May 28, 2020
What’s your favorite firearm design? My choice is easy: the AR-15. Is it the sleekest or most beautiful gun? Certainly not. However, the accuracy, simplicity, and versatility of Stoner’s 60-year-old design make it a superb tool for a multitude of tasks.
My favorite attribute of the AR is how simple it is to assemble or modify. With a few basic tools, nearly anyone can build or tweak the design. No need for a gunsmith or expensive machinery. It’s a tinkerer’s dream gun.
Over the past decade, I’ve assembled a number of pistols, carbines, and rifles for myself and friends. From heavy-barreled varmint rifles to ultralight pistols, the configurations have varied widely. The chief lesson I’ve learned is to skip discount parts and buy quality components from reputable companies. Trust me, this matters. Quality parts may cost a bit more up front, but they also prevent headaches down the road.
One company I’ve had great luck with is AERO Precision out of Tacoma, Washington. This company has become a significant player in the AR world by offering innovative, high-quality products at reasonable prices.
Unlike many AR parts makers, AERO Precision has a track record of machining critical components. The company’s name stems from its roots in the aerospace industry, a sector where tolerances are razor thin and component failure isn’t an option. AERO has applied the same focus to its AR parts business, engineering and manufacturing its own parts as well as OEM parts for other manufacturers.
From barrels to scope mounts, receivers to bolt carriers, AERO has all the parts needed to assemble a custom AR. In addition to standard components, AERO offers special-edition “Builder Sets” that add personality to the foundation of a build. The Builder Sets include three Cerakoted components—upper receiver, lower receiver, and handguard—all in a matching pattern. All that’s left is to choose the remaining components to create a one-of-a-kind AR.
A Do-Everything Carbine Build
My most recent build began as an AERO Precision M4E1 Enhanced Builder Set in Desert Arid Camo. The result is a rock-solid, do-everything carbine that I’ve used from tactical training to deer hunting. Why do I like it so much? Let’s start with the M4E1 Enhanced receiver set, which may be the best option currently on the market.
Forged from 7075-T6 aluminum, the M4E1 receivers are enhanced versions of the mil-spec design. The most ingenious component is the upper. It’s uniquely designed to incorporate the handguard mounting system onto the upper receiver itself. No more separate parts or complicated installation.
For assembling the upper, first insert the AR barrel in the upper receiver tenon and then torque down the internal barrel nut. The handguard then slides on and installs with eight screws, resulting in a simple and strong bond between these two critical parts.
The handguard is AERO’s Enhanced Gen2 15-inch M-LOK version. It’s well machined and comes feature packed with QD sling sockets, a continuous top rail, M-LOK slots, and built-in anti-rotation tabs. Due to the internal size of the handguard, suppressors can be tucked inside it. But these aren’t the only clever components from AERO. The M4E1 lower is tricked out as well.
The most frustrating component on an AR build is the lower. Springs and detents tend to launch through the air, roll pins are tricky to install without marring the finish, and the ears of the lower can break off while you’re installing the trigger guard. None of these are fun. Fortunately, AERO’s M4E1 lower solves all of these problems and more.
The M4E1 features a threaded bolt catch roll pin and takedown pin detent recess that virtually eliminate lost pins and damage to the finish. The lower also has an integrated trigger guard, so there’s no more damaging the lower when pounding in the rear roll pin. In addition, the lower has a tension screw made of nylon that provides a tight fit with any upper receiver. Add in the flared magwell and it’s hard to find a better lower on the market—especially for the price.
For this build, I went with a 16-inch .223 Wylde mid-length barrel from Ballistic Advantage, which is AERO’s sister company. This stainless-steel tube features the Hanson profile and is lightweight yet produces less barrel whip. It comes with a low-profile gas block that’s predrilled to be pinned to the barrel. In use, the barrel has proven accurate and reliable, and due to the VG6 GAMMA 556 brake, recoil is almost nonexistent.
