During my recent research trip to the US I was lucky enough to handle and examine a lot of very interesting firearms. This short video is a bonus, while we were opening one of the cases at the Cody Firearms Museum to examine another firearm (that video is coming soon) I noticed a sectioned British Pattern 14 rifle, made by Winchester for the British government during the First World War. It was too good an opportunity to pass up so I filmed this quick video taking a look at the P14’s internals.
The P14 would go on to be the basis of the US M1917 rifle built by Winchester, Remington and Eddystone.
The cutaway shows the internals of the rifle’s actions as well as the barrel, chamber and magazine. It was cool to see a cutaway of the P14 up close and I couldn’t resist grabbing some footage.
My thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, for allowing me access to their collection. You can find out more about the CFM here.
The AAI Corporation was founded in 1950, as Aircraft Armaments, Inc., and has long been involved in advanced firearms design, taking part in a number of the US military’s previous small arms programs. Throughout the Cold war AAI was involved in the US Army’s search for a new advanced infantry weapon system. Before we examine the AAI ACR, it is important to understand the context in which it evolved.
The Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) program, an off-shoot of Project SALVO began in the early 1950s and ran until the late 1960s. During the SPIW program AAI developed a series of designs, including an entire family of weapons, which used flechette technology. These culminated with the XM19 rifle, or SFR – Serial Flechette Rifle. The XM19 represented the pinnacle of over a decade of flechette technology development, however, the end of the US war in Vietnam saw the need for SPIW disappear and the program was wound down.
In the early 1970s SPIW essentially morphed into the Future Rifle Program, but with the end of US involvement in Vietnam, this also proved a failure. During the early 1980s the US Army awarded development contracts to both AAI and Heckler & Koch to develop caseless ammunition and a weapon system capable of firing it. While H&K G11 is no doubt the better known of the two weapons, AAI’s Caseless Weapon, while a move away from flechette technology, was also an interesting design.
Firing a variety of ammunition the AAI design was capable of firing a high cyclic rate 3-round burst at 1600-1800rpm. The ACR program summary report noted that the AAI Caseless project was feasible and only lacked development funding to make it a reality, as the design was much simpler than the G11.
AAI were one of six companies to respond to the ACR program’s Request for Proposals, released in September 1985. AAI’s ACR was an evolution of the earlier SFR/XM19 rifle. The weapon AAI submitted was gas-operated, fed from a 30-round box magazine, and fired a brass cased flechette round in either single shot or a high cyclic rate three round bust – fired at a cyclic rate of ~1800rpm.
AAI’s ACR fired from a closed bolt and used a muzzle device to reduce muzzle climb during burst firing. The 1990 ACR Program Summary report explains how the rifle’s gas system worked:
“…incorporate an ‘entrapped gas’ operating system. Gun gases enter a cylinder, drive a piston to power the system, and prevent any leakage of propellant gases and residues into the other mechanism parts.”
AAI developed a polymer saboted steel 10.2 gr ‘sub-calibre’ flechette which fitted within a standard M855 brass case. As a result the rifle used a proprietary magazine to avoid the accidental chambering of conventional 5.56x45mm rounds. The flechette rounds had a muzzle velocity of 4,600 ft/s with propellant produced by the Olin Corporation.
The rifle was designed to mount a quick detachable 4x optic and also had a white-highlighted shotgun-style rib sight along the barrel to aid snap shooting. The rifle was one of the longest entries with an overall length of 40 inches or 101.6cm. Interestingly, rather than a push-button magazine release, AAI opted for a large paddle release.
AAI’s rifle borrowed some of its external ergonomic characteristics from the M16A2, then in service. With a moulded polymer pistol grip and butt, forming part of the lower receiver, shaped to mimic the M16’s. It also utilised the M16’s sling loops and butt plate.
According to the ACR program summary the AAI entry proved to be a “mature design which performed in a reliable fashion” during the field trials. It was regarded as a weapon with known reliability with a flechette round superior to the Steyr, the other flechette-based entry.
