By Kevin Dockery
Few firearms manufacturers have proven themselves as successful as the Knight's Armament Company (KAC). In just 25 years, C. Reed Knight, Jr. has taken his company from being a modest but skilled R&D shop into a unique modern military supplier. The structures that have held the shops and offices of KAC have changed from being a small two-story building in an orange grove to a sprawling complex of buildings, bunkers, and range facilities with the main plant having more than 400,000 square feet of work space.
The new location of the Knight's Armament Company is in the old McDonnell Douglas Astronautics facility on Columbia Blvd. in Titusville, Florida. The Titusville plant is only a relatively short drive from central Florida and the huge convention center at Orlando. It is when the SHOT Show is at the Orlando center, such as it was this year, that KAC takes advantage of their facility's location, and the invited guests of Mr. Reed Knight can take advantage of his own style of southern hospitality.
Even in the middle of January, central Florida can be a hot place, especially for writers and guests who have come down from the colder (much colder!) northern climes and countries. The well-upholstered and air-conditioned transportation put on by Knight's made the afternoon trip to Titusville a quick and comfortable one. The crowds from the buses were filled out even further once at the plant by the number of people who arrived in their own vehicles. Any way you had arrived, the trip was well worth the time with what was waiting for everyone at Knight's.
After a quick organization, and the filling out of the more and more common legal forms and releases, the writer community and dignitaries were invited to try out a number of products from both KAC as well as other manufacturer's. It was trigger time again.
When the Shot Show was last in Orlando a few years ago, Reed Knight held his first open house at the Titusville facility. At that time, the primary guest of honor was General Mikhail Kalashnikov himself and an extensive demonstration was put on of the Knight Armament's line of products. This year, the open house was a much larger affair and General Kalashnikov was unable to attend. Even the good general might feel that he missed out as instead of witnessing the Knight products, writers and others were invited to try them out for themselves.
Just moving around the huge facility was an event in itself with vans moving groups of people from one firing site to another. Part of the reason for this was the different ranges needed for the other companies that were also taking part in the KAC open house.
The first of the ranges visited was the close-in firing demonstration held by Lewis Machine & Tool Company of their M16 variations. One of the highlights at this position was a chance to fire the CQB version of their Monolithic Rail Platform upper chambered for the powerful 6.8mm round. Having seen combat with Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, the 6.8mm round with its heavier bullet is proving to be a valuable asset, one worthy of further examination. With the radical rail system patented by LMT and machined out of a solid aluminum forging, the strength of the system is phenomenal, and the accuracy that comes with that strength is also world-class.
The LMT 6.8mm upper Close Quarters Battle specimen available for the demonstration was quick to handle while remaining controllable, even on full automatic fire. The future of the 6.8mm round is still vague at best. But no matter the caliber, Lewis Machine & Tool has a winner in their solid Monolithic Rail Platform uppers as well as their own line of receivers and complete weapons.
Transport took the groups finished with shooting at the first range to the next open range where a new line of rifles from Knight's Armament were waiting for use. Even though we were all looking forward to examining the new weapons, it was hard not to be impressed with the layout and facilities of the Titusville compound. There were rows and rows of huge concrete and earth bunkers, leftovers from the days that McDonnell-Douglas Astronautics Company loaded up Dragon missiles on the site. The massive bunkers would hold up to the ignition of enough ammunition to satisfy the most jaded of SAR readers, while still leaving enough room to outfit a small country - or shoot up on a Knob Creek weekend. If there is an expansion into heavy ordnance in Knight's future, the Titusville facility has more than enough assets on hand to take care of any job short of making solid-fuel space-shuttle engines.
At the next range were some very familiar weapons, with new twists that were not immediately apparent. The SR-15 series of rifles and carbines are upgraded AR-15 style rifles with a number of improved features developed by Knight engineers. On the table were a pair of SR-15 E3 URX (Upper Receiver Extending) carbines, both with KAC folding iron sights and attached Harris bipods. Inside, the carbines boasted dual extractor springs, redesigned locking lugs with increased strength, and a number of other new and patented features. The overall design of the SR-15 proved such and improvement over the original design that it was adopted as the basis for a heavy-barreled 5.56mm sniper rifle, the Mark 12 Mod 1 Special Purpose Rifle. The URX E3 carbines were to prove only slightly less accurate, and nearly two pounds lighter, than the GI Mk 12 Mod 1 rifle, but at the short range available to the shooters at that table, the guns showed themselves to be more than adequate.
It was at the last range that the wait was longest to fire the weapons, and the reason was obvious enough. To a long-gun shooter, the last range area held a real treat. On the benches were premier examples of the KAC engineers, and the lasting legacy of Eugene Stoner.
Seven years ago, the Navy SEALs adopted a modified version of the SR-25 rifle as their new semiautomatic 7.62mm sniper rifle - the Mark 11 Mod 0, a replacement for the venerable M14-based sniper weapons still in the racks. On the bench was a single example of a Mk 11 Mod 0 rifle, set up with both a sophisticated electro-optical sight and a long Knight-produced sound suppressor. The optics was a CS6000 thermal imaging sight capable of detecting human activity out to a range of 2,200 meters. All-in-all, a very serious weapons system.
