Category Archives: Consumer Alert!

A Blast from the Past — Literally

FOOM!There is been few blasts like the one that blew up USS Maine in Havana harbor, on 15 February 1898, the forward magazine of the ship blew up at 9:40 PM. A crew of 355 was nearly annihilated; there were only 16 uninjured survivors, and 75 or 80 wounded ones. Because the mishap happened at night, and officers’ country was in the aft end of the ship, the officers survived at a higher rate.

1024px-Telegram_from_James_A._Forsythe_to_Secretary_of_the_Navy_-_NARA_-_300264The captain of Maine, Charles Sigsbee, sent an urgent cry for help via Capt. James Forsythe, commanding officer of the Key West naval station.

The investigation that ensued ruled that the ship was subject to an attack by a naval mine. It was only the first of many investigations, and there remains to this day no conclusion, although the balance of expert opinion seems to suggest a mishap aboard ship is more likely than Spanish hostile action. The destruction of Maine became a casus belli in the hysteria-induced Spanish-American War of 1898. Indeed, it was probably the most influential cause, or pretext, for the US to have initiated that war.

The Maine was an odd ship, but she was created in the 1880s and 1890s at an odd time in naval affairs. “Armored Cruisers” seemed to be what Navies needed, ships that could combine sail and steam — she was initially designed with three masts — and that would attack headlong. Accordingly, Maine had a ram built into her bow, and her two gun barbettes (mounted in left-front and right-rear sponsons) were arranged so that she could deliver her full “broadside” — four 10-inch guns — only straight ahead or straight behind.

Maine also had advanced armor for her day — Harvey Steel, an early form of face-hardened armor. But it took so long for America to build, launch and commission this pre-Dreadnought battleship (ships characterized by guns in sponsons and coal-fired steam piston engines) that she was, although nearly new at her sinking, soon to be obsoleted by that British revolution in naval arms.

Our interest, of course, is easily led from the 10″ main battery on down through the 1.5″ anti-torpedo-boat armaments to, inevitably, the personal weapons.

Julia Maine Recovered Lee Navy

Like every Naval vessel, Maine had some small arms lockers, and in February, 1898, they held the unusual M1895 Winchester-Lee 6mm (.236 Navy) rifle. The rifles, at least some of them, were salvaged and were sold by Francis Bannerman of Bannerman’s Island fame. Ian at Forgotten Weapons has an excellent video showcasing one of these rare rifles, now featured in a Julia auction. James Julia expects a five figure knock-down on this. Julia explains his documentation of provenance:

Also accompanied by a copy of pages 34 and 35 of a reprint of The Bannerman Catalog of July 1907. Page 35 lists the serial numbers of 54 6mm Lee Straight Pull Rifles salvaged from the USS Maine, including this exact rifle.

Julia Maine recovered Navy

It also lists the SNs of six 45 cal Springfield rifles recovered at the same time. These rifles were sold to Bannermens [sic] through the Navy Yard at New York in Jan. 1900. These 54 Lee rifles and 6 Springfield rifles are the only officially documented small arms recovered from the USS Maine although there have been one or two others that have surfaced in the last few years that were undoubtedly authentic. Regardless there are probably no more than about 60 or so of these relics in existence.

How many guns came by their pitting this honestly? No doubt someone will take great pride in adding this piece of history to his collection.

Bubba Got a Boring Bar

bubbas boring bar AR

This is weight savings the hard way, considering that most of what’s cut away is 7075 or 6061 aluminum. You just can’t save that much weight that way.

CubanFALThere are FALs kicking around Latin America and Africa with a big borehole like that in the magazine well — that’s because they were supplied clandestinely by Cuba, and los Pollos Cubanos used the boring bar (or maybe a fly cutter, we defer to the machinists in the audience) to remove the Batistiano Cuban crest in hopes of concealing the guns’ origin. (Lotsa luck. Western intel agencies had the manifests of the deliveries, by serial number).

We found the Swiss-Cheese-AR image here, linked from here, hat tip Nathan S at TFB.

Aero Precision has gotten into the game with some gimmicky skeletonized lowers. This is not a production item, but was an experiment:

Aero Precision SkeletorThat’s also thanks to TFB. Structurally, it might hold up or it might not (really, most of the material in the sides of the lower is there to provide dust seal, and, to a limited extent, a shear web, so there’s no reason skeletonizing shouldn’t work, structurally). But the total weight savings is nominal: 0.169 lb or about 2.7 ounces. (About 0.08 Kg for those of you who roll that way). They could probably have saved almost as much by milling off the A2 reinforcements to the pivot pin lugs and buffer tower areas.

That gives you an idea of what Bubba’s Boring Bar Blaster actually saved: less than 2.7 oz, to be sure. That’s winning the game the hard way.