Today, AAI continue to develop both small arms and other defence technologies. Now a part of Textron, they are currently involved in the US Army’s Lightweight Small Arms Technologies (LSAT) program.
Specifications (From 1990 ACR Program Summary):
Length: 40 inches / 101.6cm
Weight: 9.39 lbs / 4.26kg
Sights: Iron or 4x optic
Action: Gas operated
Calibre: 5.56mm brass cased flechette
Feed: 30-round box magazine
You can find out overview article on the ACR program and all of the rifle here.
Advanced Combat Rifle, Program Summary, Vol.1, ARDEC, 1992 (source)
‘Revisiting the SPIW Pt. 1-3’, Small Arms Review, R. Blake Stevens, (123)
The SPIW The Deadliest Weapon that Never Was, R. Blake Stevens & E.C. Ezell (1985)
Our thanks to the collection that holds these wonderful examples of the ACR rifles
Vic brings us the second part of his special episode looking at the story of the AR-10, with a very unique run down of various variants of Eugene Stoner’s weapon. Vic runs us through every production model made by Artillerie Inrichtingen as well as several special prototypes and transitional models.
After a recap look at an example of a Hollywood-made rifle Vic shows us how the AR-10 worked using an instructional cutaway model. Throughout the video Vic examines all of the major production guns, beginning with an early A.I. production gun that incorporates the same ‘beer can’ muzzle device as the original American-made rifles. Vic then takes us through a series of rifles that represent the evolution of the design.
Beginning with the Cuban model, with its pencil profile barrel and top mounted gas tube. This model was also trailed by both the Dutch Army and the German Bundeswehr. Later in the video Vic gives us a quick look at the various German trials rifles the FAL (G1), the SIG 510-1 (G2), the H&K/CETME (G3) and the AR-10 (G4).
Vic follows the Cuban model with a look at the Sudanese Model, with its bayonet lug sleeve, and the Guatemalan variant which swaps out the bayonet lug for rifle grenade launching capability. The Sudanese military ordered 2,508 rifles from A.I.
In addition to these Vic also gives us a look at an extremely rare prototype carbine, a sporter model (the AR-102) and a prototype squad automatic weapon with a heavier profile barrel. Vic then takes us through the features of the final A.I.-made variant, the Portuguese or NATO model. The rifle was officially adopted by the Portuguese army’s Caçadores Páraquedistas (paratroops) and saw action in Angola, Portuguese Guinea and Mozambique.
Vic then takes a look at a series of rare variants and one-offs, including a rifle with green furniture made for Prince Bernhard, the Royal consort to Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, and a heavy barrelled magazine-fed squad automatic rifle with a rubber butt-pad and additional folding carrying handle.
To round out the story of Artillerie Inrichtingen’s involvement with the AR-10, Vic is lucky enough to take a close look at an M1 Garand adapted to feed from surplus AR-10 aluminium waffle magazines. This concept was developed to equip the NATRES, the Dutch Army Reserve, and was based somewhat on the Italian Beretta BM-59. Vic shows us both a very early prototype BM-59 and one of only two A.I. Garand adaptation prototypes.
In this first part of a TAB special episode examining the history of the ArmaLite AR-10 Vic discusses the early origins, history and development of the now legendary 7.62x51mm rifle. At the heart of this episode is a remastered version (certainly the best currently available online) of the c.1958 ArmaLite/Fairchild promotional film that features Eugene Stoner and shows many of the early ‘Hollywood’ Armalites in action! The first part of this special documentary concludes with Vic examining a Hollywood-made AR-10B (the last iteration of the US-made AR-10s).
Much has been written about the AR-10, Eugene Stoner and the genesis of the AR-15’s parent rifle. It’s a design which owes much to many: Stoner, George Sullivan, Melvin Johnson and later the engineers at Artillerie Inrichtingen.
ArmaLite, formed by George Sullivan with the help of Richard Boutelle, President of the Fairchild Engine and Aircraft Corporation, began work on the first AR-10 prototypes in 1955. Designed by Eugene Stoner, using his patented direct gas impingement system. Stoner patented this system in 1956, with the patent being granted in September 1960 (US #2,951,424).
