The Latest from Cactus Tactical

Suppliers of innovative self defense tactical equipment and police gear

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Tactical Blog from Cactus Tactical

A Brief History of The AR-15

A Brief History of The AR-15

Today we take a look at weapon famous for many things but today we are going to take  a look at it's origin story.

On an August afternoon in 1863, Christopher Spencer made his way to the White House with a rifle in hand. The gun he was carrying, and which he had invented, was significantly different from traditional rifles of the time that could only be fired once before having to be reloaded. The new Spencer Repeating rifle could be loaded with seven cartridges in a tubular magazine and featured a lever under the trigger. When the lever was pushed down and then brought back up, the spent casing of the round that was fired was ejected and a new round was automatically fed into the chamber.

Upon arriving at the White House, Spencer, President Lincoln and a naval aide walked over to a small park near the Treasury Building where the aide set up a makeshift pine board target so that Lincoln could test the new rifle himself. Repeatedly hitting the target, Lincoln was impressed with the accuracy, rapid-fire and multi-shot capabilities of the Spencer and immediately recommended the rifle to the Army. Soon tens of thousands of Spencer rifles were being delivered to Union troops.

While the Spencer Repeating Arms Company was founded after the war, lever-action rifles, notably those produced by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, became tremendously popular rifles among pioneers, hunters and homesteaders for the very same reasons they were popular among the troops in the Civil War. More compact, lighter, and easier to handle, they offered the owner quick and multiple shots before reloading. It was a weapon that was a total game changer for that era. Even one of President Theodore Roosevelt's favorite hunting rifles was a Winchester lever-action Model 1895.

For well over a century, many of our most popular sporting rifles have directly evolved from a service rifle of a particular era. Battlefield requirements in a rifle such as accuracy, ruggedness, reliability and fast follow-up shots are features equally sought by hunters and target shooters alike.

The bolt-action centerfire rifle, for many decades America's classic deer hunting rifle, is a descendent of the First World War battle rifle, the 1903 Springfield. The bolt-action of the Springfield offered smooth and rapid cycling of the action and allowed for the use of a more powerful cartridge, the .30/06, is accurate at ranges up to 1000 yards. Even now,  a hundred years later, the .30/06 still stands as America's most popular big game hunting cartridge.

The first semi-automatic U.S. service rifle, the Springfield .30 M-1, popularly known as the Garand, saw service initially in the Second World War. Not long after the war, a wide range of semi-automatic hunting rifles as well as semi-automatic shotguns were developed by sporting arms manufacturers and have gained widespread popularity among both hunters and clay target shooters.

The AR-15 is a lightweight, intermediate cartridge magazine-fed, air-cooled rifle with a rotating lock bolt, actuated by direct impingement gas operation or long/short stroke piston operation. It has been produced in many different versions, including numerous semi-automatic and select fire variants. It is manufactured with extensive use of aluminum alloys and synthetic materials

The AR-15 is based on the 7.62 mm AR-10 designed by Eugene Stoner, Robert Fremont, and L. James Sullivan of the Fairchild Armalite corporation. The AR-15 was developed as a lighter, 5.56 mm version of the AR-10. The "AR" in all ArmaLite pattern firearms simply stands for ArmaLite, and can be found on most of the company's firearms.

The AR-15 rifle is a semi-automatic, gas operated, rotating bolt, rifle designed by Eugene Stoner in 1957. The AR-15 is the civilian derivative of the select fire, military version, the M16. The weapon comes in many sizes, calibers, and lengths ranging from a 26” free floated, bull barrel, .308, target model with a fixed stock to a 7” barrel, 9mm pistol, to a somewhat common 16” heavy barrel .223 carbine with a collapsible stock.

1964 it was redesigned as the M16 replacing the M14 as the standard service rifle in the jungles of Vietnam.Colt continued to market to the civilian market with semi-automatic versions of its now m ilitary counterpart. The rifle started with many flaws, and things that are now standard on an AR-15 took a long time to catch on. Before all of these upgrades to the rifle it was prone to frequent fouling, overheating, and many other failures. Having a service life of over 50 years and counting it has had a lot of time to correct the issues that once plagued them.

The rifles main flaw is said to be its direct-impingement gas system. Because the gas system blows directly onto the bolt and carrier as well as into the receiver, fouling and jamming can very easily occur if not properly cleaned and lubricated. There are variants on the market today that do not use a direct impingement system and instead opt for a gas piston/operating rod system.