Aero Precision is not alone. Daytona Defense & Tactical sells a skeletonized “Reaper” lower for $85 bare and $90 anodized black. It looks like they took many of the same cuts Aero Precision did (we’re not going to guess who was first).

Daytona Defense Reaper

So what’s the game? As you might guess from all the discussion of weight, The Lightest AR Going. There’s a Tumblr where a guy aimed for 60 ounces (he overshot but not by much), and there are several other competitors around. So a new guy’s aiming below 60 ounces. Of course, his definition of a “fully-functional AR” may not gibe with yours — one of the first parts he sacrificed was the bolt catch, shortly followed by the magazine catch (he’s making a fixed-mag 10-round firearm). And we’ve got our doubts about the long-term viability of his aluminum bolt carrier (yes, really). But even he has said, he’s not drilling the thing full of holes.

It might be that X Products got the whole Gun of Skeletor thing started by, after a skeletonized drum magazine caught the public’s eye at SHOT, making a run of the things. (Not a short run, either. For 2015 they made 1200 Skeletonized mags for SR-25 pattern .308s, and sold ‘em out). The silhouette of the skeletonized AR-15 drum has been used as a sort of trademark by the company ever since.

Hey, you want a light AR? Going to shoot it with irons? Get an old Colt SP1carbine. Yes, it will have some compromises: iron sights only, of the less precise (and slightly harder to adjust) A1 flavor. No rails or freefloated goodies. But it’s only 6 pounds and change. If you want to get to 4 pounds and below, you can only do it by accepting unpleasant recoil, shorter life, and compromised performance.

If that’s a good deal to you, or if you just want to experiment, have at it.

 

Can a Gun be $6,000 and a Good Buy?

In our opinion, this one is. We’re not looking for a precision rifle that can say hello at 1,000+ meters — for one thing, there’s no place to shoot it to its potential in our corner of a state of smallholdings — but if you live in, say, Texas, Utah, or in the gun’s current home, Colorado, there’s a hell of a long-range rifle for sale at a reputable gun shop in Erie (North of Denver, East of Boulder, off I-25). Can you recognize a face from this close-up?

Accuracy International Action

A bolt face, that is? OK, you’ll certainly recognize this caliber marking:

Accuracy International barrel mark

The gun is a several-years-old, but apparently gently used and well kept, Accuracy International rifle. AI makes renowned, and ungodly expensive, sniper rifles in the UK and has a branch in the USA that makes them for the Western Hemisphere market.

Accuracy International full length

While it’s on GunBroker, which usually says “auction” to us, the minimum bid equals the buy-it-now. (If you have to ask, you may not be in this market).

The AI has mandatory modern precision rifle features, like a detachable magazine and Picatinny rail…

Accuracy International Action view

… and “preferred” features like a fully adjustable, folding stock. (Excuse us, “chassis”. What’s the difference between a stock and a chassis? About $2,000! Thanks, we’ll be in the blog all week).

This is as good a place as any to digress about adjustable stocks. Why are the stocks of military sniper rifles adjustable? Because a stock that fits the shooter, as Purdey and Holland & Holland (among others) knew well over a century ago, produces more hits on game (two- or four-legged, the principle is the same). But the bespoke-gunsmith approach to stocks is not practical to an army, where you must quickly outfit snipers, and where you must replace the snipers more frequently, on average, than the rifles. Being a subset of infantry, it’s to a degree a young man’s game; and unlike the snipers, the rifles don’t move on to leadership and training roles, but stay operational for years, even decades.

Plus, the military is wonderful (/sarc) at reorganizing working units, so even in peacetime a guy often leaves his dialed-in rifle behind and arrives at Unit B where they hand him a rifle dialed in by someone else. (Or his own unit has to send him to Sexual Harassment Interpersonal Training or some inane NCO school for a month, and he comes back to find Old Betsy has deployed with a new guy “you get Rack Number 36,” whatever that is).

So the ability to raise, and extend, and maybe even cant that stock a little bit is a wonderful feature to have, in any organization with a rifle may be used by more than one person.

The folding stock comes in handy any time you have to get in and out of a vehicle, whether it’s a Toyota pick up truck, an SDV or an MH-47. (Or the crappy Malibu you drive because you spent all your money on guns).

Accuracy International Folding stock

But the real strength of the weapon is not its features, but its precision and quality. AI is not unique or all alone in that; there’s an awful lot of come competition at the high-end of the precision rifle market. But this is truly a Rolls-Royce, for someone seeking the Roller of this market segment. (Actually, now that Rollers have VW motors, and Hot Wheels made-in-Taiwan styling, what’s the Roller of that market segment?)

