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    Really Senior Member Cosine26's Avatar
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    Colt Aircrew .38 Special

    As a B47 AOB, SAC 310th Bomb Squadron (M/JET) I was issued a Colt Aircrew revolver S/N
    C261136 and carried it on deployment to the UKicon in 1955. As I remember it, it was an all aluminum Detective Special. Anyone else remember these? It would be worth a lot of money to a collector I believe.

    Design of the Aircrewman

    Colt answered this call for a small and effective, but super lightweight handgun, with a modified version of their then-new Cobra line of snub-nosed revolvers. It was named the Aircrewman.



    Colt Aircrewman
    Colt Aircrewman.

    The Cobra itself was a revamp of the company’s earlier 1927-era Detective Special. Both were ‘D-frame’ six shot .38-specials with small profile rounded butts and 2-inch barrels. To carve weight away from the Cobra, Colt used space age aluminum for the frame and cylinder instead of the normal ordanance grade steel. The Cobra already used an aluminum side plate, but to throw out all of the steel except in the barrel and replace it with the wondermetal was a bold step forward. To be safe, the Air Force used low-pressure rounds instead of commercial .38 SPL loads.

    Whereas the Detective Special was 21-ounces and the Cobra was 16-ounces, the superlight Aircrewman tipped the scales at just 11-ounces with six rounds of 38-Special loaded. In comparison with the snubs of today, the 5-shot, S&W 637 Airweight comes in at 13.5. So yeah, the Aircrewman was about as light as you could get.

    Colt made just 1189 of these guns in 1950-51. Records from Colt show that some 1,123 were shipped to the US Air Force from 12/21/1950- 4/23/1952. The largest lot of these, some 255 revolvers, was sent to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska in 1951. This is not unexpected as at the time Offutt was home to the bombers of the US Strategic Air Command, whose crews sat on constant ramp alert to scramble towards the Sovieticon Union with a cargo of atomic weapons.

    Recall and destruction

    Besides the Colts, between 1953-54, Smith and Wesson produced about 40,000 aluminum framed M-13 snub-nosed pistols to augment the small numbers of Aircrewmen in circulation. When stocks of M41 special ball, a low-powered round that pushed a

    Colt Aircrewman at Springfield Armory Museum.
    Colt Aircrewman at Springfield Armory Museum.

    130-grain jacketed round nosed bullet grew scarce, users loaded their aluminum guns with full power stuff. This turned a couple of them into small hand grenades and kabooms were quickly reported. In October 1959, both the Colts and the Smiths were recalled to their depots and crushed, their frames deemed unsafe.

    To quote the USAF order at the time, “Because of the peculiarities of the M13 revolver, i.e., requirement for special ammunition, limited use and potential danger if used for other than the purpose for which it was designed, all M13 revolvers excess to Air Force requirements will be mutilated to prevent further use as a weapon. Residue will be disposed of as scrap.”

    Though most ended up demolished, a few guns, already in the hands of retired flight officers escaped the wholesale slaughter. Steel framed S&W 10s, 12s and 15s replaced them and kept aircrews company until as late as the 1990s.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cosine26 View Post
    As I remember it, it was an all aluminum Detective Special. Anyone else remember these? It would be worth a lot of money to a collector I believe.
    Yes. I remember them well. I don't think many survived because of the all aluminum construction. The destroy order was quite faithfull and not many are still correct or original. Some show up "Fixed" with aluminum weld but I wouldn't shoot one. The good ones shouldn't be shot because of the reasons mentioned in text. I wouldn't even load down for one as they're so scarce...yes, worth a bit of coin.

    You had one on issue? Did you try it out?
    Regards, Jim

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    Really Senior Member Salt Flat's Avatar
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    Back in about 1963 (I was 13) a friend of my Dad's, who knew I was interested in guns gave me a box of deactivated S&W M13 Air Force revolvers. There were probably 10 of them in the box. They had had been deactivated with an arc welder I believe. The friend had found these in a scrap yard in Anchorage while he searched for aircraft parts. I learned a lot about Smith and Wessons by tearing these apart and studying the workings. Unfortunately I have no memory of what happened to them. I wish I had hung onto a few as they are pretty rare to find now. Salt Flat

