14 November 2013

The Weapons of Science Fiction: The M41A1 Pulse Rifle

There are some weapons that become icons of the genre they appear in, transforming into touchstones of design and setting, and influencing new generations of weapon designs. In 1986, such a weapon emerged in the sequel to ALIEN, that science fiction weapons was the M41A1 Pulse Rifle of United States Colonial Marines, and from that point on, it became a legend in the eyes of sci-fi culture. Since the founding of FWS in 2010, we have discussed many weapons of science fiction, and I decided that it was high time that we discuss, in depth, certain iconic weapons of the genre. I think it is only fitting that the first Weapons of Science Fiction blogpost, that we examine one my favorite sci-fi guns from my one of favorite sci-fi films. The bulk of information comes from the 1996 ALIENS: Colonial Marines Technical Manual by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood. www.m41a.com, xenopedia, and alienscollection.com

The Fictional Data on the M41A1 Pulse Rifle
  • Manufacturer: Armat Battlefield Systems
  • Model: M41A1
  • Type: Carbine
  • Year Adopted: 2171
  • Place of Origin: United States of America
  • Length (inches): 27.36 (stock retracted) 33.07 (stock extended)
  • Weight: 10.8lbs fully loaded
  • Ammunition: 10x24mm caseless
  • Variants: M41, M41E2, M41A/2, M41A1 Mk.2, M39 SMG
  • Feeding System: 99-round detachable box magazine
  • Fire Models and Rate: Four round burst and Full Auto at 900 RPM
  • Operation: Rotating breech, electronic pulse action
  • Grenade Launcher: Armat U1-GL 30x71mm 
  • Range: 2,100 meters (max.) 500 meters (effective)
  • Used by: US Colonial Marines, US Army, and Weyland-Yutani PMC

The Fictional History of the M41A1 Pulse Rifle
The Armat M41A1 pulse rifle grew out of a time of great change for the United States Colonial Marine Corps. Beginning in the 2160's, after the bloody conflict over the Linna 349 and Tientsin (8 Eta Bootis A III), it was clear that it was time for change in strategy and tactical doctrine based on the experiences born out of those colonial conflicts. That came in the sweeping "Marine 70" program. The M56 Smart Gun and the M41A1 pulse rifle grew out of that program. With Marine 70 emphasis on rapid deployment, tactical flexibility on-planet, and all of this led to an replacement for the old Harrington Automatic Rifle that served in the colonial conflicts of the 2160's for a smaller weapon with greater firepower. However, the Harrington Automatic Rifle was not completely forgotten, it shares some design and technological similarities with the M41A1. During low-intensity conflicts on Helene 215 (82 Eridani II), the Colonial Marines used their new M41A1s and M56 Smart Guns for the first time in active combat operations, along with the doctrine of Marine 70.
Until 2179, the M41A1 was used throughout the network for colonial protection operations, Marshall Law Implementation operations, low-intensity warfare, xeno-culling, and colonial emergency investigations. During a routine investigation of a downed colonial transmitter on Weyland-Yutani corporate colony Hadley's Hope on LV426, the Colonial Marine unit was engaged by an xeno-species unlike anything seen on over 300 surveyed worlds, a incredible hostile, intelligent species that was a direct threat to the survival of mankind. It was during this period that another threat among the stars was finally confirmed, the Yautja. Due to these threats, the pulse rifle was modified to counter the threat faced by Marines by these xeno-hunters. Various attachment rails, increased armor penetration with new ammunition, and upgraded sensor equipment were all used to upgrade the pulse rifle. Not only was the M41A1 and its variants in service with the Colonial Marines and US Army, but with various allied nations and corporations. It was also during this period that Armat sold the M41 series to a number of deep space mining companies, due to likelihood of encounters with Xenomorphs and Yautja. During this expansion period, the M41 series became the most common weapon in service. However, successors would replace the M41 series after decades of service.
The Known Variants of the M41A1 Pulse Rifle

The M41
Given the name of the pulse rifle being an "A1", it seems logically that there was a original M41 that it some way, is different than the current issue M41A1 pulse rifle. Much like with the United States M4 carbine, the original M4 of the late 1990's, was issued in semi-auto and three-round burst and with a carrying handle. while the M4A1 is fully automatic and is issued in a flattop configuration. This seems to be true of the predecessor to the M41A1 seen in ALIENS. The original M41 was fired mainly in bursts, but jammed under fully automatic fire, along with issues with the integrated grenade launcher. Quickly after these issues were discovered, the M41 was replaced with the M41A1. This variant was seen in the 1999 Aliens versus Predator PC game with the first Colonial Marine units on LV426.

