October 21, 2020
By Vincent L. DeNiro, Editor
I became familiar with TNW many years ago. It was known for specialty items like its semi-auto MG-34 and semi-auto Browning 1919 belt-feds, as well as a modernization up-grade kit for semi- or full-auto 1919s called the M230. I ended up buying the M230 kit for my full-auto 1919 and nicknamed it “the Poor-Man’s M240.”
When TNW introduced the Aero Survival Rifle, I became interested, as the survivalist in me really takes a liking to anything that is multi-caliber capable, semi-auto, and has take-down features—the Aero has all three. The Aero is also available in a pistol version, and since, once again, we can place arm braces against our shoulders for stability, these would be great as a self-defense gun.
Let’s talk about survival for a bit. This issue of Firearms News is about hunting with MSRs, and hunting is something that any prepper or survivalist needs to have in his or hers quiver of skills. Can a pistol-caliber carbine feed your family in an emergency or only provide a snack for one? Well, Firearms News put the TNW Aero Survival Rifle to the test, and I picked the best guy I knew for the job: my son Matthew. He is a terrific hunter and has been shooting since he was about three or four years old.
One thing you will notice about the Aero is that the lower receiver, specifically around the trigger guard, is a bit similar to an AR-15, but scaled down a bit. I’m not sure of the reason for this, but it does contribute to the firearm’s compact design as a take-down. When I sent my son in the woods with the Aero, he was 13 years old, and the scaled-down size fit him better even though he has had no issues with his AR-15 (and has been shooting that since he was about five years old). I chose the 10mm, as I wanted a cartridge that would take a deer but not something that would take my son out of the hunt like a .45-70.
You see, we are in Ohio, and straight-walled rifle cartridges were just approved in 2014, for deer; before that it was shotgun slug only for a long arm. Matthew already had a few seasons with a .410-chambered AR-15 (see Scot Loveland’s article on the ATI Omni .410 AR-15 in this issue) and wanted to try something other than a shotshell slug. For the first couple of years of the new straight-walled-rifle cartridge law, the regulations cited specific cartridges only and many were rare, uncommon, almost obsolete, and mostly lever-action and/or single-shot calibers such as: .357 Maximum, .375 Super Magnum, .38-55, .45-110, .50-70, .50-110, etc. Sure, there were more common cartridges listed, like the .45 Long Colt, .44 Magnum, and .45-70, but I was looking for something in semi-auto and/or something that wouldn’t break either of my sons’ shoulders.
The part of Ohio that we hunt is near the West Virginia border and is hilly and heavily wooded, not only with trees, but also with thickets. Most shots are at 40 yards or less—a fast follow-up shot is really necessary in most cases, as deer can start to disappear just by running 10 feet deeper into the woods. The .45 Winchester Magnum was also on this early list, but there were no semi-auto rifles for this caliber, with the exception of M-1 Carbine conversions from the 1980s, and if these conversions were not done on a GI receiver or a quality commercial receiver, the result was breaking, catastrophic failure, and damaged rifles.
There is one company making an AR-15 in this caliber, and I almost went in this direction, but then the law changed (after complaints from many hunters, including myself), and Ohio deer season was opened up to any straight-walled rifle cartridges from .357 Magnum to .50 for use in a rifle. Glad that was over.
My other option before the specific-cartridge law was changed was an AR-15 pistol, as handguns can be in any caliber, as long as they are straight walled, and I was looking hard at this, with a cornucopia of calibers considered such as: .50 Beowulf, .50 AE, .45 Super, .460 Rowland, and others. The problem was that, at that time, the officials at ATF’s technology branch decided to change their minds and not allow the use of arm braces against the shoulder, so that dream was shattered (thankfully, the decision was later reversed). Anyway, I decided to go with the Aero rifle in 10mm as a short-distance, low-recoil, deer killer that my boys and I could use to fill the freezer. Before I tell you about my son’s deer hunt, let’s take a look at the rifle.
The TNW Aero Survival Rifle is a multi-caliber, blowback, semi-auto carbine with a quick-change barrel. It is available in .22 LR, 9mm, .357 SIG, .40, .45 ACP, and 10mm, and there is an export version available in 9x21mm for those shooters in countries that do not allow military calibers for civilians (the Aero line will soon be available in .22 Magnum and .17 HMR). All TNW Aero rifles can be converted to any available caliber by changing the bolt, barrel, and lower grip assembly, so if you live in a state with firearm registration, you can change calibers without legal grief and without having to buy a whole new rifle and registering it.
