The term “modular design” in the field of small arms most often indicates the possibility of installing various additional devices of different purposes that affect combat and operational characteristics. Nevertheless, other interpretations of this term are possible, including very curious ones. So, the American company Zel Custom Manufacturing several years ago proposed the Tactilite project, which envisaged the most serious reorganization of the finished weapon with the help of plug-in modules.
The scope of the small company Zel Custom Manufacturing from Florida, founded by Michael Brendzel, was the release of replacement parts and additional equipment for civilian weapons of the most popular types. It produced trunks, trunk box elements, trigger parts, etc. As the promotional materials said, the advantages of such products were provided by the best materials and modern production technologies.
At the end of the last decade, gunsmiths from Zel Castom decided to enter the civil market with a completely new product that developed the idea of a modular design. Initially, the project was named Ultralite50 – “ultra-light, caliber .50”. Later, in connection with the expansion of plans, the project was renamed into Tactilite. This name formed from the English words “tactical” and “light”, and therefore, unlike the first, it almost did not reveal the essence of the new project, although it corresponded to fashion trends. A little later, there was an additional designation T1, with which the first modules were proposed to be distinguished from later ones.
In accordance with the original ideas of designers, the “Ultralight 50” / “Tactylite” product was intended to be a replacement module for an AR-15 rifle that meets unusual requirements. He had to include the so-called. top receiver by type used on standard weapons, as well as barrel and shutter with the desired parameters, compatible with the “non-standard” cartridge. Such a module was proposed to be connected to the existing lower receiver of the rifle, getting a completely new weapon with different characteristics and capabilities.
The Tactilite project in this form had one interesting feature of a legal nature. In accordance with US arms legislation, the replacement module, equipped with a barrel and a bolt, was not considered a weapon and was just an additional accessory that did not need registration. However, the shooter would have to go through all the necessary bureaucratic procedures with the lower receiver. Such an original appearance of the product “Tactylite” allowed with minimal difficulties to assemble new weapons from individual components.
In mid-2009, Zel Custom Mfg introduced the first version of the Tactilite system, designed to use a .50 BMG large-caliber rifle cartridge (12.7×99 mm NATO). In this project, all the basic ideas were realized and the main aggregates were created. In the future, the plug-in module “Tactylite” was modified in one way or another, but its general architecture and scheme were not altered. Also, the legal status of the product did not change.
The project offered a replacement module with its own top element of the receiver, the barrel, the bolt and the means of mounting the sight. For obvious reasons, the Tactilite system was made single-charged and did not have any means of self-reloading. Nevertheless, in this configuration it also made it possible to turn the standard AR-15 product into a large-caliber rifle with the corresponding characteristics.
With the help of standard fasteners, the Tactylite product had to be fixed to the bottom element of the standard AR-15 receiver. The latter contained a shock-trigger mechanism and a receiving shaft of the magazine. The finished large-caliber rifle was to use the regular USM, located in the lower receiver. The mine of the store, however, remained out of work. The existing pistol grip and butt, connected to the lower receiver, provided acceptable usability of the weapon.
The upper receiver of the Tactilite system was a tube of sufficient length, accommodating a longitudinally sliding shutter. In the right wall of such a receiver there was a large window with a pair of outgoing grooves in the front and rear parts. This window should be used to manually load .50 BMG cartridges. Also, an empty shell was thrown through it. Finally, the window acted as a groove for the handle of the shutter control. In the front part of the receiver there were means of installing the trunk, the breech block had a pair of fighting stops.
In the front and rear parts of the proposed receiver there were holes for the pins that fastened it to the bottom receiver. From the point of view of the mounting systems, the new receiver completely repeated the design of the standard AR-15 boxes. Thus, as stated, the Tactilite T1 product could be installed on any lower element of the receiver of a similar design.
Module “Tactile” was equipped with a sliding slide of the most simple design. The shutter frame was made in the form of a long cylinder, capable of moving inside the upper receiver. In front of it there was a rotating shutter with a pair of large fighting stops. The lock was locked by turning it clockwise using the control knob. When the shutter was closed, the latter was in the front groove of the receiver and acted as an additional stop. Inside the shutter and its frames were a spring-loaded drummer and extractor. Moving back, the bolt passed through the tubular rear element of the lower receiver and partially got inside the return-spring casing.
For obvious reasons, the Tactilite system did not have its own shock-trigger mechanism, but it used the regular means of the existing lower receiver. For this purpose, a slot for the passing of the swinging trigger was provided in the lower part of its receiver.
On top of the module Tactilite of the first version was placed the bar for the installation of the sight, distinguished by its characteristic shape. To lift the sight to the required height, a composite section support was used, facilitated by a number of transverse holes. The upper edge of this support had the profile of the Picatinny bar and allowed to install any compatible sight. Behind the higher support there was a smaller block, also equipped with a standard bar.
At the front end of the replacement module, a freely hung barrel was fixed. Customers were offered products with threaded barrels in a caliber of 12.7 mm long, 29, 22 or 18.5 inches – 736.6, 558.8 or 469.9 mm respectively. In the advertising materials it was noted that the Tactilite system is equipped with the trunks of the Mossberg and Lothar-Walther companies, which provide high accuracy and accuracy of fire.