Lined up next to the Mk 11 were the two newest versions of the SR-25, the recently adopted XM110 U.S. Army Semi-Auto Sniper Rifle System (SASS). The XM110 has a twenty-inch match grade 1:11 twist heavy barrel, as does the Mk 11. But the muzzle of the XM110 barrel is threaded to accept a flash suppressor. The trendy desert tan color of the XM110 rifles also made them stand out, but all the weapons shared the same basic characteristic - long range accuracy combined with a quick follow-up firing capability.
Firing some of the best weapons available might prove enough for most to spend an afternoon away from the Shot Show. But Reed Knight's rendition of southern hospitality required that he offer much more. Underneath huge tents in the parking area near the main building were set up long rows of tables, just what were needed to partake of the excellent barbeque served up by the caterers. Keeping with the overall country-western theme of the day, Reed Knight, along with his staff and sons, were wearing western outfits, complete down to Colt single-action revolvers riding in low-draw holsters. In the background was both a mechanical bull for the more adventurous among the guests, as well as a much safer Country-Western band, the Bama Band, who were twice nominated for the Academy of Country Music's Band of the Year Award and were for 20-plus years the touring band for superstar Hank Williams, Jr., that fired up their music in the sunset hours.
But it was the tour of the KAC main plant that really drew the crowds. On the plant floor were Mazak machining centers - quarter-million dollar chunks of computer-controlled precision. And there were rows of the big machines stretching out across the plant floor. Each machining center is capable of turning out identical parts for as long as needed, and then they can be reprogrammed to produce other components with a minimum of fuss, given skilled staff. And Knight's Armament has 300 personnel making up that skilled staff manning the 400,000 square feet of floor space.
To help the production machines make their parts at KAC is a new Fanuc robotic arm. The bright yellow arm was twisting and turning through a complicated measuring protocol, dancing the same moves over and over for the on-looking crowd.
On the production floor, rack after rack was filled with parts in various stages of manufacture. The area was quiet for the open house, but the bins and racks of parts stood in mute testimony of the demand for Knight's components and assemblies to aid the United States and the Global War on Terrorism.
There is something to be said for the success of a design when you see hundreds and hundreds of parts to make up the Knight Rail Adapter Systems (RAS) that are seen on many of the weapons serving in the hands of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The basic idea for the RAS came to Reed Knight when he watched footage of our troops in Grenada back in 1983. A long-time competitive shooter, Reed saw the guns in the hands of our troops with flashlights duct-taped to the forearms. Knowing that there had to be a better way to secure the illumination and aiming devices desired and needed by the troops, Knight and his engineers came up with the rail system, now used in every branch of the service.
Other components for successful Knight designs filled the bins on the floors and tables, but it was the second floor that held the crown-jewels of the tour. The Knight firearms library holds an extensive collection of weapons for study, many of them museum-class specimens in their own right. Taken as a whole, the library of firearms can easily compete with a number of large weapons museums around the world. Only these weapons are for study to help develop new designs to keep American arms technology in the lead for many of the world's militaries. The Knight Working Reference Collection is incredible to experience.
The large number of guests at the open house had to be broken up into smaller groups to go through the plant and finally visit the collection. Since a number of unauthorized photographs of part of the collection have been posted on the Internet, cameras are strictly forbidden for the visitors to the collection. For the readers of SAR, Reed Knight graciously allowed this writer to bring a camera into parts of the collection to illustrate this article.
In the hallway leading up to the main room housing the bulk of the library, glass walls show the interiors of two side rooms housing two very special collections.
With justifiable pride, Reed Knight stood in front of the E. M. Stoner Memorial Gallery. Not just any firearms were contained in the gallery, it was a tribute to the firearms genius and hard work of Eugene Stoner, a designer and engineer well known to any who study the art of modern weapons. On the walls of the gallery were unique specimens of Stoner's designs, most of them one-of-a-kind prototypes.
Opposite of the Stoner gallery was another room holding the examples of the products and weapons made by Reed Knight and his people over the years. A centerpiece of the KAC Shot Show booth was 6x35mm KAC Personal Defense Weapon. On the walls of the gallery were specimens of that weapon along with a number of others. When Reed was asked which of the pieces was his favorite, he reached over and pulled down a Mk 11 rifle, a particularly beat up and badly damaged piece.
The reason for Reed's pride in that particular rifle? It had taken its damage in combat, serving in the very capable hands of a Navy SEAL.
SAR would like to thank Reed Knight and his son Trey, as well as their staff, for the wonderful opportunities they have afforded the small arms community in the past years, and to salute their commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and future development in small arms. The Knights have helped countless designers, writers and researchers over the years, and the readers of many firearms magazines, especially Small Arms Review, have benefited from this commitment to academic research. During the event at Knight's, over 1,400 people experienced the hospitality and received a good old fashioned Barbecue in addition to their test firing demonstrations and tour of the plant and the Knight Collection. Those who toured the Collection were treated to explanations and anecdotes from Reed, Trey, George Kontis, Col. David Lutz and other employees of Knight's, and SAR's Dan Shea was also drafted/volunteered to serve as a guide for several tours as well. It was clear that everyone involved was proud, and indeed humbled, to help the attendees experience the amazing depth and focus of the Knight Collection. Again, SAR would like to thank the Knight's for their generosity in sharing the history and knowledge they maintain in their Collection, and indeed, for keeping the torch alive in an age when political correctness has threatened our national security by chiseling away at our martial knowledge.
|SUBSCRIBER COMMENT AREA|
Comments have not been generated for this article.