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Aircrew survival weapon

M6 survival weapon

The M6 was designed to give downed pilots a basic means of foraging and self-defense in the wilderness

Country of origin United States
Entered service 1952
Caliber .22 Hornet, .410 bore (3" casing)
Weight (empty) 2.06 kg
Length 718 mm
Length (folded) 381 mm
Barrel length 355 mm
Muzzle velocity (.22 Hornet) 838 m/s
Muzzle velocity (.410 bore) ~ 345 m/s
Practical rate of fire ?
Magazine capacity -
Sighting range (.22 Hornet) 100 m
Sighting range (.410 bore) 25 m
Range of effective fire (.22 Hornet) 100 m
Range of effective fire (.410 bore) 25 m


   The Ithaca M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon is a double-barrel, "over-under" combination weapon (meaning, each barrel has a different chambering) developed for the US Air Force (USAF). The design was heavily influenced by the Marble Game Getter combination gun, which was manufactured from 1908 to 1934.

   This is not meant for use in combat, but rather was issued as a means for downed aircrews to fend for themselves in the wild. Many aircraft don't have enough free space for firearms as large as a conventional rifle or shotgun, and pistols are generally far from ideal in a survival situation. Being able to hunt once an airman is on the ground may seem trivial at first, as they are usually rescued in minutes or hours. However, they can sometimes be stranded for days or weeks (and sometimes, they have to walk all the way home). The crash of a USAAF C-53 Skytrooper on the Gauli Glacier in Switzerland on November 19th 1946 is one such example, as the remote location, severe weather, and rugged terrain left the survivors stranded for 5 days before they could be rescued --- even though rescuers were alerted to the crash and had determined the exact position only hours later. In a wartime situation, for obvious reasons, the wait to be rescued could be even longer.

   Development of what became the M6 was initiated in response to an early 1950s USAF requirement for a new survival weapon. The USAF had just began issuing the Harrington & Richardson M4 Survival Rifle in 1949, but the design was considered wanting. Though the M4 could fire both the .22 Hornet and .410 bore rounds, the barrel had to be swapped to switch between chamberings, and the simple wire pistol grip and buttstock were extremely awkward and uncomfortable. As the M4 was less than ideal and the M6's simple design was relatively quick to develop, it didn't take long for the new weapon to be tested, accepted, and put into production. The first examples were issued in 1952.

   The M6 has an extremely austere, all-metal construction, with a skeleton buttstock, and a trigger bar rather than a traditional curved trigger. There is no pistol grip, as the front of the stock serves that purpose, nor is there a foregrip around the barrels. With the exception of the receiver and the muzzle bracket, the barrels are completely feature-free, and there is no foregrip. There is also no trigger guard, so the operator of this weapon must be extra cautious to avoid accidental depression of the trigger bar. Ammunition for the M6 is stored inside the buttstock, with the top being a hinged lid to access these rounds. A total of nine .22 Hornet rounds and four .410 bore shells are stored inside.

   An interesting aspect of the M6 is that it is a "takedown" weapon; meaning, it can be disassembled into two pieces for easy and compact transportation. While this usually involves actually separating the two halves of the weapon, the M6 is merely folded in half, using the same hinge employed for loading and unloading the barrels. This allows the M6 to be carried in a small (by long gun standards) holster, inside a backpack or rucksack, or stowed inside a small volume in a location where space is at a premium --- such as, for example, an aircraft cockpit. When folded, the normally 718 mm M6 is only 381 mm long.

   The sights are as simple and austere as the rest of the weapon, consisting of a front blade and an L-shaped rear notch. The rear sight is adjustable to two positions; a 100 m setting for the rifle barrel, and a 25 m setting for the shotshell barrel. There is no other range setting, and no adjustability for windage, so a direct hit at a longer distance (by the standards of the ammunition used) depends more on a mixture of skill, experience, and luck than anything else.

   Due to the obvious possibility that personnel may have to use the M6 in combat, the USAF issued it with FMJ ammunition for the rifle barrel. The .22 Hornet is highly effective against "varmint" game and most predators, such as jackals or coyotes, but the odds of felling something much larger like a wolf (or worse, a leopard) with one shot are very slim. Moreover, the non-expanding FMJ ammunition issued by the armed forces employing the M6 further increase the difficulty of bringing-down an animal immediately, as these leave a clean and narrow wound channel, with minimal tissue disruption.

   The .410 bore round is most effective against small birds and pests, such as rats and snakes, but it can also be used effectively against very small game such as rabbits. However, the .410's pellets are few in number per-shell and their spread is very small, making a direct hit on a small animal very difficult compared to a larger gauge. A .410 bore birdshot shell is also little more than a nuisance against any animal weighing more than about 5 kg, and against larger animals, this round is essentially useless (and also potentially more hazardous to the user; a .410 bore birdshot round will only hurt a dangerous predator just enough to make it angry).

   Starting in the early 1970s, the M6 was gradually replaced by the ArmaLite AR-7 Explorer, a self-loading survival rifle in a more conventional .22LR chambering. The changeover was slow, but by the 1980s, the M6 was no longer issued by the US military. Due to a lack of literature on the matter, it is unknown if any other nations still issue the M6.

   The acquisition of surplus M6 Aircrew Survival Weapons by civilians has proven to be a surprisingly difficult affair compared to other surplus firearms, as rifles and shotguns with barrels shorter in length than 460 mm are severely restricted by US federal law. A solution to this dilemma was found by Springfield Armory however, who manufactures the M6 as the "M6 Scout", with US-legal 460 mm barrels and a trigger guard. The M6 Scout is also available in a wider variety of .22 caliber chamberings (though the shotshell barrel is always in .410 bore). Springfield Armory discontinued production of the M6 Scout in 2004, but it is now manufactured by Chiappa.




   M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon: Original military-issue weapon. It has 355 mm barrels, no trigger guard, and folds-down to a 381 mm length for easy storage and carrying.

   M6 Scout: Civilian version of the M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon. It is almost identical, but has a trigger guard and a longer 460 mm barrel, in order to comply with US federal firearms laws. It is notable for being an exceptionally inexpensive firearm, with a like-new example costing as little as $200. Springfield Armory discontinued production of the M6 Scout in 2004, but it is now manufactured by Chiappa.



   Article by BLACKTAIL

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M6 survival weapon

M6 survival weapon

M6 survival weapon

M6 survival weapon

M6 survival weapon

M6 survival weapon

M6 survival weapon

M6 survival weapon

M6 Scout

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