Today hundreds of manufacturers make the AR-15 rifle for military, civilian, and law enforcement use and hundreds of variants exist, each more customizable. picatinny/weaver mounting system, one can find accessories that include slings, flashlights, red reen/infrared laser sights, bipods, vertical foregrips, and magazine holders, even attachments to mount other weapons to the rifle like pistols, short barreled shotguns and grenade/flare launchers. We here at Cactus Tactical carry many of these accessories such as the one here: There are fixed stocks, collapsible stocks, adjustable sniper stocks, and even some pistol versions have no stocks at all. There are hand guards with or without rails, quad rail hand guards, ultra light hand guards and free-floated hand guards. And with a carry handle or without, scope options are almost unlimited, ranging from holographic sights, to magnifiers, to full power scopes, even night vision. We also carry parts such as these:

In 1948, the U.S. Army established the Operations Research Office (ORO) to analytically study a number of problems associated with ground weapons in the nuclear era.

One of ORO's early projects was ALCLAD, a search for better infantry body armor. During this search, the ORO discovered just how little was known about how individuals were wounded in combat. ORO looked into several questions regarding the manner in which soldiers were struck by rifle projectiles and shell fragments, including:

  • frequency and distribution of such hits
  • the types of wounds incurred in combat and
  • the average ranges at which wounds were inflicted
  • Answers to these questions were obtained by evaluating over three million casualty reports for World Wars I and II, as well as data from the Korean conflict.

From the data they gathered, ORO concluded that what the Army needed was a low recoil weapon firing a number of small projectiles. In 1957 the United States Army Continental Army Command (CONARC) sought commercial assistance in the development of a 5.56mm military rifle. CONARC sponsored the development of a .22 military rifle and asked Winchester and Armalite to come up with designs for a high-velocity, full and semi auto fire, 20 shot magazine, 6lbs loaded, able to penetrate both sides of a standard Army helmet at 500 meters rifle. The competing rifles were:

In 1959, ArmaLite sold its rights to the AR-10 and AR-15 to Colt. After a tour by Colt of the Far East, the first sale of AR-15s was made to Malaya on September 30, 1959, with Colt's manufacture of their first 300 AR-15s in December 1959. Colt marketed the AR-15 rifle to various military services around the world. After modifications (most notably the relocation of the charging handle from under the carrying handle to the rear of the receiver), the redesigned rifle was adopted by the United States military as the M16 rifle. 1973 Colt AR-15 SP1 rifle with 'slab side' lower receiver (lacking raised boss around magazine release button) and original Colt 20-round box magazine.

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. 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.

The development of new weapons concepts is very far from having been neglected. As early as 1952, even before a replacement for the M1 rifle had been developed, thought was given as to what was to follow. This eventually resulted in adoption of the present weapons system of which the M14 rifle is a part. Study was continued, the problem being set up in objective terms of hitting ability, wounding ability, and the load to be carried, regardless of whether the means were conventional or not. Possibly because of some of the means considered, the project was named “Salvo.” We will first note, however, the line of continued caliber reduction, which (despite never having been adopted by our country other than briefly by the Navy) is old and quite conventional.

In 1953 the cal. .30 carbine cartridge was necked to cal. .22 for this purpose at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Tests were made in carbines barreled and made fully operational with this cartridge. Light weight was fully achieved, but the power was considered insufficient. The power was then increased, the first step being shortening of the .222 Remington cartridge. This was followed by a whole series of cartridges made from the 7.62 mm NATO, beginning with cal. .22 M1 rifles that were fabricated for these experimental cartridges. The mechanical and tactical performance of the cartridges was carefully tested.

Some notable features of the AR-15 include:

  • Aircraft grade forged 7075-T6 aluminum receiver is lightweight, highly corrosion-resistant, and machinable.
  • Modular design allows the use of numerous accessories such as after market sights, vertical forward grips, lighting systems, night vision devices, laser-targeting devices, muzzle brakes/flash hiders, sound suppressors, bipods, etc., and makes repair easier
  • Straight-line stock design eliminates the fulcrum created by traditional bent stocks, reducing muzzle climb.
  • Small caliber, accurate, lightweight, high-velocity round (.223/5.56×45mm)
  • Easily adapted to fire numerous other rounds
  • Front sight adjustable for elevation
  • Rear sight adjustable for windage (most models) and elevation (some models)
  • Wide array of optical aiming devices available in addition to or as replacements of iron sights
  • Direct impingement gas system (as designed) with short or long stroke gas piston, or direct blowback operating systems available
  • Synthetic pistol grip and butt stock that do not swell or splinter (regulated in some states)
  • Various magazine capacity, ranging from 10 to 30-round or more
  • Ergonomic design that makes the charging handle, selector switch (which also engages the safety), magazine release, and bolt catch assembly easy to access.
  • 4 MOA Accuracy as a MILSPEC standard

Semi-automatic AR-15s for sale to civilians are internally different from the full automatic M16, although nearly identical in external appearance. The hammer and trigger mechanisms are of a different design. The bolt carrier and internal lower receiver of semi-automatic versions are milled differently, so that the firing mechanisms are not interchangeable. This was done to satisfy United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives requirements that civilian weapons may not be easily convertible to full-automatic. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, items such as the "Drop In Auto Sear" or "lightning-link," conversion to full automatic was very straightforward.Such modifications, unless using registered and transferable parts made prior to May 19, 1986, are illegal. (The Firearm Owners Protection Act in 1986 has redefined a machine gun to include individual components where a semi-automatic firearm can be converted to full-automatic based on a 1981 ATF ruling on machine gun parts.) Since 1993, The Bolt Carrier Groups used in AR-15 type rifles for civilians have employed additional measures to prevent modification to full auto. Colt AR-15's use a metal alloy wall separating the Fire Control group from the Sear, preventing use of such items.

