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Read Your Magazines

By Paul Evancoe

Many believe a repeating firearm’s reliability is based upon its operating system. While this assumption is true, the root cause of most weapons’ malfunctions center upon a failure to properly feed live rounds, or properly eject spent brass. A clean properly lubricated operating system is important, but the vast majority of malfunctions can be ultimately attributed to some form of magazine failure. This is true for all repeating actions from manually operated bolt and lever actions, to self-loading semi-automatic and automatic actions. Jams, stovepipes and ejection failures top the malfunction list; but first, some design success stories.

Mikhail Kalashnikov developed the AK-47 in the 1940s for the Soviet Red Army. Since then, over 75 million AKs have been made. Its short stoke gas piston operating system is fed by a robust double stack 30 round all steel magazine. The AK-47 is not a precision made elegant weapon, but it’s cheap to manufacture and is perhaps the most reliable and proliferate assault rifle ever made.

In 1948 Major Uziel Gal developed his easy and cheap method to manufacture a highly reliable Uzi 9mm submachine gun that employs a simple blowback operating system fed by a sturdy 25- or 32- round double stack magazine. More than 10 million Uzi sub-guns have since been manufactured. Uziel Gal’s design philosophy, according to him, was to first design the magazine around a particular round of choice (he chose the 9mm Parabellum). Then design the gun around the magazine. This, he insisted, “provides for the utmost performance reliability.”

This same design philosophy was used on a grander scale in the 1960s in the USAF’s wildly successful close air support A-10 Warthog.

The operational requirement was for an aircraft that could successfully take out tanks and armored vehicles, and provide close air support for ground troop operations, e.g., stop the Soviet advance across the “Plains of Europe.” This requirement translated to a comparatively low cost aircraft with high target lethality and superior survivability against ground fire. The desig ners began by selecting the armor-killing gun; a single 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun. Then they built...

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