In the abortion that was the Gearbox/Sega ALIENS: Colonial Marines video game, another variant of the pulse rifle is seen in the events just after the 1986 movie, the M39 SMG/PDW. In the game, this compact Armat built weapon is mainly seen in the hands of Weyland-Yutani corporate warriors, and seems patterned after the M41 pulse rifle series, but fires a different, lower powered round, but at a much higher rate of fire. Originally, this SMG/PDW was going to be called the M3A. 

The M41A MK. 2

In the 2013 Gearbox/Sega video game, ALIENS: Colonial Marines, the iconic pulse rifle returns as the main weapon of the rescue squad of marines onboard the USS Sephora. The change from the M41A1 to the M41A Mk.2 is a smaller frame, and smaller magazine, only housing 40 instead of 99, and attachment rail systems, allowing for all manner of goodies.
Here is one of my bitches with this gun, is why the frak did Gearbox and Sega add a variant of the M41A1 to this game and why the hell is it called the "mark 2"? Mk. 2 is not the right military terminology for this type of weapon, M41A2 would have more correct, and why did they just render the good old M41A1 into the game?

In the 2010 Sega/Rebellion ALIENS vs. Predator game, the Colonial Marine faction on BG-386 is seen used another variant of the pulse rifle, the M41A/2. The events of the game unfold in 2209 and shows an upgraded M41A1, the A/2 designed specifically around countering the threats facing humanity, the Xenomorphs and the Yautija with new armor piercing 10mm rounds, and iron sights.

In the 1990 Earth War comic and the 1992 Earth Hive book, the new M41E was seemingly developed after the Xenomporh take over of Earth in 2190's. The "E" was more compact than the M41A1, with greater effective range, 500 meters, with a much hated shitty sight grenade launcher. More was made over this variant in the novelization than the shitty Dark Horse comic. Note: the M41E was badly drawn in the comic with little detail, and was parred with the ridiculous Duchamp Blaster in the comics. What a dark time for us ALIENS fans.

One of the "official" variants of the M41A1, is mentioned in the 1996 ALIENS: Colonial Marines Technical Manual, the E2 squad automatic weapon. It seems that 2179, the USCM was testing this variant in limited numbers with rifle platoons and recon units. E2 was designed around a support role, and  was stripped of its PN U1 grenade launcher in favor of a heavier, longer barrel, with an bipod and different stock, all topped off with a 300 round drum and an enhanced loader. Why would the Colonial Marines need an SAW variant of the pulse rifle instead of using the M56 Smart Gun? As we've seen on-screen, the Smart Gun is a pig in CQC and on special missions, the E2 could be answer to the unwieldy nature of the M56, specially on low-profile missions.

What Does the M41A1 Pulse Rifle Say about the Colonial Marines?
The primary weapon of any military is an important decision. Wars and the fates of nations have been decided on by the small arms that their soldiers carried into battle. Hitler delayed the adoption of the StG-44 into the German Army until the war was basic over, but what if he hadn't? Would we all be speaking German right now? During the Vietnam War, the mistakes with the M16 cost the lives of soldiers. So, what does the M41A1 pulse rifle reflect about the Colonial Marine Corps of 2179? I think a great deal. The mission of the CMC is to be United States' force-in-readiness to answer crisis situations throughout the colonial network of the USA, her allies, and aligned corporations.
With the CMC needing to be a rapid deploy force that operates light-years beyond their homebase, the size and capability of the pulse rifle makes sense. Marine rapid-response units would be deployed from motherships in orbit, to planetside via dropships, and then transported to the on-world battlefield via APCs, all are compact interior space. This is why the pulse rifle is a compact carbine weapon and not a full-sized battle rifle. Marine operations in colonial settlements are often within the close quarters combat situation, also allowing for the compact size of the pulse rifle to be correct, along with the 90+ rounds in a single magazine, nothing is worse that a tapped-out magazine during cramped warfare situations.
Speaking of the large ammunition size, that also explains how far the Colonial Marine units operate from their homebase. If your basic infantry weapon holds over 90 rounds, it means less resupply operations, and that the pulse rifle can be used for covering fire, and not just the machine gun, given the limited number of marines that could be deployed to the exo-planetary front. This is seen in the inclusion of a grenade launcher on every pulse rifle, more firepower for the units that are rushed to the frontier combat sites, where heavier fire support maybe lacking. 10mm explosive tip caseless. standard light-armor piercing round" also makes sense. All soldiers of 2179 would be wearing some sort of ballistic protection (nearly all do today), and the M309 round would be used as standard due to this fact. Overall, the pulse rifle seems to fit well within the fictional world of Colonial Marines and the conditions seen in 2179. This speaks to all of those involved with the design of the M41A1 pulse rifle for the 1986 film.
In addition, with combat in 2179 being not just on atmospheric standard worlds, the ability of the pulse rifle using caseless ammunition makes also makes sense as well, because caseless weapons are more "sealable" against hostile environmental conditions, like lunar dust. In these hostile environmental conditions on the over 300 surveyed worlds within the network vary greater, along with indigenous xeno-species, hostile to the colonial efforts. The pulse rifles standard M309 10x24mm caseless round allows for maximum damage to any hostile alien lifeform. When combat in 2179 is between two military organizations, the standard issue ammunition of the M41A1 being the M309 "

