By Dan Shea
We’ve lost another great friend to the small arms community. Ed Hope just called me and said that Bob Faris passed away last week. Bob was a great friend to many of us, and was a constant resource for knowledge about small arms and history. He was also one of the best guys to go shooting with.
If you want to know more about Bob, you can read your back issues of SAR for The Interview that I did with him. There was so much more to this Korean War veteran…. But it was all we could fit into print. Bob will be missed.
The Interview with Bob is online for those of you who subscribe and want to read it at smallarmsoftheworld.com I’ll try and figure a way to get it fully accessible to guests at no cost, give me a couple of days on that.
The Interview: Bob Faris
Bob Faris was born in 1930 in Chicago, Illinois, but spent most of his youth in the Germantown, Pennsylvania area. He is an Ordnance veteran of the Korean War, and participated in testing many of the modern small arms used by today's military at Aberdeen Proving Grounds and Yuma Proving Grounds. Bob is a lifelong collector of military small arms, their ammunition, belts, magazines, and accessories, the paraphernalia that accompanies them, and the uniforms and militaria. He shoots, makes parts, and generally has mentored several generations of firearms designers, testers, users and civilian shooting enthusiasts.
SAR: When did you get your first firearm? Did you go hunting?
Bob Faris: I guess the first thing I got was an old muzzle-loading musket, or a shotgun based on a Civil War rifle. They had smooth-bore guns from the scouts or troops in the field. I didn't even know what it was until I met Val Forgett years later. I guess I was about nine years old. Just about all military weapons in general caught my interest when I was young. I was following the Spanish Civil War. Then, I was tracking the Japanese War in China in newspapers and even in bubble gum cards. There were these color bubble gum cards that had gory scenes of the Spanish Civil War and the war in China. Those wars weren't over yet, and that's where my interest started.
SAR: Did you get your first machine gun when you were a civilian, before military service?
Bob Faris: Oh yeah. The first one was a water-cooled Maxim MG08/15. I bought it for about $25 from someone I knew, and it was a battlefield pick-up that he had gotten from a junkyard. That was early in World War Two, and it was complete. I was pretty young, maybe 12 years old. It had all its parts and the right bipod. I think it was missing something in the lock. I never had a chance to shoot it because I traded it off for something else. It was too heavy for me. There were no books to look at in those days, so I just kept taking it apart. I found a piece of belt but never shot that MG08/15.
SAR: Was your interest in the mechanics of it or the history?
Bob Faris: It's hard to tell because I was fascinated with both aspects of it. I had a lot of cap guns and similar things, and I used to repair the neighborhood's cap guns. I found out that machine guns were pretty illegal, so I decided I was going off them for a while and traded that off. The next thing I was into was competition shooting. My father had bought an old deserted farm about 30 miles outside of Philadelphia, near a town called Perkasie, not very far from Norristown, PA. I made a 100-yard range on a 60-acre piece of farmland. I wanted to get out of the city, and my mother's brother was living with us at the time, well he had some health problems, and he decided he would farm that piece of land if my father would back him up financially and help him with his medical problems. I'd gotten a few handguns, Iver Johnson's and other fine weapons like that. I had a single shot percussion pistol, and just about anything that was a gun was of interest, but I soon got into military weapons.
SAR: When did you start keeping track of information about these types of firearms?
Bob Faris: I started scrapbooks a few years later, to classify the information I was gathering. The W.H.B. Smith book Small Arms of the World came out in 1943. That was my first useful gun book. Before that, it would be American Rifleman and even some of the sporting and hunting magazines would have an article on a military weapon every once in a while, but there was no other publication that would print articles about the stuff that I liked so I was gathering any info I could get.
SAR: Did you have any other exposure to machine guns or National Firearms Act-type weapons in the '40s?
Bob Faris: I'd run across some veteran or GI, maybe a veteran from World War One that had something military that we could shoot, (machine guns, pistols, rifles.)
SAR: Then you went into the service?
Bob Faris: I was in the National Guard in 1948, but I went in the service in 1952, after I got out of gunsmithing school. I went to Trinidad State Junior College, Colorado in 1949, and they had a two-year, 50% accredited course. They had a lot of gunsmithing students, but there were also a lot of other students, mostly auto mechanics. I was in school 1949 through 1952, and I had almost joined a reserve outfit at school, but I didn't fill some of the papers out properly. When I came back in the fall, they said, "Hey, you're going to fill this out, right? Do you still want to go in?" I said, "No, I'll wait a while, 'til I finish my schooling," so that was the end of that for a while. When I went out to school, that automatically separated me from the state National Guard. I was still in it technically, as they had not done the proper paperwork to discharge me and that gave me enough time to finish school. Then, I was moving on and I decided that I wanted to work at Aberdeen. I knew somebody that had gotten a job there the year before, and that appealed to me. I wanted to get my foot in the door, and I did for nine months, and then I joined up in the Regular Army. I had it all set up to go through armorer schools at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), but when I went down to enlist at Fort Meade, they had just gotten an emergency requisition for 200 bodies for tank driver school, Fort Knox, Kentucky.
SAR: Shanghaied from your dream job to something you had no interest in...first time the Army ever did that.
Bob Faris: Laughs Right. I would've done 'em a lot better good going through Aberdeen, because eventually when I finished Basic Combat Training as a Tank Driver at Knox, they assigned me as a small arms repairman in the Third Armored Division. I knew enough about small arms, and when I got to the machine gun classes, I was ahead of the instructors in taking the guns apart. I was showing off. They said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Well, I've taken everything apart." "Can you put it back together again?" and I said, "Sure." They said, "Show me," so I put it together again. Laughs I explained to them that I had not only gunsmithing school, but I had been at Aberdeen for nine months as a civilian gunner. I was asked if I wanted an assignment at Fort Knox, but I really wanted to go back to Aberdeen. They wouldn't assign me to anywhere but Fort Knox, so I took my orders for Korea instead. I wanted experience in the field, and that did help me years later. That was November of 1952. We went there by ship leaving Fort Lewis: no other way to get there than by a long trip on a ship. We stopped in Japan, got outfitted in Yokohama, and I was assigned to the Seventh Infantry Division in Korea and traveled to Inchon. Ultimately after a month's stay in a tank outfit, I would be going to 707 Ordnance. I got to my outfit on December 25, 1952, Christmas Day! Merry Christmas. Laughs. When I got there I thought I would be assigned right into Ordnance. But, oh no, the commanding general, by name of "Snuffy" Smith, had decreed that all replacements for any outfit in the Seventh Division would spend a month in their combat MOS before they were assigned to their ultimate destination. My combat MOS was "tank driver." They assigned me to a maintenance company for a tank battalion. There were about four other replacements in there with me. We went to a tent and sat down and discussed our experiences, and of course I didn't have a hell of a lot. I had a month experience as a small arms repairer at Fort Knox for the 3rd Armored Division. So, here I was, in the 86th Tank Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division in Korea. Anyway, they told us to call out our MOSs, and the other guys called out theirs, then I called out my small arms MOS. I heard a voice shouting through the tent walls, "I want that man." It was the battalion ordnance officer. The reason he wanted me was he had a whole tent full of broken down small arms, and no way to get them fixed. He wanted 'em back operational as quick as I could get 'em there and, "Get these guns back in the fight." We weren't far from the fight, so it was in our minds. Well, I was all for that, so I asked; "What do I have for parts?" "We don't have any parts" was the reply. "Tools?" "Probably can dig you up a screwdriver." It went down hill from there.
