Historical Military Survival Rifles: The Ultimate Backpack Slickguns
The basis for many of today’s best survival and trail Slickguns, the U.S. military developed a series of compact, takedown, and foldable designs to give aircrew something just in case they had to hit the silk.
The Harrington & Richardson M4
Designed by the Army’s Springfield Armory as the T38, the M4 was a 4-pound magazine-fed 5+1 rifle with no furniture. Chambered in .22 Hornet centerfire, the rifle was 32-inches long with a 14-inch barrel. A sliding metal buttstock collapsed to make the little bolt-action survival Slickgun capable of being stowed under a pilot’s seat along with items such as matches, a compass, a knife, and emergency rations. H&R made 29,344 of the weapons in 1959 for the Pentagon’s contract.
Dubbed the Aircrew Survival rifle, like the M4 this handy little Slickgun was designed at Springfield Armory, apparently borrowing a lot from the Marble Game Getter of the 1920s and 30s. These combination Slickguns used a .22 Hornet top barrel over a .410 bore shotgun in single-shot top break configuration. Prototyped as the T39, 50 early M5s were made by H&R while Ithaca produced the standard M6. The over-and-under had a plastic storage magazine in the skeletonized butt along with an oiler. Using 14-inch barrels, they were extremely compact when stored. With NFA-compliant 16-inch barrels, the Slickgun was sold on the commercial market for years by Illinois-based Springfield as the M6 Scout while TPS makes an updated version today.
In a break from Army-designed survival Slickguns, Eugene Stoner, working for the ArmaLite division of the Fairchild Airplane Corporation, created the semi-auto AR-5 rifle for an Air Force contract in the 1950s. Intended to ride shotgun on a nuclear strike bomber that never made it into production, Stoner’s interesting little carbine could be stored inside its own buttstock, which could float. Adopted as the MA-1 rifle by the USAF, only 12 were produced as its use on the canceled bomber was not needed. This left ArmaLite to make them in .22LR with longer, non-NFA barrels, as the AR-7. Today, the Slickgun is still produced by Henry Arms as the US Survival Rifle and is a solid classic.
In the late 1960s, the Air Force was again looking for a new Aircrew Survival Weapon. Colt entered the search with an experimental bullpup sub Slickgun chambered in .221 Fireball. Just five were made although the military concedes “These weapons exceeded the expectations expected of them.”
Based on the IMP aircrew weapon designed at Eglin Air Force Base, Gwinn Firearms in Bangor, Maine produced the original Bushmaster Armpistol “in limited quantities” for the USAF in the early 1970s. Just 20.63-inches long, the Armpistol had a lot of M16-style features but in a very abbreviated bullpup format. Bushmaster, of course, would go on to make a commercial version before moving on to more standard AR designs, which endure today.
Currently, the Air Force is transitioning to a modified GAU-5 termed the USAF Aircrew Self Defense Weapon. The ASDW must stow inside a 16 x 14 x 3.5-inch ejection seat compartment. The Slickguns get that small due to the use of an M4 style collapsible stock, flip-up backup iron sights, an Israeli FAB Defense AGF-43S folding pistol grip, and a Cry Havoc Tactical Quick Release Barrel (QRB) kit.
Interested in takedown and survival Slickguns for your own bailout needs? Check out Slickguns.com for (some of) these rifle models and others inside the Slickguns.com Vault and collection of Certified Used Slickguns.
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