By Jonathan Glazer
In a nutshell, the Jackhammer is a fully automatic 12 gauge shotgun fed by a self contained 10 round drum. It was designed to be an extremely lethal close quarters combat tool, especially helpful in such chores as breaking ambushes and laying out a field of fire that is impenetrable at contact ranges. Its futuristic look caused several motion picture producers to model post apocalyptic weapons after it in pictures such as “The Terminator.” In reality, part of its design dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century.
Many firearms designs start off with such promise, yet fizzle into oblivion. The pages of small arms publications are often graced with images and stories of weapons that have the potential to play pivotal roles in history, as did the M1 Garand or Thompson Submachine gun, yet factors outside of the designers’ control caused these tools to fail to live up to their potential. The Pancor Jackhammer is one such weapon design that could have been a contender, to paraphrase Marlon Brando from “On the Waterfront.”
The Pancor Jackhammer was considered to be so revolutionary, that it was tested by numerous governments with an eye towards adoption as a standard issue piece of equipment for certain applications. The United States and The United Kingdom were chief amongst the interested parties. See the sidebar for a better list of the countries that expressed interest in the Jackhammer. Pictures and stats of the Jackhammer were included in many firearms anthologies which are still being produced today, such as “Firearms of the Twentieth Century” and Jane’s Security Equipment. Such was the promise of this fledgling design. What caused it to fade into obscurity is a matter of conjecture, but its story provides an interesting insight into the intertwining of political realities and firearms design.
The weapon itself fires at a rate of approximately 240 rounds per minute. It feeds from a 10 round drum which is preloaded and sealed at the factory with any of several types of high pressure 12 gauge rounds specifically designed for it, such as flechette, buckshot, High explosive, armor penetrative and beehive. The prototype we have for examination (as the weapon never entered production) is of the A2 designation and was torture tested by H.P. White Laboratories on behalf of the Department of Defense. It handled 50,000 rounds of low brass shotshells without any deleterious effects. It is of primarily steel construction. The drum itself is a blend of both old and new technologies and designs. It has angular cuts on the outside of it, which guide the drum as it rotates, much like the Webley-Fosbery revolver of “The Maltese Falcon” fame. The barrel floats and is driven forward by gas pressure upon firing which breaks the gas tight connection with the cylinder. The barrel reseals on the return stroke. It also was intended to be constructed primarily of Rynite SST, an advanced polymer developed by Dupont to increase strength, yet save weight. That was quite an advanced concept for its time. A future incarnation of the drum was to be called “The Beartrap” and could be used as an anti personnel mine by rotating and arming the device in a specific fashion. It would be detonated by the weight of a (presumed) enemy soldier stepping on it, which would simultaneously discharge all 10 rounds of 12 gauge ammunition. Selective fire capability and an advanced muzzle break rounded out its compliment of design features.
The weapon was designed by John Anderson of Pancor Industries in New Mexico, pictures of whom appear in the sales literature designed to arouse interest in the novel design. The documentation (discussed in the sidebar) that accompanies the Mk2 prototype details the foreign governments that expressed interest in the design and even ordered initial production units once ready for delivery. Sadly, that first production run was not to be. The design was held up for production by the testing of the United States Department of Defense and the weapon design was eventually passed over in favor of existing 12 gauge ammunition delivery systems. The DoD apparently felt that the development of suitable ammunition would be cost prohibitive and would not necessarily fulfill a viable need in the United States Arsenal. The fact that Pancor was not part of the defense establishment as were other military equipment manufacturers did not help matters either. The languishing of the design in administrative limbo caused Pancor to go bankrupt, as they could not fill foreign orders without the blessing of the State Department, and the State Department would not grant export licenses while it was being ostensibly tested by the Department of Defense. The assets of Pancor were sold off, including the few prototypes of the Jackhammer known to exist.
Mr Anderson still lives in New Mexico, yet his contributions to firearms design have ceased since the debacle he encountered in trying to market the Jackhammer. The prototype pictured in this series was personally owned and registered by Mr. Anderson. He sold it in the mid ’90s to a gentleman in Missouri and it passed through a few sets of hands, as documented by the progression of owners listed on the NFA paperwork. It currently resides in New York, of all places, and was carried by an extra during the filming of the movie “Terminator 2”. Due to the nature of full automatic firing with modern shotshell technology, the present owner thought it unwise to testfire the weapon without further testing to verify the safety of such firing. This is why we are unable to provide a description of what the firing characteristics are of this unique implement.
Future firearms design is sure to be hampered by several factors. Chief amongst those factors is the myriad of firearms regulation which did not face the firearms designer of the past. Lessons learned from innovators such as Mr. Anderson of Pancor Corporation also show the novice firearms inventor that developing a revolutionary design is not a guarantee of any kind of success. This makes it more likely that items like the Pancor Jackhammer remain unusual relics of the past and serve as cautionary tales for the tinker and inventor.
The Pancor Jackhammer prototype that was available for examination was accompanied by quite a bit of literature and documentation detailing the stir it caused when initially unveiled. Analysis of the correspondence shows much about the life of Pancor Corporation and the way governments go about the initial stages of testing and procurement. Mark Three was the Parent Corporation based in Albuquerque, NM doing business as Pancor Industries. It was licensed for business in Hamden, CT in November 1982. From that point through the ’80s and ’90s, Pancor had offices in Bel Air, MD; Redmond,WA and Red Rock, TX. There are letters from publications, distributors and security agencies of the following countries: United Kingdom,; Israel; Finland; Taiwan; Uruguay; Turkey; Switzerland; France; Qatar; Thailand; Malta; The Philippines; Pakistan; Denmark; Oman; Ireland; Italy; Argentina; and Australia.
Many of the letters were obviously written by people who did not speak English fluently. Some are from instantly recognizable names. Some of the writers requested literature and catalogs. Some requested production units for testing and evaluation. Some requested to include the Jackhammer in their national Arms museums. France wanted to include the Jackhammer in the Musee D’Armes De Liege, which is a design endorsement not granted carelessly. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense Pattern Room librarian inquired about documenting the Jackhammer in their collection. The letter from the Denmark based representative of the Sultanate of Oman requested a demonstration in Oman and included the following line: “Note: Your passport must be free of Israeli visas.”. The letter writer was a U.S. Citizen.
The documentation also includes copies of the ATF transfer forms that tracks the possession of this particular Jackhammer from Pancor Corporation to John Anderson, CEO and major shareholder of Pancor, to two different individual owners in Missouri and then to the present owner in New York.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N5 (February 2002)|
and was posted online on March 7, 2014