The AR-10 had an aluminium-alloy forged receiver, an in-line stock, polymer furniture and chrome-lined steel parts. While conventional steel barrels were the norm an ill-fated attempt to use an aluminium/steel composite barrel during US Army evaluations proved disastrous when the steel inner parted from the aluminium outer and caused the barrel to burst. As a result of these weight saving efforts the rifle weighed just ~3.4kgs/7.5lbs unloaded. The Armalite AR-10 had a side mounted gas tube, a top mounted charging handle and fed from 20-round box magazines. One of the most interesting features was the large aluminium muzzle device, fitted to some ArmaLite-made Rifles, which reduced sound and flash.
In 1957, ArmaLite sold the AR-10 manufacturing rights to the Dutch small arms manufacturer Artillerie Inrichtingen, while US manufacture was licensed by Colt in February 1959. With minimal financial returns Fairchild sold their interests in ArmaLite in 1962.
Featured in the first part of Vic’s special episode on the AR-10 is an original Armalite/Fairchild promotional film, originally filmed in 16mm, that dates from around 1958. While a version of this film has been shared online for a number of years it is grainy, washed out and of relatively low audio quality. Vic reproduced the very rare promotional sales film in the 1990s onto VHS (a process he explains in the video). He has managed to take an original VHS copy and digitally remaster it to regain some of the original’s clarity and detail.
The promotional film was originally used by salesmen to showcase the AR-10 to potential clients and features Hollywood-produced guns. Both Stoner and Charles Dorchester (ArmaLite’s production manager) are seen in the film demonstrating the AR-10. The rifle’s action, function and controls are explained and various variants, including rifle and light machine gun, are demonstrated. The demonstration segment included a sub-zero test, covering in sand and much and Stoner himself dumping 5 magazine’s through the rifle in quick succession. The promotional film concluded with demonstrations of firing rifle grenades and a belt-fed AR-10.
Vic concludes the first part of the AR-10 overview episode with an examination of an AR-10B rifle held by the Netherlands’ Nationaal Militair Museum. In the second part of the episode Vic will look at nearly a dozen AR-10 variants made by Artillerie Inrichtingen (A.I.) between 1957 and 1961.
Vic kicks off his series looking at the US Army’s ACR trials rifles with a look at, not one but two versions of, Heckler & Koch’s advanced caseless ammunition assault rifle – the G11. This video is an introductory overview, we’ll be delving into the G11’s insanely intricate and wonderfully complex action in later videos!
There are few experimental weapons that have cultivated myth and reputation like Heckler & Koch’s G11. The product of decades of research and development into what was hoped would be the next evolutionary step in small arms design. The G11 was Germany’s attempt to combine advanced caseless ammunition with a weapon system which could increase the average infantryman’s hit probability. The G11’s action has three distinct modes of fire and uses a complex action and buffer/recoil system to achieve a high rate of controlled fire.
The program began in the late 1960s as part of a NATO initiative, however, it became a primarily Bundeswehr project and over two decades the design evolved substantially. The project sought to increase the hit probability of the individual infantryman. Heckler & Koch’s approach to this problem was the most radical. Working with Hensoldt to develop an integrated optical sight and with Dynamit-Nobel to create a new kind of ammunition.
Numerous studies and theoretical designs were worked up but by the mid-1970s the base design of what would become the G11 was cemented. The design team included Gunter Kastner, Dieter Ketterer, Tilo Moller and Ernst Wossner – all of whom are credited in H&K’s 1976 patent protecting the G11’s rotary action.
The G11 went through dozens of iterations throughout the 1970s and 80s, with the first firing prototypes ready by 1974. Both the design and the ammunition also went through a number of changes.
The revolutionary ammunition was developed by Dynamit-Nobel AG.
The 4.73x33mm round which was finalised comprised of a solid propellant material body which encased a primer, booster, projectile and a plastic nose cap. Dynamit-Nobel developed the High Ignition Temperature Propellant (HITP) in an effort to prevent accidental ignition (cook-off) of the ammunition’s outer propellant body.