Cashing in on the Pulse Rifle's Popularity
Given that the pulse rifle was featured in one of the best science fiction film of all time, it is going to be used by a great deal of creators for inspiration and out-in-out ripping off. This is to be expected. However, there are several examples from the official ALIENS  universe that use the pulse rifle in a way to connect their lesser work to the film. Two of the best examples I can think of is the "storm rifle" from Prometheus and the Mega-pulse "Duchamp blaster" rifle from 1990 comic ALIENS: Earth War. Okay, according to the official  Weyland Industries website, their "Storm Rifle" was onboard the USCSS Prometheus when it left for LV-223, and has of this advanced tactical equipment and abilities in a rifle that weights in at 2.86lbs.. Of course, the only weapons we did see in the film were the sci-fi themed Benelli M3T Super 90 and Walther GSP Expert .32 pistol. I'm not sure why this website decided to connect Prometheus to ALIENS with this oddball gun. Are they trying to say that Weyland Industries is the origin of this iconic gun? Because if that is true, than Armat is a satellite company of Weyland...or something. My guess that Prometheus is trying to connect one aspect of their film to ALIENS. Given what the Storm Rifle looks like...could the Storm Rifle be in the upcoming Prometheus 2?
The pulse rifle appears many time in the pages of various Dark Horse ALIENS comics, sometimes in its normal form, and other times in close approximation. However, one of the worst comic book appearance was in 1990's ALIENS: Earth War. The motley crew of various personnel onboard Gateway Station that attempt to bring the mother superior queen back from the Xenomorph homeworld are carrying this massive, deformed pulse rifle-looking weapons that were called blasters in the comic with 500 round magazines. The size of these blasters were somewhere in the range of five-feet long, based on adult Newt's frame. Was this an attempt by a bad comic to connect this rag-tag group to the Colonial Marines from ALIENS?

The Historical Context of the M41A1 Pulse Rifle
Let me say this, James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd are brilliant filmmarkers and know their firearms, because at the time of the filming of ALIENS, caseless ammunition was seen as the next big thing in military firearms. Around this time, 1985-86, the German arms manufacturer, Hecker & Koch were in final stages of development of the G11, and some firearm experts believed once the West German military converted to caseless, it could start more NATO nations converting over to the futuristic ammunition. During the writing of  ALIENS, Cameron must have known about this and the possible bright future of caseless ammunition. Also around this time, the US Army was exploring the next-generation replacement for the aging M16 assault rifle with the Advanced Combat Rifle evaluation program. Out of the four assault rifles tested, two were fitted with caseless ammunition, reinforcing the perception of caseless ammunition being the future military small-arms. Sadly, within only a few years, caseless ammo was dead, and the M16 still being used.
Another element of the M41a1 pulse rifle that was popular at the time of ALIENS was assault rifle underslung grenade launchers. During the Vietnam War, underslung 40mm grenade launchers were becoming the standard replacement of the old M79 "blooper" grenade launcher, and early on, these new type of grenade launchers like the XM203 were equipment of the elite Given their tactical flexibility, some believed that every assault rifle would be fitted with grenade launcher. Today, with modular firearms like the M4A1, and new lighter grenade launchers, like the M320, it seems that maybe Cameron was just ahead of his time with firearms development.
One design element one the pulse rifle that was a symbol of the time, was the carrying handle. Weapons like the M16, FAMAS, and SA80 assault rifles all had carrying handles, a feature which as since disappeared in favor of attachment rails. Lastly, the size of the pulse rifle is also indicative of a trend at the time of the film, smaller weapons=elites. During the 1980's, weapons like the UZI and MP5 submachine guns were viewed as cool guns used by the elites of the police and military forces. Thus, the size of the M41a1 could have been a nod to this popular conception of firearms of the time. Given that the Colonial Marines were mentioned to be an elite military unit, the idea of these space marines using compact weaponry would have been in-sync with the thinking of the time.