Accuracy International full length right

As the heading of this blog post states, the quality (and snob appeal) of an AI rifle don’t come cheap. For this one, rhe price is a bracing $6,000, a substantial discount from the cost of a new one, for a gun that has a century of shooting ahead of it. Of course, that’s only half way to a working rifle; you’re looking at thousands more for a suitable glass and mounts. (the Mile High Gun Shop can help you out there, too; he’s the US distributor of excellent but crazy-expensive Swiss Spuhr mounts, and is well-acquainted with high end scopes).

At that price, flying into DIA and renting a car to inspect the rifle seems sensible, even though, as we mentioned, the dealer has a fine reputation in the precision shooting community.

Yes, it’s overkill for elk hunting, which you can do perfectly well with a Remington in .270. And the average shooter, which includes us, would probably be better served by a $1,000 gun and $5,000 in ammo and range time. But ads like this make our acquisitive little black heart skip a beat.

 

Instant South American Revolution Kit

One gun jeep — looks dead butch, but needs work. (Starting/charging system has proven resistant to troubleshooting). Ian at Forgotten Weapons has reached that stage that all vintage-vehicle LTRs reach; he is so eager to be divorced from this 1946 CJ-2A Jeep (basically, a wartime Jeep with bigger headlights for the civilian market) that he’s throwing in the semi-auto 1919A4 and mount. Beats the hell out of the toaster oven they might throw in at the local Buy Here Pay Here.

Ians Gun Jeep

Where’s Dietrich and his half-tracks? Lemme at ‘em!

I love old guns, but it turns out I only like the *idea* of old vehicles – not so much the actual working on them. It’s time for the Jeep to go, and free up some space in the garage for a project I will enjoy more. And what the heck, I’ll include the Browning 1919 semiauto with it.

The Jeep was basically rebuilt from the ground up, and while it isn’t a looker, it is top-notch underneath where things count.

The engine is a fully rebuilt (professionally) Studebaker Champion flat 6-cylinder, 170 cubic inches. It gives about 50% more horsepower and torque than the stock Jeep engines did, and it bolts right up to the stock transmission. That’s enough extra power that the thing can basically drive up trees, but not so much that it requires making the rest of the drivetrain beefier.

The transmission and transfer case are are the stock type (3-speed stick shift, with a 2-lever transfer case), and were both professionally rebuilt as well. The axles and diffs were in good shape, and have the original 5.38:1 gear ratio.

The ancillary equipment was all replaced or rebuilt – water pump, carburetor, radiator, radiator shroud, all the wiring, alternator, starter, and fan. It has 11″ drum brakes all around (in place of the stock 9″ ones), and a dual master brake cylinder. It also has an electric fuel pump. In addition to the stock 10-gallon gas tank, I replaced the passenger side toolbox with a second 10-gallon tank, and there is a switching valve on the dashboard so you can choose which tank to use at any given time.

The suspension was also replaced, with a set of Rancho 1″ life springs and new shocks. It has standard 16″ rims with some really cool looking narrow tires. The roll bar has the socket for the gun, and also has a gas can mount on either side, allowing you to carry a can of water and a can of gas.

via Want to buy a Jeep with a Browning 1919 on it? « Forgotten Weapons.

Don’t suppose he’d take a 1996 Impala SS in partial trade?

The counterweight to all that good stuff and sensible improvements is the dodgy electrical system. (Well, you could just paint it green, put a star on the hood, hang a Left Hand Drive placard on it and tell people it’s a British Jeep — no one would expect the electricals to work). $9,500, pick up in Tucson.

For more details (including the ones on the 1919, which is something that goes for $2k or so on its own) and to see two of Ian’s videos, one on the installation of the 1919 on the roll bar, and the other a Rat Patrol parody, or maybe tribute, go to Ze Link. But for Ian, ze voor in ze dezzert is over.

And hell, there are countries in South America that you could overthrow and govern better than the caudillo doing it now.

Wait, did we say South America?

Ghost Gunner Shipments Blocked, by…. ?

We haven’t heard directly from GG or Defense Distributed or Cody Wilson, but he’s tweeting up a storm on the subject. (Not having heard is irritating, when he’s sitting on four figures of our money. But we’ve received only one of the updates supposedly sent to all hands since purchasing a GG).

ghostgunner

Both FedEx and UPS have refused to ship the Ghost Gunner, and there is no convenient common carrier option apart from that shipping duopoly.

The funny thing is this: despite its name and its firearms application, the Ghost Gunner is really a general-purpose, open-source, CNC machine tool. We want it as much to see what ecosystem of fixtures and part files emerges, and to apply to airplane building, as we do as a way to do custom lowers (for which there are already other machines are on hand.

