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Colt M13 Aircrewman Revolver: So Light it was Unsafe


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian McCollum, and I’m here today at the Rock Island Auction Company taking a look at some of the guns that they’re going to be selling in their upcoming May of 2019 Premier auction. Specifically today we have a Colt Aircrewman revolver. And this is one of the scarcest modern Colt revolvers made because the majority of these were actually destroyed by the Air Force because they weren’t really all that safe. So, the idea here is that in the early 1950s the US Air Force, specifically its Strategic Bomber Command,
wanted a very lightweight emergency sidearm for aircraft crews, and they contracted
actually with both Colt and Smith & Wesson to manufacture these, but we’re gonna
focus on just Colt today because that’s the one that we have here to examine. Both the Colt and the Smith & Wesson
were designated the M13 revolver, without any acknowledgment of the
fact that Colt made Colt revolvers and Smith & Wesson made Smith & Wesson
revolvers and the parts are not interchangeable, they are different designs, although
they are the same basic specification. So Colt’s gun here is basically a
modified version of the Colt Cobra. Colt had a number of lightweight
revolver offerings at this time. And I should say these were
manufactured in 1951 and 1952. And what makes them different from all of
the standard Colt lightweight revolvers is that this actually has an aluminium cylinder. So
they all have an aluminium frame, an alloy frame, that’s what makes them lightweight, they all
have steel barrels. But for the Air Force, to minimise the weight of the gun, they put in an aluminium alloy cylinder.
And that’s what would lead to their recall later on. So let’s take a closer look, let me show you what
makes this distinctive, and why these things are so rare. This thing weighs in at a remarkably small 11
ounces loaded. And it is a six shot .38 calibre revolver. It is just incredibly lightweight, and I can
only imagine how unpleasant it is to shoot. Now Colt would make a total of 1,189
of these revolvers in ’51 and ’52. In 1953 … the Air Force would add Smith & Wesson, and Smith & Wesson would make the
vast majority of the Aircrewman revolvers. … Well, same basic pattern but different
mechanical setup (being Smith & Wesson guns). A few distinctive things that we can look at. On the right
side of the barrel we have a Colt manufacturing mark. This is just a little 2 inch barrel. … We have the
model designation. These aren’t actually marked M13, but they are marked “Aircrewman”,
and .38 Special cartridge. The Smith & Wesson examples
are actually marked on the top strap. Colt ones are not, but you do have
some nice texturing there to prevent glare. Not that you’re gonna be shooting this particularly precisely. I mean, it’s got the same sights as any Colt lightweight
revolver, but this is not exactly a precision gun. On the back strap we have a very distinctive
“Property of U.S. Air Force” marking. Occasionally, these will have been
defaced on legitimate guns, if people had them in the civilian market
and then got scared that they were perhaps stolen government guns because
they were marked this way and ground them off. So that is something that comes up occasionally,
but typically they will retain this marking. And then they have Air Force serial numbers on the bottom of the butt. So AF number, this is 413. These
serial numbers will range from 1 to 1,189. However, this is not the actual Colt
serial number, the actual serial number is … on the frame and on the crane when you
open up the cylinder, so this one is 7,169-LW. These guns were in the same serial number range as
all of Colts other lightweight models, like the Cobra. And there was no particular batch of specific
serial numbers that was earmarked for the Air Force. They just pulled the frames off the line and
started using them. So the Air Force guns will fall between 2,901 and 7,775-LW
(the LW, of course, is “lightweight”). So if you’re authenticating one of these,
aside from all of the other regular markings, you want to make sure that the serial number here,
the actual Colt serial number, is in the proper range. And lastly we have the grip medallions
which are actually a US Air Force logo on both sides instead of a Colt medallion.
That’s … like kind of a cool little feature there. Now because this had an aluminum alloy cylinder (and in fact you can see the wear pattern
looks a lot like you might expect for aluminium, the finish wears off pretty easily on
the outside, but you can see that the flutes in the cylinder still have
much more of the original finish), anyway, because this cylinder is not nearly as strong
as steel the Air Force specified a low pressure, you know, lighter cartridge, to actually
use in these. It was designated M41, and it was a 130 grain full metal jacket
projectile fired at 725 feet per second. So substantially lighter than regular .38 Special,
and that was issued with these guns. And with that ammunition this was a safe
gun to fire, although as I mentioned already I’m sure it was not a particularly fun gun to shoot. But, hey, if you’re the pilot or the navigator of
a strategic bomber and you get shot down, comfortable shooting with a survival gun is
probably not going to be your biggest priority. I don’t know that these were ever used in
actual emergency, but they may have been. Now as for why the Air Force wanted
such a ridiculously lightweight gun, the best suggestion I’ve seen is that it had to do
with ejection, that they’d wanted something, you know, the heavier a gun is strapped to the side of a pilot’s vest, the
more likely that gun is to actually become a safety hazard under the very high G experience
of ejecting from a jet bomber. And so that may explain why such significant
steps towards reducing weight were taken. They wouldn’t last all that long, however. These revolvers worked fine with the ammunition that
was designed for them, the low pressure M41 ammo. The problem was if you started putting regular
.38 Special in these, then you would have legitimate serious safety concerns, because that alloy cylinder
just couldn’t handle the pressure of standard .38. So in 1959 the Air Force made the decision
to round them up, bring them back in, and destroy them all. Because they wanted
to replace these guns with steel [cylindered], basically the same sort of pattern, little snub nosed,
short barreled revolvers, but with steel [cylinders]. … And I should point out they actually
continued to issue the M41 ammunition, but they wanted guns that if someone
actually dropped in regular .38 ammo, they would still work. And the weight
difference between the aluminium and the steel … cylinder in the scope of an air crewmen’s
revolver, really not that big a deal, it doesn’t matter. So not quite all of the guns actually got rounded up. … It was uncommon, but some of the
some of the guns had been issued out to officers, a lot officers in the Air Force flying aircraft. And some of these guys had retired,
kept their personal guns. Some of them weren’t tracked very well and
may not have been properly documented. And so a handful of these ended up on the civilian
commercial market where they remain today, making them one of the … scarcest
modern Colt revolvers out there. As a result they, of course, do
get counterfeited a fair amount, so it’s really cool to be able to take a
look at a definite legitimate, correct, real one like this, that we can use as a
basis for evaluating others in the future. Of course, if you’re interested in having this one yourself,
it is coming up for sale at Rock Island in May of 2019. So keep an eye on their website and check out this
and all the other cool stuff they’ve got in their catalogue. Thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “Colt M13 Aircrewman Revolver: So Light it was Unsafe

