Interview with Doug Olson
By Matt Smith
Above: Doug Olson preparing a prototype Stoner 50 rifle for a firing demonstration.
SAR: Doug, when did you start working with firearms and silencers?
DOUG: I started work at the then Naval Ammunition Depot, Crane, Indiana in June of 1969. I worked in the Small Arms group who at that time was mostly involved with developing gun mounts and supplying weapons for the troops in Viet Nam. The majority of that effort was for the Riverine Boat crews and SEALs. When night vision became available we also produced some suppressed and AN/PVS 2 equipped M14 sniper rifles. The cans were supplied by Sionics and had the typical point of impact shift but were the best available at the time. I became heavily involved in the Navy’s support of the Joint Service Small Arms Program and there I dealt with numerous SEAL Team members trying to gather their requirements for developments JSSAP was undertaking. I also became acquainted with then Major David Baskett. He had a passion for supporting the Special Forces and it sort of rubbed off on me. We took a tour of several facilities out west together and met with one Charles A. (Mickey) Finn. We fired some of his .22 cal. Pistol cans and were suitably impressed. I eventually borrowed one that I demonstrated in one of the vaults deep inside the Pentagon. Shortly thereafter MOB 6, later known as SEAL Team 6 was formed. It was all hush-hush but Mickey contracted to rework a number of suppressors at Crane. I worked closely with him and we put new internals in old Ingram MAC 10 9mm cans as well as S&W Hushpuppies. We used the B&K 2209 to verify our results and as I remember it ended up gaining 6 or 7 db on the MAC 9mm can and 3 db on the Hushpuppies. That was where I learned that quieter wasn’t necessarily better. SEAL Team 6 had problems with the cans because the interface threads on the MAC’s wouldn’t reliably maintain alignment with the suppressor. When the can vibrated loose the spaced flat baffle stack would not guide the bullet out of the suppressor as did the original style baffles. There was certainly a lot of improvement possible in suppressor technology. Shortly after that Mickey offered me a job. Off I went into civilian employment. That was 1982.
SAR: How did Mickey get set up in the suppressor business?
DOUG: Mickey had met Fred Schumacher who was a lawyer who specialized in tax shelters. Fred raised several hundred thousands of dollars for Mickey to use to develop silencers. For as long as the money lasted, Mickey spent his time advancing the state of the art in suppressors. I recall many days where ten or more new concepts were tested. There were two machinists in his shop in Oceanside who did nothing but build him parts to try. I had my own shop in Indiana at the time where I also built prototypes and tested them. Mickey had a close working arrangement with SEAL Team 3 and built many cans for them. We also worked with H&K and eventually licensed them to build 9mm cans for their pistols (P9S) and the Navy MP5. The majority of the cans developed at Qual-A-Tec were built only in small quantities but many went to special operators who undertook special missions. (I won’t go beyond that.) Mickey never really cared about production. His goal was to patent the technology and license it off. One product that stands out in my mind was a group of stainless steel (signature series) Ruger MK 1 suppressed pistols that we made. The operators always questioned whether the sub-sonic .22LR round was really lethal. Mickey assured them that if you double-tapped someone in the motor-reflex area of the brain that it would indeed do the job. In Grenada, one of the operators (“Fingers” in Dick Marcinko’s books) from SEAL Team 6 had the opportunity to prove that. They were clearing a church and as he rounded a corner there was a Cuban with an AK-47. Fingers double tapped him just as he had trained and came back to tell the story. SEAL Team 6 did a thorough after action analysis of every piece of equipment they used in Grenada. There were only three manufacturer’s goods that worked 100% as advertised and Qual-A-Tec’s products were one of those three.
SAR: What were your responsibilities at Qual-A-Tec?
DOUG: My job mainly surrounded the development of suppressor technology, documenting it (e.g. drawings) and helping prepare/proof read patent applications. When the limited partnership tax loophole was closed we went on to develop a series of knives that were licensed to Buck Knife Co. and finally the development of the M9 Bayonet. When that contract was awarded I moved from Indiana to Chino Valley, AZ. (July 1986). I was responsible for creating the Government’s Level 2 Drawing package. Mickey decided to open a small Qual-A-Tec facility in Chino Valley where we continued to work on silencer development and other products.
SAR: How did you meet Lynn McWilliams?
DOUG: About that time as we opened up the Chino Valley facility, Lynn moved from Texas to Cave Creek, AZ. He met Mickey and made an agreement to produce suppressors based upon Mickey’s designs. Many of the sample suppressors were stored at the Chino Valley shop and Lynn got a chance to see many of the small one-off suppressors Qual-A-Tec had developed. Lynn set up shop in Phoenix and for a number of reasons I left Mickey to work for Lynn. I documented a variety of designs and Lynn had shops produce the components. I spent two years there, primarily working at the lathe making suppressors. I did do some development work and took some parts of what I had learned working for Mickey and using my welding ability came up with a new baffle that ended up in a lot of AWC Systems Technology suppressors built in 1990 and 1991. It was during this time that I discovered that I could improve suppressor designs by myself. Lynn provided me the opportunity to try a number of new concepts but unlike Mickey sold everything that he could find a customer for. We did a lot of one-offs and custom suppressors that made the customers happy. Lynn chose to simply build suppressors and to not spend any money on protecting the designs through patents and litigation.
SAR: When did you begin working with Reed Knight?
DOUG: In January of 1992 I left AWC to work for Reed. Reed had the plum that drew me and that was the development contract for the suppressor for Colt’s offensive handgun. I felt ready for the challenge and anxious to get away from the manufacture of suppressors and back into their R&D. I had met Reed years earlier when I was still with the Navy. We seemed to work well together and he let me run with the program. The final result was the suppressor for the H&K MK23 Offensive handgun. That suppressor set a new benchmark for the performance of a 45 cal. handgun. In the years since I have been at Knight’s, I have actually not worked extensively with suppressors but have spent the majority of my time on other products the Knight’s produces. The one exception is the M4QD Suppressor that still commands some of my time in efforts to improve its life.
SAR: What’s in the future for you at Knight’s?
DOUG: Currently, Reed is purchasing the old McDonald-Douglas Tomahawk Missile Plant in Titusville. We are getting ready to move our operations there, buying the property, and building a new house. These next few months will be very busy.
SAR: Thanks for taking some time to share your background and experiences with our readers.
DOUG: You are quite welcome.
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