TNW Firearms developed the Aero Survival Rifle (ASR) around the concept of a versatile multi-caliber weapon capable of being taken down for very compact storage, fully assembled in moments, and instantly ready to accurately and predictably get bullets to the target.
TNW Aero Survival Rifle Details
Survival rifles are often held to the impossible standard of being all things to all people. It’s true that a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. However, TNW designed the Aero Survival Rifle from the start to be more things to more people; and it succeeds. Within the range limitations of pistol calibers, it’s a capable performer in self-defense and small- and large-game hunting roles. It may well be the best survival carbine available to today.
By switching barrels and sometimes magazines, bolt heads and trigger groups (actually a complete lower-receiver assembly), this rifle is easily convertible between nine chamberings (.17 HMR, .22 Magnum, .22 LR, 9mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W, 10mm, .45 ACP and .460 Rowland). The ASR is semi-automatic, blowback operated, simple and rugged in construction, reliable in operation, and easy to assemble and maintain without tools and adaptable to right- or left-side ejection and safety operation. It also weighs less than 6 pounds. It uses common Glock-pattern magazines, and TNW threaded all barrel muzzles for suppressor use. All the barrels mount on the same receiver unit, so you only need one set of sights or optics. Finally, and most remarkably, all barrels return to their established zero regardless of how many times they are taken off or reinstalled.
The ASR barrel is held in the front of the receiver by a ratcheting nut similar to those on the Uzi, Sten or M3A1 submachine guns; however, the barrel and barrel nut use mating cones machined around their circumference to consistently center the barrel in the receiver. As the cones wear in, the gun actually shoots better. A steel guide pin in the receiver keeps the barrel oriented during tightening. The breech end of the barrel is extraordinarily beefy, more like what you would expect for rifle-caliber pressures. The cartridge case is almost completely supported, except where the extractor slots are cut and the bolt face seats deeply, and completely, inside the breech. I can’t recall ever seeing a stronger design. This kind of overbuilding might be a life- and gun-saver if you ever seriously overcharged a handload.
When inside the receiver, the bolt and carrier fit very closely with no apparent slop. When removed, you notice the removable bolt head has a slight wiggle at the connection point with the carrier. This allows the bolt head to center the cartridge in the chamber as the bolt slams closed (in the same manner that a floating reamer holder allows a reamer to precisely track the center of a drilled hole).
To save weight, the receiver, trigger group, buffer tube and barrel nut are aluminum. The barrel, bolt head, bolt carrier and buffer are steel. Trigger groups come in three sizes to accommodate the various calibers, and each weighs a pound. The one that fit the 9mm-sized Glock magazines handled .22 LR, 9mm, .357 SIG and .40 S&W. The one for the .45 ACP Glock magazines handles that round, 10mm and .460 Rowland. Except for the size of the magazine well and the position of the extractor and bolt stop, they are identical.
How It Works
The ASR is held together with tensioned pins and requires no tools to field strip. Trust me when I say you can easily lose the little pins. So I advise you pack an extra set or two, as well as some firing pins and their little springs, in your kit. Any AR pistol grips without a beaver tail will fit.
The ASR has a 5-pound, two-stage trigger pull. The second stage has considerable creep. However, it’s not overly long, and I was able to do some good shooting with it. Cocking the bolt requires some muscle to overcome the heavy spring. Many young shooters and possibly also female shooters will have difficulty with it. TNW designed it that way to minimize felt recoil. Remember that this is a blowback that handles .460 Rowland, a caliber with near .44 Magnum power. The rearward motion of the bolt can’t damage the receiver because of a urethane bumper inside the buffer tube.
According to the manufacturer, some ammunition, especially the bargain stuff, may be too weak to cycle the ASR properly, which can cause failures to feed and eject. You can tune the spring to your ammo of choice by removing a half coil at a time until reliable function is restored, but this will increase the felt recoil.
Comparing the recoil of a 9mm ASR with a substantially heavier AR-platform 9mm carbine, I couldn’t discern a difference other than the ASR had no spring twang and its action felt smoother in operation. I tested the return-to-zero capability with the 9mm barrel by firing three pairs of five-shot groups from a bench rest at 50 yards, dismounting and remounting the barrel between each pair.
The ammunition I used was Black Hills’ 9mm +P 100-grain Honey Badger. That premium self-defense load produced five-shot groups averaging 1.55 inches at 50 yards. I recorded the shots with an SME Bullseye target camera and found no noticeable shift between group pairs. In fact, the last group either passed cleanly through or barely touched the edges of the ragged hole in the target. If there is a point-of-impact shift, you’d need a machine rest and perfect ammo to test for it; I doubt it would mean much in practical shooting.
A Good Setup
Let’s consider how the TNW Firearms Aero Survival Rifle might be configured for a worst-case, long-term survival scenario where it’s required to both feed and protect you. The .22 LR, 9mm and .460 Rowland chamberings will do the job for small-game hunting, self-defense and large-game hunting, respectively.