SAR: What kind of guns were in the pile?
Bob Faris: Everything. The full TO&E. Brownings, .50s, .30s, M1 Garands, I had one of the M2 carbines, M3 Grease Guns, .45 automatics. I got approximately half of them operational by cannibalizing the others, and he was tickled pink. "Well," he said, "You're going to be the unofficial small arms repairman, and when you're done with your month I'm going to get you assigned here permanently." He wouldn't officially authorize the work, but he said, "Okay, here's what I'm going to have you do. You're going to go around to all the tank outfits on the front line in the Seventh Division and inspect their weapons." It was only tank weapons that he was interested in. Somewhat the same stuff that I just rattled off. So I said, "Okay, what's my transportation?" "Oh, we don't have any. You gotta hitchhike your way up to the front line and hitchhike your way back every day." Laughs So, every day I'd go up there to the front line where the fight was, and then come back at night to battalion headquarters. If I got back early, I would help the tank mechanic with his work. Not really a hell of a lot of fighting going on up there right then, but there was some shooting going on. Shelling hit near us, but I always just pulled the hatches shut and kept on working. It was a lot safer than the bunkers. It was in the winter, and it was miserably cold out on the line.
SAR: How long were you in Korea?
Bob Faris: 14 months, two winters. Halfway through my time the Armistice came. We went back in "reserve," and had wooden floors in our tents and all this kind of special just-like-home comfortable stuff. For the first winter, just about everything we had was in trouble, including the M2HB. There was improper lubrication and the cold to contend with. There wasn't any correct lubricant. You had to completely clean a weapon of all old lubricating oil, get it all out of there before anything would work. They were short of the right stuff. That winter of '52-'53 there was no proper gun oil in the Seventh Division. The weapons didn't get proper maintenance. The M2HB worked the best, better than say the A4. We were starting to use disintegrating metallic links on the A4. They were just about out of cloth belts. There was still some few left and we used them for functioning, not combat.
SAR: Did you see any unusual weapons while you were there?
Bob Faris: Not anything really unusual. The enemy weapons, foreign weapons, were pretty standard stuff. I would pick up a Schpagin here and a Mosin there just to play with. It was hard to get ammo for things. There wasn't much of a choice on things to bring back home. You couldn't bring back anything US or anything Allied, and you couldn't bring back anything Russian, so that only left Chinese, and the weapons supplied to the Chinese. I have a Chinese Mauser hanging on the wall as my official souvenir. A buddy of mine in Seoul picked out the best one he could find for me. I left Korea in March of '54.
SAR: Did you have any contact with people over there that you met back in the US?
Bob Faris: I not only met a guy that I went to school with, but he was going through intelligence school in Aberdeen when I was there as a civilian, and he was assigned to headquarters FTIO in Seoul. I had some business in Seoul. My project was an optical sight for the .50 caliber M2HB. So I spent all my free time there. I got a 20 power spotting scope, and I made a mount to fit on the dovetail base of an M2HB. I did 20 of them. This was the first time that I know of that anyone put a good optical piece on an M2 heavy barrel machine gun. Except for the M1 Optical Sight, of course, which was a vile thing. No power. But this one wasn't all that great because there was no reticle in the spotting scope. I had to put a crosswire in there and then rotate it to where you got a good average focus, and you had to rotate a little bit to get a sharp focus, but you're still aiming with the center of the X. This was just before the Armistice, and they had a big dustup on the east side, as I was on my way back from Seoul. They got 'em out to the guys, but they got no feedback because the Armistice came shortly, and all interest was lost in the project. They were turned in and disappeared.
SAR: Was your intention to have them firing fully automatic with the scope or just single shot?
Bob Faris: Single shot, because there was too much vibration. The scopes were quite sensitive to vibration. Remember, I volunteered to do that project and it's all we had to work with.
SAR: You came back stateside, and you went to Aberdeen?
Bob Faris: I went back to Aberdeen and picked up where I left off as a civilian. They'd had a couple of raises while I was gone, which I got, 'cause in theory I was only on reassignment when I went in the Army. I stayed there for a total of 20 years, and I left there in July of '71. I had started out as a civilian gunner, and worked my way up to top level you can get as a gunner, and in '56 I got a job as a test director. I was never in the military at Aberdeen. I worked with Bill Brophy, and Larry Moore, who headed up the shoulder weapon section for many years. I worked on testing weapons, ammunition, accessories, and fire controls. We had scientific procedures set up for testing all types of weapons. There were different procedures for handguns, submachine guns, rifles, machine guns, infantry weapons and aircraft armament and tank armament.
SAR: What programs did you test personally?
Bob Faris: I started out with aircraft weapons, primarily the T160 20mm Revolver Cannon, which became the M39. I started on that before I went in the Army, and then when I got out they put me right back on it. I didn't do hardly any of the initial T130 .60 caliber work, because they expanded the neck and made 20 millimeter out of it, and they stuck with that. It was the same ammo used in the Vulcan M61, but using a different link. Primarily we ran endurance, cook-off, and reliability tests, various adverse conditions, arctic temperatures down to -65F because the gun bays would get that cold at high altitude. There was a stratosphere chamber that would evacuate the proper amount of air to simulate the altitude temperature-wise, and that was variable. It could start out at low altitude at higher temperature and just program these test conditions up and down. We would fire a test from a heavy-duty mechanical rest, a little bit of adjustment for elevation and azimuth and fire into a "container." There was a firing chamber, then ahead of that another chamber with sand in it to catch all these projectiles. There was "altitude" in there, so you can't vent it until you were through. You had to make sure that the accumulation of projectiles did not exceed the amount of sand. When you heard a clankety clank, it was hitting the metal container - that's bad. You had to stop. That phase would have to be done over, until we screened all the projectiles out. Now, if you weren't taking the altitude into consideration, you used standard firing chambers, temperature-conditioned and armored in case of an explosion.
SAR: Did you work on any of the small arms testing for shoulder-fired weapons?
Bob Faris: Very few. I filled in for people occasionally on the standard and experimental arms of the time. I do remember some politician wanted to see what the Johnson 1941 Rifle would do in the cold test spectrum in the '60s at a low temperature. It had never been tested at low temperature. I did that one; it was a very limited test. I did some M60 testing, and of course M73 and M219 and the T175, which became the M85. I got into that M73 the first time and it was already in production; that would be in the early to mid '60s. There were inherent problems with the system and there were a lot of them. Too many to name actually, but here's a few... Ammunition compatibility, mount rigidity problems, gas contamination from the booster, which is not limited to the M73. They would change the booster relationship with the recoiling component because of fouling, and it would knock the back plate out. It had a stamped receiver and a stamped back plate. Excessive recoil would also knock out the alignment of the solenoid and manual trigger, because it also could be manually fired, which was the requirement for any machine gun on a tank. However, it would not function off of a modified M2 tripod, as it was not rigid enough.
SAR: The M73 used the same standard M-13 link as the M60, and it had ammunition problems, sensitivity to different lots of ammunition?
Bob Faris: Yeah, it's related to case hardness. We had problems with yielding of the locking system. It wasn't very rigid, and it had a lot of spring. When you had soft cases, they would stick too hard, and they would separate. This was accentuated especially with high pressure and heat. It was also accentuated in cold, because ball propellant tended to completely fragment and raise pressures, so we had to watch that. The propellant fragmented before it was ignited, when it was in the cartridge case. While it was being ignited at the rear, there's pressure up forward, and in the cold it's crunching the propellant up front. We were able to measure the pressure changes under these conditions. That was all thoroughly done by the ammunition test people, once it was determined to be a problem.
