Intel

5 Rare Survival Rifles Designed for Air Force Crews That Crash in the Wilderness

August 23, 2021Eric Miller
survival rifle

Lt. Leon Crane needed a survival rifle, like this M6, after his plane crashed in the Alaska wilderness. In the background, an aerial view of the B-24 crash site today in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Photos courtesy of UAA Archives, Curiosandrelics/Wikimedia Commons, and NPS/Josh Spice. Composite by Matt White/Coffee or Die Magazine.

On Dec. 21, 1943, Lt. Leon Crane was conducting a flyover of the Alaska interior when one of the engines of his B-24 Liberator malfunctioned and caused the aircraft to spiral out of control. Crane grabbed a parachute and dove from the open bomb bay doors into the frigid Alaska wilderness, the lone survivor of the crew.


Despite his initial good fortune, Crane would endure another 84 days in the wilderness before being rescued. Initially, Crane had only a Boy Scout knife and some matches as survival equipment and fashioned a makeshift bow to hunt game. The bow was largely ineffective, and after nine days of failed hunts, Crane was nearly dead. 


Lt. Leon Crane survived over 80 days in the Alaska wilderness after his B-24 crashed on a training flight. His ordeal inspired the Air Force to issue survival rifles to aircrews. Picture courtesy of University of Alaska-Anchorage Archives.

He set out and, by luck, managed to find a trapper cabin that had food, supplies, and most importantly a rifle. Crane used this rifle to hunt game, which sustained him long enough to be rescued. Had he not found a firearm, he surely would have perished in the brutal Alaska interior. 


Firearms are important tools when it comes to survival. Used for both sustenance and defense, a rifle can be the defining factor for surviving long stretches in the wilderness. The United States Air Force has made many attempts over the years at providing aircrews with a rifle suitable for such a task, and we’ve compiled a list of some of those purpose-built survival rifles.


Here are five survival rifles used by Air Force crews. 


Savage Model 24, first introduced as the Stevens 22-410. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

1. Savage-Stevens Model 22-410 — A combination rifle utilized by the US Army Air Corps as a survival weapon for aircrews during World War II. Introduced in 1938, the basic model in .22 LR over .410 gauge weighed 7 pounds and had two 24-inch barrels, with an overall length of 41 inches. The upper rifle barrel could also be chambered in .22 WMR, .22 Hornet, .222 Rem., .223 Rem., .30-30 Win., .357 Magnum, or .357 Max; the lower shotgun barrel, in 20 or 12 gauge. 


Air Force survival rifles
Harrington and Richardson M4. Photo courtesy of Curiosandrelics/Wikimedia Commons.

2. Harrington and Richardson M4 — Designed after World War II, this bolt-action .22 rifle was specifically developed as a survival weapon for downed aircrews to utilize for hunting small game. In an attempt to optimize the firearm for storage on an aircraft, the M4 was fitted with a removable 14-inch barrel and utilized a sliding wire buttstock similar to that on the M3 “Grease Gun.” With the stock collapsed and the barrel removed, the overall length was less than 14 inches and its overall weight was approximately 4 pounds.


Air Force survival rifles
M6 survival rifle, chambered for both shot and .22 rounds. Photo courtesy of Armémuseum/Creative Commons.

3. M6 — In 1952 the Air Force approached the Ithaca Gun Company with a request for a new survival weapon for its aircrews and was presented with the M6. A combination rifle similar to the Stevens 22-410 but with a modern construction similar to the M4’s, the M6 was built predominantly of stamped steel and featured two 14-inch barrels. It had a “trigger bar” under the wrist to allow firing while wearing heavy gloves and a storage compartment in the stock for spare .410 shotshells and .22 rounds.


