The M16A1 Slick Side Retro Carry Handle receiver has been very hard to get, so Potomac Armory and Charlie's has arranged for a special forging to be made and milled to meet the exacting requirements for early US Air Force GAU-5 builds, and for other retro enthusiasts.
The slick-side upper receivers were some of the very first A1 upper receivers to be used on Vietnam era M16A1 rifles. This model upper receiver is an M16A1 upper, but without a forward assist. The US Air Force, probably correctly, did not see the need for a forward assist. Then again, the US Marines who used the M16A1 probably saw more mud and sand in around the bolt carrier to require a forced load, than the Air Force security forces. The slick side upper retains other A1 features, like the more simple rear sight.
The M16 rifle, a cornerstone of American military history, has a compelling story that begins with the U.S. Air Force (USAF). The driving force behind the M16's adoption was General Curtis LeMay, who personally advocated for this iconic weapon. This advocacy led to the first contract with Colt Firearms in May 1962 for the purchase of the Armalite AR-15 Model 01 rifles, the precursor to the M16.
LeMay, along with the M16's designer Eugene Stoner, believed in the simplicity of design. They did not see the need for a forward assist on the rifle. As a result, the M16 rifles procured by the Air Force lacked this feature, earning them the nickname "slick-side" rifles. These rifles, including the GAU-5 and GAU-5A, were primarily issued to USAF Security Police, who were tasked with guarding aircraft at bases worldwide. As the Vietnam War escalated, all Air Force personnel carrying rifles were equipped with these slick-side M16A1 rifles, making them an ideal additon to your military correct clone builds.
The AR-15 also found favor with the Army Special Forces, who adopted it for testing and evaluation while working with South Vietnamese forces. The positive reports from the Special Forces, combined with the advocacy of LeMay and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, eventually convinced the Army to replace the M14 with the AR-15, rebranded as the M16. In November 1963, Colt received a $13.5 million contract for 104,000 M16s, with 19,000 of these destined for the Air Force.
The U.S. Air Force's M16 design was later modified and adopted by the U.S. Army as the XM16E1 in 1965. The Army added the forward assist to their version of the rifle. However, the Air Force maintained their preference for the slick-side design in their GAU-5 rifles and its variants, which were used by Commandos. These rifles were very similar to the XM16E1 but retained the slick-side upper receiver, making them a popular choice for Vietnam era M16 retro builds.
The M16A1 slick-side upper receiver, with its roots in the U.S. Air Force and its connection to the GAU-5 and GAU-5A, is a significant part of American military history. Its design reflects a philosophy of simplicity and functionality, and its service record speaks to its reliability and effectiveness. Whether you're a military history enthusiast, a veteran, or a firearms collector, the M16A1 slick-side upper receiver offers a unique blend of historical significance and practical utility, making it a key component in any military correct clone build or carry handle upper retro build.
Photos courtesy of DPMS, US Army, US Air Force and Guns & Ammo