The trigger guard is a bit small, and someone with large hands may have an issue if using gloves. The trigger is spongy-feeling to me and breaks at about five pounds—it also has some sharp edges, but nothing that can’t be fixed with a Dremel tool. There are two ejection ports to allow for right- or left-handed ejection, and the video directions for this conversion are straight-forward, but this conversion is something that should be done on the work bench and not in the field, as tapping out very tight-fitting roll pins that hold the ejector in place is involved.
The pistol magazine release is located on the left side of the magazine well, and the Aero uses all Glock magazines for centerfire cartridges. The magazine-release button uses a strong spring—I don’t have weak hands, but if you do, this may be a bit annoying. The good thing is that the release button is positioned in front of the mag well so that you can use your thumb to depress it while grabbing the magazine with your other four fingers. The 10mm Glock-type magazines drop free without a hitch if you choose to do so, but you will have to hold the rifle steady with your shooting hand or cradle the opposite side of the magazine well to overcome the stiff magazine-release button spring. Its safety is a simple cross-bolt design set to Western (or right-handed) standards—push left for fire and right for safe.
The removable barrel at the receiver makes this a true take-down rifle. The rifle measured 295⁄8 inches (with stock collapsed) and only 17¾ inches with the barrel removed. All barrels are threaded in the common pitch for its particular caliber, and all come with a thread protector. There is a “Ma Deuce”-style barrel shroud, which also is the barrel nut, and this shroud does come in handy when things heat up, so it’s not just for looks.
It features an AR-15 buffer tube, which is put to use with its long bolt-carrier design, so the rifle cannot have a folding stock, but any AR-15 stock can be attached, and the one it comes with is a six-position collapsible with a nice rubberized pad. It also sports a TAPCO, FAL-style storage grip, which is perfect for spare survival items, spare parts for the gun, extra rounds, ear plugs, etc.
A 9½-inch Picatinney rail is included on top of the upper receiver, and there are holes drilled at the three-o’clock, six-o’clock, and nine-o’clock positions in the fore-end area to accommodate additional P-rails, if one so desires. I didn’t bother to mount the ones provided, as I didn’t need the rails for a hunting article. However, if you are blasting coyotes, you may want to add a rail for a light. The finish on our test sample is an OD green anodized aluminum, and you can also get the Aero in black, dark earth, pink, silver, and some custom colors and designs. No sights are included. At around six pounds, the rifle is very packable.
One thing is noticeable when first loading the Aero. The bolt is not the easiest to charge, but with usage, it does lighten up quite a lot; this is a straight blowback 10mm.
At the range, I set up targets at 50 yards and began my testing sand-bag rested on a shooting bench. The optic I chose is a simple Weaver 2.5x-7x 28mm scope, which worked out perfectly. In the “old days,” back in the 1970s and 1980s, I usually picked 3x-9x variable-type scopes with simple crosshairs (holdover was a lifestyle) for almost everything I shot (bolt actions, AR-15s, M-1 Carbines, AKs, Mini-14s, UZI Carbines, etc.—not much available in optics then like there is today), so I felt right at home with Weaver. This scope is a great hunting choice.
I used Remington 180-grain FMJ as my “plinking” load, and with an average of 1.9 inches, it is a great range round for this caliber. Hornady’s Critical Duty 175-grain Flex Lock produced the best groups at 1.47 inches, and Federal’s Trophy Bonded 180-grain JSP was on its heels with a 1.63-inch group. Most groups were in the 1.5- to 3.75-inch range, so accuracy is definitely there for larger game. You won’t have any issues shooting rabbits or coyotes either. With a 16-inch barrel, 10mm ammunition ranges from 600–1,000 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle, which is enough stopping power for small- to medium-sized deer at around 50 yards. Recoil was not bad, and I didn’t experience any malfunctions—the Aero ate all 10mm ammo without a hitch.
