GA Gustafson (5.56x45 / AR-15 pioneer) Gone


#1

We don’t usually find things such as this on the IAA Forum but I just learned that SCHV pioneer G A Gustafson has passed away at age 92. For those who collect US Military they know who he was but for those who don’t he was instrumental in development of 5.56 x 45.

Ray


#2

Ray, Sorry to hear that. Back in the 1980s I spoke to him for about 2 hours on the phone and he told me his story of the origin of the 5.56x45mm. Charlie Yust made the introductions. Gustafson was Col Stoners deputy (a GS15 I think) at Aberdeen and along with Stoner, was an advocate of a small caliber infantry cartridge. Both were very much out of favor with the Army, and after Stoner retired Gustafson’s life was not fun. He said that during his last days at Aberdeen he did a report on what he called the Ideal (or perhaps Optimum) Infantry Cartridge (or something similar) He took the performance of the .22 version of the 7.62NATO and the .22 Carbine that had been worked on by M D Perrin and exrapolated what he thought was the ideal bullet weight and velocity for a small caliber rifle round. He was so out of favor with the Army that he took a downgrade (to GS 13 I believe) and went to work for Dale Davis who ran the USAF Guns and Ammo area at the AF Armament Development & Test Center at Eglin AFB in Florida. When Stoner rolled out his AR-10 in 7.62mm at Picitanny, Gustafson was the AF representive at the gathering. He enjoyed catching up with his old boss, but was really impressed with the AR-15 that Stoner had brought along and shot for the demo. Stoner told Gustafson that he had used the “Ideal Infantry Cartridge” report as the basis for the 223 cartridge for the AR-15.

When Gustafson returned to Eglin he wrote a glowing report on the AR-15 which used “his” cartridge, and both Dale Davis and the Lab Commander were very interested. Curtis LeMay was the AF Chief of Staff at the time, and also a great shooter with a deep interest in guns. The AF rifle at the time was the M1 Carbine which LeMay detested and which was pretty well worn. LeMay had been pushing on Eglin to find a new rifle for the AF. The AR-15 looked like a good candidate, an in a few weeks LeMay would be at Eglin to host an AF Firepower Demo that was put on annually at Eglin in those days. They were going to carve out some time from LeMay’s schedule and get him to shoot the AR-15. Gustafson got with Stoner and they organized for him to come down to Eglin with some AR-15 rifles (only 2 or 3 existed, or were brought down as I remember the story), but there was no ammo because Stoner had shot it all at the Army demo. Frantic calls resulted in some cases and bullets and powder being sent to Eglin and the ammo for the LeMay demo was hand loaded at Eglin. LeMay fired the AR-15, loved it and told the Eglin guys to buy it!!! The rest is history.

I knew Dale Davis, in fact he tried to hire me when I was a LtCol looking to get out of the aircraft maintenance business and get some experience that would help me retire. Ultimately I got a better job offer, but got to know Dale fairly well. After my talk to Gustafson, I called Dale and he told me essentiallhy the same story from the Eglin prespective. The acquisition process was easier then and we didn’t have the Competition in Contracting Act which was later passed by Congress which make life crazy for many of us, and is still creating stupid situations, so Eglin went out and bought some rifles and the AR-15 (which I carried in Bien Hoa Vietnam in 1966) was on it’s way to becoming the M-16.

Eglin apparently bought a lot more cases for the LeMay demo then they needed (maybe an issue of a minimum quantity order), and I still have some sealed boxes of cases a guy who use to work at the Lab, but after this timeframe, gave me and told me they were part of the batch which were bought for the LeMay demo. Who knows, whether that is true or perhaps bought soon after for the subsequent testing. Anyway, I still have 4 or 5 boxes of cases stuck away, all with commercial headstamps.

Dale has been dead for about 5 years-maybe more, and the Engineer who gave me the boxes of cases has been dead for 20+ years. M D Perrin has been dead for 10-12 years. I wrote up this story and sent it to the Woodin Lab shortly after it happened and haven’t thought about it for years. Sounds like one of the last key players is now gone. I guess I wrote this so it is out there before I join the rest of the crew.

You have to wonder what would have happened if Gustafson hadn’t gone to the demo and seen the AR-15 The weapon may have been a footnote in history and who knows what the kids in the Middle East would be carrying today.

Truth is a lot more complex than what usually gets written in the books.


#3

GREAT HISTORY.

“Truth is a lot more complex than what usually gets written in the books” TOO TRUE .


#4

Ray - I think this kind of information is excellent (albeit always sad to hear about the passing of the great and influential people of the various aspects of the gun industry) for the Forum. thanks for posting it. Look at the history lesson we got from Lew (Fabulous information you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, about a important person in the field in which our interests are) as a direct result of your posting.

Thanks Ray and Lew!


#5

I didn’t know you, G A Gustafson but I wish I had. RIP.


#6

Lew

Thanks for your rememberances. A copy of your post goes into my files.

Ray


#7

Hello all -

My name is Troy Gustafson, and I am the youngest son of GA Gustafson (Gerald Gustafson). Ray IM’d me on another board when he heard about my dad’s passing and I thought I’d come over here and maybe answer a few questions. Below is a brief synopsis of my dad’s life that I wrote a few days ago, so I thought I’d just post it here as well.