SAR: Was this a problem in other weapon systems also?
Bob Faris: No, it was mainly a problem in M73 because of the semi-rigid locking system. They were planning to replace all of the Browning Tank Machine Guns with the M73 because of the shorter receiver. I don't know how many millions of dollars the government spent trying to make super cartridge cases for 7.62x51mm ammunition just so they'd work in the M73. They went crazy on this. Instead of looking at the system and saying, "There's a fault in this system," they tried to change the cases. The ammunition failed, so they said something had to be wrong with the ammunition.
SAR: But the ammunition wasn't failing in other systems.
Bob Faris: They oversimplified. They had all these problems and they didn't analyze them properly. It was all in my reports in the '60s. The higher ups gave Springfield Armory hell and told 'em to fix it. Well, they were in the hole already, and that was their own choosing. They had gotten this design accepted that wasn't functional and they didn't know what to do about it. They tried all kinds of things. They changed the configuration of the chamber, tapered the neck, trying to ease extraction, but it wasn't extraction that was the problem. The cases were yielding at high pressure. For several years we were spending the money and making the finest 7.62mm brass anywhere in the world, all unnecessarily, because while there were lots of other problems in the M73, the ammunition was working fine in the M60, the M14, the Minigun and so forth. I also did lots of work on the M85. I got in on the first engineering test on that: that was about 1960. It was still the T175 at that point, but it was up to E2 model, I think. At least the E1 model at that first test at APG.
SAR: So what was wrong with the M85?
Bob Faris: Laughs Ha... well, this problem was not ammunition compatibility. Parts life of critical components for a start, but... how can I condense this? The problems were all, once again, from a bad design: a locking system that wore out and broke frequently. They had a recoil and feed system that took too much energy to operate. Consequently, when you got into adverse conditions, or just un-lubricated, it figuratively would screech to a stop because the energy required to operate it under normal lubrication conditions was such that it was not adequate for adverse conditions, like dust and sand and non-lubrication. AAI did the original design on the M85 program (T175.) Problems with the M85 were political in a way, but the real problem was that they were committed on these weapons, and they'd convinced themselves they could fix them. The designers and the re-designers had convinced the proponents of this thing to accept it in the first place, then that they could fix it, and they did their damndest. They had state of the art metallurgy, they had all the facilities and machinery, but they couldn't change the fundamental design problems. They went through two tanks, the M-60 and the M-60A1. Both of those tank turrets and cupolas were configured for the M73 and the M85. That made it so that the mount and the ammo boxes and the coaxial hole through the coaxial gun mount were configured for the M73. With the M73 getting such problems with fouling, they had to extend the flash hider out the front, so the barrel and the flash hider were about that long. (Bob gestures with outspread arms). It wasn't necessarily the fault of the M73, but it was more sensitive to the changes that this extension was causing functionally. The M85, well, they designed a cupola (M19) to go on top of the turret. The previous cupola had an offset gun mount, and they complained all the time about this weapon swinging side to side when you fired it. There was a tremendous lateral dispersion, because the gun is off-center.
That was the M-1 cupola with the Browning M2HB on the M-60 tanks. All the other offset machine gun cupolas had the same problem. That gave you a lot of lateral dispersion of the rounds. That is not acceptable. They wanted a short receiver on these guns, because with the Browning receivers mounted centrally there would be no room for the commander in the cupola. Those are the major design problems that they had to overcome to make it work, because of the short distance they had to fit it in. What they had to do was shorten up the action, shorten up the receiver. In the M85 that meant that they had a much higher need of energy to translate into feeding. That was primarily because of shortening up the stroke on it, they couldn't translate the energy properly. If you ever get a chance to study one, you'll see what a weird feed system it has, and excessive frictional loads are inherent to the design.
SAR: The M85 uses its own link, different from the M2 .50 BMG.
Bob Faris: There was a lot of trouble with that. There were three of them: M-15, M-15A1 and M-15A2. All of them had inconsistent gripping force on the round. Because this bolt system happened to not travel very far, it's got to hit and drive the round straight forward out of the link. The links were inconsistent in how they were gripping the round, and you had a problem with energy being taken off for feeding forward, as well as the recoil stroke feeding over. The links were either gripping the cartridge too tight or too loose. If it was too loose, while dragging the belt around trying to load it, and the rounds would fall out, the belts would come apart while you were trying to fill the ammunition box. They thought that was all right, but I raised so much hell about it. There's no way they're belted for combat conditions. I was watching, and I'd try it myself, and it was very hard to keep from knocking rounds out of the links. They went through two major designs, and I had some prototypes of different links they tried. The final design proved acceptable.
SAR: The end result on the M85 was that it was taken out of service; that it never really got into full service? I don't remember seeing many in the early '70s.
Bob Faris: Oh, hell no, it got into service all right, you've got to recognize that from the early '60s until the '70s, they were "play guns" because the M60 series tanks weren't used in combat in Vietnam. Anything that'd go wrong in training, they'd blame it on the crews. "Oh, you didn't do this or that. You didn't lubricate it enough," and there were a lot of hassles over that. I tried to convince them they shouldn't go into production until they fixed the M85. It was too late on the M73. But not too late on the M219, where they eliminated 20 parts, eliminated the "dump cart," (the ejection system,) and went to a direct ejection system. That's another story. But neither one of them saw combat in Vietnam. That's all they cared about. They had their new M-60 tank, "ready" for combat in Europe. They had new machine guns that wouldn't be reliable, especially in the desert, and I tried to convince them of that. I had to go to the Pentagon and explain the problems based on my last test. I went with the commanding officer of Test and Evaluation at Aberdeen because my immediate boss and his boss were in Germany, fighting a battle on the 20 millimeter. The test director, me and my Colonel drove down there in his staff car, went to the meeting. It was chaired by the project manager for the M-60, M-60A-1, M-60 A-2 tanks and I explained that every time we had a test, no matter what, the M85 got a little better, except for un-lubricated, in sand and dust, it never got any better. I ran 13 engineering type tests, a complete battery of tests with all the conditions. Nine of the tests had sand and dust, and an un-lubricated machine gun, and it never passed even one of those tests. Severe failures? "Oh, we're not worried about that." "The battlefield is going to be in Europe", all this kind of crap they fed us.
SAR: You must have been popular in that group.