Air Force survival rifles
Armalite AR-5. The rifle can be broken down and stored in the buttstock, and it floats. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

4. AR-5 — The AR-5 is a lightweight bolt-action takedown rifle, chambered in .22 Hornet, that Armalite developed for the Air Force in 1954. The Air Force put out a request for a compact and lightweight rifle to outfit survival kits for its new XB-70 manned bomber, as the M4 and M6 rifles were no longer in production. It officially adopted the AR-5 in 1956. The rifle was made from lightweight plastics and aluminum alloys, and all working parts could be broken down and stored within the hollow plastic buttstock. When stowed in this manner, the rifle was able to float. Unfortunately, the XB-70 fleet was canceled, and the Air Force never received funding for more than a dozen test models of this rifle. 


Air Force survival rifles
USAF GAU-5, broken down for attachment to ejection seats. Photo courtesy of US Air Force.

5. GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon — Known as the GAU-5A, the 7-pound, semi-automatic rifle is similar to the M4 carbine and was designed by the Air Force Gunsmith Shop as additional firepower for downed aircrew. This compact and capable rifle is able to be broken down to fit in an aircraft ejection seat survival kit (in a compartment measuring 16 by 14 by 3.5 inches) with four spare magazines. It can be assembled and fired in 60 seconds with no tools. The rifle utilizes standard 5.56 mm rounds and is capable of hitting a man-sized target at 200 meters. 


Read Next: 5 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Rambo ‘First Blood’



Eric Miller
Eric Miller

Eric Miller is a former Army Combat Medic from Parkersburg, West Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and has worked with homeless populations and veteran services throughout the state. He is an avid outdoorsman and has recently become interested in woodworking.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Culture
Robert Heinlein: The Navy Vet Who Pioneered Sci-Fi

The dean of science fiction combined his experiences in the Navy with his knowledge as an aeronautical engineer to create genre-transforming novels.

January 27, 2023Mac Caltrider
Masih Alinejad
Intel
Feds: Brooklyn Cops Foil Brazen Iranian Plot to Murder Masih Alinejad

Three men reputedly linked to Eastern European mobsters and Iranian intelligence operatives have been arrested.

January 27, 2023Carl Prine
FILE - Ukrainian soldiers on captured Russian tanks T-72 hold military training close to the Ukraine-Belarus border near Chernihiv, Ukraine, Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. The West's move to send tanks to Ukraine was greeted enthusiastically from Kyiv, Berlin and Washington. But Moscow seemed to shrug. The Kremlin has warned the West that supplying tanks would be a dangerous escalation of the conflict and denounced the decision. AP photo by Aleksandr Shulman, File.
Intel
Russia Responds to Ukraine’s ‘Tanksgiving’ With Missile and Drone Strikes

Hours after the US and Germany agreed to send battle tanks to Ukraine, Russia launched missile and drone strikes at targets across the country.

January 26, 2023Nolan Peterson
guam
Military
Marine Corps Dedicates First New Base in 7 Decades

For the first time in seven decades, the US Marine Corps is building a new base.

January 26, 2023Carl Prine
abrams
Military
US Sending Nearly a Battalion of Abrams Tanks to Ukraine

The US will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine after months of uncertainty.

January 26, 2023Associated Press
The damaged tug Mark E. Kuebler grounded near Corpus Christi, Texas, on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A large gash is visible just above the waterline. Photos courtesy of Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Merrit Carter. Composite by Kenna Lee/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Military
Coast Guard Coxswain Emphasizes Having Clear Head During Tugboat Response

One of the world’s most innovative tugboats remains beached on a Texas sandbar, after apparently getting sucked under a massive oil tanker and mauled by its propeller.

January 26, 2023Noelle Wiehe
Coffee Or Die Photo
Intel
The ‘Tallinn Pledge’ for Ukraine: NATO V2.0?

Representatives from nine NATO countries gathered in Estonia and pledged more military aid for Ukraine.

January 20, 2023Nolan Peterson
Coffee Or Die Photo
Triple Seven Expedition
DISPATCH: With Celebratory Jump in Florida, Triple 7 Expedition Is a Wrap

The Triple 7 Expedition's team of nine vets wrapped up its breakneck skydiving expedition with a final, celebratory jump in Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 18.

January 20, 2023Jenna Biter
  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved