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RELOADERS CORNER: Two-Two-Three

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AKA: “.222 Remington Special.” Here’s where and how one of the most popular rounds in use today came from, and the influence it’s had. READ ON

high power service rifle
This right here drove the development of what we now have in .224-caliber bullets: High Power Rifle competition, and there’s none better at it than USAMU Sgt. Grant Singley, many-time National Service Rifle Champion.

Glen Zediker

Last time up I talked some about the PPC cartridge, and about the influence it’s had on those developed since. This time I want to talk about another influential cartridge that hasn’t exactly done quite as much for the direct evolution of currently popular rounds. Well, except for having the influence to spur on the development of cartridges that can beat it…

It seems that nobody likes .223 Remington… It also seems that everybody likes the AR15. Well, that’s clear if only going by the numbers of those guns out there, and the other angle is that there are a whopping lot of chambering options available nowadays that all set out to beat .223 Rem.

Next time we’ll look at a couple that beat it limp, but first, here’s where .223 Remington came from.

Understanding the development of .223 Rem. starts with understanding the development of the AR15 and, of course, along with that came a round to fit it.

All “this” (small-caliber mil-spec cartridge development) started a good while ago, and before the AR15 was a blueprint. Back in the early 1950s the Department of the Army SALVO project resulted from exploring a theory that a high-velocity sub-caliber (in mil-speak, anything under .30 is “sub-caliber”) round would be the quick ticket to the field hospital for enemy troops. A new bullet-maker, Sierra, produced the 68gr. .224s that were designed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1953 by Bill Davis (later known for development of the “VLD,” which led all the current batch of high-ballistic-coefficient bullets to where they are now), and were drawn up pretty much as a scaled-down .308 147gr. I can’t find much documented about any conclusions or results. Another batch was made for Colt’s in 1964 for testing in an experimental heavy-barreled M16, but the Army showed no interest then in exploring the longer-range capabilities of that platform.

salvo
SALVO

The SALVO is a little piece of history, and forebearer, related to the “sub-caliber” uprising. This idea gained familiarity (we’ll leave “popularity” alone) shortly thereafter when General Wyman made a direct push to develop and employ what came to be the AR15. He insisted on equipping our troops with a lighter, smaller-caliber battle implement. But this isn’t about the rifle, it’s about the ammo.
Assuming that the SALVO got shelved, which is a right-minded assumption considering what came next, the “new” rifle needed a new round.

At the very start there was the .222 Remington. This was uniquely developed (no parent case) in 1950 as a cartridge for Benchrest competition. It was the first commercial rimless .224 cartridge made in the U.S. So, when Armalite, and others, started its Small-Caliber/High-Velocity (SCHV) experiments, this is what they started with. It was clear early on that this round wouldn’t meet the Continental Army Command (CONARC) velocity and penetration requirements so Armalite went straight to Remington. Remington in turn and in response created the .222 Remington Special, which had a longer case body and shorter case neck than its .222 Remington: more capacity. Springfield Armory concurrently developed the .224E2 Winchester, an even longer-bodied .222 Remington, which later became the .222 Remington Magnum. Springfield dropped out and in 1963 the Remington .222 Special got its designation as 5.56x45mm and was officially adopted for use in the new M16 rifle (that round was in use prior in early guns). The next year it got all SAAMI’ed up and emerged as .223 Remington in commercial loadings. I skipped details, but that’s the gist of it. That means .223 Remington has been with us a while now.

222/223
.223 Remington (right) literally grew from .222 Remington, which seemed to be the most closely suitable cartridge then available to chamber the “new” rifle in. The .222 grew to give more capacity and satisfy the military requirements for ballistic performance. .222 Rem. is awesome-accurate by the way.

.223 Rem. follows the lines of other popular U.S. Military rounds and shares some of the same attributes, including its 23-degree case shoulder. The one thing it hasn’t shared with something like .30-06, for good example, is accolades! That, of course, is because of its limited capacity and likewise resultant power limitation. It did, however, launch a whole different class of small-caliber projectiles to prominence. Maybe an intended pun.