Bob Faris: Colonel Burney was the project manager. I'd see him every once in a while, he'd come and look at a test, see how it was going. They were referring all these good results from the tests and none of the bad during the meeting, and I'm starting to sweat because I haven't got an opening to tell the whole truth yet. He says, "Well, we're all agreed, everything is okay and ready to go to production?" I said, "No, sir." He looked at me, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, sir, if you want to standardize a gun that will not work satisfactorily under un-lubricated, sand and dust," and Louis Artioli from Springfield Armory raises his eyebrows. (He's the guy who's doing the project, and he thought he got through this briefing.) The Colonel said, "Tell me about it, what are you talking about, this passed the tests, didn't it?" Well, Colonel Burney got all the high points in his reports, and they emphasize things he wants to hear, and I gave about 10-15 minutes of what's wrong with the gun, and he's overdue in the Chief of Ordnance's office for the decision. He looked at Artioli and he says, "Is this true?" "Yes, sir." He's starting to sweat. He could see his whole plan for his vacation in Hawaii or whatever falling apart, and he says, "Are you saying that we shouldn't go into production?" I said, "I'm not going to say that, sir, that's your job. All I'm telling you is if you want a tank gun that works in desert conditions, you've got to do something about this." He asked what they had been doing and I said, "They've been working like hell to get this fixed, and I cannot fault them for what they did." I was a GS9 at that time. He turns to Artioli, "Is this true?" "Yes, sir." Colonel Burney turns to my colonel and says, "Did you know Faris was going to do this?" "Yes, sir. Bob filled me in on the whole M85 program, on the way down to Washington." Laughs I thought I was done for, pulling the plug at this point, but it was the first opportunity I had. Another 15 or 20 minutes of education on his part and he asks me, "Have you tried everything you know of on this gun?" I said, "Yes, sir, I have, it's just the basic design." Someone asked, "Is there a possibility of blocking the air intake that's coming through the case ejection port, through the gun, into the tank?" Laughs "No, it's the way the cupola is built." He says, "Well, could we put a spring-loaded shutter on it to close that off, and when you take the safety off on the gun, it'll pop the thing up, or a separate lever?" I said, "That's theoretically possible." But he knew I meant "Not likely." You've got to recognize the time frame; this was during the last Berlin Crisis. They had these brand new M-60A-1 tanks over there, and the Crisis wasn't over. We had M2HBs mounted on a lug welded on the top of the M-19 cupola, and they were raising hell about that. "We look like a bunch of idiots!" That's the pressure the project manager was under to get those guns into that tank. I knew all this. The Project Manager decided to authorize initial production of the M85, but to direct every effort to overcome the problems brought out in this meeting.
SAR: Bob, if they weren't going to work, they weren't going to work.
Bob Faris: Not in sand and dust they wouldn't, but they wouldn't accept it. The goddamn test results are in every one of my test reports, and they ignored it. Back to the XM219, the M73 was continuously going through changes and modifications. They came out with the XM-219 with direct action ejection. It was not working all that well. When I split the results out, it had more failures to eject with that than it did with the old one. They put other new changes and improvements in the gun, so it looked like the new gun with a fixed ejector was better. The old gun with these other new additions would've been better than that. Laughs I wrote that in the report, and they were furious, they tried to get it retracted. It was not retracted.
In October 1968, I conducted my last test of the XM219 "Improvements" prior to adoption for production. (It was also referred to as the M73E1 at that time.) Overall performance was equal to or slightly better than obtained in earlier tests, though still not satisfactory. I had established by tests in May 1966, that not only dynamic headspace, but basically the guns were being manufactured with excess static headspace. In addition, a condition I called "Over-ramming" was prevalent, dynamic, probably due to an early modification to the barrel chamber neck which reduced the area of the stop shoulder, further aggravating the static headspace problem. Springfield Armory had not accepted the over-ramming analysis.
SAR: So Aberdeen stuck to their guns and they backed you up.
Bob Faris: Oh yeah, just like they should.
SAR: What happened on the M85 project?
Bob Faris: Well, nothing significant for a long time. They kept dodging the bullet, while trying to fix it. Then I got transferred to Yuma Proving Grounds. (I transferred from Aberdeen in '71.) At Yuma I was an aircraft armament tester. Test Engineer was the title, whether you were a technician or not. I had been in the aircraft arms section right after I got out of the army. I was in it until about the time the T175 and M73 came along. Then I had transferred into another section, which included infantry and tank machine guns. I worked 14 years at Yuma, retired in 1985. I was still stuck, concerned with those two damn guns that hung around my neck like an albatross.
SAR: The M73 and M85?
Bob Faris: No kidding. For ten years the army tankers had "play guns," and thought they were doing fine. They weren't really happy with them, but they weren't having any great troubles - just smaller problems that kept appearing. One day in 1973, I was sitting at my desk in Yuma, minding my business. I got a phone call from Tank Automotive Command. One of the people for the project manager (a new one) for the M-60A1 tank, a Major, was on the line. He says, "Mr. Faris, we have sent M-60A1 tanks to Israel, and the Israelis are taking the M73s and 85s out of the tank. (Yom Kippur War) Now, there seems to be some serious problems here. I understand that you tested these guns, signed off, and they were accepted." I said, "Major, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I did most of the testing on both the M85 and the M73 and the M219. It was all done at Aberdeen between 4 and 14 years ago. Tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to go to my files here and dig out all my reports. I'm going to give you report numbers, and you show me anyplace where I "passed" these guns in adverse conditions. Call me in two days." He said, "I'll be doing that." I sat back in stunned disbelief; clearly this man was looking for a scapegoat, because I knew that they were planning to put the two guns on the XM-1 they were working on, as well as embarrassment over the performance of the M85 and M219 machine guns in their first war.
My temperature was starting to rise on that alone. It looked like something was developing there. I went back and dug out my reports. I had conducted 13 engineering tests on the M85. Nine of them had un-lubricated and sand and dust tests done at Aberdeen. The gun never passed one of those tests, and they were done over a period of years. I got back with that Major, and I gave him this information. He said, "Well, thank you very much. I'll be in touch." I was looking at pictures of our new XM-1 super tank at the time, and what did it have on top? An M85. The next pictures I saw, Ma Deuce was on the XM-1. By the way, they were already planning to replace the M219.
SAR: John Browning's design is a good one.
Bob Faris: And if you can't make something better, don't replace it. People's lives depend on them. The Israelis took the M73 and M85 out of the tanks because they had the exact problems that I foresaw, and they pulled them right off and replaced them. As it was described to me, they took 'em out and threw 'em on the ground. They took the cupola off and put a simple ring mount up in place of it. They had 1919A4 Brownings in 7.62x51mm, and actually some of those kits came into the United States for examination out of Israel. We, however, decided to adopt the M240 as a coaxial machine gun instead, after thorough testing.
SAR: Bob, you've always been a "gun guy." During that period, in the '50s and '60s when you were at Aberdeen, did you expand your gun collecting?
Bob Faris: Every time I got a raise, I'd go down and buy another bundle of guns. Most of my shopping was at Interarmco, then InterArms. I knew Dick Winter, and I got to know them all pretty well. Of course, I met Sam Cummings and I got to be one of their information resources. They were getting so much stuff in they couldn't identify, I was helping them out, so I got a discount on guns and things. They'd call me up as soon as a ship was offloaded, and as soon as I could get off from work, I'd come down there and help them out. Start sorting and going through piles and find out what things were. Sam had his own little warehouse floor in the office building. Anything new that came in there, they would immediately pick out the best of whatever got there, and put it in Sam's storage, which is logical.
SAR: Of course it is. It's one of the perks of being a gun guy. Anyone in particular that sticks out?
Bob Faris: I forget what year, but Tom Nelson got out of the Army, and I introduced him to Winter, and later he came back down and got a job with them. It was the early '60s. Tom came out and was working for them. They had finally hired someone who knew weapons.
SAR: Any interesting guns that come to mind that you found there? Any weird stuff?
Bob Faris: Sure, all of it. (Laughs) Very few automatics. They did get a few in, as did Val Forgett. Val and Sam, they kind of worked together. I wasn't buying machine guns in those days. I had a couple of them, Dewats, but it wasn't until '65 that I got my first live machine guns. I got a Thompson 28A1 and a MK II Bren gun. Paid 100 bucks apiece.