G A Gustafson was born in south Texas in 1915 to very poor Swedish immigrants. They survived by hunting and trapping, and made what little money there was to be made by picking cotton. He nearly died at age 3 in the Flu pandemic of 1918. From his childhood on, he was an avid shooter and firearms fanatic. In Cotulla, Texas in the early 1900’s, I suspect most were avid shooters.

He did excel at school, and was able to gain admittance to UT at Austin to study mechanical engineering. There he was befriended by professor Dorr McFarland (father of famed automotive guru Jim McFarland) and they remained close friends for life. McFarland was able to help dad continue with college by finding work for him to do to raise money for tuition. McFarland and my father remained the best of friends, frequent hunting and fishing companions, and in constant contact until McFarland’s death in 1999.

Upon graduation from UT, he took a job in Pennsylvania working for Wolf’s Head Oil where he participated in a minor capacity with a team of engineers in perfecting the automatic fuel shutoff handle that is common on gas pumps today.

In 1940, he was offered and accepted a position at Aberdeen Proving Ground in the Small Arms branch of the Ordnance Corps, TECOM. There he performed tests on all manner of military weapons from pistols to early .45ACP silencers to belt fed machine guns. He was in charge of almost every aspect of M14 testing at APG. In retrospect, he was no fan of the M14 - he considered it a huge amount of money to spend just to add a detachable box mag and full auto capability to the M1 Garand, and from his testing he knew better than most about its issues with control in full auto. He actually greatly preferred the T48 FAL in .270 caliber as a main battle rifle, but his job was not to choose, only to test. The other engineers at Small Arms had similar opinions.

By now, in the early 1950’s, he was Chief Engineer of the Small Arms Branch. At that time, the various investigations into combat engagements vs ammo such as General Marshall’s ORO report, the Hall study, the Hitchman Report, and others were being conducted. Dad saw the benefit in a small caliber high velocity platform to replace submachine guns and the M1 Carbine, and took it upon himself to begin development of an experimental round for that purpose. By the time his development and testing were complete, he had alienated himself from the Ordnance brass since Aberdeen was not a development facility but purely a test facility. However, the results of his project had garnered interest among a few high ranking Army officials including General Wyman who later provided Armalite with the data from my dad’s testing and development. Armalite used the ballistic recommendations of my dad (55gr, 1 in 10 twist, etc.) as the basis for designing the .223 round to fire in the AR15. Indeed the final M193 spec only differs from my dad’s final design on a few minor parameters relating mostly to cartridge dimensions to ensure proper feeding in the new rifle.

Unfortunately, my dad’s boss, Dr. Fred Carten, was aghast at the thought of any weapons development being conducted outside of normal Army procedures, and was especially concerned about the effect this would have on the various armories such as Springfield. Thus he canceled the entire project, destroyed all of the data and the files at the Small Arms Branch relative to the project, and had my dad transferred out of Small Arms to Egland AFB in Florida where he would conduct testing of airborne ordnance and arms. Dr, Carten was apparently unaware that General Wyman had his own set of copies of my dad’s work, or that there were other copies in the Ordnance Corps as evidenced by the fact that they exist today in the Library of Congress. Also, upon my dad’s departure, William C Davis became Chief at Small Arms which was funny in that Davis had been intimately involved in the SCHV project himself working with my dad. Davis continued to champion the concept and eventually took a position at Colt.

While in Florida (where I was born, FWIW) dad became acquainted with General Curtis LeMay, who was interested in the now new AR15 (this was several years later). LeMay’s first attempt at purchasing the weapon was met with resistance so he asked my dad to write a spec for LeMay to submit as a request for a new perimeter defense weapon. Dad wrote the spec in such a way that only the AR-15 could possibly fit the parameters, but without specifically naming the AR-15, and before long LeMay had his weapons. Unfortunately, under Sec Def McNamara, the AR15 was soon declared to be the main and only combat rifle, as opposed to the original intent of my dad to replace SMG’s and M1C’s. The controversy of that decision and others made by McNamara’s office lives on to this day.

Dad, having now been vindicated for his earlier work, was offered a new position as Chief of the Small Arms Branch at APG and later he became Director of TECOM at APG. The family moved back to Aberdeen in late 1963 and Dad continued as Director until his retirement in 1972.


#8

Troy,

Thank you for sharing with us more information about the life of your father. In the circles most of us run in (a love for the study of firearms and ammunition), he was certainly one of the great men.

As IAA Secretary, may I offer you our heartfelt sympathy, and that of our members, for the great loss your family has suffered.

Sincerely,

John Moss
IAA Secretary


#9

Troy

Thanks for that great post. It was more than I expected when I contacted you. There’s nothing worse than forgetting our past and how we got where we are today. You’ve taken a big step in keeping his memory alive and have added a great deal to our understanding of who your dad was and his service to our country. Each of us who have cartridges in our collection that can be traced back to him are indebted to you.

Ray


#10

Thanks guys. The family is taking it pretty hard. No matter how long he lived, it couldn’t be long enough for us. He was not only my father, but my idol.

Also, I just realized that I’ve been misspelling “Eglin”. You’d think I’d know how to spell it, having been born there. Guess I’m not really thinking clearly yet.