This week’s article is “A Historical Review of ArmaLite” hosted on Ammoland.com. The original document was established in March 1974 and was subsequently updated several times the most current version dated January 4, 2010. The document is copyright and property of ArmaLite, Inc. but released for private use.
The history of ArmaLite has four distinct periods: as a division of Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation, as ArmaLite, Incorporated, as a division of Elisco Tool, and as ArmaLite, Incorporated a second time. ArmaLite was established as a division of Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation on October 1, 1954. ArmaLite saw a stagnation in the arms development industry after World War II and saw a market for firearms featuring lightweight, modern alloys and plastics as well as economical production practices. Originally ArmaLite sought to focus on commercial arms, but an invitation from the U.S. Air Force to submit a replacement survive rifle led to the creation of the AR-5 survival rifle. The AR-5 would be designated the MA-1 Survival Rifle by the Air Force.
This shifted ArmaLite’s focus to military arms development. It was in 1954 that the, now famous, Eugene Stoner became Chief Engineer for ArmaLite. Charles Dorchester, who would be heavily involved with ArmaLite’s history, was also General manager of the division at this time. In 1955 the U.
S. Army was considering two weapons for adoption as a main battle rifle—what would become the M-14 and the FN FAL. ArmaLite hoped to develop a model that could trump both models.
The attempt resulted in the AR-10. The AR-10, with its aluminum receivers, light weight, plastic furniture, and unique configuration sparked much controversy and the rifle was not able to compete with the other submissions. The Army would adopt the M-14 in 1959. However, the Army would ask ArmaLite to develop a smaller version of the AR-10, what would become the AR-15. The AR-10 would fail commercially, even when licensed to a Dutch arsenal. The designs for the AR-10 and AR-15 would be licensed to Colt in 1959.
ArmaLite would see success with the development of the AR-7 survival rifle, based off the AR-5. However, with the designs of the AR-15 and AR-10 sold to Colt, the company would suffer and the major designers such as Stoner would go to work at Colt. In 1961 Fairchild would face financial troubles and the principles of ArmaLite would purchase the company from Fairchild. The organization would continue as Armalite, Inc. and retain all designs except that of the AR-10 and AR-15 since they were still licensed to Colt. ArmaLite would develop the AR-18 rifle to compete with the AR-15. It was basically a stamped sheet-metal AR-15 with a different gas system from the Stoner design.
A semi-automatic version, the AR-180 would also be created. The AR-18 would not fare well in military trials and would not be adopted. It would instead be produced in Japan, but regulations made it difficult to sell. The rifle would not do well in further testing by the U.S. military nor In the United Kingdom.
In the 1970s, the AR-7 design would be sold to Charter Arms and the AR-18 design would be licensed to Sterling in the UK. With the failures of the AR-18, ArmaLite would be sold in 1983. For a brief time, ArmaLite was a division of Elisco Tool Manufacturing in the Philippines. The AR-18 was to be produced as a replacement for the M-16 in the Philippine army, however the political climate in the country changed dramatically with the ousting of Ferdinand Marcos and the rifles were not produced. ArmaLite operations would cease in 1987.
In 1986 a company called Eagle Arms was form by Karl Lewis (who owned Lewis Machine Tool) and Jim Glazer. The company wanted to sell M-16 and AR-15 style rifles due to the early patents of Stoner expiring. By 1989 Eagle was selling completed rifles which were supplied by LMT. Eagle Arms was purchased by Mark Westrom in 1994, but little changed in terms of production. However, Westrom wanted initialize research into a .308 caliber AR design.
By coincidence, the president of the company manufacturing telescopic sights for Eagle was able to lead Westrom to the most recent president of AmraLite, John Ugarte, who owned the rights to the ArmaLite trademark. In 1995, Westrom purchased the rights to ArmaLite from Ugarte and restructured his company to take on the ArmaLite name and set Eagle Arms as a division of ArmaLite. New ArmaLite rifles began shipping in 1995. New AR-10 style rifles, designated AR-10B, began to ship in 1996. ArmaLite also began development of a .50 caliber rifle for the commercial market in 1997.
Since its resurgence under Westrom, ArmaLite has shipped more AR-15 and AR-10 rifles than in all other phases of ArmaLite combined. The rest of the article describes each of ArmaLite’s firearms individually.