POTD: When An Airline Bought AR-10s To Kill Polar Bears

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It’s 1958. You work as an executive for an airline that has just opened a route across the dangerous arctic, where any crash landing means a game of survival. You need a survival weapon, one that is light, versatile, and powerful, and the Army has just adopted a rifle that might fit that bill.

This was the situation the Dutch airline Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V., (Royal Dutch Airlines), or KLM was in when it adopted a variant of the Artillerie-Inrichtingen produced Armalite AR-10 rifle, a survival weapon devoid of weight-adding military features such as a flash hider or grenade launcher, and sporting a compact 16″ barrel. The rifles were, of course, fully automatic.

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Matt of the Historical Firearms blog has written more on the unique weapons:

KLM’S ARCTIC AR-10

In the same year as ArmaLite began seeing interest in their AR-10, the Dutch airline KLM began offering a new air route.  KLM began flying the transpolar route between Europe and Tokyo via Anchorage in November 1958, because of the dangerous route the flights took each plane carried an Arctic survival kit (see image #2).

In all some 800 lbs / 400 kg of survival equipment was carried by KLM’s Douglas DC-7s and later DC-8-53s.  This included: sleeping bags, tents, a raft, a shovel, snow shoes, a camp stove, cold weather clothing, a hatchet and a 7.62x51mm chambered, select fire, ArmaLite AR-10. KLM bought five16-inch barrel AR-10s from the Dutch small arms company Artillerie Inrichtingen. They were intended for use against polar bears in the event that the aircraft was forced to land or ditch on the Arctic Ice. No doubt they would have been quite a handful for an untrained member of the plane’s cabin crew, especially if they made the mistake of switching to full auto.  It is unknown how much survival and weapon training KLM gave transpolar flight crew.

I highly recommend our readers click through and read the whole article, and take a look at the excellent photographs, as well.

EDIT: Commenter Jas informs us that these rifles were not full auto, and were based on civilian sporter models of the AR-10.



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  • The rarest of all the Dutch AR-10’s!

    These things are an enigma. Much of the stories about these are-second hand, but Pikula’s “The ArmaLite AR-10” (a book that sells for hundreds of dollars now, if you can find one) quotes production numbers of around 30. The article posted quotes them being sold to a surplus weapons dealer in Chicago in the 1970’s, but I’ve also heard that they were imported into Vancouver, British Columbia by Alan Lever of Lever Arms at roughly the same time. Perhaps one of these sources is wrong, or perhaps half went to Chicago and half went to Canada.

    Or, perhaps both are wrong. Unlikely we’ll find out: I’ve never seen one in person. Nobody I know has ever seen one in person, and the stories of those who have are all (at least) second hand.

    Nazi Gold and Unicorns would probably be easier to find! Perhaps that cute stewardess brought one home in her carry-on? 😀

    • The rarest and coolest of all the AR-10s. How wild a ride would it be to light off 20 on fun mode with that thing?

      • Can’t think of too many things that could be more exciting than that. Even seeing one in person would be wild, shooting one would be incredible.

        • DIR911911 .

          even without hitting the polar bear once they still would have scared it shitless

          • sauerquint

            “Scared” and “Polar Bear”, that’s funny. You’d better hit it.

      • ostiariusalpha

        The AR-14 was supposed to come out in .243 Win, .308 Win, and .358 Win; that .358 would have put the hurt on even a big polar bear in short order. If someone had chambered one of these fun switch AR-10 rifles in it, that would be a terrifyingly exhilarating test of even an experienced shooters metal.

        • DrewN

          Remember when S.A. offered the M1A in different calibers? Douglas barrels I’m pretty sure. There were .243s for sure and I have an ad from an old gun mag offering .358 Win., though I’ve never seen one and I’ve been looking.

      • Rick Randall

        Yee-haw!

      • Tassiebush

        The Excalibur of controlling full auto if the recent forgotten weapons AR10 video is anything to go on!

  • Swarf

    She could kill my poler bear any– no. I’d AR her 15– no, no.

    I’d give her a snow camo… uhm, job that doesn’t even make sense.

    Look, this just isn’t working.

    • *Sigh*

      This may not be Star Wars, but I’m certainly going to hide something in you for warmth.

      Not my proudest moment, but I’m not a very proud man, so eh.

      • Grindstone50k

        Probably won’t smell very good, either.

  • me

    How is she supposed to pull the trigger in those mits?

    • Both the AR-10 and AR-15 have a folding triggerguard that allows access to the trigger with mittens.

      • Swarf

        Mittens is a terrible shot. CQB poison, that little turd.

        • superflex

          Meth is a hell of a drug.

          • Fruitbat44

            I suspect the whooshing sound I hear is a reference flying overhead my head.
            But the days when stewardesses who asked “Coffee, tea or seven-six-two?” has a certain nostalgia. 🙂

  • ghost

    If that was in 1958, she should be old enough for me to date by now. I would like to haz one of doze, semi-auto only would be fine. We seldom have polar bears in this part of Texas, but, you never know.