The starting point is a 9mm Aero Survival Rifle carbine (MSRP: $699). To convert this to .22 LR requires a magazine, bolt adapter and barrel (MSRP: $199). Conversion to .460 Rowland requires a .45 ACP magazine, a bolt head, trigger group and barrel (MSRP: $199). The total weight of this three-guns-in-one set is 10 pounds, 8.8 ounces. TNW offers a package deal on any three caliber combinations for $1,199, and this includes a specially designed bug-out bag to carry it—and your other gear—comfortably and securely. It’s a three-day-sized pack made of strong nylon, and it weighs 3 pounds, 9 ounces.
While a red-dot sight is preferable for combative encounters, it’s a disadvantage when hunting. In a survival situation, you’ll probably need to eat more often than fight, and the magnification of a telescopic sight will greatly enhance your success on the hunt by reducing misses, and thus you’ll conserve ammunition.
To minimize the difficulties of quick target acquisition with a traditional scope but provide as much magnification as possible for glassing distant targets and threats, I selected a Bushnell 1-8x24mm BTR-1 scope (MSRP: $350). Designed as a short- to midrange, rugged, IPX7 waterproof, tactical scope, its 8X magnification goes two steps beyond the typical 6X scope and can be instantly moved back to 1X (no magnification) for close-range fighting with a sweep of the hand against its power-change lever that extends 90 degrees from the eyepiece. The open-circle, close-quarters-battle reticle allows for fast target acquisition in a fight; it has five elevation aiming points within for precise shots.
The red reticle-illumination feature has six levels of brightness that you can cycle on and off sequentially with a knob rather than those awkward buttons you find on a lot of scopes. You can tailor the contrast of the aiming point against the target as circumstances require. In low light, this really helps you get on target. Though I didn’t specifically test for it, the four lower aiming points might well coincide with your desired zeros in different calibers. In any case, you can mark your zeros on the turret knobs; they have 50 MOA of adjustment in 0.75 MOA clicks. The scope weighs 16.5 ounces.
For scope mounting, I used a one-piece Weaver Premium MSR Mount (MSRP: $120). With both rings machined from the same hunk of 7075-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum and a long mounting base that attaches to the top rail with 3,600 pounds of clamping force, this mount is darn near bomb-proof and weighs only 5.7 ounces.
For nighttime defensive capability, I decided on a Crimson Trace CMR-207G Rail Master Pro Universal Green Laser Sight and Tactical Light (MSRP: $250) mounted on the front of the 3-inch section of Picatinny rail included with the Aero Survival Rifle. You can easily toggle this 400-lumen light/laser combo on and off with the supporting hand. On the tail of the same rail, I installed a minimalist, quick-detachable swivel base from Brownells. Why? So I could use a practical, lightweight, friction-buckling two-point sling. The overall weight of these accessories was about half a pound.
Last Stop: Suppression
If those who would do you harm don’t know you’re there, your chances of avoiding confrontation—and your odds of long-term survival—improve. To this end, a suppressor capable of quieting .22 LR, 9mm and .460 Rowland goes a long way toward maintaining stealth.
Lightness, durability and easy maintenance are particularly important in our survival scenario. The super-light titanium suppressors made by TiON Inc. (previously known as Freedom Armory Machine Works) are perfect for this application, featuring Total Breakdown Technology permitting complete disassembly for cleaning. As a bonus, the patented Gas Indexing Technology baffle design allows the rotational orientation of baffles to be readily reconfigured as needed by the user to provide the best noise reduction for their particular barrel length, caliber and ammunition combination.
The TiON Dragoon .450B suppressor (MSRP $1,050) is also a direct thread-on can; so it adds no additional weight or length to the ASR’s barrel. An additional mounting end cap (MSRP: $125) is required, since the ASR’s .460 barrel has a different thread pitch than the 9mm and .22 LR.
You would be surprised at how much the TiON Dragoon .450B will quiet down the smaller calibers. In all cases, it produced ear-safe decibel levels—and often much lower. Though a dedicated caliber-specific suppressor will provide the best noise reduction, it isn’t practical or economically sensible to do it. The total weight of the TiON titanium suppressor and additional mount is 12.5 ounces.
As a point of comparison, my ideal three-guns-in-one ASR, fully equipped with a high-quality suppressor, optics, tactical light and targeting laser, including the bag to carry it all, weighs only 16 pounds, with plenty more room for food, ammo, medicine, etc. Priced at $3,100, it really is lucky that nobody pays retail anymore. For more information, visit tnwfirearms.com.
TNW Aero Survival Rifle Specs
- Caliber: .22 Magnum, .17 HMR, .22 LR, 9mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, 10mm, .460 Rowland
- Barrel: 16.25 inches
- Overall Length: 29.5 inches stock collapsed, 33 inches extended
- Weight: 5.5 pounds (empty)
- Stock: AR-style pistol grip, four-position buttstock
- Sights: None
- Action: Blowback-operated semi-auto
- Finish: Hardcoat anodized aluminum
- Capacity: Varies (uses Glock-pattern magazines)
- MSRP: $699