According to the shippers, any machine that might be used by a private party to ship guns is contraband, the law be damned. (It’s suggestive that both carriers reached this unique interpretation at the same moment in time). Does this mean that Sherline, Taig and Miniature Machine Shop will not be able to ship their goods in interstate commerce? (We probably shouldn’t give the Feds, whose threats are no doubt at the bottom of this debacle, any ideas).

Apparently, one part of  the “a pen and a phone” system of government that has replaced the obsolete Constitution in latter days is the ability to declare contraband not just things that some politicians don’t like, but machines that can make the things. 

the lives of othersOne is reminded of the old Communist system, which not only had a media monopoly and pervasive state surveillance, but went so far as the licensing and registration of deadly assault information technology, which in those days meant typewriters and mimeograph machines. Russian dissidents circulated manuscripts copied, sometimes one-at-a-time in the fashion of medieval monks defending knowledge from a new Dark ages, in a cultural phenomenon called samizdat – a term with the denotation of “self publishing” but a connotation of underground, forbidden, risky activity.

FedEx is particularly two-faced in this, as they offer NRA discounts, which is why Cody initially used them. But statements from FedEx spokesman Scott Fiedler to Wired and other online outlets make it clear that the company is fully on-board with the administration here. UPS spox Dan McMackin has confirmed that his firm, too, is firmly in the antigun camp and is pleased to collaborate in Administration anti-gun initiatives.

Wired Magazine’s Andy Greenberg goes all out to give the carriers the benefit of the doubt, but reaches (with the help of anti-gun UCLA professor Adam Winkler, who’s studied and written about gun control in America) an interesting conclusion (and one that Cody Wilson would recognize as suitably bleak for would-be regulators):

FedEx seems to be joining the same club of companies trying to avoid any part in digital DIY gunsmithing. But as more tools like 3-D printers and CNC mills find their way into Americans’ homes, they may have to face the reality that those devices can also create deadly weapons, says UCLA’s Winkler. “It’s going to be very hard to get people to stop using these same devices to make firearms,” he says. “To a certain extent, FedEx will have to get used to shipping gun-making machines.”

There is good news for buyers in this, perhaps: by refusing to deliver the product, FedEx and UPS are in effect insuring you against the project’s failure to deliver. If you never get the product you have paid for, you can add the carriers as defendants to your suit, and recover from their (and their reinsurers’) deep pockets. They want to take a partisan, political position? Let them pay for it.

For More Information:

Ostensible Cody Wilson letter (he did not send this to us, and we are fully-paid purchasers). If this is authentic, it looks like what began as a dispute over rates escalated into an outright ban on shipping, based on what FedEx was told by persons unknown but presumably aligned with the Administration:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1675453-putting-the-federal-in-federal-express.html

That email was posted by Ars Technica writer Cyrus Farivar; Farivar’s article follows:

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/02/fedex-wont-ship-the-box-that-makes-homemade-metal-semi-automatic-rifles/

GunsAmerica story:

http://www.gunsamerica.com/blog/fedex-refuses-ship-perfectly-legal-diy-ar-15-cnc-machine/

Wired story:

http://www.wired.com/2015/02/fedex-mill-untraceable-firearms/

Reason Magazine’s Hit & Run Blog:

http://reason.com/blog/2015/02/23/cody-wilsons-ghost-gunner-banned-by-fede

Numerous other sites have secondary stories derived from the above (like us, now), including TTAG and Infowars.

Since the initial statements of anti-gun and anti-manufacturing policy, both FedEx and UPS have clammed up.

Transferable History

We’ve featured an MP.18-II before, which is a later iteration of this exact same gun, with a magazine well reconfigured for straight magazines. (It led in turn to the MP.28, the Lanchester, and the Sten, by fairly direct process of derivation). But this gun, the MP.18-I, is the granddaddy of them all, and it could be yours.

MP.18-I 03It is certainly the first widely produced submachine gun, defined as a shoulder-fired infantry weapon firing a pistol cartridge with an automatic or select-fire mechanism. A blowback mechanism, it showed the way for many designs that would follow through three generations of submachine guns, until the rise of compact versions of intermediate-cartridge assault weapons would replace most of them.

Some would say it has a face only a mother could love:

MP.18-I 28

 

And it’s just as awkward looking from behind. MP.18-I 24

The drum magazine is so odd looking because it was already in production for the Lange P.08, the “Artillery” Luger. Rather than try to design a thirtyish-round magazine, the engineers at Theodor Bergmann in the weapons-manufacturing center Suhl, Germany, did what many later gun designers would do and borrowed a proven one.

MP.18-I Snail Drum 03

 

The gadget with the lever is the magazine loader, a must-have for these unique mags. Note the sleeve that fits on them for SMG use.