  • nadnerbus

    One under each seat cushion. A man can dream. Would make hijacking a difficult proposition.

    • Southpaw89

      Depressurization might be an issue, not to mention more significant damage. It would suck to shoot down your own plane, however if a gremlin started tearing apart the wing they might come in handy.

      • nadnerbus

        There’s… something… on the wing… some…THING.

        *tap rack bang*

        Would definitely change the flavor of that Twilight Zone.

  • Mr. Kill

    Polar bears are extremely dangerous. Good idea that would never “fly” now.

    God why do I live now instead of 1958. . .

  • Southpaw89

    Wonder how well they would have performed in arctic conditions.

  • Heckuva coincidence, JW!

  • Jas

    Let me start by saying that though I worked for KLM for 33 years (as flight engineer and later as pilot) I have never handled one of these. They had been fased out by the time I started on the DC 8 (1978). The existence of these guns was, however, well known and during our survival training were were told about those ‘good old days’ when KLM guns going over the North Pole carried an AR 10. There were four of them.. The gun was a special version of the civilian AR 10, known as the ‘Sporter’. This type of gun was NOT fullauto. The lower receiver did not have room for a fullauto sear. About 30 of these sporters were produced by AI (one of them, with a ten round magazine, was given to prins Bernard, husband of queen Juliana, now in the Dutch National Military Museum). Of these 30 sporters four were in the survival configuration. Special features were a barrel without flash hider, semiauto only and the pins connecting the upper and the lower were removable so that the upper and lower could be separated for easier storage. The pins holding upper and lower together were attached to the lower with a little chain to keep them from getting lost (while fumbling an unknown rifle during a blizzard).

    Crews were told how to use the rifle (shoot the bear between the shoulders) but did not get any live firing training. What I was told the gun came with only one magazine containing 20 rounds (of full jacket ammo).

    In the early seventies these guns were taken from the survival packs as the communications got better and a downed airplane was assumed to be found within 24hrs.

    KLM sold the guns to a dealer and all four ended up in Canada for a very low price as nobody knew what they were. A specialized AR 10 collector here in Holland tried to persuade the owner to sell one of these guns back to Holland but was asked a small fortune and declined.

    There was supposed to be a chapter about these four flying guns in the book that the collector (Kick Koster from Amsterdam) was planning to write but alas Kick passed away a few years ago and most information about the history of the AR 10 is now lost. His archive still exists but is in storage so it will be difficult to find anything there.

    • Very interexting context provided here, Jas! A pleasure to read, and I’m glad my comments about them possibly coming to Canada have been cooberated by another party. If they’re in Canada and weren’t manufactured as fully-automatic firearms, they would be restricted based on the 16 inch barrel which means that they’re available to anybody with the proper licensing. I’ve never heard of one for sale, so either people know what they have or they’re out of the country or (heaven forbid!) destroyed or in a police locker somewhere.
      I like the idea of airline crews having a survival rifle on board. Less required these days than it was in the late 50’s, but I don’t think the idea is without merit.

    • Great comment, Jas! Thanks for the info.

    • Matthew Moss

      Thanks for the extra info Jas, invaluable stuff, I’ve updated my article.
      (Matt from HistoricalFirearms.

  • Jas

    Hmmm, sorry. Should be KLM planes going over the North Pole.

  • Arjan Blom

    Being Dutch, former pilot, avid shooter and fan of all things Stoner, I can’t stop geeking out over this story. Now i have to bore my loved ones ranting on this rifle. Thank you, TFB

  • spiff1

    A while back I owned a gun store, Atlanta Firearms, and as a licensed class 3 dealer, I attempted to buy 3 of those AR-10’s….But on a second thought I decided to check with the then head of BATF, an acquaintance of mine, and he said no deal, the the Bureau considered them to be automatic weapons as that AR-10’s were originally auto’s and were considered as as such and no new auto’s could be brought into the U.S…..I thought that Scandnavian Airlines had those rifles….Could be wrong as it was many years ago…

  • gunsandrockets

    Nah, that’s just a still shot from Ice Station Zebra!

  • gordon533

    These AR10 where purchase by Allen Lever back in the early 1970s. Allen traveled the world buying surplus & forgotten Firearms, I know of one still in British Columbia but not the location of the other 3. Allen spoke about these firearms in passing, it is to bad that at least one was not sold back to the Netherlands.

  • disqus_XlYouOiadt

    Hi folks, I did a feature on the gun in a 1975 article in Soldier of Fortune. I only recently sold the selective-fire gun pictured. Collector’s Grade Publications is working on a book on the AR-10 and has referenced my long-ago article. I’ve written a few pieces for Small Arms Review recently and have a video about Herbert W. McBride on YouTube. The AR-10 was probably the most fun assault rifle I ever owned! Terry Edwards.