So, how did my son do? Well, he took the TNW Aero out for the 2017 youth-only deer gun hunting gun season, which is two days in November here in Ohio. Ohio only allows three rounds total for any firearm for deer, so I blocked the 10mm Glock magazine to hold only two rounds. About 10 minutes before sunset, on the last day, I heard a shot and started heading toward the hollow, which is his favorite hunting spot. He had watched and followed a small pack of four deer, which emerged from the hollow out onto a two-acre field. After hitting the deer with a shot between the flank and ribs area at about 35 yards, we pursued the deer about 75 yards into the woods, and with one more hit, it became 36 pounds of Venison Marsala and deer tacos for the freezer. Unfortunately, we are not sure which rounds it was struck with, so it’s a toss-up between the Hornady Critical Duty and the Federal Trophy Bonded, as those are the ones we chose for the hunt. Possibly it was both.
Now to the .22 LR conversion. One of the great things about this firearm is the ability to convert it to .22 LR. Not only is this great economical practice if you use the Aero for self-defense or hunting chambered in one of the more expensive calibers like .357 SIG or 10mm, it’s great for just fun plinking on a Saturday afternoon or for hunting small game.
A few things to note before we look at converting the rifle from 10mm to .22 LR. Remington model 597 30-round magazines, which are made of plastic, were very tight-fitting. So tight that I had to get out sandpaper and take off quite a lot of material from both sides of the upper magazine body, as well as polish up a bit of the inside of the mag well. After this, things went more smoothly, but not to the point where the plastic magazine would drop free, as that would take more work. I had no problems with the included 10-round 597 metal magazine —it drops free and fits perfectly in the TAPCO storage grip so you can always have an “emergency mag.” Pro-Mag also makes 22-round “banana” magazines, as well as a 70-round drum in the 597 configuration, but I did not have an opportunity to try either of those. Unlike the centerfire lower receiver, the magazine release is ambidextrous for the .22 LR version, with easily reachable magazine-release buttons on the left and right side that can be reached with a trigger finger.
Switching Calibers —10mm To .22 LR (Deer To Squirrels)
This is just a quick rundown to give you an idea of how the conversion takes place (the way I did it), so refer to TNW instructional videos on its website.
STEP 1: Be sure that the Aero is unloaded. Push the two retaining pins in the bottom of the lower receiver, and “jiggle” the lower free. The two pins are not captive, but have a spring-type c-clip to prevent them from walking out—both need to be fully removed.
STEP 2: Unscrew and remove 10mm barrel. You will notice that the bolt handle and bolt carrier will move forward, and this will allow you to remove the handle through the rounded portion of the channel that the bolt handle rides in on the right side of the upper receiver. Remove the bolt handle and allow the 10mm bolt to come forward, then remove it. The buffer and buffer spring will move forward, and these are not to be removed. (NOTE: They cannot be removed through the front of the receiver.)
STEP 3: Insert the .22 LR bolt assembly through the front of the upper receiver. Be sure to tilt the receiver downward a bit, as the firing pin will fall out of the back of the bolt, as it is not retained until the bolt handle is inserted. Push the bolt assembly to the rear of the receiver until its recoil spring begins to push against the centerfire buffer and buffer spring. Be sure that the firing pin is forward in the bolt, otherwise the bolt handle will not fully engage its hole. Insert bolt handle.
STEP 4: Insert barrel with the longest of the three channels, which rides along a hex-head bolt near the front of the upper receiver, at the chamber area, at the 12 o’clock position. Then, tighten the locking shroud all the way until you view a portion of the barrel in the front part of the ejection port (see photo). This is important, otherwise the ejector will not properly line up with the bolt when the lower receiver is installed.
STEP 5: Cock the hammer back to the firing position. Align two lugs on the upper receiver with the holes in the lower receiver/grip assembly. You will also need to align the ejector (shown sticking out of the grip assembly above the magazine release) with the channel in the bottom of the bolt. NOTE: You will also need to align the buffer ring with the roll pin, which protrudes out of the rear of the grip assembly.
As stated earlier, I really like the capability of switching calibers in a firearm, so I was very excited to see how the Aero would perform in .22 LR. I set the distance at 100 feet for a multitude of reasons, one of which being that this is a common distance for squirrel hunting in my over 40 years of experience in tagging these little animals. Before I got started on the shooting bench, I did some plinking and noticed something right away. The firing pin makes a small round footprint on brass instead of the typical “chisel” mark made by most .22 LR firing pins. This did seem to cause some issues with Winchester “white box” ammunition, resulting in many rounds not firing. Other ammunition didn’t seem to have this much of an issue, as the Winchester “white box” ammo did. When I rechambered the unfired “white box” ammo in other .22 LR firearms, it usually did fire.