MP.18-I 06

Like all first-generation submachine guns the MP.18-I is made using the rifle processes of the early 20th Century. It is primarily made of steel parts machined from billet or forgings, richly blued; and the stock is solid walnut. If four years of relentless naval blockade had damaged the German Empire’s war production capabilities, this gun doesn’t show it.

The auction has a very reasonable opening bid, for what it is, but there is also a reserve. No, we don’t know what the reserve is.

As the catchy song goes, what does the ad say?

This is a really nice example of the early 9 mm German submachine gun used in WWI. MP18-1 was the first true Submachine Gun. This is not all matching, but is an excellent example with an excellent bore.

These are very rare and hard to find because most MP18’s were modified to accept the straight magazine instead of the drum magazine.

There was a show on the tube, the one with that perv guy, where they bubba’d up a later MP. 18-II to resemble this, so you might want to ensure that this is not the Bubba gun version.

It has a 1920 stamp on the receiver so it was used by the Weimar Police.

This comes with 2 drums with adapters and 1 drum loading tool. These drums are the same drums used with the Artillery Luger. This is C&R fully transferable and is currently on a form 3.

via German WWI MP18,I with 2 Drums & Loader : Machine Guns at GunBroker.com.

If you’re familiar with later German SMGs, the bolt and striker of the MP.18 look pretty familiar:

MP.18-I 25

The simplicity of this firearm was so elegantly perfect for its purpose that it spawned hundreds of work-alikes, few of which improved on its basic function (after replacing the overly complex magazine).

This may look like a lot of pictures, but there are way more at the auction link — something like 30 of them all told. You know you want to click over there anyway.

Sure, it’s more than our pickup cost, new, and it’s almost 100 years old. But on the other hand, our pickup will be worth approximately $0 in ten years, and an original MP.18-I is unlikely to lose much value. (If you buy it into a business you can even try depreciating it and see if the tax guys let you).

In case two drums aren’t enough for you, the same seller has a third, too. Without loader, but with dust cover. They’re all First Model snail drums. Annoy a totalitarian, buy a 32-round magazine.

third drum

One nice thing about this seller’s auctions is that they run for a good, long time. The MP.18 has eight days to go. (Serious bidders may not show up until close to the end. Don’t read too much into lack of bids on an auction when it still has weeks to run).

Another nice thing about these auctions? They give all of us the chance to see many rare collector pieces. We can’t own them all, but we can get eyes on them when they change hands. How cool is that?

Today Only Book Deal – Free

SF A TeamsLadies and Gents, here’s a freebie for you if you act fast, thanks to author (and retired Colonel) Tom Davis. Special Forces A Teams is a carve-out from Tom’s longer autobiography, The Most Fun I Ever Had with My Clothes On: A March from Private to Colonel. It includes his memories of service as a junior officer on a Special Forces ODA in the United States and Europe (Tom’s Vietnam service was in conventional forces, IIRC).

In the book, Tom Davis tells stories of SF Combat Diver (SCUBA) school; walking the Appalachian Trail with an ODA whose leader he was sent to relieve, but wasn’t just taking a relief lying down; of being trained as a Green Light team; and of the lieutenant who had to learn for himself that what the teams did with cryptographic material wasn’t what doctrine said to do with it:

On one such Flintlock we deployed from RAF Greenham Common, England, into Germany. My new, XO, LT Tuffs, decided that he would do as he was taught in the SF Course and maintain control of the one-time pads (OTP). One-time pads were crypto pads about the size of a small notebook. They consisted of pages and pages of letters in five groups each. Once they were filled out , they were destroyed.

An officer on the Team was supposed to maintain control of them and write and encrypt each message then give it to the commo guy who would send out the encrypted five-letter groups via Morse code over the radio. In reality, the senior commo guy, in this case SFC Taylor, would carry the pads and encrypt the message that I gave him. I didn’t feel good about it, but I couldn’t tell Tuffs that he couldn’t do it as he was taught. Anyway, what could go wrong?

We were three days into the operation. I was sitting by the fire when Tuffs walked over, his face colorless. I knew instantly something had really gotten screwed up. “What?” I said expecting the worse.

“Sir, I can’t find the one-time pads.” He looked down and shook his head.

This was a BIG deal. Not only had we lost a sensitive real world crypto document, we had lost it in a foreign country! “Are you sure?” I said, seeing my career, what little there was of it, flash before my eyes. All he could do was nod his head and gulp shallow breaths.

We went over to his field gear, and I emptied his rucksack and turned his sleeping bag inside out. No pads. If we couldn’t find them within the next hour, I would send a flash message, in the clear no less, back to our battalion headquarters (called a FOB or Forward Operations Base) to let them know we had really screwed up. There was no question the commander would have administratively yanked us all out of the field and started a 15-6 investigation into the matter. I stomped back over to my gear and was about to call [team sergeant Thompson over to tell him to get everybody together so we could backtrack where we had come from. Just then Thompson and Taylor walked up. Taylor was smiling. Thompson wasn’t.

