The film Black Hawk Down has left an in­deli­ble mark in the minds of United States mil­i­tary mem­bers and gun en­thu­si­asts alike. The movie re­counts the story of Op­er­a­tion Gothic Ser­pent, in­volv­ing the Task Force Ranger mis­sion on Oc­to­ber 3 and 4, 1993. Re­leased mere months af­ter Sept. 11, it was one of the first film de­pic­tions of ur­ban com­bat in a postOper­a­tion Desert Storm world.

Firearms for the film were pro­vided by lead ar­morer Si­mon Ather­ton (whose film cred­its in­clude The Killing Fields, Aliens, and Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan) with the as­sis­tance of U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. vet­eran and mil­i­tary film ad­vi­sor

Harry Humphries.

When dis­cussing film props, the term “hero” is used to de­scribe the main prop weapons used by the lead char­ac­ters in the film. Hero props are fre­quently used in close-ups and of­ten gar­ner the most screen time, be­com­ing pub­licly rec­og­niz­able or some­times


Iron­i­cally, many of the M16s and CAR-15s used on screen were ac­tu­ally built as an ex­port vari­a­tion of the Colt M16. Si­mon Ather­ton, Black Hawk Down lead ar­morer and owner of Zorg Lim­ited, pro­vided ex­am­ples of M16s and CAR-15s used in the movie. The CAR-15, no­tably, was con­fig­ured with com­po­nents used on the backup Gary Gor­don hero prop ri­fle.

The blank-fir­ing M16A2 in th­ese pho­tos was, in our best es­ti­mate, used as a Third Bat­tal­ion, 75th Ranger Reg­i­ment ri­fle. It’s nearly iden­ti­cal to the ri­fle car­ried by real-life Ranger Matt Evers­mann, played on screen by Josh Hart­nett. The Ranger M16s were ex-Gu­atemalan mil­i­tary M16A2s fit­ted with slings se­cured with green duct tape. The blank-fir­ing M16 has been pho­tographed, for com­par­i­son, with one of the rub­ber dummy ri­fles, still con­fig­ured as used on set for Black Hawk Down.

The rub­ber dummy prop M16 shows the on-screen con­fig­u­ra­tion for Ranger M16s. Although the dummy’s M16A1 “slab side” lower is slightly dif­fer­ent than the blank-fir­ing prop — cast from a civil­ian Colt HBAR Sporter

— it’s sim­i­lar enough to pass un­no­ticed to most view­ers.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing the M16s, Ather­ton’s team con­verted many of the ex-Gu­atemalan Colt M16A2s into CAR-15s. The Gor­don CAR-15 blank-fir­ing prop is the most iconic weapon in the film. Chris Ather­ton, Si­mon Ather­ton’s son and Zorg em­ployee, was able to im­me­di­ately lo­cate the last known sur­viv­ing Gary Gor­don hero blank-fir­ing prop CAR-15.

Mas­ter Sergeant Gary Gor­don’s Colt Model 723 was rep­re­sented in the film by a Gu­atemalan ex­port Colt M16A2 mod­i­fied into a car­bine con­fig­u­ra­tion sim­i­lar to a Colt Model 727. The most sig­nif­i­cant vis­ual dif­fer­ence be­tween the Colt 723 and Colt 727 is in the rear sights. The Colt 723 uses an M16A1 sight, while the Colt 727 is fit­ted with a block­ier “mov­able” sight.

To pro­duce the prop, the M16’s 20inch bar­rel was cut to ap­prox­i­mately 10 inches and the front sight post was moved back. A com­mer­cial two-po­si­tion buf­fer tube and stock was also added. A 5-inch sec­tion of the cen­ter of the M16A2 hand­guard was re­moved to con­struct im­pro­vised car­bine hand­guards. As a re­sult, the hand­guards have eight holes (in­stead of the six- or seven-hole hand­guards found on pro­duc­tion 723 and 727 car­bines). This ri­fle, and many other of Ather­ton’s CAR-15s, re­tained the tri­an­gu­lar M16A2 hand­guard cap in­stead of the cir­cu­lar hand­guard cap found on Colt-pro­duced car­bines.

Anal­y­sis failed to con­firm that the spe­cific stock and dummy sup­pres­sor in the pho­tos ap­peared on screen, but the paint scheme on those com­po­nents leaves no doubt that those parts were used on an au­then­tic Gor­don hero prop. Although it’s im­pos­si­ble to con­firm that the CAR-15 pic­tured was one of the Gor­don hero ri­fles, it has been con­firmed that this weapon was later used by Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Di­a­mond. The Zorg staff in­di­cated that the ri­fle may have been re­painted in the cur­rent tan paint scheme for the film The Green Zone.

This CAR-15, man­u­fac­tured by En­hanced Tac­ti­cal Arms in Las Ve­gas, Nevada, is a replica of the on-screen prop rep­re­sent­ing Mas­ter Sergeant

Gary Gor­don’s CAR-15 — a replica of a replica, as it were. Th­ese im­ages were

Pho­to­shopped to rep­re­sent the ri­fle in its Class III con­fig­u­ra­tion. The replica is fit­ted with an Aim­point CompM red dot op­tic.

