There’s a new rifle cartridge in town, and it’s got PGA Tour golfers worried and F-35 Lightning fighter pilots envious. Why? This new cartridge is designed to feel the need for speed at long range. Really long range. Hold this thought for a hot second, and we’ll get to why Bubba Watson is shaking in his boots, and F-35 pilots are thinking about upgrading to something faster.
Let’s take a shot (see what I did there?) at explaining why yet another new cartridge from the folks at Federal Ammunition—the 224 Valkyrie—is kind of a big deal. This new caliber offering was designed from the ground up for long-range performance.
It’s based on the .30 Remington / 6.8mm SPC case. In fact, you can think of it as a necked down 6.8mm SPC. That’s important because it means that the new 224 Valkyrie will work in a bolt gun but also a standard-size AR-15 platform.
Even though the caliber (.224 bullet diameter) is the same as the AR-15 projectiles we all know and love, the case is bigger so you’ll need to change the barrel (because of the chamber size) and the bolt to use it in an AR-15 rifle.
Translation: you can buy a new upper for your existing AR-15 and be ready to go. The same goes for magazines.
With 6.8mm SPC cartridges, I’ve had better reliability results using magazines tweaked for the job, and I suspect that strategy will hold true here too. The important part is that the exterior dimensions are the same so a 224 Valkyrie upper works just fine on any standard AR-15 lower receiver.
Federal has four different loads coming to market.
The first is a 90-grain Gold Medal brand that features a Sierra Matching bullet. Then there’s a 60-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip, a 90-grain Fusion MSR, and 75-grain American Eagle Total Metal Jacket offering.
For simplicity, we’ll focus on the 90-grain Gold Medal Sierra Matching offering for our comparisons here. We can prattle on about dimensions and cartridge specs all day. What’s interesting about the Valkyrie is what it does once the bullet comes out of the fiery end of the muzzle.
Like Michael Phelps in the pool, the bullets for the 224 Valkyrie are long, skinny, and aerodynamic although I guess the Captain Nemo of the Olympic pool is more “aqua” dynamic. That means they fly farther faster and are “less susceptible” to the effects of wind and gravity than fatter and less aerodynamic bullets.
It’s Time to Try Defying Gravity
OK, so that headline is a song chorus from the Broadway musical Wicked, but it’s also applicable here. While nothing except Land Speeders can truly “defy” gravity, there are attributes of the 224 Valkyrie that make the effects of the earth’s force majeure on the flight path less detrimental.
As we know from high school physics experiments, gravity affects everything from bricks to feathers equally, so the only thing that determines how much an object drops is the time of exposure. A bullet that travels 1,000 yards faster than another will drop less because it’s exposed to the forces of gravity for less time. That’s what the 224 Valkyrie is all about: speed.
Those long and skinny bullets, like the 90-grain Sierra Matching, start at a similar velocity to other bullets but maintain that speed for a longer period of time because they’re slippery. The result? They travel the whole length of the course faster than a chubby and less aerodynamic bullet.
Using a nifty ballistic calculator like Ballistic AE, we can compare the flight paths of different bullets to see the difference. I ran these numbers for my location, which is right about sea level, so numbers at higher altitudes will vary a bit. Here’s how much each of the following bullets falls over a 1,000-yard flight path assuming we’re using a rifle zeroed at 200 yards.
|Cartridge||Drop in Inches|
|.223 Remington 55-grain FMJ:||452.99|
|.223 Remington 77-grain Matchking:||455.11|
|224 Valkyrie 90-grain Matchking:||381.08|
The bottom line? Over the same distance, the heavier 224 Valkyrie bullet falls over 70 inches, or almost six feet less than a standard .223 Remington projectile.
Because of the reduced time in the air and lots of ballistic science VooDoo, the 224 Valkyrie bullets are less affected by wind, and that becomes a really big deal at longer distances. Let’s consider an example to illustrate the point.
