It was the 1960s, and it was called Operation Chrome Dome. Around the clock, a fleet of U.S. B-52 bombers was in the air, flying patterns around the globe, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. In their bomb bays sat thermonuclear weapons, but another, much smaller piece of armament was also stowed onboard: lightweight rifles of a diminutive caliber, designed to disassemble so they would take up as little precious weight and space as possible. The enemy these rifles were designed to combat was Mother Nature. They would provide the next meal in the event that a crew had to crash land far away from civilization.
The supremacy of the continent-hopping strategic bomber was short-lived, but the design of the survival rifles they carried soldiered on into the civilian world. The most successful of these was the AR-7, designed by what was, at the time, a little-known and up-and-coming company called “ArmaLite.” Now, more than a half-century later, the AR-7 lives on in the Henry U.S. Survival Rifle.In the late 1940s, the beginnings of what would become ArmaLite was formed in George Sullivan’s California garage as he and a few employees set about designing lightweight modern firearms that used the latest metal alloys and plastics. In 1954, Sullivan merged his venture with the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corp. to form its ArmaLite Division (the ArmaLite logo became Fairchild’s Pegasus in the center of a crosshair). Utilizing much of the technology and materials associated with the aircraft industry, it seemed like the perfect partnership when the U.S. Air Force came knocking.
During World War II, as aircraft range had increased and aircrews traveled longer distances over uninhabited terrain, the Air Force realized the need for a survival weapon. Each country sought a different solution. The Germans issued a J.P. Sauer drilling in 9.3×74 mm R and 12 gauge to their fliers operating in North Africa. The Americans experimented with .45 ACP shot cartridges (M12 and M15) that would function in the M1911s U.S. pilots were already carrying in their shoulder holsters. The Army Air Corps later issued 15,000 Stevens Model 24 .22 Long Rifle and .410 bore over-and-unders with plastic Tenite stocks to bomber and transport crews flying in the Pacific theater.