As a result of High Power Rifle competition, a major part of which is Service Rifle Division, efforts were necessarily made to improve the downrange performance of .223 Rem. Long and complex story, but after both CMP and NRA changed Rules viewpoints in 1990 to one more liberal on “allowable modifications” to the AR15, two bullets then finally made it both viable and attractive to serious competitive shooters. That was all that it was waiting on (the dang things already shot small groups).

jlk 80
The impetus for “bigger” .224 bullets came from High Power Rifle competition. See, a “Service Rifle” absolutely has to shoot its native chambering to be allowable. When USAMU made the “switch” to the M16, they did not want to lose. That motivation is where bullets like the Sierra 80gr. MatchKing came from, shown here alongside the first of its kind, the JLK 80 VLD (on right). Note the moly coating, by the way: back in the daaaaay!

Sierra had, in my mind, resurrected the SALVO with its introduction of the 69gr. MatchKing in 1984, but that only gave two-thirds of a score; it hits the wall past 300 yards. In 1990, coinciding with those Rules changes to make the rifle more fairly competitive with the match-conditioned M14s, that same Bill Davis drew up a blueprint for a bullet for Jimmy Knox and Carlene Lemmons: the JLK 80 VLD. Sierra right thereafter introduced its 80gr. MatchKing.

When United States Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) Col. Johnson mandated that the Team would, not should, use the M16 in competition commencing 1994, we quickly saw full and complete exploitation of those bullets and the resulting rapid demise of the M14 as the leading Service Rifle.

I honestly think that, had it not been for the military motivation to win, we’d not have seen the developments we have in .224-caliber bullets.

sierra 90
Funny, to me at least, that the diminutive .223 Rem. led to development of the biggest .224-caliber bullets. More about getting this one here downrange next time.

Well, enough history. Next time I’ll get right to today and go over and go on about two newer cartridges that radically further the “sub-caliber uprising.”

The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from Glen’s newest book, America’s Gun: The Practical AR15. Check it out HERE

Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, are available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

RELOADERS CORNER: Cartridge Evolution

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Here’s a short retrospect on what’s set the standards for most new cartridge designs, and why… KEEP READING

Glen Zediker

ppc

I’m not an engineer, but, like all of us, we rely on those folks to develop just about all the things we have and use. When we look at a new development, one that’s proven to work better than the “old” way, sometimes it’s easy enough to understand why. Cartridge development over the years is a good example.

What makes a good cartridge? Answers, of course, vary with the intended use, the performance needs. For the most part, power (which mostly is velocity), and “efficiency” (which is essentially getting the most from the least amount of propellant, likewise increasing barrel life), and accuracy (always) top the list. And, to me, “accuracy” is a combination of small group sizes and, even more, small group sizes all the time! Consistency.

Case capacity has the most to do with the first: more room for gunpowder means more power. Also, it’s pretty clear that pressures have been going up! There’s a big (big) difference in the pressure levels of some of the “new” cartridges compared to the older, longer-lived rounds. Sometimes it’s not because the older round can’t “take” the additional pressure, it’s because the guns might not. A round developed turn-of-the-century fits a rifle from the same era. Well, steel has improved, manufacturing has improved, and, some no doubt, is that the trend toward “shorter, fatter” cartridge cases also contributes.

So. About that…

In my mind, and certainly in my “world,” which is competitive shooting, one of the most influential cartridges has been, and still is, the PPC. That was developed in 1975 by Ferris Pendell and Dr. Lou Palmisano (hence “Pendell, Palmisano Cartridge”), and the idea was to design the “world’s most accurate cartridge.” They did. It has the record to prove it. However, that’s in Benchrest (capital “B” meaning formal competition). Bechrest is nearly always a 100-yard event. The idea behind the PPC wasn’t to set the range on fire with excessive velocity, although it’s well more rapid than others then popular in that game. The idea was to improve cartridge structure to improve shot-to-shot consistency, and another part of that plan was to extend the duration of load-to-load consistency by slowing down firing-induced changes to the case. It’s native caliber is 6mm (.243).

(By the way, the PPC is based on .220 Russian, which is still how many get their brass: fire form it from that. That round is associated with 7.62X39mm, which came earlier and was based on the WWII German 7.92x33mm Kurz, the Mittelpatrone.)