SAR: That was a lot of money.
Bob Faris: I know. I had to pay the $200 transfer tax as well.
SAR: Do you still have those two pieces?
Bob Faris: Yeah. I'm pretty dedicated to collecting and not getting rid of the items I buy. I'm very careful what I buy most of the time. Hardly ever have any trading stock. Every one that I do get rid of, I have regretted it later. Those first two guns were imported guns, from Interarmco. There wasn't a big shipment; it was a pretty select shipment. I had my choice of some fairly worn 1921A1s, and I picked a 1928A1. I wished I'd gotten the Colt 1921A1 now. I could've dip blued them and they'd look like new. The Bren was a Canadian MKII - that one over there (Bob points at his collection). That was in pretty good shape when I got it and I still enjoy shooting it today, especially since I traded for the Mark I that I also have, which is also a Long Branch gun. I converted it to 7.62, sold it and got it back in trade again. Technically an "L4 Bren." The next gun I got was either a Dutch FAL or a Lewis.
SAR: How about dealing with Val Forgett?
Bob Faris: I was working at Aberdeen, and Colonel Jarret called me up one day. He said, "I got an Army GI over here, just new, just come in, and he's assigned to help me out. He's a real gun nut. Come on over and meet him," so I did. I knew Val ever since, because he was working for Colonel Jarrett who had started and run the Aberdeen Museum. I also met Don Bady. Colonel Jarrett's assistant took over when he retired in the 1950s. Val always knew the interesting guns, and I bought quite a few from him as well.
SAR: Did you register any guns in the amnesty?
Bob Faris: Yes, the Dutch FAL and then the 25mm Puteaux had to be registered as a Destructive Device, and a Dewat Chatellerault 1924/29 and I registered that. I registered maybe ten guns in the 1968 Amnesty.
SAR: Did you know anybody else that was registering guns in the Amnesty?
Bob Faris: Everybody I knew that was interested in machine guns. Some guys held some back, which they regretted later. They held them back because they felt uncomfortable with registering them, they didn't trust the government. They thought the government was going to come and take the guns that they registered. It is good sound reasoning you know, not to trust a government when it comes to gun control. This may happen yet.
SAR: Were you going to gun shows?
Bob Faris: I was going to the Ohio Gun Collector Association (OGCA) gun shows from '59 on. Tom Nelson introduced me to them. There I met Allan Coors. He's big into tanks as well and he's getting more into machine guns now. He's got a great military rifle collection too. Remember, there weren't many gun shows back then, it was a big deal. The three of us, Tom and Allan and I, and maybe two more guys would meet and then drive up to Ohio, taking turns driving. All of the collectors would meet a few times a year at these shows, and buy and sell. When I moved to Yuma there was nothing out west like that OGCA show; except for that big one in Pomona, California, The Great Western. It was a pretty good substitute for OGCA. It was the biggest show I'd ever been to. You did a lot of walking, but you could see the stuff and buy it.
SAR: That's where I first met you, way back, because my family was always there twice a year. Tom Nelson was there, the whole old crew. A big gathering in the sunshine in Southern California. Everybody'd come out from the East Coast and get in the sunshine and come down to Pomona and go to the Great Western twice a year. I miss that show.
Bob Faris: Absolutely, I never missed one. It was great getting together with everyone there, finding all the parts, manuals, old guns. Too bad the local politicians killed it.
SAR: I understand the name was sold, and they run "The Great Western" in Texas now. At Yuma, most of the testing you were doing there was on aircraft guns?
Bob Faris: It started out as aircraft guns. XM-140 was what originally was tested extensively for a new aircraft, and I was up to my neck in that. The aircraft Lockheed Cheyenne pooped out and they dropped it, started over again. That eventually was replaced by the Blackhawk. They had this completely electronically run, mechanically operated gun, the XM-140 30-millimeter. It was about the same as the NATO 30mm round. It had a different semi-rimmed head, instead of adopting the one that they had standardized in the NATO group. They had to make this new thing, and eventually they did make the change, to NATO standard, mid-length ADEN round. The XM230 Chain Gun replaced the XM140.
SAR: They didn't standardize with the British ADEN system?
Bob Faris: Not the guns, but they eventually modified the XM140 round to interchange with the ADEN ammunition. The HEDP project had a lot of work going into it. Ballistically, they're almost identical, but were not interchangeable. They were firing mostly from the air for these ammunition tests. There was a lot of fuze testing on the ground, because they had problems, and eventually wound up with a pretty good fuze. It was an all-purpose projectile. It had blast effect, some fragmentation, that's a shaped charge in the projectile for anti-tank effect.
SAR: You worked on the 25mm Bushmaster program at Yuma.
Bob Faris: That started with the TRW 6425 weapon system, which was sent to Aberdeen for test, for military potential evaluation. The government officially didn't have a need for that system, but the military really did. I was pulled off another program of grenade launchers. This first design was by TRW, a combination of designs between Oerlikon and TRW. The ammunition had shown success against light armor, and you could stop any tank going with a burst. The gun was recoil operated to start with, and then gas operation was an alternative. It had right and left hand feed that was quick change, electrically fired, and could be worked by hand. You could put your armor piercing ammunition on one side and your anti-personnel on the other. This was a very important design feature. I ran the military potential test on it, and it had some problems but many good features. It needed a balance between adequate and excessive powering, and between maximum depression and maximum elevation, which was a problem. You don't do all the adverse conditions in the initial military test. You do certain ones that you feel may be important, or may show a problem but it had potential. This project was put on the shelf for a while. In the meantime, the infantry was working out what they really wanted from this kind of system, what kind of ranges, what kind of speeds, what kind of capacities and so forth for their new Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) concept. They needed more space for a bigger turret because they wanted to put a bigger gun in it. At Aberdeen primarily, they tested an interim rapid fire weapon system. They spent a lot of time and money on the German interim M139 20 millimeter. It was supposed to be an off-the-shelf item just to give the Seventh Army something to put on their scout vehicle and the predecessor of the IFV, MICV (Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle), having a one-man turret with the M139 20mm gun.
Now, since it was to be replaced with the IFV having a two-man turret with a 25mm gun, they needed someone to run the tests at YPG (Yuma Proving Ground), and here I was at YPG. So, I was picked for the project. The Army had to choose between the recoil/gas operated XM241 and the motor driven XM242. Both used the same ammunition and link belt. APG (Aberdeen Proving Ground) conducted the engineering tests from test stands. The XM242 performance was better than that of the XM241 in almost every test. However, there had been incidents of the XM242 firing out of battery (unlocked) at other test installations (at least one at a Hughes test range). The Army convened a Source Selection Board to summarize and analyze all of the test results and decide which gun should be chosen. In December of 1978 I was appointed to review all of the results for safety because of my experience as I had either conducted or observed many of the tests. All of the testers including the contractors and other Army agencies were represented.
SAR: Identical ammunition in 25 millimeter?
