Brownells BRN-180 Barreled Upper Assembly

Brownells updates the ArmaLite AR-180 design and its historic short stroke piston with a product-improved upper assembly that is compatible with standard AR-15 lowers.

by Brian R Smith

Synonymous with Colt, the AR-15/M16 was originally developed by Eugene Stoner at the ArmaLite division of Fairchild Industries. ArmaLite’s facility was located in Costa Mesa, California and it licensed the AR-15/M16 design to Colt which won the original US government contract for production of the M16, notable for its widespread use of aluminum alloy construction and incorporating the patented internal piston gas operated bolt actuation system. That story has been told ad infinitum over the past 50+ years. But in the early 1960s, with the licensing of the AR-15/M16, the question for ArmaLite was “What’s next?”

Led by designer Art Miller, a team at ArmaLite consisting of Eugene Stoner, Charles Dorchester, and George Sullivan then developed the AR-18, a next generation lower-cost select-fire rifle fabricated from stamped and welded steel and which employed a four-piece short stroke external piston-driven bolt actuation system very similar to that of the proven Soviet SVT rifle of WWII. Besides the stamped and welded construction and the gas piston actuation, the AR-18 was notable due to its bolt carrier being supported on two guide rods and returned to battery with a recoil spring on each guide rod. This mechanism was contained within the upper receiver, allowing for a folding butt stock which was another primary feature of the weapon. The lightweight AR-18’s semi-auto version, the AR-180, was introduced to the civilian shooting market in 1969 to lukewarm reception because the AR-15 had a head start in the market and was seen on the evening news nearly every night.

Over the years, the AR-180 itself eventually developed a cult following, and design elements of the AR-18/AR-180 were incorporated into a few self-loading military rifles around the world, including the…

Read more in the December 2021 issue.

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