The Story of the M41a1 Pulse Rifle 
From information I was able to gather from various sources, including some of the scripts, it seems that James Cameron (given his hands-on nature), christened the weapon and the unique type of ammo early on. Cameron even laid out the basic design for the weapon with his own concept art, allowing for Terry English and Simon Atherton to have a frame of reference as they moved forward on the blank-firing prop weapon, however, Cameron had full control over design. At first, Cameron believed that the H&K MP5 with the original straight "waffle" 1970's magazine (instead of the later standard curved) would be the gun under the sci-fi mask, however, the 9mm blank ammo would not product the muzzle flash desired. It was during this time, and confirmed by vintage video, that the armorers tested several other weapon that were fired reliability on full-auto with blank rounds. In the end, the military Thompson M1a1 was chosen. Some sources on the internet believe that due to the use of the .45 ACP instead of the 9mm, the spend shell casing were easier to spot on-screen, when the M41A1 was supposed to be caseless. This is most noticeable during the escape through ventilation tunnels. Back in 1986, there was no way to digitally erase them.
During filming, about five to six armorers were employed from the British prop and armory company, Bapty & Co, and they were totally responsible for the weapons. Loading and cocking the weapons were done by the Bapty people, along with cleaning, which was a chore due to the extra bits on the prop. One issue with the prop was the weight, film armorer Simon Atherton called the weight of the prop sci-fi gun "extreme", and it was even more noticeable when Sigourney Weaver used the flamethrower and the pulse rifle taped together, along with carrying Carrie (Newt) Henn out of the hive. During some scenes, a dummy or mock-up "diet" weight M41a1 was used. After the film ended, most of the M41a1 pulse rifles were broken down into their original components, save of one. When the pulse rifle was needed again for Alien 3 in 1991, Bapty & Co. used the remaining prop to forge vac-formed casing, and painted black per the request of the production crew. In 1993, the "ALIENS War Experience" was opened in London, allowing people to experience combat in colonial complex corridors of LV-426 with actors in Colonial Marine dress and armed with pulse rifles and pistols, completed with other actors in Xenomorph warrior suits. This was the last official use of the pulse rifle after the ALIENS War Experience closed in 1996 until a brief run in 2008 and 2009. Over the years, various official props of the pulse rifle have been sold or displayed, and one is in the achieves of Bapty & Co. In 2012, Profiles in History auction house sold one of the official pulse rifle props from ALIENS, with an estimated value of $40,000 to $60,000...more than my wife and I's cars put together!

The Prop of the M41A1 
Under the very cool science fiction exterior of the M41a1, there is three iconic real-steel weapons...well, parts of them anyways. The main body of the gun, and the 10mm rifle portion is the military version of the .45 Thompson SMG, the M1a1. This was chosen over the 9mm MP5 due to the muzzle flash that Cameron wanted for onscreen, plus an reliability of the .45 blank ammunition on fully automatic fire. If you examine the pulse rifle up close, you can see the Thompson SMG cocking handle, and grip still there, however, the wood stock was stripped off, in favor of the retractable metal stock.
The PN UD-1 30mm grenade launcher is a cut-down Remington 870 shotgun. Only 15 inches of the original shotgun was used for the fictional launcher, and portions of another iconic shotgun, the Franchi SPAS-12 was used for the pump handgrip and shroud. According to the ALIENS DVD, this portion of the pulse rifle was the most difficult, due to the amount cut off to make the look function for the pumping action. The other bits of M41a1 exterior were custom handmade constructions by an British manufacturer that specialized in aluminium racing car bodies. One issue that faced the actors using the pulse rifle was the weight.
The Thompson M1a1 is a heavy gun, and adding metal piece and 15inchs of shotgun didn't helpe. According to some sources, there was a "diet" variant for Sigourney Weaver to use during the Newt rescue attempt. Unlike most of the current crop of airsoft, replicas, and paintball guns, the original pulse rifle props for the shoot were not OD green, but rather a brown hue that appeared OD due to the lights used during filming. It is believed that eight pulse rifles were constructed for the shoot in 1986, and a few drifted to ALIEN 3 and the ALIEN War Experience in London. It is believed that only the "Alpha rifle" survived after the film completely intact, but given the popularity, some were reconstructed.