  1. This guy is honestly one of the smartest people I've ever watched or listened to I learn something cool on every video uploaded

  2. Heaven forbid , if some one thought to use +P ammo ! , the consequences would probably be spectacularly scary , or , "Do You Feel Lucky ?"

  3. A lot of these show up in places like Tibet, where they mysteriously appeared not long after they were supposedly “destroyed “.

  4. How much weight did they really save by using aluminum? Seems like a waste of time. A gun that size is already going to be very light.

  5. Mentioned it before, but your presentation's great. Interesting, informative, sometimes funny. Thanks for the upload!

  6. S&W models , 340PD & 360 PD ; 11.8 & 11.4 Oz weight , 5shot 357mag 🙂 have shoot one a fair amount it is a bear in 357 .. not for 110 357 mag , bullet jump issues ..

  7. Piece of shit. Issued one, fired four rounds in rapid succession and the frame crack on top by the hammer. Had other malfunctions, not in firing, but in quality of construction. Hammers breaking, cylinders not rotating or lining up correctly with barrels.

  8. like 8 ounces in a bomber would make a difference? tell the crew to skip lunch! take a piss before take off!. this is Obama-like stupidity!

  9. 6:00 I don't think SAC was very big on ejection in 1951. Maybe the B-45s? Everything else I can think of required manually bailing out.

  10. If I were to get one of those I think I would put a sticky note on it saying "If you shoot this you will die" I think one could find a low enough power cartridge without too much trouble but some guns are better left unshot, not to mention it's not exactly a design for comfortable shooting.

  11. "Aluminum cylinder that would evidently lead to their recall", Hmmmmm? Aluminum Cylinder you say………….nothing wrong here

  12. I have to imagine the weight savings of giving your crew these instead of 1911s could be done by taking out exactly 2 seat cushions

  13. Wow, after watching this video I have discovered that I have white boxes marked Ball caliber .38 M41, Learn something every day.

  14. There's a lot of misunderstanding about this gun. It was supposed to be used as a weapon of last resort; if after safely landing a pilot recognized his situation was untenable, he was expected to shoot himself, and had six tries to get it right. I mean, that had to be the plan for this gun… Right?

  15. These are the ones that gave the pilots that if they went down overseas they only had one gun for all the crewman especially when they were doing top-secret stuff so they were to destroy the plane first and foremost and in the gun was either to take their own lives or use the 6 or 16 rounds of ammunition to do whatever they could to try and overtake someone with another gun. These Special Forces members were trained to fly without American plane markings as well as new American markings on their uniforms and we're not to be taken as prisoners of War above all else.

