The Armalite Logo
|Headquarters||Geneseo, Illinois, United States|
|Key people||Mark A. Westrom, President
Eugene Stoner, Chief Engineer
ArmaLite, Inc. is an American small arms engineering company founded in the early 1950s. The company focused on using the latest advances in material design to produce lighter and better small weapons. The ideas caught the interest of Richard Boutelle at Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation, and the company was formally incorporated as a division of Fairchild on 1 October 1954.
Their first design, the Parasniper from 1952, used foam-filled fibreglass furniture and a composite barrel using a steel liner inside an aluminum sleeve. This saw little use, but when they were asked to compete in a contest for an aircrew survival rifle their AR-5 and AR-7 designs from 1956 saw production use. This was followed by an invitation to compete for the new combat rifle for US forces, which led to the AR-10. The AR-10 lost the 1957 contest, but many of its ideas were re-used in the smaller and lighter AR-15, an experimental design that was detested by US Army brass.
Tired of repeated failures in the market, Fairchild licensed the AR-10 and AR-15 designs to Colt, and the AR-10 to a Dutch company. They sold their interest in ArmaLite in 1962. That year, Colt successfully sold the AR-15 to the US Air Force to arm base security troops. Commercial models were then sent to Special Forces in Vietnam, who reported great success with the weapon. This led to it being adopted as the Army's main combat rifle starting in 1964. It has remained the US's primary combat rifle in one form or another to this day, and was adopted by many NATO countries in the 1980s.
ArmaLite further brushes with success, especially with the AR-18, an improved AR-15 design. These were not enough to keep the company going, and they ceased operations in the early 1980s. The design rights and name were purchased in 1996 by Mark Westrom, who re-launched the company as ArmaLite, Inc., currently located in Geneseo, Illinois. The company sells a variety of AR-10 and AR-15 based designs.
ArmaLite began as a small arms engineering concern founded by George Sullivan, the patent counsel for Lockheed Corporation, and funded by Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation. After leasing a small machine shop at 6567 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, California, Sullivan hired several employees and began work on a prototype for a lightweight survival rifle for use by downed aircrew. On October 1, 1954, the company was incorporated as the ArmaLite Corporation, becoming a subdivision of Fairchild. With its limited capital and tiny machine shop, ArmaLite was never intended to be an arms manufacturer. ArmaLite was instead focused on producing small arms concepts and designs to be sold or licensed to other manufacturers. While testing the prototype of ArmaLite's survival rifle design at a local shooting range, Sullivan met Eugene Stoner, a talented small arms inventor, who Sullivan immediately hired to be ArmaLite's chief design engineer. Stoner was a Marine in World War II and an expert with small arms. Since the early 1950s, he had been working at a variety of jobs while building gun prototypes in his spare time. At the time, ArmaLite Inc. was a very small organization (as late as 1956 it had only nine employees, including Stoner).
With Stoner as chief design engineer, ArmaLite quickly released a number of interesting rifle concepts. The first ArmaLite concept to be adopted for production was the AR-5, a survival rifle chambered for the .22 Hornet cartridge. The AR-5 was adopted by the U.S. Air Force as the MA-1 Survival Rifle.
A civilian survival weapon, the AR-7, was later introduced, chambered in .22 Long Rifle. The semi-automatic AR-7 was noteworthy in that, like the AR-5, it could be disassembled, and the components stored in the buttstock. Primarily made of alloys, the AR-7 would float, whether assembled or stored, due to the design of the buttstock, which was filled with plastic foam. The AR-7 and derivative models have been produced by several companies since introduction in the late 1950s, currently by Henry Repeating Arms, of Bayonne, New Jersey, and the rifle is still popular today.
Most of ArmaLite's time and engineering effort in 1955 and 1956 was spent in developing the prototypes for what would become the AR-10. Based on Stoner's fourth prototype, two hand-built production AR-10s were tested by the Springfield Armory in late 1956 and again in 1957 as a possible replacement to the venerable yet outdated M1 Garand. The untested AR-10 faced competition from the two other major rifle designs, the Springfield Armory T-44, an updated M1 Garand design that became the M14, and the T-48, a version of the famous Belgian FN FAL rifle. Both the T-44 and the T-48 had a lead of several years over the AR-10 in development and trials testing; the T-44 had the additional advantage of being an in-house Springfield Armory design. The Army eventually selected the T-44 over both the AR-10 and the T-48.
ArmaLite continued to market the AR-10 based on a limited production of rifles at their Hollywood facility. These limited production, virtually hand-built rifles are referred to today as the Hollywood model AR-10. In 1957, Fairchild/ArmaLite sold a five-year manufacturing license for the AR-10 to the Dutch arms manufacturer, Artillerie Inrichtingen (A.I.). Converting the AR-10 engineering drawings to metric, A.I. found the Hollywood version of the AR-10 deficient in a number of respects, and made a number of significant design and engineering changes in the AR-10 that would continued throughout the production run in the Netherlands. Firearms historians have separated AR-10 production under the AI license into three identifiable versions of the AR-10: the Sudanese model, the Transitional, and the Portuguese model AR-10. The Sudanese version derives its name from its sale to the Government of Sudan, which purchased approximately 2,500 AR-10 rifles, while the Transitional model incorporated additional design changes based on experience with the Sudanese model in the field. The final A.I.-produced AR-10, the Portuguese, was a product-improved variant sold to the Portuguese Air Force for use by paratroopers. While AR-10 production at A.I. dwarfed that of ArmaLite's Hollywood shop, it was still limited, as sales to foreign armies proved elusive. Guatemala, Burma, Italy, Cuba, Sudan and Portugal all purchased AR-10 rifles for limited issue to their military forces, resulting in a total production of less than 10,000 AR-10 rifles in four years. Curiously, it appears that none of the design changes and product improvements made by A.I. were ever transmitted to or adopted by ArmaLite.