What Do Those Pulse Rifles Fire?
When you watch ALIENS for the first time, you would be blamed for not understanding what kind of weapon the M41a1 is...laser blaster or slug thrower. Even the first time the weapon is fired, after Newt makes her first appearance, you still are not certain. However, when marines investigated the colonists'm location at the atmosphere processor, you are given the specific information: "10mm explosive tipped casleess. Standard light armor piercing round." According to the 1996 ALIENS: Colonial Marine Technical Manual, the round is specifically the M309 10x24mm, which is the same size as the 10mm Auto pistol round that was popular in the mid-80's, and was seen on Miami Vice.
Of course, it wasn't a pistol round that was being fired out of the barrel of the pulse rifle. Much like the first real-world MILSPEC caseless rifle, the H&K G11, most of the bullet is the projectile, and is devoid of the full-sized casing that houses the propellant. In casless rounds, the sabot is encompassed by the propellant. Instead of the standard NATO rifle round of 5.56x45mm, the G11 rifle fired 4.73x33mm. This could be true with the M41a1 10x24mm rounds. I do think that the 99 rounds per magazine is too much for the magazines seen on-screen, the G11 held 45-50 rounds, and magazine was very long, and not similar to M1 Thompson magazine used on the movie set.

That Unique Sound Effect of the Pulse Rifle
In most movies/TV shows/video games, the sound effects associated with the firearms are often modified from the real-steel weapon, or all together changed. In reality, the M41a1 firing blank .45 ACP round from an M1 Thompson, however the sound effect heard on screen is very different. According to the film, the pulse rifle fires 10mm caseless ammunition ignited by an electrical change powered by an internal sources...could that explain the interesting noise? I do believe that James Cameron wanted something interesting and futuristic for the pulse rifle sound effect, and worked hard on achieving that. From various sources, Cameron worked for two days on the sound effect for the weapon alone. What the sound effect was culled from, I'm not certain, and nor can I find any information on it.

Could You Make a Pulse Rifle in the Real World?
When you see such an badass sci-fi weapon, like the pulse rifle, than your mind wonders if it would be possible to take out evildoers with such a weapon today. The truth is that there is nothing terrible revolutionary about the weaponry technology that is showcased in the M41A1. When Cameron was writing the script, we know that West German military was experimenting with caseless ammunition, and most believed that it was the future of military small arms.
Recently, the US Army experimented (then cancelled) with the H&K XM29 OICW that featured a magazine-fed micro-grenade launcher with a normal assault rifle system. The XM29 OICW is most likely the closest military weapon to the pulse rifle today. Even the "pulse" electronic firing system of the M41A1, that was used over percussion caps and has been used in the Austrian Voere VEC-91 casless rifle from 1991. The advanced light-weight material used in the M41A1 construction, titanium aluminide is presently being used in GE engines for Boeing aircraft. Some fans have even constructed 9mm firing prop weapons with shotgun attachments.There is one element that we could not construct today if we build a pulse rifle, the 99 round capability magazine. The prop guns of the film used the standard 20 round .45 ACP Thompson stick magazine from WWII, and the only MILSPEC caseless weapon, the G11, only held 45 rounds of 4.73x33mm, not 10x24mm, and it's magazine was about 21 inches. It is likely that realistically, the M41A1 would have only chambered around 30 to 40 rounds from what we saw on-screen.

The Impact and Legacy of the M41A1 Pulse Rifle
There is a reason why the M41A1 pulse rifle appears in so many works, why props of all type and price-point are sold everyday, and why geeks like me still write about a fictional gun from an sci-fi movie from the 1980's....because the M41A1 pulse rifle is one of the most iconic and influential sci-fi weapons of all time...not just in the realm of science fiction. Given that ALIENS was one in of the most successful films of all time, it allowed the pulse rifle to received wide scale attention. For many of us, the pulse rifle was the introduction to caseless ammunition, establishing the current trend of bullets being cool again in science fiction, grenade launchers on sci-fi guns, and realistic/function designs in sci-fi weaponry. With this massive impact allowed for sci-fi creators to insert their own guns inspirited by the pulse rifle into their own works. Weapons like the Call of Duty: Black Ops: II Peacekeeper, the Starship Troopers Morita rifles, the StA-52 assault rifle from Killzone, and some of the UNSC weaponry from the HALO universe are all the children of the pulse rifle.
But it was not just sci-fi writers and creators that took the lessons of the pulse rifle to heart, gun manufacturers and the military also saw something in the M41A1. In the 1990's the US Army, Alliant Techsystems, and Heckler & Koch embarked on a joint project, the XM29 OICW. Much like the pulse rifle, the XM29 had an integrated micro-grenade launcher, a convention assault rifle, and advanced targeting systems. Why are we talking about a cancelled gun from 2005? The pulse rifle was mentioned by the development team behind the OICW as a source of inspiration. Now, that is impressive for a gun from a sci-fi/horror movie!

