Mass Effect Interregnum. One of the stories Garrus tells Sidonis is about the time C-Sec investigated the murder of an elcor, blown out of a tower by a rocket launcher. As Garrus points out, however, "an elcor weighs an awful lot, and that means you need a big, big gun to launch one out of a window"... leaving only a handful of smoking remains of the killer behind.
- In Tiberium Wars, the notes on the GDI Hammerhead mention that it had to be engineered to channel the backblast from missile launchers in order to have missile teams fire out of it - which also means that a Hammerhead gunship carrying a missile team that fires out of the compartments on board cannot have anyone else in the passenger compartment of the gunship. At several points in the story characters also have to make sure their backs are clear so they can fire missile launchers.
- Averted in The Enforcer. There is a military demonstration of a LAW rocket, and rookie Inspector Moore is trying to see what it does by standing behind the shooter. Dirty Harry grabs her by the collar and pulls her back in time; afterwards there is a huge scorch mark on the berm where she would have been in the way, behind the shooter who did not experience any recoil effect.
- A variant in Transformers Revenge of The Fallen has Optimus brace himself then, using the donated parts of Jetfire as flying Powered Armor, uses the backblast of his thrusters to blast Megatron through a wall in some Egyptian ruins. Megatron is effectively out of the fight after this in combination with getting his face shot off and arm torn off.
- Played with in the German anti-war movie Die Brücke. When one of the boys charged with defending a (tactically actually meaningless) bridge during the last days of WW2 fires his Panzerfaust at an American tank from inside a house, he isn't adversely affected and is even momentarily jubilant about his success. Then he turns back towards the elderly owner of the building who was protesting from behind him only moments ago... In the remake, the old civilian isn't there, but he does set the house on fire.
- True Lies had a brief moment of realism when one of the terrorists fires a Stinger shoulder-fired anti-air missile from a moving panel truck, causing the terrorist behind him to fly out of the front windshield thanks to the backblast. The terrorist that was launched out the windshield is then accidentally run over by the truck.
- The moment of reality can be doubted: Stingers are launched out of their tubes by a relatively small ejector motor before the rocket engine ignites. That's not to say they have no backblast, however — it's still generating enough force to eject a twenty-pound missile to a safe ignition distance.
- Averted in Red Dawn (1984). One scene featured a Wolverine's hat being knocked off when he fired an RPG-7. In the final battle two of the American guerillas fire their RPG-7's at the command trailer used by a Soviet general. An enemy soldier who comes round the corner behind them at that precise moment falls to the ground screaming as he's been scorched by the backblast.
- Averted in Men of War in which a mercenary attempting to sneak up behind Dolph Lundgren is killed by the backblast of Lundgren's recoilless rifle.
- Averted In Tali-Ihantala 44, when a Swedish-Finnish conscript gets killed firing a Panzerfaust, its exhaust pipe pressed at his chest. While the troops had been warned about this earlier, the instruction was in Finnish, which the conscript didn't understand, being from prominently Swedish-speaking part of the country.
- Mostly averted in Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me. An M9 Bazooka used in the film has a very large, bright backblast, though no injuries or property damages seem to result from it, despite being indoors.
- Averted in The Dark Knight. When the Joker fires an RPG from the trailer of a semi, you can see that his henchmen are out of the way and the door on the other side of it is open. In fact, if you watch closely, it seems to have been opened first.
- Partially averted in Commando. Cindy attempts to rescue Matrix by firing a M202 Flash rocket launcher. No recoil at all on the first shot then the Rule of Funny comes to the rescue of physics with the second shot throwing her backwards into the car.
- In Men In Black, when Agent J first uses the Noisy Cricket, it fires a colossal beam of energy, but he gets flung back at least several feet. When firing it backed up against a wall doesn't work, he attaches a silencer to it. The silencer severely reduces the firepower of the Noisy Cricket, but J no longer injures himself whenever he uses it.
- We Were Soldiers has a North Vietnamese soldier firing a rocket propelled grenade at a group of American troops. Not only does he pop up to fire down over the top of his cover (directing the blast away from the terrain behind him), but he also wears a mask and goggles to protect his face.