“Taylor has something to show you.” Thompson motioned Taylor forward. “Look what I found on the ground back at our last stop.” Taylor produced the pads.

“You found these back at our RON (Rest Over Night) and are just now telling me?” I knew exactly what he was doing. He was making the point that the commo guy should be the one to control the pads as we, and every other Team, had always done.

Tuffs was right and Taylor was wrong but also right. I called Tuffs over and showed him the pads. His reaction was just like when you’ve lost your billfold then find it, but multiplied by ten! I allowed as how even though doctrine dictated that an officer control the pads, we’d let SFC Taylor control ours from then on. Tuffs was good with that.

Most every team, during the days of 2LT team Executive Officers, had a story like that, and frankly, most of the former XOs can tell one, too. It was part of learning the tribal knowledge of how to lead SF soldiers, things that weren’t in the book, and that sometimes, like in this case, conflicted with doctrine.

There are a number of reasons team leaders shouldn’t have been the ones encrypting messages, but the biggest ones are 1. the TL’s time is precious, and 2. anyone who encrypts a lot of messages, as every communicator (SFC Taylor would have been a 05B4S, today he’d be an 18E4) has done in his MOS phase of SFQC and subsequent service, is going to be much, much faster than anyone who has little experience of it. The one-time pads still exist as a backup, and have the signal (no pun intended) advantage of being proven unbreakable, so long as the keystream or key generation is truly random.

Anyway, the stories are entertaining. This sub-book ends with an offer of a discount on Tom’s full-length book in trade paperback format, something that fixes one real problem with the Kindle format, the tiny fixed-size pictures.

You want real SF stories from a real SF guy, Davis has got ‘em. Get ‘em yourself here. After today, the price goes up to $3!

Note

This post has been corrected. The commo man’s MOS has been repaired, per the note in the comments from Mike Hill (himself a former commo man! He would know).

Additive Manufacturing in Defense and Aerospace

Today, we have two links for you that will expand your knowledge of what the DOD and Aerospace world is doing with additive manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing for Armaments

Screenshot 2015-02-19 22.56.11The first is slightly dated, because it comes from the NDIA’s 2013 Armament conference. (Yes, 2013 was a long time ago in this rapidly developing field). It is the presentation slides of Stratasys’s John Dobstetter. Stratasys (SSYS) is one of the two large publicly traded firms in the field (the other is 3D Systems, whose ticker symbol fits: DDD).

Personally, we wouldn’t cross the street to whiz on Stratasys if they were on fire, because the company is firmly antigun and pro-gun-control, but Dobstetter’s presentation is an excellent one that starts out assuming that (1) his audience knows nothing about additive, but (2) it’s a bunch of smart people who know manufacturing and catch on quickly.

Screenshot 2015-02-19 22.56.28There’s fascinating stuff about when to use additive (see the Sweet Spot slide above) and how it can be applied to every phase or stage of manufacture (see the Lifecycle Applications slide to the right). Switched-on manufacturers, like Czech airplane manufacture Evektor, are using additive parts both as tooling and as end use parts.

There are some extremely clever uses of additive, either alone or hybridized with other tools, for composite layup tooling, producing some very interesting carbon, glass and aramid (Kevlar) parts. Likewise, end uses can be hybridized, with additive-manufactured complex ends added to shafts or beams made by winding filament or tow around a simple metal mandrel.

A .pdf of Dobstetter’s presentation is found here in the archives of the 2013 Armament conference.

Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace

MIT Technology Review has an interesting article (aren’t they all? Well, in MIT Tech Review, maybe) called Additive Manufacturing Is Reshaping Aviation. In this case, they’re not talking about little piston-plane builders like Evektor or Cirrus, but the big gorillas of jet-engine production, Pratt & Whitney and GE.

prattwhitneyx299Pratt & Whitney already uses two additive manufacturing techniques to make some engine components. Instead of casting metal in a mold, the methods involve forming solid objects by partially melting a metal powder with either a laser or an electron beam.

Additive manufacturing processes can reduce waste, speed up production, and enable designs that might not be feasible with conventional production processes.

Ding ding ding… we have frequently mentioned this benefit, the ability to design things free of the shackles of traditional subtractive manufacturing.

The novel shapes and unusual material properties the technology makes possible—such as propeller blades optimized for strength at one end and flexibility at the other—could change the way airplanes are designed.

Of course, propeller blades are already optimized that way, by having taper in three dimensions. And a company named Carter Aviation Technologies has developed revolutionary propellers that use a flexible composite skin around two spars that flex like the bones in your forearm to change the delta of pitch in the propeller, whereas conventional propellers can only change the pitch itself, not its rate of change. (Hey, you could use the additive tooling that Dobstetter showed in the first cite to make all the iterations of a Carter-patent propeller that you could possibly use).