Where Else Have We Seen the M41A1 Pulse Rifle?

ALIEN 3 (1992)
In the last few minutes of ALIEN 3, elite corporate military units from Weyland-Yutani, known as the commandos, appear at the Fiorina 161 prison complex to retrieve the alien specimen and they are armed with M41a1 pulse rifles. Instead of the brown paint scheme that appeared green under the light as in ALIENS, these pulse rifles are pure black. From an interview with ALIENS armourer Simon Atherton, he stated that were was only a single surviving  M41a1 prop gun from the movie that wasn't stripped down to its original parts after filming was completed. When it came time for the third ALIEN movie, Atherton vac-formed casings of the pulse rifle, this time in black, and also repainted the sole survivor hero prop gun in black as well. They were only seen on screen for a few minutes, and they were fired even less. One interesting note is that unique sound of the pulse rifle was altered for the third film. This would mark the last time the pulse rifle was seen in an ALIEN movie.

ALIENS: Colonial Marines Video Game (2013)
In an attempt to bring "weight" to the first person shooter experience of the new game, Sega wanted Gearbox to channel Call of Duty for the behind-the-gun action that this shaped the pulse rifle seen in-game. Instead of a 99 round magazine, it was cut down to 40, similar to most military shooter games of today, and allowing the player who are on the xenomorph side to have a fighting change. Also, given the level of weapon customization, Gearbox allowed the Mk.2 pulse rifle to have a range of options with attachments to be fitted. Over all, this pulse rifle is a victim of its time, but does use the original sounds of the gun being fired.

The Aliens vs. Predator Games (1994-2010)
Since the 1990's, Colonial Marines, Xenomorphs, and Yautija have been battling across platforms and digital settings. In most of these games, the Colonial Marines are seen with variants of the M41A1 pulse rifle, and for many of us, this was the first pulse rifle we got our hands on! For me, the 1994 ATARI Jaguar game was my first pulse rifle, however, the vast majority of these games did not feature the unique shot of the pulse rifle being fired.

The ALIENS: Extermination Arcade Game (2006)
In 2006, Global VR designed a Colonial Marines verse Xenomorphs shoot-em up arcade game with lightgun controllers modeled after the M41A1 pulse rifle! This is also one of the rare games that does include the original sound of the pulse rifle firing. Overall, this is an enjoyable shooter game, and one I've played here and there during events. It would have been cool if there had been an LED ammo counter though...

Various Dark Horse ALIENS Comic Book Appearances (1989-Today)
Since the beginning of the Dark Horse comics set in the ALIENS unvierse, there have been various takes on the familiar pulse rifle. During the original comics released in 1988, the Colonial Marines and other forces were seen using "blasters" and then bouncing back to bullet-firing assault rifles. During the second series, Hicks had a M41A1ish pulse rifle with only a few rounds, like five. After they arrived at General Spears' off-world colonial military base, the military personnel were seen using weapons similar to the pulse rifles, complete with LED ammo counters, but most used traditional cased ammunition. For years, some artists would develop their "style" of weapon, normally firing a bullets and ejecting casings, or they would use plasma rifles or other DEW systems. During the recent ALIENS vs. Predator: Three World War, the human miners break out M41A1ish pulse rifles to defend themselves. Even the Colonial Marines that show up are using the more movie version of the pulse rifle.

The Running Man  Poster (1987)
The Running Man is one of Schwarzenegger's most interesting and often forgot about films. In the film, Ben Richards is a cop that refused to fire on rioting civilians, and was locked away in a work camp. During a prison break, Ben gets his hands on one of the guard's Colt Commando shorty carbine, and during the big shootout in the end of the film, he uses an H&K HK94 9mm. However, this Spanish movie poster depicts Arnold using an M41a1 pulse rifle-like assault rifle, complete with massive barrel shroud or suppressor. This gun appears no where in the film, and it seems that the artist hired for this poster was clearly channeling the ALIENS Colonial Marine weapon.

The G-Police: Weapons of Justice (1999)
These original Playstation games were set around 2097 on the human colony on the Jupiter moon of Callisto during a battle between gangs, mega-corporations, and the Government Police that used VTOL assault craft. I played the first one during its release in 1997, and found it to be an enjoyable game, and a sequel was released in 1999 were you control vehicles and VTOL craft during off-world street battles. In the climatic FMV sequences and cover art, the soldiers of G-Police are seen using an M41A1 pulse rifle! The gun, as far as I know, was never fired on-screen...I guess it was just someone who loved the pulse rifle, and wanted in their work.