- Missionaries by Lukins averted this: sniper girl glances behind her before aiming. It's clearly needed, considering that her rocketrifle could stop a shark and she was on the ship's deck.
- Able Team ("Cairo Countdown"). Terrorists try firing an RPG from the back of a van, and end up parboiling the driver. The same novel has Able Team issued with Armbrusts to avert this (see Real Life section).
- Averted in Gaunt's Ghosts. Anytime anyone fires a missile launcher, they yell 'Ease!' to tell everyone to open their mouths to prevent the pressure from damaging their eardrums. Also, one soldier did fire a launcher while inside a small room- he got messed up and set part of the wall on fire, though he survived.
- Also from the Ghosts: in Necropolis, a Vervunhive Wall gun battery fires point-blank at a Chaos war machine, and the backblast fries them. (The gun crew, that is; the regular blast fries the Chaos.)
- In the same novel, during the generals' observation of the battlefield from a guard tower, its missile launchers are disabled because bulletproof shields hastily installed mess with the backblast. The generals decide to have the shields removed, exposing themselves rather than paralyze the guard tower, as they feel safer with working heavy weapons than cowering behind a shield.
- Averted by Matthew Reilly. When Renshaw fires a rocket in a hovercraft, the backblast destroys the windows behind him.
Live Action TV
- Averted in an episode of CSI: Miami, where a guy gets cooked after firing an RPG from inside a cement mixer.
- In another, a paramilitary shoots an RPG (a weapon he didn't realise isn't point-and-shoot) from a car, and the exhaust shatters the opposite window. The CSI team, however, knows what to do with broken glass.
- And in yet another episode, one of the bad guys gets a black eye from the rocket launcher shoving the sight into his face. Despite showing the blast. So we get the back blast, but not the actual purpose, or the recoilless part.
- Recoilless doesn't mean a complete absence of recoil, it's just reduced. You can't get rid of Newton's second law entirely.
- Also, depending on the design of the weapon, if you don't properly clean the tube, soot and muck from previous firings can clog the tube up a bit, relieving it of the "Recoiless" adjective.
- According to the History Channel's Shootout!, a U.S. combat advisor was knocked off his feet and thrown through the air by the backblast of a heavy RPG.
- In an episode of Bugs, a bad guy is killed by standing on the "right" end of a timed missile launching ramp.
- In the Doctor Who story "Remembrance of the Daleks", keep an eye on the wall behind Ace when she fires an RPG at a Dalek. The scorch mark is clear proof that these were the days before CGI. Or, you know, decent budget.
- In an episode of Miami Vice, a criminal is seen visibly reacting to recoil from a stinger missile. However, the backblast can be seen from it, and the others present have already moved a safe distance away in preparation for it.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In the second season episode "Innocence", Buffy uses a shoulder-fired rocket launcher to great effect, and hilarity. She experiences no recoil, which is not surprising, physics be damned, given her super-strength. But notably, she fires from a position where there is nobody or no thing behind her to be fried by the rocket's ignition.
- Note that Xander had military knowledge, due to a spell, and was one the one who instructed her on how to use it, and presumably included that no one should be behind her when she fires it.
- In the French-German mini-series Carlos, terrorists roar up in a car, take out an RPG-7 and fire two rockets at a taxiing El Al aircraft, missing both times. When they jump back into their car to drive off, it has a conspicuous hole punched in the windscreen.
- Here is a rather infamous photo of Dan Quayle holding an unloaded RPG-7 launcher for a photo op. Given that he is holding it backward — note the trigger guard, which is neatly tucked in against the base of his thumb — and also in such fashion that the exhaust end is pointing right past the fellow on his left, while the business end appears to be aimed squarely through his elbow at the fellow on his right, it's really just as well that the launcher doesn't have a rocket mounted.
- Rifts partially averts this. A particular heavy missile launcher is specifically stated to inflict damage to not only anyone standing close behind the firer, but the firer themself if they're not wearing armor. In fact, the backblast will destroy the launcher, which is in of itself a disposable weapon.