Meanwhile, engineers hold out hope for today’s amazing technology to be supplanted by better machinery — finer resolution, faster printing, better-understood statics & mechanics. Even as great as the state of the art is, the engineers must push it:

…additive manufacturing techniques need to improve to allow for higher precision. Once researchers understand the fine, molecular-scale physics of how lasers and electron beams interact with powders, [P&W engineer Frank Prelli] says, “that will lead to the ability to put in finer and finer features, and faster and faster deposition rates.”

Whatever happens with the jet engine makers and the airframers that are their major customers, we can expect more and better from additive manufacturing. While the whole thrust of the article is aerospace, it has clear applications to defense and firearms manufacturing.

And A Bonus from MIT Tech Review: Nanosteel

What happens to steel when you apply nanotechnology to it?

MIT Tech Review’s Kevin Bullis (same guy that wrote the additive article linked above) is saying things that scarcely seem possible:

An inexpensive new process can increase the strength of metals such as steel by as much as 10 times…

Can you think of a firearms application for that? Or about 100 of them? We sure can. (Saving 90% of the weight of a Browning MG in .338 LM?)

But wait! It turns out it doesn’t just strengthen the steel… it also makes it much more corrosion-resistant. It works by electroplating nanometer-thing material onto a part in nano-engineered layers. It has the effect of changing the apparent properties of the now-hybridized part.

And it’s not significantly more expensive than current plating and coating processes.

Seen For Sale: Granatenwerfer 16

So on this weeks W4, there’s an interesting ad for an interesting weapon: a Granatenwerfer 16. The Granatenwerfer 16 is an update of an earlier device (Granatenwerfer 15).  The example in the next photo is not the Sturm sales offer; this one was captured by the Australian 13th Battalion at Morcourt on 8 August 1918, during the sanguinary 1918 Somme offensive, it rests in the Australian War Memorial, and, it’s worth noting, the Sturm example is more complete and in better shape.

australian war memorial granatenwerfer

The bare gun like that leaves one puzzled at how it works, but when you see a grenade slipped over the “barrel,” which is really a “spigot,” it starts to clear up. These devices work on the unusual “spigot mortar” principle. This is most familiar to students of small arms, perhaps, from the late-WWII British PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) which used the spigot mortar principle to launch a Monroe Effect shaped charge. (If you only have reference to movies, it’s the AT weapon the paras use to defend their bridgehead in Arnhem in A Bridge Too Far).

PIAT

While the US and German forces went to rockets (and the Germans, also, to a projected grenade from inside a tube) some bright British spark remembered the spigot mortar principle from World War I (it was also used on by the WWII Brits on Naval weapons, like the Hedgehog antisubmarine weapon, and on some bizarre creations for the Home Guard).

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II.

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II. It never faced the Wehrmacht, fortunately for the men who crewed it.

Today, we have come to assume that the Stokes type muzzle loaded mortar is the infantry standard, and it seems always to have been. Nowadays, it is used by all the nations of the world. But in World War I, there was no assumption or guarantee that this would be the ideal, simple, cheap infantry support weapon. What soldiers did figure out very quickly is that, with enemy forces sheltered in trenches, pillboxes and other field fortifications, a small weapon that could deliver high-angle fire would be idea. This caused the development of a wide range of weapons, all around the world, from Japan’s light grenade projector that would be known to her Second World War enemies as the “knee mortar”; to a wide panoply of small pack artillery pieces, little jewels in small calibers; to the trench mortar itself… Stokes and Brandt deserve their own posts at Weaponsman.com some time soon.

But the Imperial German Army covered the dead zone between bayonet and hand-grenade range on the low end, and the danger-close limits of artillery on the high, with a special spigot mortar, which they called with the Teutonic love of compound words a Granatenwerfer — “Grenade Thrower.”

Granatenwerfer 2

This name has caused some internet sources to conclude that this threw ordinary German stick grenades, and one post that made us laugh suggested that its ammunition was the Stielhandgranate 24, as in 1924. But in fact, it shot its own ammunition. Ian at Forgotten Weapons has a post with some photographs of another example, and the German manual (a .pdf that requires you to read not only German, but the old Fraktur alphabet). There’s a post at Gunboards (you need to be a member to blow up the pictures) but at a glance this looks like the same example of this weapon that Ian had photos of.  It’s a pretty beaten-up example compared to the Sturm for-sale item.

There’s lots more information and photos at Kaiserscross.com and some history at BulgarianArtillery.it.

Here’s the text of the Sturm ad:

granatenwerfer7

For sale is a W W 1 German Granatenwerfer in mint condition. It is in it’s original factory box with all tools, spare parts, original manual, etc.