The G11 fed from 45 or 50-round horizontal, single stack box magazines which fed rounds into the action at 90-degrees. The rounds were then rotated into alignment with the breech by the rifle’s action.
The rectangular shape of the Dynamit-Nobel ammunition was more efficient and better suited to storage than conventional circular rounds. The positioning of the magazine along the top of the weapon, parallel to the barrel, also in theory helped minimise the rifle’s profile and reduce encumbrance for the soldier equipped with the weapon.
The G11 is a gas-operated weapon with gas being tapped from the barrel, to cycle the rifle’s cylinder drive system, which rotated the breech through a series of cams and gears. At the heart of the G11 is a complex rotary action. Rotating actions themselves are not a new concept with the earliest dating back to the 17th century, such as the Lorenzoni system.
The G11’s rotating breech was patented in late 1976 by Heckler & Koch. While our initial video does not go into detail on how the G11 operates, we will be covering this in later videos, this article will explain the action in more general terms.
Below are two diagrams showing the internal layout and major components of the G11 from a March 1982 draft of the ‘Rifle, 4.92mm, ACR’ armourer’s manual (source). It shows the major assembly groups and also a component list for the breech assembly.
From the diagram we can see the various action parts which feed the projectile into the breech, lock the action and ignite the round. We can also see the counter-recoil system beneath the barrel.
The G11 used a counter-recoil buffer mechanism to allow high rates of burst fire. When firing three round bursts the weapon send the rounds downrange at a rate of ~2,000 rounds per minute, only when the last round has left the barrel does the barrel and action begin to recoil inside the stock along a central guide. When in sustained fire the rate of fire is closer to ~460 per minute.
The buffer spring below the barrel is compressed as the recoiling barrel and breech assembly moves. In sustained fire the buffer spring is partially compressed with each round, but in burst fire the buffer is compressed to its maximum hitting before the buffer housing (which is when recoil from the burst is felt by the operator), this is described as having the barrel and breech assembly ‘float’.
To ready the weapon to fire a magazine was loaded into the magazine channel on top of the G11, a magazine dust door, which automatically closed when unloaded, was depressed as the magazine was pushed home. The cocking handle on the left side of the butt was then actuated. The operator rotated the handle 360-degrees counter-clockwise until the weapon was cocked (essentially like winding a clock). The same process will eject any rounds left in the chamber once the magazine has been removed.
Gas tapped from the barrel cycles the cylinder drive system with gas pushing a piston back to act on a series of gears which rotated the rotary breech from horizontal to vertical to allow a new cartridge to drop into the breech. There was a vent for high pressure gas underneath the butt stock this prevented pressure build up and mitigated some of the thermal build up.
The G11 K1 was tested by the German Army in the late 1980s with adoption planned for the early 1990s. Heckler & Koch continued to develop the G11, entering the G11 K2 into the US Army’s Advanced Combat Rifle (ACR) trials alongside entries from Steyr, AAI and Colt [all of which we will examine in upcoming videos]. However, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 meant that West Germany no longer had the huge amount of funds needed to field the G11. At the same time the ACR program ended inconclusively and the G11 project was finally abandoned.
The extreme complexity of the design, the inadequacy of the weapon’s ergonomics and its inevitably high production cost casts doubt on whether the G11 would ever have seriously been considered for widespread adoption. Regardless of this the G11 is a fascinating footnote in small arms history representing a false start along a technological avenue which, with the Lightweight Small Arms Technologies (LSAT) program, may still prove fruitful. Heckler & Koch and Dynamit-Nobel’s ambitious design marks one of very few serious and potentially successful attempts engineers to overcome the plateau that firearms technology is currently stuck on.
In the late 1760s a Milanese machinist/clockmaker Giuseppe Crespi developed a breech-loading system for the Austrian Empire. Working with Ambroglia Gorla Crespi built a practical breech loader which was eventually adopted and fielded by the Austrian army during the 1770s. Crespi’s system is a lesser known contemporary of the Girandoni air rifle.
