Throwin’ Heat

| Shooter's RX |
Thermal Sights For
Civilian Applications.

By Will Dabbs, MD
Photos Sara Dabbs

It is 2 a.m. and the rucksack is heavy on your back. The hated American military, the only thing standing between the faithful and the divinely ordained establishment of a universal caliphate, is nowhere to be found. You scouted out the location for your IED (Improvised Explosive Device) weeks in advance and, if Allah wills it, your efforts this night will kill many infidels.

Your particular weapon is, in technical parlance, an EFP-IED. Built in Iran and smuggled into Iraq at great risk, the Explosively Formed Penetrator consists of a shaped charge behind a shallow copper plate. When detonated, this device transforms into a hypervelocity projectile capable of penetrating the side armor of a main battle tank.

You reach your strike-point and begin preparing the site with a small spade. The work goes slowly in the darkness but you have done this before. You work quietly, secure in the knowledge there’s no one for kilometers around who can see you.

But orbiting silently above, an American Predator drone waits patiently in the darkness. The insurgent shows up a brilliant white against the surrounding cool blackness and the operator, comfortably ensconced at his workstation in the Nevada desert—verifies the standing rules of engagement are met. The drone pilot then arms a single Hellfire missile, designates the target with an invisible coded laser beam and squeezes the trigger. Fourteen seconds later, there is a brilliant white flash and the hapless terrorist is dispatched to his eternal reward. FLIR has once again done its part to make the world safe for democracy.


Will found it most effective to mount the TPL T12 at the 3 o’clock position
on the forearm rail in order to leave the top of the rifle free for more
conventional sighting systems.


In action the Torrey Pines Logic T12 behaves as any other electronic sight might,
though without a great deal of precision. At close ranges, it will expose warm-blooded
targets like an arc welder. The FLIR One piggyback thermal camera transforms your
smartphone into a thermal imager (below). Free apps allow extensive manipulation of the images.


Own The Night

FLIR stands for “Forward Looking Infrared,” and this technology is responsible for some of the most compelling images to arise from the ongoing struggles in the Middle East. Distilled to its essence, a FLIR system sees like a human eyeball, but instead of perceiving images in visible colors, FLIR uses a thermographic camera to detect thermal radiation. Because most any living organism of concern is homoeothermic (meaning it maintains its body temperature independent of the surrounding environment), this makes detection of warm-blooded organisms against a cool background a straightforward process, even in pitch darkness.

Texas Instruments began research into FLIR systems in 1956, and production of infrared sensors for military applications began about a decade later. Military sensors are differentiated by their capacity to detect long-wave and medium-wave IR radiation and some of this equipment must be cryogenically cooled for effective employment. It’s also crazy expensive. Traditional commercial thermal imagers are a bit cheaper, but not by much. Recent developments in mass-produced miniaturized electronics have brought this capability to within financial reach of normal folk.

My FLIR One attachment uses my smartphone’s onboard camera to detect infrared radiation. Free apps allow me to shoot a bewildering array of still images and video in a variety of artificial color environments, including natural color and gray scale. The piggyback FLIR One module charges separately from the host camera and is compact enough to ride around in my pocket. I got a good deal online on a discontinued variant, so my module set me back $150.

The applications for this technology are limited solely by your imagination. I have used mine to walk around my house in the winter months to determine where I am losing heat from my home. I have wandered around inside in pitch darkness and located my kids, no matter where they might be hiding. The best tactical application for this device, however, is for those times when the dog just won’t shut up in the night.

Of course, if you sense something is amiss in your front yard in the dead of night, you could turn on your porch light and trash your night vision while illuminating yourself as a target for anyone who might be hiding in the bushes. But the thermal detector allows you to leave the porch light off and scan the yard invisibly. Any warm-blooded anything hiding in the night shows up like a solar flare.

A company called Inteliscope produces a mount placing your FLIR-equipped smart phone onto the forearm rail of your favorite black rifle. The resulting system is no more robust than your cell phone, but the mount is indestructible and you can always rock to your favorite tunes or take in a podcast as you clear your hacienda of evildoers. This system is indeed neat, clever and cool. For those who might want something smaller and less obtrusive, there is the Torrey Pines Logic T12.