Although Aim­point 3000 and 5000 op­tics were used dur­ing the real-life op­er­a­tion, they were out of pro­duc­tion by 2001. Film­mak­ers se­lected the CompM, fit­ted on a B-Square Mount with a 30mm Weaver split ring mount, as a sub­sti­tute. The dummy sup­pres­sor used on the hero prop wasn’t avail­able, so an OPS Inc. sup­pres­sor was used in its place. Although Zorg pro­vided ac­cess to the Gor­don CAR-15 prop, they in­di­cated that the props used to rep­re­sent Sergeant First Class Ran­dall Shughart’s M14 were rented from Gib­bons Lim­ited and re­turned af­ter film­ing.

Mike Gib­bons, owner of Gib­bons Lim­ited En­ter­tain­ment Ar­mory pro­vided eight Fed­eral Or­di­nance MDL. M1A ri­fles to the pro­duc­tion. Mike re­vealed that the weapons used to rep­re­sent Shughart’s M14 were sold to In­de­pen­dent Stu­dio Ser­vices be­tween 2008 and 2009. Kate Ather­ton from Zorg pro­vided spe­cific se­rial num­bers for the eight weapons used in the pro­duc­tion. Travis Pierce, En­hanced Tac­ti­cal Arms M14 Sub­ject Mat­ter Ex­pert, then used th­ese se­rial num­bers to de­ter­mine that most of the ri­fles were pro­duced in the ’90s.

The re­pro­duc­tion Shughart M14 film prop is an M1A built on an LBR Arms re­ceiver with pri­mar­ily USGI Winch­ester parts. It was orig­i­nally as­sem­bled by M14 en­thu­si­ast Cody Vaughan and then re­con­fig­ured to match the film prop by En­hanced Tac­ti­cal Arms with an ARMS 18 scope mount, Aim­point CompM red dot op­tic, M1907 sling, and given a screen-match­ing cam­ou­flage pat­tern by En­hanced Tac­ti­cal Arms retro firearms ex­pert Augee Kim.

The Norm “Hoot” Gib­son CAR-15 rub­ber dummy prop, built as a rub­ber stand-in for Eric Bana’s blank-fir­ing car­bine, is an iconic prop wor­thy of spe­cial at­ten­tion. The rub­ber dummy, cast from a semi-auto Colt AR-15A2 Car­bine with

a re­mov­able carry han­dle, was used on­screen in the close-up of the “This is my safety” scene. The prop was weath­ered with wa­ter-sol­u­ble ag­ing spray and is fit­ted with a sling con­structed from a piece of strap taken from a para­chute low­er­ing line assem­bly, looped through 550 cord and se­cured with black poly­cloth lam­i­nate tape.

The live-fir­ing prop replica, con­structed by En­hanced Tac­ti­cal Arms, was cre­ated us­ing screen shots from the film, pro­duc­tion pho­tos, and the Hoot rub­ber dummy car­bine as ref­er­ences. Although the Colt Gray lower on the Hoot CAR-15 ap­pears to be an ex­port M16A2, the black up­per is dis­tinc­tive. The Hoot blank-fir­ing CAR-15 is con­fig­ured with a 14.5-inch bar­rel, six-hole hand­guard, cir­cu­lar hand­guard cap, flat delta ring, and M16A1 bird­cage flash hider.

When we asked Mr. Ather­ton if the ri­fles used in the film were painted us­ing an air­brush he laughed, in­di­cat­ing that the ri­fles were painted quickly, us­ing tech­niques rec­om­mended by mil­i­tary ad­vi­sor Harry Humphries.

Black Hawk Down is one of the first films to cap­ture post-Viet­nam war­fare in a re­al­is­tic man­ner and set the stan­dard for how mod­ern war­fare (and weapons) would be rep­re­sented in film. When dis­cussing the long-term im­pact of the film in a 2013 in­ter­view, First Sergeant Matt Evers­mann (U.S. Army, re­tired) stated, “…what I’ve found over the last decade is that, there are a lot of folks that re­ally aren’t touched by the war on ter­ror … watch Black Hawk Down and you have a re­ally fair, ac­cu­rate, and pretty au­then­tic view of what ur­ban com­bat is like … it is the ref­er­ence point, both the book and the movie, that peo­ple are go­ing to look at when they talk about get­ting in­volved in th­ese type of con­flicts in th­ese coun­tries we’ve never heard of …”

This en­dorse­ment, in con­junc­tion with the pair of Academy Awards earned in 2002, il­lus­trates why the film con­tin­ues to re­ceive praise from many film afi­ciona­dos and mil­i­tary vet­er­ans nearly two decades af­ter its re­lease.

