The Colt Revolver so Light It’ll Kill You
Russ Chastain 03.19.19
Here’s one for the “Well, that was a bad idea” department: A revolver that’s identical to other revolvers except that it’s made much less strong, and therefore will blow up if loaded with standard ammunition. Derp.
It’s the Colt M13 Aircrewman Air Force revolver, a compact 6-shot revolver chambered for 38 Special, but with frames and cylinders made of lightweight aluminum alloy to make them lighter — and weight is always an issue when you’re talking about aviation. If you don’t have low-pressure groceries, you’d better not fire one of these little wheel guns, because the cylinders can’t take the pressure. The Air Force specified a particular low-pressure load for them.
Here’s what Ian says about it in the video description:
In 1951 and 1952, Colt supplied a small number of extremely lightweight revolvers to the US Air Force, designated the M13 Aircrewman. These guns were very similar to the commercial Colt Cobra; 38 special 6-shot revolvers with aluminum alloy frames and cylinders with a loaded weight of just 11 ounces. Only 1189 were made, and they were issued with a special low-pressure loading of 38 Special ammunition. It was designated M41 and fired a 130 grain FMJ bullet at just 725 fps. This reduced-pressure loading was safe in the aluminum cylinders of the guns, but nothing prevented a person from loading and firing standard 38 ammunition — which was definitely not safe. In 1959 the Air Force decided that the potential hazard from standard ammunition was not worth the slight weight reduction of the aluminum cylinder, and recalled the guns for destruction. Only a small number survived to get into the commercial market today, making the Colt Aircrewman a very scarce revolver indeed.
It would’ve made a lot more sense to short-chamber the guns so they wouldn’t accept standard 38 Special ammo, instead using something mild and uncommon such as the 38 Short. But because whatever can go wrong will go wrong, people were wont to cram full-power groceries into the Aircrewman, which is a recipe for disaster.
Therefore, the Air Force recalled them from use and destroyed most of them… instead of, you know, maybe fitting them with steel cylinders so they could still be used. Typical government waste.
And it’s that same sort of government inefficiency that explains why there are some of these guns still around… they weren’t tracked well, and some found their way home with servicemen. The few which remain are highly desirable, and it’s nice to observe the real-life features that make them what they are, from the markings on the frame to the Air Force medallions in the grips, instead of the Rampant Colt medallion commonly used on Colt grips.
Enjoy the video.