Suppose we’re shooting at a target 1,000 yards down range. There is a 10mph crosswind blowing right to left from exactly the three o’clock position. Here’s how much three different cartridges and bullets will “blow to the left” by the time they reach the target.
|Cartridge||Wind Drift in Inches|
|.223 Remington 55-grain FMJ:||101.5|
|.223 Remington 77-grain Matchking:||79.93|
|224 Valkyrie 90-grain Matchking:||59.92|
Compensating for bullet drop is dependent on ballistic math, so you can be exact and predictable. Compensating for wind is much, much more difficult for the shooter. A bullet that sways less in the wind is much more likely to get first shot hits on target at longer distances.
More Energy Down Range Than Bubba Watson
So back to the important stuff—golf. Bubba Watson is known for being one of the longer hitters on the professional golf tour. He knocks the stuffing out of those 1.620-ounce golf balls, routinely sending them well over 300 yards down the fairway. His average “muzzle velocity” is about 194 miles per hour which translates to 284.5 feet per second.
If you do the math on the weight of the golf ball and his killer drive velocity, he generates 127.8 foot-pounds of kinetic energy at the tee box. That’s not too shabby. It’s more kinetic energy than a .22 long rifle cartridge offers (97.9 foot-pounds) and about the same as a screaming fastball delivered by Nolan Ryan (128.2 foot-pounds.)
At the muzzle, the 224 Valkyrie makes Bubba Watson look downright weak because it delivers a whopping 1,457.1 foot-pounds at the muzzle. OK, so we expected that, but since that 90-grain 224 Valkyrie bullet carries velocity well down range, it exceeds Bubba Watson’s golf energy all the way out to 1,775 yards. That’s over a mile!
Racing an F-35 Lightning II Fighter Jet
While that nifty new F-35 Lightning II fighter plane isn’t faster than every speeding bullet, it’s faster than a lot of them. Rated with a top speed of 1,199 miles per hour, or 1,758 feet per second, it outpaces all of the common handgun rounds and a fair number of rifles. Sure, the 224 Valkyrie beats it out of the starting blocks since it leaves the muzzle at 2,700 feet per second.
But 525 yards down range, the Valkyrie is still winning the race because it’s moving at a healthy 1,780 feet per second. That’s at sea level. If you live in the Mile High city of Denver, the Valkyrie bullet maintains its lead out past 625 yards. If an F-35 pilot ever challenges your 224 Valkyrie to a 1/4 mile drag race, take them up on it, especially if there’s money involved.
While the comparison is a bit frivolous, there’s a practical value to maintaining speed at long range. When a bullet transitions from supersonic to subsonic speeds, it starts to lose predictability. No, it’s not going to veer off and impact the moon, but it becomes more difficult to anticipate and model its exact behavior in flight.
During the whole supersonic flight path, you can know with incredible precision exactly how much your bullet will drop. That means that you can use a ballistic app or computer to dial in your shot adjustments, and if you do your job, you’ll get a hit on target the first try. So, the bottom line is this: if bullet A stays supersonic to 1,000 yards while bullet B remains supersonic out to 1,300 yards, you gain 300 yards of predictable accuracy with bullet B.
With that in mind, here’s how the same bullets compare at 1,000 yards. Remember, this assumed my local altitude above sea level of seven feet, so almost everyone else in the country will see higher velocity than I will because I basically have my feet in the ocean at any given time.
|.223 Remington 55-grain FMJ:||940|
|.223 Remington 77-grain Matchking:||1,025|
|224 Valkyrie 90-grain Matchking:||1,137|
Here, the speed of sounds is about 1,133 feet per second depending on weather conditions, so I’ll get highly predictable accuracy out to 1,000 yards. If you live in Denver, your shot may stay supersonic out to 1,300 yards or so.
What Does All This Ballistic VooDoo Mean?
All of this ballistic science boils down to a couple of key benefits.
The 224 Valkyrie will allow you to shoot more accurately at longer distances. Not only is the trajectory flatter, but the bullet is also less affected by wind so you’ll have an easier time accounting for that.
The heavier bullet delivers more energy on target. Additionally, since it maintains higher velocity over longer distances, it keeps more energy at longer ranges, and that extends effective range for military or long range hunting applications.
The Valkyrie delivers similar results to larger cartridges like the 6.5mm Creedmoor but with smaller size, ability to use a standard AR-15 lower receiver, and with a lot less recoil. I think this one is going to fly.