Bubblegum Crisis and A.D. Police (1987)
In the dangerous streets of Neo-Toyko in the 2030's and 2040's, the normal police relay on a specialized unit of cops devoted to battle crimes committed by the synthetic lifeforms, called Boomers, build by the mega-corporation of Genom. One of the tools that the AD Police use is there standard small arm rifle, the Misaki Arms M42A1 short machine gun.
On page 128 of the official BGC RPG manual it lists the M42A1 firing 10mm "brass-cased" rounds from a boxed magazine holding 66 rounds and fires at 850 rounds per minute. Unlike the ALIENS pulse rifle, the M42A1 uses traditional ammunition (I was wrong in my caseless weapon blogpost from some months back...will correct it) and has an integrated laser-slight and an underslung shotgun. In the A.D. Police manga, the M42A1 is an bullpup weapon that fires cased rounds that eject from a top port on rear of the weapon.The gun would appear in various episodes of the original Bubblegum Crisis and in the A.D. Police anime series, and the A.D. Police manga.Overall, the AD Police M42A1 is a thinly veiled reference (or direct copy) of the iconic M41A1, and while it fits within the BGC universe, it is a little too close for comfort. There is little doubt that people behind BSG and A.D. Police are big ALIENS fans. From the "borrowed" mechanical sound effects of the doors and motors, to the M41A1 pulse rifle for the AD Police officers.

Real Buddy (2007?)
The website www.m41a.com had a director of a German sci-fi comedy called "real buddy" reach out them and explained that the production crew intended to mimic the pulse rifle for their sci-fi weapon. This looks close to the iconic weapon, but with some changes.

The Simpsons??? (2002)
We all know that The Simpson's liberally borrows from everything under sun, but the pulse rifle from ALIENS? Really?! In the 2002 episode, "The Lastest Gun in the West", Bart meets alcoholic and washed-up Cowboy actor named Buck McCoy. When Buck is at his lowest, there is a bank robbery, and the police, per normal, are outgunned. The robbers, including Snake are armed with what appears to be pulse rifles and wearing ballastic vests. Of course, the high-tech weaponry is defeated by a lasso wielded by Buck getting his groove back. Wow, that is likely the worst thing I've written on FWS. Bottom line, pulse rifles in The Simpsons.

Excel Saga (1999)
In this oddball anime series based on an oddball manga series, has an appearence by the M41A1 pulse rifle and the Xenomorphs in all of their glory in episode seven. With diving into this series, it seems that the 7th episode deals with horror movies, and that is "logically" why the pulse rifle and the alien appear in the anime. Whatever.

Archer "space Race Part 1" and Ben 10 
In the FX animated comedy-action series Archer, the 3rd season finale featured weapons that were similar to the pulse rifle topped off with LED ammo counters. These are actually interesting and well-done design that riff off of the basic pulse rifle design. Archer pulse rifle also remainds me if a pulse rifle and a Morita rifle had a drunken one-nighter...

Terminator: The Burning Earth (1990)
One of the single best Terminator comics was released in 1990 by NOW comics, the Burning Earth with amazing watercolor art by Alex Ross. This is how all Terminator comics should look. Anyways, the familiar plasma rifles seen in the films are replaced with Skynet plasma rifles that look very close in design to the iconic  M41A1...even complete with LED ammo counters! This was not just seen in the pages of the limited series, but also when the comic was being promoted by NOW at the comic store and in their own pages. There in bold art with glowing numbers was the Skynet pulse rifle. Even back then, I wondered why NOW comic would use the pulse rifle for their weapon designs. Even to this day, I've never heard why NOW decided to use the pulse rifle.

A Few Other Random Appearances That I Don't Want to Talk About...


  1. you're forgetting the C&C Renegade's Raptor automatic rifle! it may not be an exact copy, but it's almost there ;)
    check it out right here http://media.moddb.com/cache/images/mods/1/9/8709/thumb_620x2000/arwip47sr5.jpg

  2. The OICW was a weird weapon... as I recall the 25mm micro-grenade launcher was designed to fire airburst grenades that would detonate after lobbing over whatever the target was using as cover, wasn't it?