Granatenwerfer 3

 

Data plate in lid completely intact.

2 dewat projectiles included. Rebuilt / restored baseplate in perfect working condition with all data plates intact.

2 original ammo crates in excellent condition, all hardware present, working and intact. 1 crate has original paper munition label inside in perfect condition.

Granatenwerfer 4

The other crate is lined with Berlin newspaper circa 1922.

Granatenwerfer 6

Not on BATFE destructive device list, no special license or transfer fee required. Buyer responsible for pickup, too heavy to ship. Serious inquiries only, will not part out. This is a museum grade grouping that is impossible to upgrade. Payment with certified funds.

It’s one of the most complete and best ones we’ve ever seen, but like you’d expect from a museum-quality live weapon, it has a museum-worthy 6-figure price. But if you’re planning on reenacting Capporetto next year, you just might need it.

The Granatenwerfer 16 worked like this: an ordinary 7.92mm x 57mm Mauser cartridge with its bullet removed was inserted in the fragmentation grenade — way up inside the tube, there’s a sort of chamber for it. In effect, it is a blank cartridge with no crimp. The tube slips over the spigot, the face of which is a de facto breech, with a firing pin at center. The firing pin is released by a trigger. The cartridge fires, and launches the grenade… then it falls off the spigot, leaving room for the next loaded grenade.

We want it.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Sturmgewehr.com

Screenshot 2015-02-19 07.06.34Today’s Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Sturmgewehr.com, is a sales site. It’s a sales site that is, in our view, narrowcast to, well, the sort of folks that read this board.

Want an assault rifle? (Oh, wait, a “Modern Sporting Rifle”?) Or some other recent military or military-like firearm? How about an NFA weapon, a rare machine gun or destructive device?

Or maybe you have such an item, a rare one, where the buyers are few and widely distributed around the world?

We’re constantly referencing GunBroker.com here, and that’s because it is, in our opinion, the go-to auction site for rare and exotic weapons. We also like to keep tabs on two top physical brick-and-mortar-auction houses for 20th and 21st-Century small arms, James D. Julia and Rock Island Auctions. (We will concede this: Ian at Forgotten Weapons does better at this than we do. But gun blogging is his day job, and sometimes the weapons we like are far from forgotten). An auction is, by definition, the best way to find out what something is really worth to the world market.

But suppose you don’t want to auction your weapon. Maybe you have a very clear idea of what it’s worth, or at least, what it’s worth to you. Maybe you’re totally confident you can set the price high enough to maximize your recovery, and low enough to make the sale happen on your schedule. Maybe you want a trade: Jim Julia would be glad to get rid of your XM110 sniper system for you, but he isn’t going to get you a transferable MP.38 for it. YOYO for that. And maybe the economics of an auction, where you either must pay for a listing, or must pay a percentage, are not congenial. Likewise, maybe you, as a buyer, don’t want to monkey with an auction with all the attendant risk of losing your Precious to a last-minute sniper.

If that’s you, then you need to spend some quality time at Sturmgewehr.com. It’s a simple, free market board where literally anyone can post any firearm or related collectors item in a narrowcast board. Here’s a snippet of the NFA board:

Screenshot 2015-02-19 07.14.48

It’s not going to win any prizes for physical beauty, but man, is it ever dense with usable information. When you open a listing, most of them tell you a few more details and terms, some link to images, and some have an embedded image or two, but most don’t. This is Jack Webb approved MG sales: “Just the facts.”

The boards are clearly delineated:

Screenshot 2015-02-19 07.06.07

There are relatively few rules but owner Buddy Hinton enforces them with a firm hand, which is why Sturm has managed to retain a high value for the dedicated collector and dealer of rare military arms. Every day, many postings by the gentlemen who didn’t read the rules (or by Unique and Special Snowflakes™ who thought the rules didn’t apply to them) get dispatched to the bit bucket. Every two weeks, your sell or buy ad gets dropped. This assures you that the postings on the site are germane, current and available. There is no distinction between dealer posts and buyer posts.

One warning: because there are high-value items on here that are being sold interstate for cash, there are scammers on here. Buddy flags them when he sees them, but he can’t see them all. Be leery of emails that track back to a free service. Don’t send a money order to an address that has not just a street name but also an inmate number. Use your judgment; we always establish two-way communications first. (Many of the sellers here are reputable dealers that you’ll recognize from other sales modes, and many are honest individuals).

Take great care to comply with Federal and state laws. While we’re not aware of anyone being entrapped by law enforcement here, they’re certainly aware of and monitor the board. The best way to make sure that you don’t wind up in the back seat where the door handles don’t work is to know and not to violate any of the laws governing gun sales