Bob Faris: Same ammo. The TRW gun had no significant safety problems. Hughes knew their Chain Gun was in trouble. They had to make a design decision. They said; "We have a fix on the way, so wait a bit." Everybody knew how it was going to go on the decision if they had no fix; they were dead in the water. I was noncommittal. But the team chief, who was at the Tank Automotive Command where this meeting was, took me aside to say, "Hughes is here with high-speed movies, an explanation and a fix for the safety problem. Come with me." Dan, you've seen how the chain gun works. The bolt goes back and forth on the chain that's going around the receiver bottom, and it gives a fixed delay between rounds, guarantees a minimum unlocking time and a maximum travel time. In their fix, the chance of a round going off when you're unlocked is nil because it's set up so that it will not unlock unless there's a recoil impulse from the previous round. The chain stops unless there's a recoil impulse. I watched the high-speed movies and I thought it through, trying to figure out a way to make it fail. I couldn't come up with a reasonable way. In other words, this thing had to be failsafe now. The meeting broke up; I hadn't asked too many questions because they were pretty clear in their explanation. We were riding back and the chief wanted to know what I thought. I said, "I gotta chew on it a little overnight, but I think they got it fixed." I couldn't check it by tests, there's no time for testing. The decision was due the next day.
SAR: So you had to make a call on it right then.
Bob Faris: I had to make a call on it. "Go with the XM242 Chain Gun." My chief had agreed with it, and all the rest of the team disagreed. We were right down to the wire. I stuck to my guns because I had been doing a lot of sand and dust testing, with only minor problems with the XM242, and their fix worked to keep the out of battery occurrences. So, the M242 was accepted. I had my fingers crossed for many moons.
SAR: The first M240 Coax guns, the Americanized MAG58s were used on that project as well.
Bob Faris: I know, because I ran into belt pull problems. I immediately ran a test on those guns by testing belt pull capability. I established that it had plenty of belt pull capability and the problem was in the feed chute and ammo box. It was fixed and no further feed problems occurred.
SAR: While you were doing these tests, you were involved in the shooting community around Arizona. When did you first correspond with Herbie over in England? (The late H.J. "Herbie" Woodend, former Custodian of the MOD Pattern Room at Nottingham) I know you shared a common passion with him on belts, links and feeding devices.
Bob Faris: I started contact with him sometime after John Cross started coming over here. John came over here with a cartridge collector, and I don't remember the year there either. The cartridge collector never came back, but I would see John practically every year. Still do. He introduced me to Herbie by mail. The students of belts and links and that type of thing are few and far between, it's a small fraternity of serious collectors. I corresponded with Herbie, but I never made it over to the Pattern Room. Every time he came over here, he visited me, and Bill Woodin, and the others back East.
SAR: You have a passion for collecting a lot of different things to do with military. Is there a direction you're going to go into?
Bob Faris: My collecting would be called "International," and it is military based. There are different emphases in investment. Guns are the most expensive part of it, the most important part. No matter what, I still want to have a certain amount of each country's military insignia, the accessories to go with all the guns, and of course the ammunition. If I had the money and the years, I'd collect tanks, armored vehicles, planes and helicopters. The trial and testing information and manuals are every bit as important as the weapons themselves to collecting. It's part of the whole thing for doing research. The user can't really learn how to use it without some basic material to go with it. My personal collecting parallels the job I had. I still understand that information is important. That was one of my responsibilities as test director, more so than when I started. Today that is a separate function. I remember on the M39 they'd send a few guys down, writers, technical writers, and they'd have me go through assembly, disassembly, technical issues, with them, particularly with the M39. They combined that with the testing. They had provisional ordnance manuals and we had to review those along with the guns as they approached acceptability in testing. This was to make sure the manual matched up with the real information you were finding. Originally, they would write it and we would critique it and see that it serves its purpose adequately. As time went on, it became the test director's responsibility.
SAR: You're always at the Wikieup shoot, The Big Sandy, and before that at S-P Crater shoots. You seem to have a heck of a great time there.
Bob Faris: Oh, yes. My favorite shooting activities bounce back and forth between the aerial targets and the on-the-ground, reactive targets: things that explode. On the aerial targets, I developed different weapon mounts to use over the years. Whatever it was, it usually would have high cyclic rate and large sights. It's not a really realistic situation. You have a target that's this big (3 feet) going by you, gyrating all around, and it's at 250+- yards. If you can hit that, it's luck. At the first, I used Vickers, Brens, whatever. Then I made a twin mount for the Vickers, and changed the cradle to make a twin Bren gun with drums. As the model plane guys got better, we got better guns.
SAR: A microcosmic arms race.
Bob Faris: (Laughs) Yeah, our own arms race. The guys flying the planes are allowed to do anything they can to keep from getting hit. In other words, they're not flying at scale speed. And if they were, they'd lose a lot more airplanes and it'd cost more.
SAR: There's at least one guy who brings an M134 Minigun so that he can try and take down the planes.
Bob Faris: It's still hard to do it with anything because of the scale/speed ratio. Heck of a lot of fun though! My twin Vickers were inspired by that. Doesn't necessarily do as well as the single Vickers because it's bulky and you traverse the twins with your feet. It's heavy. It's really a lot like normal World War Two Radial and Motley mounts. These target planes are flying relatively much faster than that design could cope with.
SAR: Have you run into many unusual machine guns in private ownership?
Bob Faris: Sure, lots of them, I own some unusual guns. I also see FG-42s out there, and there's plenty of MG-3s and MG42s as well. I seem to buy enough of most of the really odd machine guns. Weird Italian, French, other designs will always catch my interest. Most of the guys out there are more shooters than collectors, and they'll buy a machine gun that they know is tried and true, they can get parts and ammo for. I lean towards the odd, strange machine guns as a collector, but I shoot them too.
SAR: You've done a lot of work on Vickers guns to change the calibers around. How many calibers can a Vickers gun be changed into?
Bob Faris: They can do 13 rifle calibers, and I shoot nine of them. They produced 13 different calibers of Vickers. I've done some of them different ways, but all of the calibers I shoot, I have the barrels and the belts and the locks, all the parts. I do manufacture my own parts when I need them. I have a shop with a lathe and drill press and grinders and all that stuff. I like the 11mm Gras, which was the balloon gun. I made the cases from the 11mm Austrian round; the case is slightly shorter, but it works with cast bullets. I also shoot 8mm Siamese Type 66, because I happened to have a couple new barrels for it. I got components that Kynoch had disposed of. John Cross helped me with these deals.
SAR: You bought some other things from England at one point, didn't you?
Bob Faris: I bought rifles there, too. Also a lot of Vickers rusty gauges, 900 pounds worth. They came from the scrap yard adjacent to the old Enfield Locks. I wish I'd gotten them sooner before they got so rusty. That was in the late '70s. These were the gages used in manufacturing the Vickers guns. I got 90% of them and lots of parts. If it involved a major receiver component, it was not shipped. There were some Lewis parts and original factory production gages in there, too. There was a small box of .50-caliber Vickers parts and locks and stuff.
SAR: From the Vickers light .50 low velocity or the heavy .50 high velocity?
Bob Faris: Both. I have a new barrel for the high-velocity Vickers. (Laughs) All the others were the low velocity model.
SAR: Have you seen a transferable Vickers .50 in the US?
Bob Faris: No. Only the parts, some were just thrown into a pile. I bought the whole lot, which was in England.
SAR: Always the best thing to do. Do you have a favorite machine gun?
Bob Faris: Probably my Vickers 1912 MK 1. That's the first one, the very first production gun. Favorite rifle? A Number 4(T). I like shooting it, and I like its accuracy, versatility and form.
SAR: (Dan eyes Bob's rifle wall) When did you get that Mondragon? How much did you pay?
Bob Faris: 1950 and I paid $35. (Laughter) It's in 7mm and it came from Mexico. I've got the drum for it, I got it from another collector, Steve Fuller. The leather case and drums over there is for the Farquar-Hill rifle. They only made 100 of those. These are the early 20th century prototypes of the modern semiautomatic rifles like the Mondragon, the Farquar Hill, the ZH-29 and the St. Etienne.