Disappointed with AR-10 sales, Fairchild Armalite decided to terminate its association with Artillerie Inrichtingen and instead concentrated on producing a small-caliber version of the AR-10 to meet a requirement for the U.S. Air Force. Using the Hollywood produced AR-10, the prototype was downsized in dimensions to accept the .223 Remington (5.56mm) cartridge. This resulted in the famous AR-15, designed by Eugene Stoner, Jim Sullivan, and Bob Fremont, and chambered in 5.56mm caliber. ArmaLite also re-introduced the AR-10, this time using a design derived from the original Hollywood prototypes of 1956, and designated the AR-10A. Unable to produce either rifle in quantity, ArmaLite was forced to license both designs to Colt in early 1959. That same year, ArmaLite moved its corporate offices and engineering and production shop to new premises at 118 East 16th Street in Costa Mesa, California.
Frustrated by what it perceived as unnecessary production delays at A.I., along with poor AR-10 sales, Fairchild decided not to renew Artillerie Inrichtingen's license to produce the AR-10. In 1962, disappointed with ArmaLite's meagre profits, largely derived from licensing fees, Fairchild dissolved its association with ArmaLite.
With both the AR-10 and AR-15 designs sold to Colt, ArmaLite was left without a viable major infantry arm to market to potential manufacturers and end users. ArmaLite next developed a series of new rifle designs in 7.62 mm and 5.56 mm. The 7.62 mm NATO rifle was designated the AR-16. The AR-16 and the other newly designed ArmaLites utilized a more traditional gas piston design along with stamped and welded steel construction in place of aluminum forgings. The 7.62 mm AR-16 (not to be confused with the M16) was produced only in prototype quantities. Another ArmaLite project was the AR-17, a two-shot autoloading shotgun based on the short-recoil principle and featuring a weight of only 5.5 pounds thanks to its aluminum and plastic construction; only about 1,200 were ever produced.
In 1963, development began on the AR-18 rifle, an "improved" AR-15 with a new gas system utilizing a floating piston instead of the Stoner direct gas impingement system used on the AR-10 and AR-15. Designed by Art Miller, the AR-18 was accompanied by a semi-automatic version, the AR-180. However, the sales success of the AR-15 worldwide to the U.S. military and other nations proved the undoing of the AR-18, and the latter failed to garner substantial orders. In response to criticism of the rifle's performance in trials by the military in the United States and Great Britain, a few minor improvements were made to the original design, but little else was done. ArmaLite manufactured some AR-18 and AR-180 rifles at its Costa Mesa facility and later licensed production to Howa Machinery Co. in Japan. However, Japan was prohibited under its laws from selling military-style arms to combative nations, and with the United States involved in the Vietnam war, production at the Howa plant was limited. ArmaLite then licensed production to Sterling Armaments in Dagenham, Great Britain. Sales remained modest. Today, the AR-18 is best known for its use by the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland, who received small quantities of the rifle from black market sources. The AR-18 gas system and rotating bolt mechanism did serve as the basis for the current British small arms family, the SA80, which came from the XL65 which is essentially an AR-18 in bullpup configuration. Other designs, such as the Singapore SAR-80 and German G36, are based upon the AR-18.
By the 1970s, ArmaLite had essentially stopped all new rifle development, and the company effectively ceased operations. In 1983 ArmaLite was sold to Elisco Tool Manufacturing Company, of the Philippines. The AR-18 tooling at the Costa Mesa shop went to the Philippines, while some of the remaining ArmaLite employees acquired the remaining inventory of parts for the AR-17 and AR-18.
Resurrection of the ArmaLite brand
After passing through a series of owners, the ArmaLite brand name and rampant lion logo was sold in 1996 to Mark Westrom, a former U.S. Army Ordnance officer and inventor of a 7.62 NATO sniper rifle based on the design concepts of Eugene Stoner. The company resumed business as ArmaLite Inc. Today, ArmaLite Inc. produces a number of AR-15 and AR-10 based rifles, as well as .50 BMG rifles (the AR-50), and a modified AR-180 named the AR-180B (discontinued in 2009). Armalite has also announced that they are introducing a handgun line including the AR-24 and AR-26 (both pistols also discontinued).
In 2014, ArmaLite's marketing advertisement featuring Michelangelo’s "David" holding a rifle, sparked outrage in Italy, with the country's culture minister when he blasted the U.S. gun company saying the advertisement was 'offensive and illegal'. Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini urged the company to withdraw the advertisement after images of it appeared on several Italian media websites over the weekend. Franceschini tweeted "The image of David, armed, offends and infringes the law. He further expressed taking action against the American company so that it immediately withdraws its campaign." Various media portals around the world reported the disappointment of the Culture Minister.
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, p. 92
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, pp. 23-26
- Pikula, p. 25: The workshop on Santa Monica occupied only 1000 square feet, and was referred to as 'George's backyard garage' by employees.
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, pp. 30-36
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, pp. 39-40
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, pp. 29, 31
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, p. 78
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, p. 45
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, p. 72,73
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, p. 75
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, p. 88
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, p. 90
- Hahn, Nick, The 'Other' Autoloaders, Gun Digest 2011, 65th ed., F+W Media (2010), p. 69
- McElrath, Daniel T. (December 10, 2004). "Golden Days At ArmaLite". American Rifleman (National Rifle Association of America). Retrieved 2006-10-20.
- Pikula, Sam (Major), The ArmaLite AR-10, Regnum Fund Press (1998), ISBN 9986-494-38-9
- Walter, John (2006). Rifles of the World. Krause Publications. pp. 34–37. ISBN 978-0-89689-241-5.