    If my timeline is off with this I apologize and I apologize if this information hurt anyone's feelings that this is actually house and of our service members were trained but I am fairly certain that some of these guns were used in some of the missions where members of our country were told they do not exist as US citizens until they land back safely on us soil or in a whatever you want to call it safe Zone.

  16. I actually have a genuine holster for one of these. For the longest time I thought it was a generic 1911 holster until someone who knew what the stamps on it meant.

  17. You said uncomfortable to shoot..
    You have to realize if you're shooting that, you already been shot down or had some other type of crash that left deep in the dookie.

  18. I have a cobra, and i just think how the hell was this not light enough, i barely notice it i my holster or pocket or anwhere i put the dam thing

  19. "I can just imagine what it was like to shoot one." No, you can't. With wadcutters, both this and the S&W were torturous. They were farkin' PAINFUL. I had to familiarize fire one. Never again. OMG. The charter .357 lightweight is a damned dream next to this monstrosity.

  20. Rock island sells junk. Bought a brand new gun and it never fired a round. Planned to carry it as a backup. Thank God I test my guns before I have to use them

  21. S&W 337 Airweight weighs in at 13 oz, unloaded. It’s so light, I had to double back home several times to retrieve it, having left with an empty holster. Absolutely no fun to shoot, but a joy to carry! After 15 years, I retired it, having shot fewer than 2000 rounds, which my hands still flinch at the mere wakening of the memory.

  22. If you were a strategic nuclear bomber crewman in the early 1950s, the purpose this weapon would overwhelmingly serve is for dispatching one's self to avoid capture by the enemy. Not in the manual, but that's exactly what it was.

  23. Thanks, Ian. I know it's a little thing but metric conversions are greatly appreciated for all of us in the rest of the world

  24. Far smarter than to place weight restrictions on the crewmen (persons) like the airlines had for the female stewards.

  25. Us army: We can't adopt 5.56 for our rifles we still have a lot of 30. Cal around.
    Us air force: Hey lets issue this gun that can only fire this new very especific purposed desinged ammunition!

  26. I always feel like I’ve learned something cool after watching a video of yours. Thanks for the vid sir.👍🏼👍🏼

  27. In the 80s I took an AF survival school. And enough of these were still out there that they specifically took us only to shot the ammo in the survival vest. They were very insistent that regular. 38 spec was a bad idea. And, that they were sure they retired them all. Of course, someone asked why they were teaching it if Uncle Sugar got them all? The instructor said "do you trust THEM?" The only notes I took that morning was "don't trust the Air Force".
    The issue vest had a pistol wired in a holster, 50 rounds of the M41 and 50 rounds of tracers. The drill was to ignore the ball ammo and use the tracers as an impromptu flare gun. Actually, Somewhere out there is footage of a Vietnam war CSAR mission pulling in a little guy with a big mustache. Near the opening you can see him fire six tracers straight up. When they pull him in, he has a death grip on the revolver.

  28. M41 Ball was an Uber Gay round. We used it for training. We carried PGU12B. Ball ammo for handguns blows elephant balls.

  29. S&W also jumped on this self imploding hand separator train. I have a S&W pre model 12, I will not shoot it because I still enjoy my fingers.

  30. I own a Smith &Wesson Model 37 Airweight aluminum frame revolver, built in 1961. It's only about 5 ounces heavier than the Aircrewman, but it's really not that unpleasant to shoot, even with full power loads (Buffalo Bore 158 gr @ 850 fps).

  31. An all-aluminum ultralight snubnose would be great in rimfire! With modern aluminum if this gun was made today could probably handle standard pressure .38 Special. But it might be better in .32 H&R Magnum (which can also safely fire .32 Long and .32 Short), .22 Magnum, or .22LR. But S&W J-frames and Ruger LCRs are only at most a couple of ounces heavier. Still, for weaker rounds like .22LR we could comfortably shoot even lighter revolvers. It would be pretty cool to see a revolver weighing less than 10oz. The technology exists. A longer-barreled version of the same gun would also be neat. Even with less powerful rounds than .38 Special, revolvers can be very useful. Snake guns, survival guns, backup guns (maybe a backup to your backup), deep concealment, plinking, utility, animal dispatch and slaughter. S&W can make a 13oz .357 Magnum, so I expect a 10oz .22LR could be made. It would be fun and useful, and might be a very nice backup gun in .32 Long.

  32. I think this gun was actually quite sensible . , 700 ft/s is decent velocity , not that far off many snubnose resolvers . I mean it is basically a psychological prop as its use would be so rare . And is not likely to be used beyond 7 yards , if I was a pilot I would choose this model over the steel cylinder version, if I had to carry on me all the time.

  33. Was the Air Force that desperate for lightness on ejection they needed an unsafe gun? Why not stick with what worked already? The prior gun

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