Automatic variants have a three-position rotating selective fire switch, allowing the operator to select between three modes: safe, semi-automatic, and either automatic or three-round burst, depending on model. Civilian Colt AR-15 models do not have three-round burst or automatic settings; they can only be fired as a semi-automatic, and are therefore not selective fire weapons. In semi-automatic-only variants, the switch only functions to rotate between safe and fire. Some other manufacturers may mark their rifles with three-positions for collectors and re-enactors, though the guns will not fire in those modes. However weapons modified to full automatic using a lightning-link are capable of full automatic fire only—unless a special full automatic fire select mechanism and modified selector-switch is substituted. Today, while the civilian manufacture, sale and possession of post 1986 select-fire AR-15 variants is prohibited it is still legal to sell templates, tooling and manuals to complete such conversion. These items are typically marketed as being "post-sample" materials for use by Federal Firearm Licensees for manufacturing/distributing select-fire variants of the AR-15 to Law Enforcement, Military and Overseas customers.

In modern times the AR-15 looks like the M-16 service rifle that first saw combat in Vietnam. To be sure, the AR-15 does not look like a traditional sporting rifle. Neither, in their time, did the Spencer or the Springfield. What the AR-15 does look like is the latest iteration of a modern rifle that employs advanced technology and ergonomic design to produce an exceptionally reliable, rugged and accurate sporting rifle. Produced in different configurations and chambered in a variety of calibers, AR-type rifles not only can be used for, indeed are exceptionally well suited to, many types of hunting, precision target shooting as well as personal protection. In recent years, AR-type rifles have become among the most popular sporting rifles sold in the United States.

Another advantage of the small bore rifle is reduced recoil (though this is less important than formerly, since present gas-operated breech mechanisms make the perceptible recoil much softer than from a hand-operated rifle). Light recoil facilitates training by lessening the shooter’s fear of recoil. It has been hoped, and sometimes stated, that this will be reflected in better shooting and more hits under combat conditions.

Caliber reduction is in line with past development. Adoption of a breech-loading rifle by the United States brought a reduction in caliber from .58 to .50 and then to .45, and adoption of smokeless powder brought a further reduction to .30. Each of these steps was accompanied by a marked increase in effective range and power.

Remington Arms Co., Inc., designed still another .22 cartridge under contract to the Springfield Armory. This, however, was ultimately not used in the rifles which were under consideration for it. Remington then brought out the cartridge in sporting form as the .222 Remington Magnum. In 1957 the Continental Army Command requested two manufacturers to provide new rifles and a new cal. .22 military cartridge. This is entirely in accord with the American tradition of arms development. The great majority of all small arms types since the introduction of the breech-loader in our Army have been designed and supplied by commercial sources. (A long list of these was given in the Question and Answer “U.S. Arms Sources” in The American Rifleman for June 1959.) Some were also sold by the manufacturers to other governmental agencies and to individuals over many years.

 Winchester-Western Division of Olin Mathieson Chemical Corp., made a version as well and was called the cal. .224 Winchester lightweight military rifle. While quite conventional, it was a mature and sophisticated design. The parts were few and simple. The cyclic rate of its mechanism was materially lowered by a construction feature for the purpose, which improved greatly the controllability of the rifle in full-automatic fire. A detailed description of this rifle was given in the article “Developments in .22 Military Rifles” in the July 1958 issue of The Rifleman. The cartridge used in this rifle is the .224 Winchester E2. It fires a 53-gr. flat-base bullet at a stated muzzle velocity of 3300 f.p.s. It differs slightly from the Armalite AR-15 rifle cartridge, which was called at first the .222 Remington Special and now the .223 Remington. The .223 fires a 55-gr. boattail bullet at a stated muzzle velocity of 3265 f .p.s. Both the .224 and the .223 differ slightly in cartridge case from the .222 Remington Magnum commercial cartridge. Their performance is about at the level of the .222 Magnum, which is familiar to shooters.

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.

A great video for beginner's that want to see more on the AR-15:

We hope this piece of history was informative for you and for all your AR needs feel free to visit us on  our web page

Have a look at the AR tools we carry here:

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shawn in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home