There’s no denying the adage “everything happens for a reason.” Regardless if one attributes them to divine intervention or something less spectacular, life events influence future outcomes, even if we don’t fully understand why at the time. Such proved to be the case with Melvin Forbes, owner of New Ultra Light Arms (NULA).
“My son and daughter are happy with, and well-established in, their careers,” confided Forbes. “Nobody lives forever. With more than 7,000 [NULA and Ultra Light Arms, Inc. (ULA)] rifles out there, and my children not continuing the business, [the new venture] made sense. Those people will need support,” he added. In a world chock full of selfishness, Forbes’ reply exhibited true selflessness.
The opportunity to provide future services to NULA clientele, not to mention expand his customer base, came in 2010. “About a year and a half ago I was contacted by Jonathan Brawn, COO for Titan Machine Products, Inc.,” explained Forbes. “We decided to bring to market the Forbes Rifle Model 24B, in which I shared the design criteria, technology and manufacturing techniques, then supply the stocks. Titan Machine Products, Inc., through our new company, Forbes Rifle LLC, does the rest. The parts will be fully interchangeable with those in NULA rifles,” added Forbes.
For Forbes, it wasn’t his first such partnership, nor was it a chance collaboration with Brawn. In 1999, Forbes sold his Granville, W.Va., company, then-named Ultra Light Arms, Inc., to Colt’s Mfg. Co., Inc. The Hartford, Conn., company desired to employ Forbes’ expertise in ultra-light rifles in building the aptly named Colt “Light Rifle.” It did so ... to an extent. Certainly a folly on Colt’s part, the company used injection-molded, ULA look-alike stocks from Oneida Molded Plastics of Oneida, N.Y., rather than the genuine article, the hallmark of Forbes’ rifles. Saco Defense, an entity of Colt’s, produced the metalwork—to Forbes’ dimensions—and performed the final assembly in its Maine facility.
During the abbreviated period in which the Colt Light Rifle was produced, described by the “Blue Book of Gun Values: Thirty-Second Edition” as “New 2000-disc.,” Forbes worked closely with Brawn, who was vice president of operations at Saco Defense. According to Brawn, Colt’s owned Saco Defense for a little more than a year—purchasing it in 2000—before it sold the company to General Dynamics, which eliminated Saco’s manufacture of commercial firearms.
With the Light Rifle project cancelled, Forbes decided to purchase his company back from Colt’s; however, because of litigation—reportedly ongoing even today—in which Colt’s and its entities (including ULA) were involved, he was unable to keep the former “Ultra Light Arms, Inc.” name. Forbes’ solution was simple—name his Sept. 2000 reacquisition “New Ultra Light Arms.”
Meanwhile, Brawn, looking to invest, became a partner in Titan Machine Products, Inc., a company founded in 1978 by Mark Acker, and that was a supplier for Saco Defense. The company now has 80-plus employees and a 40,000-sq.-ft. facility in Westbrook, Maine.
In his new-old company, Forbes’ first order of business was to build Light Rifles—48 in total—that were paid for, yet had not been delivered. He received no compensation for doing so. “My customers come first,” justified Forbes. See a recurring theme? Brawn, who has remained a friend of Forbes, and his now-business partner, did. They also recognized Forbes’ expertise in designing accurate, reliable, lightweight and marketable product. “We [Brawn and Acker] talked about this for the past 10 years,” said Brawn. “It was the right guy, the right product, and the right opportunity. Melvin’s product is unique and very sellable,” he added.
With future cuts to military funding seemingly inevitable, it was fortuitous timing for Titan Machine Products, Inc., which supports the production of arms such as the M2, MK19, MK47 and M242. On the commercial side, the company aids production of firearms from Spencer Rifles and Colt’s Mfg. Co., Inc., the latter having previously included the famed Single Action Army.
With the partnership forged, it was decided that the rifles should come out not from Titan Machine Products, Inc., but rather a new company using Forbes’ well-respected surname; hence the company was called Forbes Rifle LLC. Though offerings—designs, action sizes, and chambering—will likely expand, the first to emerge from the fledgling company was the Model 24B.
The Model 24B
“The .270 Win. and .30-’06 Sprg. are what the majority of [American] hunters use, so the choice of action [for the introductory Forbes Rifle] was simple—the Model 24,” explained Forbes. New Ultra Light Arms chambers Model 24s in .30-’06 Sprg. and its offspring, ranging from .25-’06 Rem. to .35 Whelen, as well as the European favorite, 9.3x62 mm, so the ability for diversification is present. “We’re [Forbes Rifle LLC] looking at increasing offerings, including a big range of calibers [and thus different action sizes] is possible,” reported Brawn. “Some calibers will remain NULA options only, however.”
The chrome-moly steel receiver is CNC-machined from round bar stock, and it has the same matte-black oxide finish that is found on the recoil lug, secured between the barrel and the front of the receiver, the barrel, and the bolt shroud and handle. Since the barrel is devoid of sights, the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope bases, which are included. Designed by Melvin Forbes, the Talley Mfg., Inc. 1-inch aircraft aluminum rings—with bases integral with the lower half—weigh only 2 ounces per set.
Like NULA rifles, the Model 24B has a blind, three-round-capacity, staggered-column magazine that is tensioned by a steel leaf spring beneath a steel follower. Although the use of a blind magazine further increases stock strength, in this case its primary purpose is weight reduction. With the exception of the aluminum trigger guard, there’s no bottom metal, which is traditionally steel and, thus, increases weight.
At least initially, the Model 24B will have the two-position Timney trigger currently used by NULA, though Forbes Rifle LLC is designing its own. The trigger differs from the standard Timney Remington Model 700 offerings in that Forbes installs a safety of his own design. When in the rear or “safe” position, pushing downward on the button enables the bolt to be cycled for unloading, yet the sear remains blocked. On the test rifle, the trigger exhibited no discernible creep or overtravel and broke at 2 pounds, 9.4 ounces.
Depressing the bolt-release, located on the left, rear of the receiver, enables removal of the bolt. The bolt, the body of which measures a mere 0.591 inches in diameter, weighs only 8.1 ounces. The body is, for the most part, left in white, and receives both jewelling and polishing for enhanced aesthetics. It has dual-opposed locking lugs, a Sako-style extractor and a plunger ejector. Currently the handle is brazed to the body, as is found on NULA rifles; however, Forbes commented that Forbes Rifle LLC is considering a bolt machined with an integral handle.