PPC and .223
PPC isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive and not nearly the fastest available today. However, it sho has had its influence on modern rounds. It’s expensive, by the way, because of the available brass: it’s from Lapua or Norma and has machined primer pockets, and other such points of perfection. Compared to .223 Rem. (right) which, in configuration, follows pretty well accepted architecture, similar to .30-06 and other originally-mil-based rounds, the PPC is shorter, larger-diameter, and longer-necked.

A few reasons, offered by its creators, why PPC shoots so well: One, it’s a short case, a scant 1.515 inches overall. That makes it more rigid and less susceptible to warp. It also means it fits into a short action, also more rigid (and with shorter bolt travel). The case neck is relatively long, which means the entire shank of the bullet is within the neck, never below it. That means no influence from varying cartridge wall thicknesses (the case neck walls can be made near-perfectly consistent), avoiding the case neck “donut” at the neck, shoulder juncture. Its body area diameter is 0.440-vicinity, which is (was) a good deal larger than the more common 0.378 commonly used in Benchrest. Case shoulder is 30-degrees.

About that: Well before the PPC there was P.O. Ackley. Well-known for his “Ackley Improved” rounds, which, pretty much, were standard rounds with a sharper shoulder angle. In sharpening (flattening) the shoulder angle (usually from 23-degrees to 30 or even 40), that also elevated the shoulder, and that increased case volume. More speed! Another benefit of the sharper shoulder was a notable reduction in the “flow” of the brass. That meant less change firing to firing. The sharper angle on the shoulder essentially “caps” the flow in that area.

ackley improved
Dang. These always look so radical, but it’s a proven formula: the Ackley Improved. My Dad used one of these in .270 decades ago (P.O hisseff built his rifle) for elk hunting. Shown is an AI 280 Rem. which nearly equals the power of 7mm Magnum.

Other attributes engineered into the PPC have and haven’t been incorporated into subsequent new cartridges. Notable is the smaller-than-standard flash hole. This requires a likewise smaller sizing die decapping pin. Also, PPC uses a small rifle primer, which is fitting based on its overall round size. Over years, there have been retro-engineered common rounds with small primer pockets and those have worked well. For a spell, over the time it was available, small-primer .308 Win. brass found great favor among competitive shooters. Remington made it. Interestingly (again from a perspective of one who isn’t an engineer) pressures were higher compared to standard loads based on routine large-primer brass. Velocities tended to be more consistent.

Another reason for PPC perfomance is one I don’t pretend to understand, and that is its “efficiency.” That’s all in the science of internal ballistics and I only can attest to its influence. I have been a PPC user (the 22 variant) for a good while. It’s what my main NRA High Power Match Rifle is chambered in (AR15 platform). From virtually the same amount of the same propellant, there’s a solid +100 fps gain over the .223 Rem. The structure of the PPC indeed “works.” From that, and from “those” (High Power shooters), rapidly evolved experimental takes on the essential PPC.

Moving on, rounds like 6BR and 6.5 Grendel are outgrowths of the PPC format (“upgrowths” actually: they’re bigger capacity). We’ve also seen the essential influence in the popular 6.5 Creedmoor and the 6XC, which currently dominate competitive across-the-course and long-range shooting (“standard” long range, not the 2-mile stuff, that would be .375 Cheytak…).

6.5 grendel
Cuzzin to PPC is 6.5 Grendel (left), which grew from earlier experiments by NRA High Power Rifle shooters in creating PPC “tall-boys.”

Looking at semi-auto developments, many of which have been coming at us fast and furious, it’s clear cartridge developers are exploiting these same ideas. There is a (short) limit on what will fit into an AR15 upper receiver, for instance, because, one, it’s a finite amount of space, of course, and, two, there’s a magazine box, and these are related. More power in this platform means a fat case.

Now. I am in no way suggesting anyone run out and tool up for PPC in the next rifle! It can be soundly beaten in the “real world” of our needs from a cartridge. There are similar rounds with more velocity, easier availability, lower cost, and on down the list of desirables. In the next couple of issues, I plan to talk more about some of the newest rounds, but wanted to offer just a little retrospect on where it all came from before getting into where it’s gone!

This article was adapted from content in Glen’s newest book: America’s Gun: The Practical AR15. Go check it out HERE

Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, are available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

Check out AckleyImproved.com