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    Quote Originally Posted by Salt Flat View Post
    gave me a box of deactivated S&W M13 Air Force revolvers.
    Wow... Even beat to crap they'd be worth good coin now. Then, nothing, worth nothing... Good guns were still reasonably priced.
    Regards, Jim

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    Really Senior Member Cosine26's Avatar
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    Thread Starter
    I never really liked the Colt Aircrew revolver. I usually left it locked up on base and flew with the Colt Official Police revolver that I flew with in combat over Korea. I always carried it loaded with .38-44 ammo and did not believe that the Aircrew would survive this ammo.
    I never knew much about the Aircrew until someone sent me the info in an email. I could not give him much info. I was looking through some old military papers today and found the slip with the S/N where I turned it in. I do not remember who sent me the info. I lost his email address and thought he might visit this forum and recognize his original description.
    So what if I broke the rules. I was flying nuclear capable B47's on what would probably be a one way mission.
    FWIW
    Last edited by Cosine26; 07-17-2018 at 12:45 AM.

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    Advisory Panel browningautorifle's Avatar
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    Lots of guys carried non standard weapons...even during peacetime. I came across a soldier in Camp Pendleton CA carrying a Glock 17 in his ammo pouch during a field problem in 1984, was the first I'd seen. I carried an Ithaca 37 when I was reconnaissance platoon detachment commander in 1989...we were never issued them... During wartime, specially back then it was a bit looser I should think.
    Regards, Jim

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    Really Senior Member Paul S.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cosine26 View Post
    I never really liked the Colt Aircrew revolver. I usually left it locked up on base and flew with the Colt Official Police revolver that I flew with in combat over Korea. I always carried it loaded with .38-44 ammo and did not believe that the Aircrew would survive this ammo.
    I never knew much about the Aircrew until someone sent me the info in an email. I could not give him much info. I was looking through some old military papers today and found the slip with the S/N where I turned it in. I do not remember who sent me the info. I lost his email address and thought he might visit this forum and recognize his original description.
    So what if I broke the rules. I was flying nuclear capable B47's on what would probably be a one way mission.
    FWIW
    You weren't a member of the air crew of the B47 that accidentally lost a Nuke from its load into the Med off the coast of Spain, were you?

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    Really Senior Member Cosine26's Avatar
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    No I was not. I have always been careful with all weapons -particularly Nukes. It may have been to my advantage that I was an engineer, had served two wars and had learned a lot.

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    The issue with both the Colt and the S&W Aircrewman revolvers is not the frame, it is the Cylinder, which is Aluminum Alloy .

    Having said that, a quick search on the S&W Forum revealed that the reason the revolvers were destroyed is that while the Colt Aircrewman were taken from standard production Cobra & Courier frames, the S&W manufactured J Frames cracked.

    Even today, the Aluminum alloy (Scandium for example) guns have Steel cylinders (I see the current S&W 340PD has a titanium cylinder).
    Last edited by Lee Enfield; 07-25-2018 at 05:34 PM.
    BSN from the Republic of Alberta

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    Really Senior Member Cosine26's Avatar
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    Thread Starter
    S&W Air Crew Revolvers
    The following information is cited from a book:
    History of Smith & Wesson by Roy G. Jinks (circa 1976)
    S&W built a Chief Special Airweight as a product in their product line. They received numerous complaints about cracked cylinder so in 1954 the aluminum cylinder was replaced with a steel cylinder. There were 3777 of this model produced
    The USAF (SAC) considered these revolvers but elected to go with the M&P Airweight M45 and M12. The M12 was the USAF model designation. The USAF purchased a number of these revolvers but withdrew and destroyed them along with the Colt Aircrew revolvers. No numbers are given. No report on performance of the civilian version was provided. There is a note in the book that civilian owners should contact S&W before firing them.
    As previously reported, the USAF purchased the M38 Colt aluminum equipped Detective Special revolvers designated M13 (Colt AIRCREW). These were withdrawn and destroyed but a few survived.
    The USAF designed a special round for these revolvers designated M41. It was loaded with a 130 gr load.
    The standard Chief Special failed on occasion. I had an LEO friend who had a failure. The frame failed where the top strap meets the back plate. He returned it to S&W and they returned with a new frame carrying the original serial number
    FWIW

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