The Girardoni air rifle (also spelt as Girandoni), known as the Windbüchse in Germany, is an air rifle from the Holy Roman Empire.
The Girardoni air rifle was designed by Bartholomäus Girardoni of the Princely County of Tyrol (today part of Italy and Austria). The rifle was used from 1780 to around 1790 as the service rifle of the Austrian Military; its high rate of fire, smokeless propellants and rather soft muzzle report caused it to gain initial acceptance in the Austrian army, but its mechanical complexity for the time caused it to be dropped from service and relegated to a sniper role. The Girardoni was famous for being associated with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, where Cpt. Meriwether Lewis and 2LT William Clark used this weapon in nearly all the demonstrations that they had performed for the Native Americans while on said expedition. After the weapon's removal from service in the Austrian Army, they were ordered to be destroyed; however, there are some surviving examples.
The rifle used a 20 – 22-round gravity-fed tube magazine. The weapon had a loading lever which was located on the left side of the weapon. Pushing the lever caused a ball to drop onto said lever and be pushed into the barrel. The reservoir is a club-shaped apparatus that also acts as the weapon's stock and is screwed onto the rear of the weapon; pressure is estimated to be about 800 – 850 psi. As with most weapons of the time, the Girardoni was hammer-fired. The hammer has two positions as with most weapons of the time; half-cock and full-cock. When placed in full-cock and fired, a small rod in the rear of the weapon protrudes out and releases a check valve in the reservoir, which releases air into the rifle and fires the weapon. While supposedly a very quiet weapon, the Girardoni's report was still considerably loud, but not as loud as powder guns.
The weapon uses a .46 caliber lead ball.
The Girardoni also came standard with an accoutrements bag, which holds the following:
- One hand pump
- One hand pump base
- One ladle
- One ball molding tool
- Two additional pre-charged air reservoirs
- Four 20-round "speedloaders"
- Hand pump
The hand pump was to be used to fill the air reservoirs. It consisted of two parts; the pump handle and a base. The base had a U-shaped slot which the pump handle could slide into. The bottom of the pump handle was ball-shaped, which allowed the pump handle to move around freely, reducing the risk of breaking the pump. The reservoirs would be screwed onto the top of the pump handle, and the whole setup would be pulled and pushed to pressurize the reservoir. Pressurizing the reservoirs was a tedious affair, however; it took approximately 1,500 strokes of the pump to fill up a reservoir, which was one of the reasons which lead to the Girardoni's relegation of roles. Normally, pressurizing a reservoir takes approximately 20 minutes.
- Casting tools
The kit also included two tools meant for soldiers to cast new lead balls for the weapon. These two tools were a ladle and a mold. The mold was shaped like a pair of pliers with a capsule on the end with a hole on the top of the capsule. How one would use these casting tools is rather simple; a soldier could scoop up hot lead using the ladle and pour it into the mold via the hole on top of the capsule, and then let it sit to cool and harden. After letting the lead harden, the mold could be re-opened and the ball could be pushed out. Due to the hole on the top of the capsule, there would usually be a teat on the ball caused by the lead hardening in said hole; the teat would later be removed.
These four tubes contained twenty lead balls each. The tube had a swiveling trap door on one end. To use the "speedloaders", the trap door on the tube magazine of the Girardoni is opened, with the trap door on the "speedloader" open. After which, the "speedloader" is tilted sideways, with the balls falling into the chamber.
These club-shaped reservoirs were generally pre-charged before being carried into battle. The original reservoirs are known to be very dangerous to pressurize in modern times, and as such, replica reservoirs have been made to replace said reservoirs.