Crespi and Gorla’s system was designed to be a conversion of standard Austria’s muzzle-loading carbines. It used a hinged breech which tipped up to allow powder and then a ball to be loaded into the chamber. The breech was then closed and the handle locked into a pair of lugs mounted to the barrel. Austrian Emperor Josef II ordered testing of the design and over 350 were initially ordered and delivered by June 1771.
Despite some wrangling over payment a further order for 2,000 guns using Crespi’s system was made in 1772. These were to be made by the Ferlach gunmakers association in southern Austria and Crespi was paid a lump sum settlement for his design. Gorla’s role in the development of the system is unclear and he did not receive a settlement from the government. In 1771, he sued Crespi for his share but the courts threw out his claim in 1778.
The principle problem with Crespi’s system was that it was not gas tight, a problem which plagued many early breech-loading systems. As can be seen in the images above the breech block is flat where it meets the breech. This allowed gas to escape and troops complained the chamber was susceptible to wear. The Crespi carbines were issued to Austrian cavalry with a long bayonet, some sources also suggest a spear point bayonet. The bayonet was carried reversed suspended in the carbine stock. The Austrian carbines were removed from service in 1779, following numerous reports of men being badly burned by escaping gases and opening breeches during the War of Bavarian Succession.
In 1768, Crespi was also allegedly hired by the Portuguese crown to establish a factory at Coimbra to manufacture guns using his system. By 1776,Crespi no longer had any interests in the factory and it was taken over by Companhia de Armamento who continued to manufacture conventional muzzleloading muskets.
In the early 1780s, the Duke of Richmond became the Master General of Ordnance and ordered a selection of breech loaders for trials. Two of these came from Swiss-born London Gunmaker Durs Egg. Egg’s carbine was a copy of Crespi’s system. The carbines were tested by a board of general officers in July 1784 and it was recommended that the carbine be issued to the Light Dragoon regiments. Egg was paid £31 10s for two carbines with one being presented to King George III and the other retained by the Ordnance office. Sources suggest a further 36 breech-loading carbines were ordered from Egg. In 1786, these were issued to the 7th, 10th, 11th, 15, and 16th Light Dragoons for field trials. These are often reffered to as the Pattern 1785 Egg/Crespi carbines, some of these trials guns were rifled for testing.
The Egg carbines were almost as long as a standard issue Short Land Pattern (Brown Bess) musket which was 58 inches or 150cm in overall length. Based on surviving examples it seems the smoothbore Egg carbine was 48.1 inches or 122cm overall while the rifled version was slightly longer at 53 inches or 135cm in length. This combined with the long reach of the spear bayonet, an estimated 35 inches (88cm) long, made for an extremely long weapon – certainly capable of reaching any mounted assailant a dragoon might face while dismounted. Unlike the Brown Bess’ the rifle fired a .60 calibre ball while the smoothbore fired a .68 calibre ball.
A standard dedicated carbine was not introduced for Britain’s light dragoon regiments until 1796. Until then the Short Land Pattern musket had been issued to dragoon regiments. The trials report was returned in 1788, recommending that more experimentation with the rifled carbines should be carried out and that a folding bayonet may be better suited to cavalry use.
The lack of a gas seal at the breech was also criticised and the Duke of Richmond began to explore other designs including those by Henry Nock. Tatham & Egg (Egg’s nephew) continued to manufacture weapons using the Crespi system until at least 1810, when some were made for volunteer yeoman cavalry (with serial numbers ranging up to at least #134). Crespi’s system would be improved by Urbanus Sartoris in 1817, with the addition of an interrupted screw and a moving barrel. Giuseppe Crespireportedly died in poverty and his breech-loading system became another footnote in the early history of breech loading firearms.
John H. Hall and the Origin of the Breechloader, D.B. Demeritt Jr., (source)
British Military Firearms 1650-1850, H.L. Blackmore, (1961)
The Austrian Army 1740-80: Cavalry, P.J. Haythornthwaite, (1994)