- Rocket launchers in GURPS create a fairly dangerous backblast when fired. If you use a reactionless missile however, there is no backblast, thanks to superscience.
- Averted in the Battlefield 2 mod, Project Reality. The backblast from rocket launchers WILL kill other players.
- Averted in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon wherein the backblast can kill friendlies directly behind the soldier who fires an anti-tank weapon. However, the backblast physics in the game don't seem to take into account walls, since said weapon is still safe enough to fire from enclosed areas.
- Similarly averted in Jagged Alliance 2. Don't stand behind the dude with the LAW if you value your face.
- Also averted in the Combat Mission series. While the backblast-to-friendly-face never happens (firstly because each little soldier is an abstraction for a full squad spread over a large area, and secondly because they are representing trained soldiers, not morons), firing a bazooka or panzerschreck from inside a building is a good way to pin down your own troops (the British PIAT is immune to this, as per Real Life). Note that the game's tactical AI knows better than to do it - it'll only happen through direct player prompt
- Amusingly, these weapons also have a substantial chance of setting the building on fire. An urban panzerschreck nest is, by necessity, temporary.
- America's Army, known for trying to portray military weapons accurately, makes a point of averting this trope. As seen in this machinima.
- The rocket launcher in Half-Life uses compressed air to to launch the rocket a safe distance away before the propellant ignites, averting this trope.
- While it averts the backblast problem the RPG is still dangerous in confined spaces, the initial launch will make the rocket jump up a foot or so, if you don't have enough height clearance - Boom.
- Which, in turn, leads to a bit of Fridge Logic: such a weapon typically won't arm itself until after the rocket motor ignites, meaning that it should be Klunk rather than Boom.
- Halo is a bit funny about this. For the first 2/3 of the trilogy, the rocket launcher is the only one of its kind, and has a small puff of flame that emits out the back (though it doesn't actually harm anything). The third installment has the return of the rocket launcher, but also features a missile pod that launchers missiles with compressed air before their fuel ignites.
- Halo 3: ODST has a (Non-Rookie) player that swaps to a rocket launcher shout a warning about backblast, as well.
- Far Cry 2 has the Carl Gustav guided missile system, which lays backblast quite well- it will start fires, and standing in front of a vehicle and firing will cause the vehicle to explode, killing the player.
- In the Dark Forces Saga, there's a rocket launcher that has its backblast expelled in front of the player - though it's at right angles to the rocket launcher, so it can't harm the player. The barrel also moves away from the rocket, absorbing some of the recoil. This is actually similar to how most tanks dissipate recoil.
- Probably overaverted in the RTS Act of War, where the player can have infantry occupy buildings for added protection. Attempting this with rocket-armed troops will result in the death of the rocket guy, some or all of any other infantry in the building, and considerable damage to the building itself the instant something hostile comes within range of the garrisoned building and those rocket guys open fire on it.
- While not in the normal game, the modding community for Operation Flashpoint and ArmA has created a realism modification that adds backblast to all recoilless RPG weapons (along with a whole host of other realistic features).
- Darkest Hour, a Red Orchestra mod set in western Europe, has the very good possibility of teamkilling - friendly fire is always on, and backblast from Bazookas, Panzerfausts, and Panzershrecks is deadly. The PIAT, as historically accurate, has no backblast, but is much slower to reload since there's no way for an Assistant Gunner to help.
- Col. Volgin in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was man enough to fire a recoilless nuclear warhead from a chopper traveling in an aerial convoy. He wasn't the only one in that chopper either. At the very least, both of the chopper's side-doors were open.
- Though absent from the actual Call of Duty games, backblast is brought up once in the bonus "Soap's Journal" from the Hardened edition of Modern Warfare 3 - in the entry from the fourth game's Azerbaijan missions, Soap writes that if not for how the FGM-148 Javelin works, he could have accidentally burnt off Price's famed mustache.
- In the Ballistic Weapons mod for Unreal Tournament 2004, one of the heavy weapons, the J2329 HAMR, is a massive artillery piece that does not have any backblast. As a result, the recoil is so severe that if you attempt to fire it without deploying it as a turret first, you actually injure yourself.