The 3/75 Ranger M16A2s. The blankfir­ing M16A2 (top) was an ex­port M16A2from Gu­atemala man­u­fac­tured by Coltand re­dressed for The Green Zone. The rub­ber dummy prop(bot­tom) was used in the pro­duc­tion of Black Hawk Down and car­ries the dis­tinc­tivegreen duct tape used to recre­ate theRangers’ weapons.Po­laroid: Pro­duc­tion photo of ac­tor Nikolaj Coster-Wal­dau, play­ing Mas­ter Sergeant Gar y Gor­don, shows the prop equip­ment and one of the CAR-15 hero weapons usedin film­ing.

The M16A2 bar­rel con­ver­sion. Photo by Jon Davey. Most CAR-15 ri­fles were mod­i­fied M16A2 ri­fles. This bar­rel was cut to ap­prox­i­mately 10 inches and the front sight post was moved back to ac­com­mo­date the mod­i­fied hand­guards, while re­tain­ing the tra­di­tional tri­an­gu­lar M16A2 hand­guard cap.

M16A2 Ex­port Lower. The Gu­atemalan ex­port M16A2 was con­fig­ured with the M16A1 style lower em­bla­zond with Colt M16A2 roll marks as pic­tured. The fire con­trol group mark­ings were stamped on both sides of the lower (which is the com­mon con­fig­u­ra­tions for M16A2s) but with a BURST mark­ing re­plac­ing the more com­mon AUTO mark­ing.

Lower, left: The Gor­don CAR-15 blank-fir­ing prop and replica. The Gor­don blank-fir­ing prop(top) is fit­ted with a com­mer­cial stock and fake sup­pres­sor that carr y the orig­i­nal paint scheme used dur­ing pro­duction. The ri­fle was sub­se­quently used as the on-screen hero prop in Blood Diamond. The live-fire replica, man­u­fac­tured by En­hanced Tac­ti­cal Arms,(bot­tom) fea­tures a fully func­tional OPS Inc sup­pres­sor. The im­age of the semi­auto replica has been Pho­to­shopped with BURST fire con­trol mark­ings and a fullauto sear.

The Gor­don CAR-15 blank-fir­ing prop 8-hole hand­guard. The 8-hole CAR-15 hand­guards were man­u­fac­tured from full-length M16A2 hand­guards when many of the M16A2s were con­fig­ured into the CAR-15con­fig­u­ra­tion.The Gor­don CAR-15 prop ri­fle 8-hole hand­guard. The ETAC Arms live-fire replica is equipped with an 8-hole car­bine hand­guardcon­structed from an M16A2 full length hand­guard and a Sure­fire tac­ti­cal light. The duct tape and zip tie matches thecon­fig­u­ra­tion shown in the film.

The Shughart blank­fir­ing props were Fed­eral Or­di­nance MDL.M1As pro­vided to Si­mon Ather ton by Mike Gib­bons. Gib­bons sold the eight MDL.M1As to In­de­pen­dent Stu­dio Ser­vices in 2008 or 2009. The ISS ar­mor y staff in­di­cated that it was likely that the two tan weapons were used as the hero props in film­ing. Photo anal­y­sis by Wil­liam DeMolee in­di­cates that it is likely that the top MDL.M1A, which is equipped with a Leather­wood scope, was the hero prop used in close-ups. The live-fire replica was painted to match on­set pro­duc­tion pho­tos and screen shots by Augee Kim.

This pro­duc­tion Po­laroid photo of ac­tor Johnny Strong, in hisrole as Sergeant First Class Ran­dall Shughart, shows both,one of the hero M14s used in film­ing and an­other glimpse ofthe Gor­don CAR-15.

Re­fin­ished stock from the blank-fir­ing hero M14 prop. The fire con­trol se­lec­tor switch cutouts on the tanFed­eral Or­di­nance MDL.M1A havebeen filled in and the ex­ter­nal sur­faces re­fin­ished. Al­most all traces of spray paint had beenre­moved.

Bot­tom Left: The rub­ber dummy used in the close-up of the “This is my safety” scene shows sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences from the live-fire prop. Th­ese in­clude the type of hand­guard, delta ring, cas­tle nut, stock, lower, and carry han­dle con­fig­u­ra­tion. The light­ing and cam­era an­gle make the dif­fer­ences dif­fi­cult to de­tect as the story un­folds.

The Hoot live-fire replica. The Hoot replica, which is sim­i­lar in gen­eral con­fig­u­ra­tion to a Colt 727, weighs in at slightly over 6 pounds and is as re­li­able and ac­cu­rate as a mod­ern M4. The hel­met, gog­gles, and Amer­i­can flag were props used dur­ingpro­duc­tion in 2001.

Bot­tom Right: The Hoot “This is my safety” rub­ber CAR-15 dummy. The Hoot char­ac­ter is re­ported to be a com­pos­ite of sev­eral Spe­cial Forces vet­er­ans in­volved in Op­er­a­tion Gothic Ser­pent.

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