Next to the barrel, the most critical component for extracting accuracy is a good trigger. For this carbine, I installed a cassette-type single-stage trigger from Rise Armament called the RA-535. Not only does this trigger look good, but also it works beautifully. I’ve used a lot of AR triggers, and this one is up there with the best in performance and feel.
Putting It to the Test
The catalyst for this build was an Urban Precision class I attended at Thunder Ranch, which explains my choices for optics and backup sights. I went with EOTech’s VUDU 1-6X 24mm scope and Magpul MBUS Pro sights. Despite plenty of abuse, both worked well in the arid environment of southern Oregon. To keep the carbine handy and at the ready, a Blue Force Gear Vickers Sling was also installed. It is simple and effective, exactly as a sling should be.
Many shooters are intimidated by the prospect of attending a training course, and I understand why. It’s stressful to go shoulder to shoulder with other shooters and perform tasks under the watchful eyes of professional instructors. But training under stress is the best way to ingrain the skills needed to survive a deadly encounter.
This was my first training opportunity at Thunder Ranch, and the course was exceptional. Owners Clint and Heidi Smith and their instructors are as good as they come. Not only was the Thunder Ranch class great for honing defensive skills and learning to run the AR, but also it was an even better way to evaluate the completed AERO Precision carbine in a real-world environment.
During the course, I put 600 or so rounds through the AERO carbine from distances as close as 3 yards to as far as 500 yards. Its performance was impressive. Not once did I experience a stoppage, even when sideways on the ground with the ejection port inches above the gravel. The gun got dusty and dirty but never sputtered. Accuracy was exceptional, even from hasty field positions. Overall, the course was a great reminder of how versatile a quality AR can be.
In fact, a few months after returning from the event, I embarked upon a cross-country move. Along the way, I stopped in Arkansas for my family’s annual whitetail hunt. All my worldly possessions were stored inside a U-Haul trailer, so every rifle I own was at my disposal. But for the deer hunt, I grabbed the gun I was most confident in: the AERO Precision .223 Wylde carbine that I had put together myself.
Before heading afield, I tossed a fresh coat of paint on a ShootSteel.com torso target placed at 120 yards. After loading 20 rounds of Hornady BLACK 75-grain InterLock .223 Remington ammunition, I put in my TETRA ear protection (the brake is loud), cranked the VUDU scope to 6X, and went prone. I squeezed the Rise Armament trigger five times, and each bullet impacted atop the one before it.
As I said earlier, the AR is my favorite gun design. It’s accurate, simple, and capable at so many tasks. And as this AERO Precision build proved, almost anyone can build a high-quality, ultra-accurate rifle without spending a fortune and waiting for a gunsmith to get to your project. Again, buying quality parts up front all but guarantees high-level performance.
I have no clue what my next AR build will be. Pistol, rifle, carbine…who knows? But one thing is certain: Due to the quality, performance, and affordability, a number of its parts will come from AERO Precision. And I have great confidence that my next build will perform as well as this one.
AERO Precision AR Build
- Lower: $622
- AERO M4E1 Lower Receiver: $120
- AERO M4E1 MOE Lower Parts Kit: $45
- Rise Armament RA-535 Trigger: $259
- AERO Carbine Buffer Kit: $40
- Magpul SL-S Stock: $80
- Magpul Gen 3 PMAG: $18
- Blue Force Gear Vickers Padded 2-Point Sling: $60
- Upper: $1,142
- AERO M4E1 Enhanced Upper Receiver: $180
- AERO Enhanced Gen2 15-in. M-LOK Handguard: $200
- Ballistic Advantage 16-in. .223 Wylde Hanson Mid-80++Length Barrel W/Pinned Gas Block: $245
- AERO Black Nitride BCG: $130
- AERO Melonite Mid-Length Gas Tube: $17
- Magpul QD Sling Mount: $20
- VG6 GAMMA 556 Brake: $80
- AERO Ambidextrous Charging Handle: $80
- Magpul MBUS Pro Front Sight: $85
- Magpul MBUS Pro Rear Sight: $105
- Total Price: $1,764