's AR-7 is the civilian version of its AR-5 survival rifle
, designed in 1959 by Gene Stoner
, famous today for his later AR-15
design, which formed the basis of the US Army's M16
rifle. A division of Fairchild
, Armalite's brief was to experiment with lightweight materials in order to create a new generation of military firearms, the Stoner's AR-5 being the company's first success. Whilst the AR-5, chambered for .22 Hornet
, is obscure nowadays, the .22 long rifle
AR-7 remains something of a cult, largely due to its James Bond
connection. Physically, it resembled an old-fashioned wood-stocked rifle, with a curiously miniaturised barrel and receiver.
Survival rifles are designed to be lightweight and easily portable, a means for shot-down pilots to hunt for food and ward off dangerous game, without the encumbrance of a full-sized rifle. They are not really intended for self-defence; once upon a time, shot-down US military pilots were expected to parachute into countries which recognised the Hague Conventions. Experiences in the Pacific Theatre, Korea and Vietnam showed the need for something more potent than a .22, however, and military pilots are nowadays more often armed with a compact sub-machine gun, or a rifle carbine. Although the US Air Force adopted the AR-5, calling it the MA-1, they did not purchase it in large numbers, instead preferring their existing Springfield M6, a double-barrelled design. The AR-5 was a four-shot, bolt action design, whilst the AR-7 was semi-automatic, and fed from eight-round magazines (in contrast, the M6 was single-shot). Both designs have a party trick; the rifles' functional components (the barrel, receiver and magazine) can be stripped down and stored inside the stock. The rifle can be assembled and disassembled quickly without the need for special tools. Being lightweight, plastic and mostly hollow the AR-7 can also float in water.
Like the Walther PPK, the AR-7 achieved a form of immortality through the James Bond films. Bond's very first gadget - a trick briefcase issued by Major Boothroyd in 'From Russia with Love' - came with an AR-7, described as a 'folding sniper's rifle' with an infra-red scope. Bond's AR-7 also came with a silencer, although both the scope and silencer would have to be carried separately, there being no space for them within the stock. Bond's AR-7 was said to be chambered for .25, which seems almost certainly a mistake, as all AR-7s in the real world were .22 (the most common .25 round is an automatic pistol calibre). The very same AR-7 prop reappeared in the next James Bond film, 'Goldfinger', used by the character of Tilly Masterson in a failed attempt to assassinate Goldfinger himself.
Armalite sold the rifle from 1959 to 1973, selling the design to Charter Arms for much-needed cash. In 1990, Charter Arms was bought by Survival Arms, Inc, and the rights were then subsequently sold to Henry Repeating Arms, who marketed it as the Henry Survival Rifle (its small size, uncomplicated construction and low cost explain the feeding frenzy). Armalite itself relaunched the original in 1998. As a .22 semi-automatic carbine with a small magazine the AR-7 is still legal today for civilian shooters in many parts of the world, and is remarkably cheap, costing no more than $150 or so. In practice the rigmarole, slight as it is, of assembling, dis-assembling and re-assembling the rifle causes many people to give up and buy a more conventional, stronger and more reliable alternative, but it makes for a fantastic talking-point.