- Dead Winter: Note the window behind the shooter before and after he fires. As for why he's firing so close to a window in the first place, he's not very smart.
- In Archer the title character attempts to use an RPG-7 to blow his way out of a sealed armory. It fails to destroy the door, he's deafened, and his clothes are shredded, but there is a hole in the bulletproof glass directly behind his firing position, continuing the show's record of being rather accurate with its depiction of weapons, aside from lethality.
- In the non-fiction book See You In November, a Rhodesian agent mentions an incident where he and a colleague fired an RPG-7 from the inside of their vehicle (they were trying to incite violence between terrorist groups in Zambia by making it look like they were attacking each other), not realising one of the windows (where the venturi was pointing) had been inadvertently wound up instead of down. The blast blew out all the windows, singed off their eyebrows and almost totaled the car.
- There's a story circulating in the British Army of the PIRA doing something very similar with an RPG-7 from the back of a Belfast Taxi. The troops who reported the incident were manning an observation post in the middle of a roundabout on the outskirts of Belfast when they notice a taxi about to start a second trip around their position. They guessed at once that something was about to happen and were just preparing for action when the taxi's back window open and, after a short delay, the vehicle filled with flames and exploded. Forensic examination revealed that they had been attacked by someone that didn't understand recoilless backblast.
- The WW2 British anti-tank weapon called the PIAT may resemble a rocket launcher, but is actually a spigot mortar that uses a small confined explosive charge in the base of the projectile to propel it from the weapon. This system produced no backblast, but resulted in, you guessed it, severe recoil, even with the presence of a large cocking spring to absorb it.
- And according to Ian Hogg (in his book Grenades and Mortars from the old Ballantine Illustrated History of WWII/The Violent Century series), if you didn't hold onto the PIAT really tight when it fired, the recoil that was supposed to re-cock the spigot against its powerful spring would instead (a) knock you flat on your backside and (b) fail to shove the spigot back fast and hard enough to re-cock it- which meant you had to re-arm the PIAT by hand, which was emphatically not fun.
- Not fun is putting it mildly. The spring needed over 100 pounds of force (over 50 kg). Many soldiers found it impossible to do solo, and very few could do it while staying behind cover, something important when trying to fight a tank.
- Other weapons had different ways of dealing with the backblast problem. The World War One Davis Recoilless Gun, used by British Naval Air Service flying boats to shoot at surfaced U-Boats, had two barrels pointing in opposite directions with a central breech system. One barrel fire a high-explosive shell (at the intended target); the opposite barrel fired a "counter-shot" composed of bird shot and axle grease of the same mass as the shell to provide the recoilless effect. The Davis Gun's manual stated that care had to be taken to avoid pointing the counter-shot barrel at any part of the aircraft; fabric and wood biplanes don't react well to a blast of bird shot at point-blank range (to say nothing of what it would do to a crew-member).
- Much later, in the 1980s, the West German Bundeswehr's Armbrust ("Crossbow") shoulder-fired anti-tank rocket launcher solved the backblast problem by a method similar to the Davis Gun, except that its "counter-shot" was a mass of plastic chips ejected at much higher velocity than the rocket, which worked otherwise like the Russian RPG-7 (launched by a recoilless charge, then igniting its own solid rocket motor a safe distance from the launcher). The plastic chips mainly came out as plastic dust, very much like the exhaust from a sandblaster, which lost speed and damaging capability after about 1-2 meters of travel. You still didn't want to stand right behind the Armbrust when it fired, but it was specifically designed to be fired from inside a building or other "hide" without injuring or killing the crew with backblast in the confined space.
- One of the more extreme examples of "backblast" is the NATO Milan infantry anti-tank guided weapon. Similar in many ways to the American TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided)anti-tank missile, Milan is delivered as a certified round sealed in its own launching tube. When it is fired, as can be seen here, not only does the missile leave the launcher going toward the target, the launch tube is ejected at high speed in the opposite direction. This makes reloading very rapid, but also demands a certain amount of care in positioning the launcher in, say, a dugout.