SAR: Do you believe that collecting firearms has enriched you? Aside from doing the opposite and spending your money for you.
Bob Faris: I couldn't think of a better way to spend money. I'd just like to do more. You get a feel for history through the weapons. I can appreciate the history books that I read. Probably wouldn't need nearly as much research with a certain rifle in front of you. Lately I've been trying to track the history of the machine gun during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. It's very hard because most of the publications talk about the same machine gun.
SAR: There was a British officer who went there to observe from the Japanese side. He wrote a book...
Bob Faris: That's mentioned in the book I am reading now; Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear: Russia's War with Japan by Richard Connaughton, printed in England. I have different books in different parts of the house that I read whenever I can. When I see something interesting about a firearm in the book, I make notes on the back inside page, what guns, what units, so I can research further.
SAR: Favorite handgun?
Bob Faris: Currently, the CZ-75. I like it. It handles well, it shoots well, it's reliable, and it fits my hand perfectly. I like that Enfield Number 4 or the Number 5 for a rifle, I like them both. Number 4 has a good reputation. Number 5 kicks like hell.
SAR: When LMO was doing the Stembridge Gun Rental analysis and sale, I brought in J.R. LaRue's company as the specialists on the Title I firearms. There was a particular Enfield that caught a lot of interest from people and J.R. made sure that went to you. Herbie Woodend just about killed me for that; the Pattern Room didn't even have that model. He never forgave me and would make me sit through a night of bad English Karaoke every time the subject came up.
Bob Faris: That's too bad. (Bob grins) That was a pre-Short Rifle made about 1900. They made two patterns, Pattern A and Pattern B, and I had the Pattern A already, which is the one the UK adopted with modification. I got that from Cholly Steen, along with some other early short rifles that had all come out of a military school in Nairobi. That was a Sarco deal - I've bought a lot from Cholly over the years, known him since the late '50s. Most of those Nairobi guns weren't even pictured in the good gun books. The one I got from J.R. and you out of Stembridge was the only known Pattern B. There's a saddle lug on it. There is a chart that Skennie (Ian Skennerton) re-drew to put in his book, because they had no guns nor photos in England of Pattern A or Pattern B. There's been a lot of conjecture, why are there only two of them left, one Pattern A and one Pattern B? I'm sure there's some more out there, but we just don't know where. They were never photographed for the record, either one. If you see an old SMLE with a white band around the butt, check it out because there were others in that same time frame, plus about six years, I have them hanging on the wall too. They came from the same lot. The British Army didn't want these anymore when they adopted the SMLE No I MK III in 1907. They just dropped them all off in Nairobi, and most are marked "DP", usually meaning "Drill Purpose." Not suitable for service use.
SAR: All the readers should be running to their gun rooms about now, looking through their Enfields. Bob, you had the opportunity to work with some of the young engineers and designers on many of the new small arms systems over the last 30 or 40 years. Are there any particular messages you have for the young designers out there?
Bob Faris: As a tester, I have heard everything from, "You're doing everything wrong, the test is too severe, you're being unfair," to, "We know how to fix this," and they often did, and everything in between. If you've got modifications or a new design and you think you might have problems, you will have. Try to avoid that at the test facility. Try to get all the things done you can afford to, or can do before you bring it to the test range, because it can get a bad name if you have a lot of problems in the beginning. Do real thorough testing before you even come out to do the testing in front of anyone else. Your methodology should be considered as well - by you that is. I don't know what was in their minds when they started on many projects, and why they chose the design they settled on, but sometimes it seems like it was something they just pulled out of the air. A lot of careful study and analysis should go into the design, and you should test as much as you can before you try to go in front of the users/buyers. Most of the designers and developers of the M85 and M73 simply designed themselves into a dead end; could not get out of it. What a debacle. Don't do that to yourself, before you present or try to get it into service, work it all the way through.
SAR: Weren't they restricted by the physical length of the receiver that they could use?
Bob Faris: Dan, there are always restrictions, but that was the main reason for the new design requirements. There are solutions. It gets back to more testing. The testers are under attack all the time for holding up production, holding up getting the guns out there, keeping the developer, the producer, from getting their money. Sometimes even we testers don't do enough testing. As I've indicated here on the M73 and the M85, they don't properly analyze the results. The user is just as guilty of that as the producers are. The user would usually take an optimistic view of problems, because after they're through the engineering tests, they go to the user tests, and they're supposed to, in a haphazard way, pick up what we don't get, or do dumb things that we wouldn't do except by accident. That's important to the process of finding and curing the problems - making things soldier-proof. However, you want to find the problems BEFORE these go to combat.
SAR: Do you see a value for working reference collections of firearms to the country and the industry?
Bob Faris: Absolutely. Take a look at the history of firearms from the beginning to today. It's a series of incremental improvements. You have to know what has been going on before, how they arrived at those conclusions, and what kind of a lifestyle they had while they were working on it. Take Browning for example, a most original designer, however, he had to know what was done before him. For Browning to change the design of machine guns, there were only one or two other designs that were even known, and he probably didn't know much about them, because Maxim and other contemporaries were not showing their designs to each other. Everything since then has been incremental in development, and you have to know what's failed or works and why they did certain things in their designs to avoid that.
SAR: As a tester you saw a lot of people repeating mistakes?
Bob Faris: Sure, or not accomplishing the objectives at all. They can get carried away with their little "improvements," that are not really improvements. These modern multiple weapons, a veritable walking arsenal, barrels and calibers and bayonets and lights and lasers pointing in one direction. It doesn't work out too well when you get out in the field. Nearly every one of these multi-guns they proposed for the Army has fallen by the wayside so far.
SAR: Do you have a principle in mind when you think about design?
Bob Faris: Ruggedness, simplicity, accuracy and portable. Those have to be satisfied first. After that you can expand the system. I think we have a problem with these Objective-whatever guns. There's something wrong with their objectives. With some of them, it's like playing an accordion. They make them so bulky and heavy, a shooter can't get a hold of it for any kind of natural pointing capability. I think someday the dual guns are going to be at a point where they're going to be better, but so far they haven't been good enough. Having the full and semiautomatic capability of the rifle, and at least a fast repeater for the grenade is good. I'm sure they've got improved projectiles, leading to smaller rounds and smaller weapons. In the grenade category, they're working on 30mm, they're working on 25 mm. I am not so sure they can maintain those design objectives I just stated.
SAR: They need to do the initial designs to get smaller.
Bob Faris: In my opinion they should persevere in what they're working on, but they've got to remember those four basic principles and keep it rugged, simple, and accurate, as well as reliable.
SAR: What do you think is the best operational General Purpose Machine Gun in the world today?
Bob Faris: What caliber? In rifle caliber, it would be the PK series. The PKM is nice and light and easy to carry around, and very forgiving to use. Very reliable. The M240 is a bit too heavy for optimum dismount use. Did you know they had spade grips for the M73 to dismount with? They dropped the off-vehicle requirement because they found that it wouldn't work on a tripod, or the M85 either. They found out early on that the M73 would only work at all from a rigid mount, and the M85 was too light. In heavier calibers? The best we have is still the M2HB. It beats the DShK; I don't know the NSV. I hear good things about it. They apparently made a working short receiver gun.
