ArmaLite AR-180B Semi-Auto 5.56mm Rifle, Revisited


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

January 11th, 2009


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About six and one-half years ago, I reviewed ArmaLite’s AR-180B semi-auto rifle. I liked it then, and I like it even better now, as they have made a couple of different subtle changes which improved the weapon. I went into detail on the history of the AR-180 in my earlier review, so I won’t re-plow the same ground here. However, as I sit here ten days before our newly-elected President takes office, semi-auto rifles are the best selling thing in the gun industry, as Obama has pledged to rid our society of such weapons, and folks are scrambling to buy them while they still can. Since the day after the election in November of 2008, sales of semi-automatic firearms have risen sharply. Background checks for November were up 42 percent over the previous November, and December sales were almost as high. The only reason that December sales increases dropped below November, is that the industry had ran out of inventory on those popular guns like semi-auto pistols, AR-15 rifles, Mini-14 rifles, and similar items. Distributors were sold out, dealers were sold out, and factories were backordered. The situation is still the same here in early January of 2009. Obama has pledged to ban the most popular type of weapon in our nation, and shooters are taking him at his word. Whether or not he will be able to follow through on his promise remains to be seen, but right now, semi-auto weapons and the ammunition to feed them are in short supply.

While the AR-15 is currently the hottest-selling weapon in the US, many shooters are looking for piston-operated weapons, believing, rightly or wrongly, that they are more reliable than the direct gas-impingement system of the AR-15. Many different companies are selling “piston” AR-15 rifles, and most are good weapons. However, is the rifle has a gas piston instead of the Stoner gas impingement system, it is not an AR-15. Nothing wrong with either system, but an AR-15, by definition, has a different system than a piston gun. This brings us to the gas piston system. It is nothing new at all, and has been around for decades. ArmaLite used the Tokarev-style gas piston system in the original AR-18 so as not to step on the patented Stoner gas impingement system that had been sold to Colt, resulting in what was basically a stamped sheet metal version of the AR-15, but with a piston gas system. The semi-auto version of the AR-18 was called the AR-180, and was met with limited success. The result is a very good semi-auto rifle. ArmaLite has now been for several years making a variation of the original AR-180, called the AR-180B. The 180B uses a polymer lower receiver, and best of all, it uses standard AR-15 magazines and fire control parts, like the trigger, hammer, and safety.

The AR-180B that I reviewed back in 2002 ran perfectly, with no failures to feed, fire, or eject, and this new rifle is no different. The design of the 180B is very simple. There is no tube for a spring and buffer in the buttstock. The original 180 had a folding buttstock, and the 180B can be adapted to fold with an inexpensive adaptor. The 180B, like the 180, has a unique scope mount system that allows a scope to be quickly installed and removed without tools, and it returns to zero every time. The scope mount is sold by ArmaLite, and will accept any one-inch scope or dot sight. I have for a long time wanted a Picatinny rail atop the AR-180 rifles so that an ACOG, Reflex, Eotech, Aimpoint, or other scope could be attached. There is now available at reasonable cost a very good Picatinny adaptor for the 180 series rifles from StormWerkz. I plan to have a review of both the Picatinny adaptor and the folding stock adaptor in a couple of weeks, and will update this review at that time. The bolt carrier on the 180B has the operating handle attached, which is simpler and better than the operating handle on the AR-15. The operating handle also doubles as a forward assist, so there is no need for that separate mechanism. The most recent version of the 180B has a different muzzle attachment than the one that I reviewed back in 2002. This new one has a flash suppressor, instead of the integral muzzle brake of the earlier version. The handguards on the 180B are attached in two halves, and the upper half easily comes off to expose the gas system when field-stripping the weapon. Taking the 180B down for cleaning is very simple, and requires only something like a cartridge to press in the take-down latch.

The AR-180B handles very well, coming to the shoulder quickly and easily. The length of pull measures thirteen and one-half inches. Weighing in at six pounds, nine ounces empty, the rifle handles very well. The barrel diameter is .574 inch. The barrel measures just under twenty inches in length, including the flash suppressor. The sights are sturdy, well protected, and adjustable. There is a bayonet lug just under the barrel, attached to the gas block/front sight housing. The black synthetic handguards are ventilated, and the bottom handguard is ridged underneath for a secure grip. The buttstock is hollow, with a door on the buttplate for storage. As mentioned earlier, the 180B uses standard AR-15 magazines, which are cheap and plentiful, at least for now. My sample gun came packaged with one twenty-round magazine. The bolt remains open on an empty magazine, and is released by pulling rearward slightly to let it slam home after a loaded magazine is inserted.

Shooting the Ar-180B was a pleasure. Being 5.56mm NATO, there was, of course, little recoil. The weapon functioned perfectly, ejecting the empties undamaged to the right, and slightly forward of the shooter’s position. Accuracy was tested with Winchester and Black Hills ammunition, and the AR-180B grouped into the two to three inch range at one hundred yards. Not match-grade accuracy, but plenty good for social work. The trigger pull measured six and one-half pounds, with a typical AR-15 feel. The accuracy is plenty good, but I think that the rifle might shoot even better, and I plan to do more accuracy testing after the StormWerkz Picatinny rail arrives.

Some shooters, for whatever reason do not like the AR-15 gas system, and prefer a piston gun. Here it is. There is no need to spend another thousand dollars over the cost of a standard AR-15 to get a piston gun. There are some very good piston guns out there, and one of the best is still yet to come, but for shooters who dislike the AR-15, the AR-180B just might be your baby. I like the AR-15 just fine myself, and own one or two, but I still like the light weight, simplicity, and reliability of the AR-180B. It is a fine weapon, and I highly recommend it.

For more details on the AR-180B and other ArmaLite products, go to

For the location of an ArmaLite dealer near you, click on the DEALER LOCATOR at

To order the StormWerkz Picatinny rail and folding stock adaptor, go to

Click Here for Jeff's article on the StormWerkz Picatinny rail & folding stock adapter.

Jeff Quinn


For a list of dealers where you can buy this gun, go to:






The AR-180B uses a simple and reliable gas piston system.







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Click pictures for a larger version.


ArmaLite AR-180B.



ArmaLite's simple, strong scope mounting system.



Sights consist of protected aperture rear (top) and protected post front (bottom).





Flash suppressor.



Bayonet lug will accept any AR-15 style bayonet.



Sling loops.



The AR-180B uses standard AR-15 magazines.



Operating handle is attached to bolt carrier.



Disassembly for cleaning and routine maintenance is quick and easy.