The Aero Precision M16A4 – Long Live the Rifle

By: Travis Pike


A long time ago, when I was young and cool, I served as a Marine infantryman, specifically a machine gunner. As a Marine, there is a massive expectation that you will be proficient with a rifle. Anything less expert at your yearly qual is looked down upon. The Marine Corps is very much a culture that embraced the rifle, and as such, the primary rifle during my time in the Corps was the M16A4. Across most services, the M4 became the general issued rifle, but the Marine Corps held out.

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They issued the M16A4 to the bulk of their forces for much longer and only accepted the M4. The Marine Corps didn’t make the M4 the primary service rifle until 2015, about nine years after the Army did so. It served for only a short period of time before being replaced with the M27 for infantry and combat arms forces.

The Last American Rifle

As a Marine, I didn’t appreciate the M16A4, and as a machine gunner, I occasionally loathed it. Having to carry an M240 belt-fed machine gun and an M16A4 was a real hassle. I wanted an M4, cool guys got M4s, and the shorter, lighter rifle will always be the one preferred by the infantry. I didn’t appreciate the M16A4 until long after I got out and handled my fair share of AR pistols, carbines, and SBRs.

The long barrel seems out of date, but it’s perfectly on point.

The M16A4 would be the last real general-issued service rifle. I’m explicitly separating carbines from rifles when I say this. Since the M16’s departure from the Marine Corps, the carbine has taken its place, and I think this has led to many not appreciating the classic 20-inch rifle.

The Aero M16A4

Nostalgia hit me one day, and I developed a lust for a 20-inch rifle, something like my M16A4. I found numerous options to fulfill my desire. Colt and FN both make 20-inch guns, but when I came across Aero, I hit the go button. Aero makes high-quality guns, and the price of the Aero M16A4 was much cheaper than the FN and Colt options. Especially for what I wanted it for. I didn’t need an exact clone and didn’t want the hefty quad rail.

Aero Precision makes two variants, one that is essentially a flat top A2 and one with the quad rail. I went with the flat top A2. It came with plastic handguards, the A2 stock, and the excellent carry handle iron sights. Aero marks the lowers in a unique way. The lower states “Property of USA M16A4.”

It’s a big boy, but a smooth and accurate shooter

I wanted to make a nice light AR rifle with a 20-inch barrel and modern furniture. That meant dropping the long A2 stock for the slightly shorter A1 length stock from Magpul. The MOE rifle stock utilizes a short LOP and has a nice compartment for storage of cleaning gear, small admin stuff, and obviously, skittles. In the spirit of Magpul, I dropped the plastic handguards and attached the MOE handguards with M-LOK slots.

Don’t get me wrong, the plastic handguards and A2 stock work perfectly fine. They aren’t the most ergonomic option but aren’t terrible either. I thought I could make the weapon lighter, more ergonomic, and more modular.

Why You Should Love the Rifle

After shooting the Aero M16A4, it’s tough to go back to your normal carbine. Sure, carbines are lighter, shorter, and most modern guns utilize free-floating barrels for enhanced accuracy. I get why they are popular, but I don’t get why the full-sized rifle variant of the AR-15 gets no love. The .223 and the 5.56 were designed for the 20-inch barrel.

I swapped the standard A2 gear for Magpul goodies.

When fired from the 20-inch barrel, not only are you getting peak performance from the round, but you are getting a much better experience. Shooters get less concussion, less muzzle flash, and even less noise. The rifle recoils less and the muzzle rise is very light. The end result is the most comfortable shooting AR-15 I’ve ever handled.

Speaking of peak performance, with the right 5.56 load, you can send an M193 round through a plate of steel armor quite effectively. That’s the velocity and performance you get from 20 inches of barrel.

Ringing Steel

Oh boy, is the Aero M16A4 accurate. Surprisingly so for a non-free floated barrel. In the prone at 50 yards, I sighted in my red dot. At this range, zeroing was incredibly easy because the three rounds I fired just dropped on top of each other. The group showed laser-like accuracy and made it easy to measure the space from the group to the bull’s eye and then adjust the dot accurately.

Shooting the Aero M16A4 is a smooth experience.

With the dot zeroed, I took my time working through a steel gong rack. I heard that satisfying ding over and over again. Even when I sped things up, I didn’t see any issues with accuracy. With the lighter recoil and almost non-existent muzzle rise, I didn’t have issues going fast. Four shots on gongs ranging from four to eight inches in size in 2.7 seconds show the weapon is easy to control and capable of pedal to the metal speed.

The Aero M16A4 is the most comfortable AR I’ve ever fired since my time with the FN Made M16A4 I was issued. I went from slow, bench rest shooting to chasing time with combative drills and enjoyed every round. It’s a total breeze of a rifle. In fact, it’s so smooth and so easy to shoot that I have trouble going back to a 14.5 or 16-inch carbine.

Embrace the rifle.

The Rifleman

The Aero M16A4 comes in at a great price point without sacrificing quality. The quad rail variant has an MSRP of 1,049 dollars, and the plastic handguard variant goes from around 800 bucks. Not bad for a highly reliable rifle that’s been problem-free for well over a thousand rounds and a couple of years of use. I miss the days of cheap ammo. When I shoot recreationally I’m often selective about what I shoot, and I often find myself pulling out the Aero M16A4. It might not be small, sleek, and sexy, but it’s accurate, reliable, and easy to shoot. I’d take the latter over the prior anytime.