The political news website The Daily Caller has an interesting reprint of the American Rifleman’s initial, 1962, review of the AR-15 rifle. Nowadays, ARs are extremely common, and most of the people who shoot them, for business or for pleasure, weren’t reading American Rifleman in 1962. In fact, most of them weren’t alive 52 years ago. So if you’re one of those Johnny-come-latelies, or if you’ve not and misplaced your copy in the last half-century, here’s a snippet of the DC’s reprint for you. (Note: for reasons explained below the excerpt, the Daily Caller links have been replaced with links to the American Rifleman version).
It was interesting, to us, that, “Many features of the AR-15 are of European origin and not generally familiar to American shooters.…” Fact is, we’ve lost sight of just how revolutionary the AR was when it first hit. Thumbing through the actual magazines, comparing them to today’s versions, brings the point home even more starkly. All the guns and activities in all the articles and ads scream: “Elmer Fudd was here!” So the bemused tone of the following time capsule from 1962 is not out of place.
The AR-15 rifle was developed by the Armalite Division of Fairchild Engine & Airplane Corp., with the great personal interest of its then President, the late Richard S. Boutelle. It is mainly a scaled-down copy of the Fairchild Armalite AR-10 rifle, which had been offered for some years in 7.62 mm NATO and other military calibers. A composite steel-aluminum barrel and a complicated flash suppressor originally used in the AR-10 proved unsuccessful. The AR-15 has an all-steel barrel and a short form of the Army-developed bar-type flash suppressor instead.
Many features of the AR-15 are of European origin and not generally familiar to American shooters, but they were already long tried and have worked out well in this case.
The AR-15 can be hinged open somewhat like a double-barrel shotgun, permitting easy bolt removal and bore inspection. This feature goes back to the Czech ZH or ZB 29 rifle. It will be recognized as a feature of the Fabrique Nationale rifle which has been adopted as standard by Belgium, Great Britain, Canada and Australia. As the T48, the FN was very thoroughly tested by the United States in competition with the Springfield-designed T44, the latter ultimately winning adoption as our M14.
The rear sight of the AR-15 is built into a fixed carrying handle, like that of the British EM 2 rifle which was considered at about the time the 7.62 mm NATO caliber was standardized, and which was even adopted for a short time by Great Britain. The ejection port is covered with a hinged lid, which keeps dirt out of the action and flies open automatically at the first shot as in the German Sturmgewehr 44.
The stock is straight, with separate hand grip. This conformation has been used in many full-automatic shoulder weapons. It brings the recoil force almost in line with the shoulder and thus helps to control the tendency to rise in full-automatic fire. It also adapts well to breech mechanisms which, like the AR-15, have a long receiver and the action spring in the buttstock.
For operation of the breech mechanism, gas is led back from a point about two-thirds up the barrel through a tube above the barrel and within the fore-end. This is much like the Swedish M42 Ljungman rifle, and the later French MAS 1944 and 1949 rifles. A gas-tube system also was used in the Swiss SK-46 rifle. The operating gas is introduced between the two parts of the bolt, forcing the head to unlock and then forcing both parts to the rear.
The gas-tube system obviously eliminates an operating rod or slide and on that account has sometimes been stated to be a material design simplification. However, eliminating the operating slide requires that the bolt be made in two parts, instead of the usual one-piece bolt, so the number of parts remains the same as before. The moving parts must be given a certain mass to carry through the cycle after the initial gas impulse, and elimination of the operating slide requires a correspondingly heavier bolt. Thus both the number of parts and their weight remain substantially the same as in other designs.
Likewise, the extensive use of aluminum has not resulted in an unusually light rifle. The AR-15 weighs nearly 1/2-lb. more than the steel Winchester rifle.
The receiver, including the carrying handle, the trigger guard and the grip, is made of aluminum alloy. The magazine also is made of aluminum alloy, as in a number of other present-day rifles. Aluminum is easily fabricated and can be anodized to a superior non-reflective and durable finish. Necessary strength is provided by a steel barrel extension into which the bolt head locks.
Stocked With Plastic
Fore-end and buttstock are of a light green plastic. This has a pleasing feel and appears to be quite successful. The fore-end stands clear of the barrel and is lined to resist barrel heat. The rear sight is a simple two-leg peep, adjustable laterally. The front sight is adjustable vertically. These adjustments are readily made with a point of a cartridge as the only tool. They are intended for zeroing only. Obviously such sights are not meant for target shooting, but they are reliable in service. Firing trial by The Rifleman staff in 1959 showed the AR-15 to be very easy and pleasant to shoot in semiautomatic fire. The inherently light recoil of the small cartridge is further reduced in effect by the straight stock. Functioning was notably positive, regular and reliable.
It’s really a good and thorough review, so Read The Whole Thing™ (link goes to the American Rifleman site).
The Colt Model 601 AR-15 that the Rifleman tested was, they noted, functionally identical to the Fairchild Armalite gun they’d tested earlier. They visited the Colt factory to see how the company was making ARs (on conventional machine tools, without much specialty equipment, although if they had to increase production they planned to retool). And the article closes with a stirring charge to the Army to stick with the (then-new, after all) M14 until the revolutionary project SALVO, “a future infantry weapon far more effective than any conventional shoulder rifle,” was ready. (That would have been a hell of a long wait).
We’re grateful to the Daily Caller for bringing this story to our attention, but we’re not too thrilled with how they delivered it. First, it’s broken into three pages (which lets them mislead their advertisers about their hit count. Lame). Next, they love pop-up ads. We will never boycott a pop-up advertiser, because we always slam the pop-up closed before their pitch can load, and we don’t think we’re the Lone Rangers on that. The vast majority of the money spent on this offensive, intrusive advertising is wasted. (If somebody does let the page load, this slimeball door-to-door-salesman approach probably actually damages the advertiser’s reputation). But most seriously, they deliver the text of the article without the illustrations.
It turns out that that’s because they lifted the article whole from the American Rifleman website, where it was recently featured on a blog page, again, without the images. We never go to the American Rifleman website; we get the magazine, but the site is incredibly crappy and disorganized, with blaring autoplay videos and all the excesses of bad 1990s web design, except maybe the [blink] tag. It was only blind luck that led us to American Rifleman’s blog post, and we discovered that, unlike the Daily Caller knockoff, it’s all on one page, at least; and unlike most of the pages at American Rifleman (and all of the pages at Daily Caller) it’s free of hard-sell pop-up and autoplay cruft. So we went back in this post and changed the links all to the American Rifleman version except for this Hat tip to the Daily Caller. Fair play to give them that.