The year was 1995. Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise was at the top of the charts. Star Trek: Voyager began its long journey to ruin the Star Trek franchise. OJ Simpson stood trial for his poor taste in work gloves. Windows 95 was released. Some stuff blew up around the world. And in the background, a small firearms manufacturing company named Feather Industries closed its doors for good. Their name may be all but forgotten these days, but the guns they left behind are a shining example of how shoddy construction and poor machining can turn a brilliant idea into one of the worst guns I’ve ever fired . . .
The concept of a compact rimfire rifle that can be disassembled for transportation isn’t anything new, even in 1995. The Armalite AR-7 (now produced by Henry) came on the scene in the mid 1950’s and set the standard for “takedown” survival rifles that is still used even today. The folks at Feather Industries wanted to take the concept a step further, making a compact takedown semi-auto .22lr rifle that was cheap, useful, and more compact than even the AR-7. The result is the Feather Industries AT-22.
In general, the design is basically the same as the M3 Grease Gun of WWII fame. A simple direct blowback system is used to cycle the gun, meaning a huge honkin’ bolt and some serious springs are installed in the receiver. The barrel slots into the front of the receiver, and a locking ring screws into place to keep it from ejecting out the front of the gun.
Even at this early stage of assembly we can start to see some issues. The weld that connects the breech with the barrel is inconsistent and lumpy — it looks like a shop class student did it by hand on their first week in school, not like a professional job. That attention to detail works its way into the rest of the gun as well, and gives it a very cheap feeling when you pick it up and handle it.
The concept of an interchangeable barrel system is rather unique for a design from this time period, but the execution is so shoddy that it’s a wonder it worked at all.
When assembled, the wire stock slots into a series of holes in the back of the gun to keep it in place. The stock isn’t very comfortable and doesn’t provide much support. The button on the bottom of the gun actuates a catch system that keeps the stock in place, which is great for keeping the gun assembled but I almost wonder whether it’s better to just forget the stock completely and fire the thing like a pistol. It is certainly light enough to fire one-handed, and the newer editions with a vertical foregrip would make it especially comfortable to shoot.
The sights on the rifle are a standard peep and post setup, but instead of attaching anything to the barrel both the rear and front sight are attached directly to the receiver. That’s handy, since the iron sights are located on the receiver and not the barrel making this setup roughly as accurate as Nancy Grace’s accusations. It’s nice that the rear sight can be easily adjusted for windage because you’re going to be doing that for every range trip.
The fire controls feel like they were a complete afterthought. There’s a safety selector switch that moves forwards and backwards (forward for fire, backwards for safe) but there’s no detent to keep it firmly in either position. It just kinda sits there, more than capable of slowly moving from “fire” to “safe” at any time. There’s also no markings on the gun to tell you which position its in.
Just aft of that safety is the trigger, which is a rather mushy affair. It’s not the best, but it definitely isn’t the worst feature on the gun.
North of the fire controls is the magazine. Made from stamped sheet metal instead of sliced sections of tube (for cheap and easy construction, of course) the magazines slot in using the front of the trigger guard as a guide. The magazine catch is designed to apply enough rearward pressure to keep the magazine from moving out of position but rarely does its job well. There’s some distinct wiggling going on down there, way more than acceptable in any modern firearm.
One thing I did legitimately like was the bolt hold open system. Instead of designing some intricate system worthy of Rube Goldberg’s praise, the folks at Feather Industries simply cut a hole in the receiver and allowed the charging handle to move laterally in the gun. When you want your gun locked open, simply slide the bolt back and press in on the charging handle to make it pop out the other side and catch on the cutout.
That’s a nifty idea that no one else seems to have followed. Probably something about weakening the receiver specifically where your face is right next to it and possibly allowing the burning gasses to shoot into your face in the event of an uncontained failure. Or something.
Testing it out on the range, the gun is rather enjoyable to shoot. Then again, it has the benefit of being a .22lr rimfire rifle — they’re all fun to shoot. Until it starts to jam, that is. The gun malfunctioned more often than a Bethesda game on launch day. The most common problem was a failure to eject turning into a double feed situation, probably caused by a worn extractor or an improperly seated barrel. To be fair this gun has been around longer than Bill Clinton’s secret dry cleaning receipt, but still.
Reliability is terrible, but the accuracy is so-so. Once sighted in (in this case on the little Law Enforcement Targets guy) the rounds will mostly hit their target, but not in a way that is really useful. Good for plinking on the range, but not something I would trust my life to.
On first glance the Feather Industries AT-22 seems like a really neat idea for a relatively cheap to produce gun. The concept of an interchangeable barrel system has only really taken off with the suppressed SBR boom (no pun intended) of the last couple years, making the AT-22 ahead of its time by a full 20 years. A small, lightweight, easy to clean and disassemble gun would have been an ideal thing to buy for new shooters and general plinking on the range. The problem isn’t the design — the problem is the execution. Spotty welding on critical components of the gun make you start to question the safety of the thing as soon as you pull it out of the box. Combine the cheap construction with the cheaply produced fire controls and you have a gun that is destined to live in the same corner of the gun store as Raven Arms‘ complete collection.
The original Feather Industries went out of business in 1995, but they were briefly revived in the early 2000’s. That revived company was similarly short lived, only producing a handful of new firearms this time chambered in 9mm and 45ACP before drifting out of the public eye once more. That’s a shame, because I would absolutely love to see a well executed AT-22 come to the market, Unfortunately for me it seems like the design is cursed to only be produced briefly by the firearms industry equivalent of get rich quick schemes.
Honestly, I love firearms like this. Interesting designs executed with appalling quality that result in a financial and technical failure. Its a much more interesting object — not just another in a long string of successes like the 10/22, but evidence of someone’s hopes and dreams that have come crashing down. You can almost see a parallel to Icarus… if Icarus had made his wings out of lead. That’s the reason I’m looking for a Remington R51 — Big Green demanded I send back the T&E samples and wouldn’t even entertain the idea of accepting cash instead — I enjoy the failures almost as much as the successes. It’s the same reason why I love Mystery Science Theater 3000. Although when I re-watch Manos for the twentieth time there isn’t the distinct possibility that the DVD will explode and blind me permanently…
Specifications (Feather Industries AT-22):
|Sights:||Iron post and peep|
|Barrel Length:||16 in|
Ratings (out of five stars):
Fit, Finish, Build Quality: *
Imagine the kind of build quality you would expect if a middle school shop class tried to make a firearm. Now lower your expectations a little. There you go.
There are very few examples of this gun to begin with, and even fewer actually wanting to use it often enough to swap out parts.
Accuracy: * *
I’d buy it, but that’s because I like quirky and novel guns even if they don’t work. If you actually intend to shoot it then you probably should look elsewhere.