SAR: It's a good gun. I've shot the NSV in a number of places, and in Serbia with the Zastava infantry stock on it; it's pretty interesting. Weird little side-shuttle vibrations, some lateral dispersion from that, but the designers say that's conquered. How about for an infantry rifle? If you were looking between the FAL and the SA-80 and the M16 and all those different ones that are in different uses, the Famas, the G3, what would you think was best?
Bob Faris: You haven't even mentioned my choice: the AK. I like Kalashnikovs. I like the Finnish variants the best, the Valmet series. It's the most accurate. I like the 7.62 x39 but I'm doing a lot of shooting these days with the 5.45. I haven't made up my mind yet. Kalashnikov's designs show up in a lot of different weapons. It's very robust, it's simple, and it works.
SAR: Thanks for talking with us today, Bob.
Bob Faris: My pleasure, Dan, but there's still some things I'd like to say to the readers of SAR, whether they're collectors, designers, or military. Please, be diligent, make sure you keep your Right to own firearms alive, and don't let the government take them away. Quit electing liars. Know who you're voting for, then let all the people you know, understand what you think of who the candidates are. Don't go by what the politician says, go by what he does. That's the most important thing I can think of. I have very strong feelings about firearms ownership and firearms rights. This comes from experience, you betcha. I lost a lot of my Rights in 1968, when they banned so called "surplus." Through good luck and Bob Dole, we got a lot of it back when they allowed importation again of Curios and Relics. Lost them again in 1986 i.e.; the Machine Gun Ban. We need those Rights back.
The Big Sandy Shoot in Wikieup Celebrates Bob Faris' Birthday
By Robert G. Segel
The bi-annual Big Sandy Machine Gun Shoot, this year held on March 25-27, 2010, celebrated the 80th birthday of one of the crown jewels in machine gun information and knowledge: Robert W. "Bob" Faris. Bob has spent his life working with firearms and has amassed a knowledge base that is almost incomprehensible. His collection of weapons and his enormous library of manuals, reports, tests and photographs is a reference source that is almost unequaled anywhere in the world.
Born in 1930, and raised on a family farm outside Perkasie, Pennsylvania, Bob's interest in guns began as far back as he can remember. Collecting and repairing .22s as a child, by the time World War II ended in 1945, at the age of 15, he had accumulated several functional .22 caliber rifles as well as a few old military rifles.
Although Bob had great mechanical ability, he had little aptitude for mathematics, which put a damper on a hoped-for career in engineering. In 1949 he attended a two-year junior college course in gunsmithing in Trinidad, Colorado that was mainly oriented towards commercial gun repair and custom work. P.O. Ackley was the chief instructor and Bob learned a lot about small arms principles that served him well in later years.
In the summer of 1950 when the Korean War broke out, Bob was working in a machine shop in Perkasie to help pay for his schooling. He was a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, which altered his draft status. He went back to Trinidad State Junior College (TSJC) determined to finish his two-year course resolving to try and become an armorer or small arms repairman when his time came for Army service and then find a career in the military research and development field. During his second year at TSJC, he learned of an opening for a civilian "gunner" at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Prior to graduation he applied for, and got, the job that consisted of setting up and firing standard and experimental U.S. and foreign automatic weapons, testing barrels for ammunition, proof acceptance of gun barrels and weapon systems.
Nine months later, deciding to fulfill his military obligations, he joined up hoping to be sent back to Aberdeen for basic and small arms repairman training. The Army, it its wisdom, instead sent him to Fort Knox, Kentucky for tank driver training. However, they did assign him as a Small Arms Repairman to G4 Small Arms, H.Q., 3rd Armored Division at Fort Knox because of his work as a civilian at Aberdeen Proving Ground where he learned the basics of Army inspection, gauging, and repair of the standard weapons used by the training units. A short time later, he received orders for Korea. After off-loading at Inchon, as replacements for the 7th Infantry Division, he went to the Division replacement depot. On arrival, the Commanding General ordered that the first 30 days for replacements were to be spent in their combat MOS, regardless of any other specialty MOS. As a tank driver, Bob was sent to the 73rd Heavy Tank Battalion. The next day along with nine others at the headquarters tent being interviewed and records perused, when asked, he called out him name and Small Arms Repairman 3903. From another nearby tent a man called out, "I want that man!" A Major, a battalion maintenance officer, needed someone. The small arms in the battalion were in bad shape, needing a lot of repair and care. This was not technically authorized, so with no tools other than some scrounged files, a pair of pliers and couple of screwdrivers, Bob went to work. Mainly by cannibalization, he got most them to work in just a few days. After completing his work on the accumulated unserviceable weapons, Bob was assigned to go out to the 73rd tank companies on the main line of resistance to inspect and repair individual weapons and tank machine guns, in both .30 and .50 calibers. After his 30 days, Bob reported to "B" Company, 707th Ordnance Battalion as a bona fide Small Arms Repairman, 3903 where he serviced and repaired just about every type of weapon being used and abused in all types of environments from extreme cold to extreme heat, broken and worn out parts and barrels, loose rivets, everything.
Captured weapons also found their way through Bob and he found it very educational to retain examples for examination, study and firing. At one time or another, among others, Bob had a British Mk I Bren in .303, Canadian-made Chinese Mk II Bren in 7.92mm, Soviet PPSh 41 submachine gun, Chinese T-50 submachine gun, Soviet PSSS 43 submachine gun, Chinese T-24 Maxim, Soviet M1910 Maxim, and a Soviet M43 Goryunov medium machine gun.
After Korea, returning home in June 1954, Bob went back to Aberdeen Proving Ground and got his old civilian gunner's job back. Bob worked his way up to the top gunner's job and in 1956 applied for a position as a test director primarily conducting tests on new 20mm aircraft automatic weapons and ammunition. From 1959 through 1963, Bob was involved in Engineering and Product Improvement tests, which were part of the M73 tank machine gun program. By 1960, was deeply involved in the .50 cal. T175 tank machine gun development program. Other gun programs Bob participated in included the 20mm M39 aircraft gun, the 20mm M61 Vulcan, the TRW 25mm Bushmaster Rapid Fire Weapon System, the 5.56mm Stoner 63 weapons systems, and the Rheinmetall HS 820 20mm Interim Rapid Fire Weapon System.
In 1970, the U.S. Army decided to move its Aircraft Armament Testing Mission from Aberdeen Proving ground in Maryland to Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. Bob volunteered to go with it and relocated in the summer of 1971. Bob continued his work at Yuma working on a number of projects where he advanced to G12 in the early 1980s and kept him busy until his retirement in December, 1985.
What better venue than the spring Big Sandy Shoot to honor and celebrate Bob Faris' milestone birthday. Thanks. To Kenton Tucker and Ed Hope of MG Shooters, LLC, the operators of the Big Sandy Shoot, they came up with the idea of incorporating their shoot at Wikieup with honoring Bob, who is a regular at their shoots, and always brings a fine array of rare weaponry from his collection to shoot. To cap off the day, a large birthday cake was on hand at the BBQ dinner complete with candles, an image of Bob firing a Maxim and a salutation saying: "The Big Sandy Shoot wishes Bob Faris a 21 Gun Salute on his 80th Birthday. Congratulations."
Many of the Who's Who in the machine gun world attended this event just for the opportunity to sing Happy Birthday to Bob. Bob is a quiet and reserved gentleman and seemed a bit embarrassed at times at all the attention he was receiving, but he happily took it all in stride and allowed us to honor him.
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