- The AT4CS, a variant of the disposable AT4 rocket launcher, uses saltwater as a counter-mass, making it safe to fire indoors, though the backblast is still significant enough to hurt your eardrums a little.
- There are a number of projects underway to do the same thing to SMAW (Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon) launchers, particularly with specialty ammunition.
- Speaking of the SMAW, its field manual does say you can use the weapon in the prone position. A platoon training with live ammo was curious enough to try it... but knowing that the thing had a massive backblast piled all their flak jackets on the volunteer. The end result was the SMAW blew out at least half the flak jackets and then some.
- Those were probably not the smartest guys then, since any rocket launch system fired from the prone is intended to be fired with the weapon at a 90 degree angle from the shooter.
- Concerned about terrorism, American federal agents tried launching a G-class rocket from the inside of a van. Though the van was torched, the agents miraculously survived.
- For those who don't know, G-class rockets have so much of a backblast that you're required to stay thirty feet away from the launchpad.
- Let us see what the military has to say. From Field Manual 90-10-1 "An Infantryman's Guide to Combat in Built-Up Areas":
In 1975, the US Army Human Engineering Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, conducted extensive firing of LAW, Dragon, 90-mm RCLR, and TOW from masonry and frame buildings, and from sandbag bunkers. These tests showed that firing these weapons from enclosures presented no serious hazards, even when the overpressure was enough to produce structural damage to the building. The following were other findings of this test.
(a) Little hazard exists to the gunnery or crew from any type of flying debris. Loose items were not hurled around the room.
(b) No substantial degradation occurs to the operator's tracking performance as a result of obscuration or blast pressure.
(c) The most serious hazard that can be expected is hearing loss... To place this hazard in perspective, a gunner wearing earplugs and firing the loudest combination (the Dragon from within a masonry building) is exposed to less noise hazard than if he fired a LAW in the open without earplugs.
(f) The only difference between firing these weapons from enclosures and firing them in the open is the duration of the pressure fluctuation.
(g) Frame buildings, especially small ones, can suffer structural damage to the rear walls, windows and doors. Large rooms suffer slight damage, if any.
Recoilless weapons fired from within enclosures create some obscuration inside the room, but almost none from the gunner's position looking out. Inside the room, obscuration can be intense, but the room remains inhabitable.
The Dragon causes the most structural damage but only in frame buildings. There does no seem to be any threat of injury to the gunner... The most damage and debris is from flying plaster and pieces of wood trim."
- Panzerfausts do have a backblast, but it is comparatively mild compared to most weapons of the era - during the Battle for Berlin, German and Russian soldiers exploited this, with the Germans firing it from basement windows to destroy Soviet tanks (which could not elevate their guns low enough to return fire) and Soviets using captured weapons in room-to-room fighting, mainly as a means of dynamic entry (blowing your way through a connecting wall with a Panzerfaust was safer than leaving the building onto the street and running to the next door down).
- Bear in mind that the Panzerfaust's backblast is comparatively milder, and the end of the tube had to be pointed away from the user. There were numerous cases of soldiers, generally Finns who were issued with Panzerfausts but not trained in their usenote , killing themselves by bracing the tube against their shoulder and firing.
- The RPG-7 uses a two-stage rocket enabling it to be fired within buildings, provided you leave a two metre space to the rear.
- Bosnian soldiers during the Siege of Sarajevo sometimes used to destroy Serbian tanks with recoilless rifles from within cramped apartments for the surprise factor. Especially in Dobrinja, where all open space was very lacking in concealment and cover but apartment complexes were huge and plentiful. The soldier doing the shooting would put on multiple layers of clothing and blankets, soak them with water and still try to get as much free space behind him as possible. The method was successful, in that it only resulted in unconsciousness and profuse bleeding from eyes, nose, mouth and ears (and, if they were lucky, one dead tank).
- In a real-life, partial subversion, the United States' FGM-148 Javelin was specifically designed to be fire-able from inside enclosed spaces, and is the only US item in the inventory certified to do so. The backblast itself however is still very dangerous, and the area behind the shooter should be clear of personnel and equipment before firing.