    It's kind of funny they put the electronic round counter with 99 rounds on the M41A prop... it draws attention to the fact that guns always have infinite magazines in movies. It would be a remarkable feat of engineering to cram 99 rounds into a magazine that size, even with compact caseless rounds stuffed into something like a coffin magazine. Maybe if you had an electromagnetic weapon firing 5mm metal BBs or something you could begin thinking about fitting that many shots in a single magazine.

    You can get a beta-drum for an AR-15 rifle that will hold 100 rounds, but they are kind of bulky and not necessarily good for your rifle's magazine well. Not sure if they are reliable, either. AKs have those 75 round drums. I suspect all of these make your rifle a real pain to heft all day!

    I think that the weirdest round tested during the ACR program were the duplex rounds fired by the Colt ACR... two rounds stuffed in one long-necked cartridge. The whole idea was to increase the number of projectiles fired, which studies had concluded where the primary determiner of battle casualties. Not exactly pleasant to think about.

    Oh, and by the way, have you seen the episode of "Universe" on Space Wars? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBhEra_abCY

    They mention "rods from god", powerful lasers, nukes in space and EMPs, railguns firing relativistic projectiles, and last but not least space dogfighting (with some rather amusing cube-shaped fighters). Not very in-depth but I always get a kick out of seeing astronomers I know for their educational work going on about blowing stuff up in space with lasers. :D

  3. FWS will be covering the XM29 OICW in a Forgotten Weapons, and it is one of the more interesting weapons of the modern military. Those airburst grenade are nasty!
    I think that 99 rounds is way too much,especially when you examine the H&K G11. Those beta mags jam, like most drum magazine that are not link ammo...I wonder why? The beta c mag was developed to counter those issues. Of course, they always work in the films!
    Those duplex rounds were a cool idea, I've thought about including them in one my own sci-fi stories!
    Thanks for the video link! Will be watching this one on my day off, and will add to my resources!

  4. I have three observations to add:

    1: A:CM was not THAT bad, at least on the PC release, which was more or less free of the bugs that seemingly plagued the various console versions.

    2: The Weyland Corporation coming up with the original pulse rifle doesn't necessarily make Armat a subsidiary of Weyland-Yutani, going by the real-world precedent of Steyr Mannlicher selling the TMP to Br├╝gger & Thomet.

    3: In A:CM, one of the very first Easter Egg weapons to be found is Hudson's pulse rifle, which maintains the original prop's rail-less design and 99-round magazine, so if one wishes, one can play through the majority of the game wielding a screen-accurate M41.

  5. Thanks for the information! I have not yet bought the game, and most of my intel was relaying on youtube videos. That is a good point about the TMP SMG! I still maintain that its a dick move to rope in the M41 into the Prometheus movie. When I do play the game, I will try to use Hudson's rifle....thanks for the tip!

  6. Can't recall the source of this, but I understand the sound of the M41a firing was achieved by pulsing butane across a spark gap. Having played with lit bunsen burners in science class at school (who hasn't!!) and remembering the "burp", this may be correct.

  7. WOW! Thanks for the intel! I hope it is true, the unique report of the M41a1 was always a mystery to me and no one I knew understood where it came from. You also have a much more interesting science class than I did. I will update the blogpost with your information!

  8. I just noticed when I was firing a g36 at the range that it really looks familiar to the pulse rifle.

  9. Read in some technically astute publication (my memory says "Cannons" published by Brassey's) that the reason they're called "Pulse" rifles is that they're in fact Electro-Thermal Chemical (ETC) Guns.
    That is, instead of percussion to initiate primer detonation, a "Pulse" of plasma detonates the primer and/or initiates deflagration of the propellant charge.
    The advantage here is that instead of a short peak pressure impulse, whereas with ETC peak pressure is maintained at a plateau for a longer period. Thus, higher muzzle velocity for a given powder charge.
    At least that's how it was explained to me. ETC and caseless ammo would make a sensible combination (if caseless didn't have it's own awful issues, but Cameron certainly wouldn't have know that in the mid-1980s)
    My 2 cents. Really great article and look forward to reading more of your blog.

  10. If I had my hands on a pulse rifle like the M41A Pulse rifle I'd test it on the range first and use it as a home defense weapon

  11. I'd relish the opportunity to use the M41A Pulse rifle as a home defense rifle

  12. There's an anime from the late 80s or very early 90s called M.D. Geist Death Force(has a certain ring to it,eh?) and in the initial opening the title character uses two pulse rifles akimbo style to fend off some giant killbots. it's worth a watch as long as you can handle some 80s style cheese.

  13. Such a nice blog and I appreciate your all efforts about your thoughts. It’s really good work. well done.

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