Using a chemical hand warmer as an aiming point at 25 meters, Will could
stay inside a pie plate in utter darkness using the Torrey Pines Logic T12.
The target looked like this in darkness (below). The rifle? A suppressed
Faxon Firearms ARAK-21.



With an Inteliscope mount, your smartphone can become an electronic weapon
sight (above). Tack on a thermal attachment and the rig can see through
total darkness (below).


The Torrey Pines Logic T12 thermal imager is an adorable little thermographic camera that mounts to any standard Picatinny rail on any compatible rifle. The T12 comes with a stubby broomstick grip as well, should you desire to use the device in a freestanding mode. The T12 runs off of a single CR123 battery and sports a tiny little screen not much bigger than my thumbnail.

It comes in a variety of flavors optimized for various applications and is programmable for type of display and reticle via pushbutton menus. Reticles include an interrupted square as well as a small chevron, each in two available colors. Reticles may be electronically zeroed using a menu.

The sight appears robust and it is legitimately tiny. There is a programmable sleep mode to preserve battery power, and the sight awakens automatically with movement. The sight display also speaks French, German, Italian and Japanese if English is not your strong suit.

I mounted up the T12 on my Faxon Firearms ARAK-21 to take it out for a spin. The ARAK-21 combines AR-15 and AKM features and in doing so brings out the best of both systems in a single gun. The ARAK swaps between 5.56 and 7.62×39 by exchanging the barrel, bolt head, magazine and firing pin, while cycling between right- and left-handed ejection in minutes, without using any new parts. Thanks to its Kalashnikov-inspired piston system, it also runs forever under the most egregious conditions. The ARAK upper assemblies drop into standard AR lowers as well.

As a practical exercise I chose a spot with a predictably safe backstop, slapped a suppressor on my rifle so as not to alarm my rural neighbors unduly and set out a full-sized silhouette target from Thompson Targets with a chemical hand warmer taped to its chest. Three minutes later, the target approximated ambient temperature and the hand warmer stood out in the T12’s tiny viewing screen like an arc welder.

From a distance of 25 meters, I could keep my rounds in a pie plate even in pitch darkness. It was indeed an unnatural sensation to fire into total darkness with a military-grade rifle, but the results speak for themselves.

The T12 offers a remarkable new capability for your typical utility gun, but it occludes the sights when mounted atop the rifle, rendering it cumbersome if not useless for daylight operations. My solution to this quandary was to keep my trusty Holosight on the top of the rig and mount the T12 at the 3-o’clock position on the forearm rail. In this configuration, I could rotate the weapon 90 degrees and easily index between the T12’s thermal imagery and the Holosight as the need arose.

The resolution on the tiny screen is also inadequate for any real target differentiation, so this device is only appropriate in a free-fire zone. It would be difficult—if not impossible—to distinguish between a burglar and family member at any significant range using this thermal technology in true dark. As long as these parameters are met, the T12 really does open up broad new horizons for the tactical rifle so equipped.

This device can see through stuff with ease and makes it literally impossible to hide behind brush and light cover. While not quite as cheap as my obsolete FLIR One module, the T12 is still financially within reach of most well-armed Americans.

The T12 from Torrey Pines Logic is rugged, effective and, for its capabilities, reasonably priced. If your circumstances are such the ability to pierce darkness might be a tactical game changer, check it out.

Faxon Firearms
11101 Adwood Dr.
Cincinnati, OH 45240
(513) 674-2549

27700 SW Parkway Ave.
Wilsonville, OR 97070
(503) 498-3146

LLC, 273 Birch Banks
Sagle, ID 83860
(208) 920-0176

Thompson Target
3651 Apache St. NW
Uniontown, OH 44685
(330) 699-8000

Torrey Pines Logic, Inc.
12651 High Bluff Dr., Ste. 100
San Diego, CA 92130
(858) 755-4549

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