This gun likes Federal copper-plated 36-grain HP rounds, as it ate them up when using the 10-round or 30-round Remington 597 magazines. The extractor works just fine IF the round goes off, but when I had a “dead” round, I had to lock the bolt back and manually remove it from the chamber. The trigger is a bit stiff and odd but was adequate for plinking.
With practice, I got used to the trigger and was able to quarter the bullseye dot on the Caldwell Orange Peel target with the Weaver scope set at 7x and hold it steady throughout the trigger pull, but this took some effort. The .22 LR trigger is much different from the “spongey” feel of the 10mm trigger and starts off a bit stiff and then drops to a first “stage” at about 50% of the travel distance as if it were a set trigger. Then, with about 75% of the effort and travel as the first pull, the hammer finally drops. I was able to get used to this and hold on target, but this is not the ideal trigger I would want to hunt or target shoot with. As they say, “you can get used to anything,” but I would look for other trigger upgrade options (or get out a Dremel tool) if this was my go-to small-game gun.
For the accuracy test, I decided on three five-shot groups for each ammunition type. I started with ELEY High Velocity 36-grain hollow point, which, as expected, shot accurately, with its best group at 1.16 inches. All of these rounds had perfect ignition, but for some reason, I had a failure to fully eject on the last round every time using the Remington 597 10-shot magazine. Next up was what the Aero liked to eat: Federal Copper-plated 36-grain hollow point. All rounds fed and fired perfectly, with the best group at .94 of an inch. Not only does the Aero like this round to eat, it also spits them out with great accuracy.
Third in line was the bulk ammo/plinking load: Remington Thunderbolt 40-grain lead round nose. This one was the surprise of the group, as I did not expect the accuracy I got. Later, I ended up shooting some extra groups to see what kind of voodoo Remington is stuffing these little shells with, as my best group was .87 of an inch!
The Remington functioned very well in the Aero, with the exception of a couple of failed ignitions, similar to the Winchester white box ammo. I feel that the small, round firing pin footprint is part of the issue here, along with a weak hammer strike on the firing pin. The other culprit is mass-produced rimfire rounds, which don’t always have a complete primer circle at the bottom of the brass. ELEY is known for the most precise rimfire primer process in the industry, and that is probably why ignition was no issue when it was chambered in the Aero.
It was time for ELEY again, with its sub-sonic 38-grain hollow point. This ammo was very accurate, with the best group at .88 of an inch, but I experienced many failure-to-feed malfunctions. This is not ELEY’s fault, nor the fault of TNW, as the Aero is designed for high-velocity .22 LR ammunition, and this is a lower-velocity load made for suppressor use. If you want to shoot this load from an Aero, I feel that it can be done with some simple recoil-spring modifications. Bottom line, this rifle in .22 LR can hunt small game with no issues, as far as accuracy is concerned.
All in all, the TNW Aero Survival Rifle can be a great hunting, survival, home-defense, or plinking gun. The concept is very good, and with a few small improvements, the Aero would be a fantastic addition to anyone’s gun collection for any shooting purpose, limited only by the caliber of choice.
TNW Aero Survival Rifle Specs
- Barrel length: U.S. 16.25"; Canada 18.75"
- Barrel Twist: 9mm 1:10, .40 S&W 1:16, .45ACP 1:16, 10mm 1:16, .357 SIG 1:10, .22LR 1:16 (6 Land Barrels)
- Overall length: U.S. 33.0"; Canada 35.5"
- Overall length (Collapsed Stock): U.S. 29.5"; Canada 32.0"
- Breakdown dimensions with barrel removed: U.S. 17.25"
- Available calibers: .22LR, 9mm, 357SIG,.40S&W, .45ACP, 10mm
- Magazine Configuration: Glock pistol style, any capacity, (Remington 597-type for .22LR)
- Ejection: Left or right-handed
- Weight: 5.5 lbs.
- Coating: Hard Anodized
- Action: Semi-automatic, direct blow back
- Safety: Sliding safety and integrated child trigger lock
- Includes: One Glock-style magazine (One Remington-style for .22LR), Upper and lower rails
- MSRP: $799
- .22 LR Conversion Kit MSRP: $370
- TNW Firearms Inc. P.O. Box 311, Vernonia OR, 97064, Tel: 503-429-5001, Fax: 503-429-3505, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, TNWFirearms.com