The company Zel Custom M. Brendzela offered customers Ultralite50 / Tactilite T1 products in different configurations. In particular, they differed in material, shape and ergonomics of the forearm, the presence or absence of a muzzle brake-compensator, etc. By prior arrangement, the buyer could make some changes of a technical or cosmetic nature to the purchased system. The cost of the finished module was determined by bundling. For the least complex and “advanced” kits, the manufacturer requested $ 1,550.
Just a few weeks after the announcement of the Tactilite system for the .50 BMG cartridge, Zel Custom Manufacturing Company introduced a new modification of this plug-in module. From the basic version, it differed in the barrel, designed for the rifle cartridges .416 Barrett (10.6×83 mm). This ammunition was created in the middle of the last decade as a modern replacement for 12.7×99 mm and resembled it with some of its characteristics, differing in some parameters.
It should be noted that the Tactilite .416 system allowed the manufacturer to expand sales to a certain extent. The fact is that in several US states and in a number of foreign countries the .50 BMG cartridge can not be used in civilian weapons. As a result, supplies of “accessories” such as Tactilite .50 BMG, for example, to California did not make sense – no one would buy them. The .416 Barrett cartridge, in turn, was not subject to restrictions and could be used by civilian arrows, and Zel Castom could increase sales through new regions and countries.
In October 2009, the announcement of a new development of Zel Custom, created within the framework of the Tactilite program, was held. She presented the so-called. The third generation of receivers for rifles for the .50 BMG cartridge. To improve the quality of the finished product, it was proposed to produce a single barrel box from a single steel blank (4140 steel). The workpiece should be machined on a CNC milling machine.
Before the introduction of new production technology, gunsmiths developed an updated design of the receiver. The main innovation was the appearance of an integrated Picatinny bar, running along the entire length of the main part of the box. The contours and forms of the internal cavity, the windows and the slits necessary for the installation of various details, remained the same. As a result, the characteristics of rifles with third-generation barrels remained at the level of previous products. According to a press release from the manufacturer, now the Gen 3 receivers have become the standard for the entire Tactylite lineup. Devices of previous designs were withdrawn from production.
The following novelty was shown in early December of the same year. By replacing the trunk and processing the shutter, a replacement module Tactilite .338 was created. As the name indicates, this “accessory” was intended for the use of a .338 Lapua cartridge (8.6×70 mm). Thus, now in the catalog of the company Zel Custom there were three basic modifications of the replaceable upper receiver, each of which could be completed with one of three trunks of different length. Nine of these products could be different in the assembly and exterior decoration.
In February 2010, instead of another announcement, Zel Custom Mfg published an alarming message about the recall of the products. All owners of one of the versions of the Tactilite T1 .50 BMG receiver were asked to contact the manufacturer. As it turned out, an error was made in the manufacture of these products. During the assembly, the cocking cock was pressed into the transverse channel of the bolt with interference. On some serial modules, the handlebars went too far into the bolt and literally clamped the drummer. When the shutter was energetically propelled forward, a blocked drummer could trigger a shot until the barrel was completely locked. To avoid possible accidents, the shooters were asked to contact the manufacturer for assistance.
Having dealt with the defective party, the arms company presented a completely new project based on already well-known ideas. At the end of summer 2010, a finished product called T2 was introduced. Replacement module Tactilite T2 to some extent repeated the design of the previous product T1, but it was different with new features. The main innovation of this project was the combat system based on a detachable box magazine. Now the shooter did not have to manually feed cartridges one at a time.
“Accessory” for AR-15 with store power was built on the basis of a third-generation receiver. In its left wall appeared a rectangular window, supplemented by a small horizontal shaft. The back wall of the shaft had a latch to fix the magazine. The .50 BMG cartridges were to be stored and shipped from the box store from Accuracy International. Ready-to-use ammunition consisted of 5 cartridges. It should be noted that the introduction of military equipment had no effect on the mechanics of weapons. The Tactylite receiver of the T2 version still had a manual recharge and a sliding slide with a turn-off lock.
In the basic configuration, the Tactilite T2 had a steel receiver and an aluminum forearm with four standard slats at the top, bottom and sides. The buyer could choose the length of the barrel and its manufacturer. In addition, for the first time in the lineup, there was a choice of ergonomics: the receiver with a “mirror” arrangement of parts could easily be used by a left-handed shooter. Prices for the product Tactilite T2 with store meals began at 2300 dollars.
As far as we know, the plug-in module with exchangeable magazines was only available for the .50 BMG / 12.7×99 mm cartridge. For one reason or another, Zel Custom did not develop and launch similar products for the .416 Barrett or .338 Lapua Magnum cartridges. A relatively wide choice was retained only in the case of the Tactilite T1 line.
The American market of civil weapons always loyally refers to the original novelties, and the Tactilite project naturally attracted attention, and also showed some commercial success. Nevertheless, sales of specific accessories for weapons were not large. However, these products still found their buyer and were produced serially.
The advantages of such “accessories” that could positively affect sales were the possibility of obtaining weapons with sufficiently high performance using finished products, as well as the lack of the need for special registration of the resulting rifle. The main drawback, in turn, was a considerable price, due to technologies and approaches to production.
Quite quickly, in just a few years the market saturation. Some of the potential buyers of the Tactilight systems purchased the desired products, while others wanted to use the secondary market and bought second-hand systems. The release of new plug-in modules actually lost its meaning. The attempt to enter the civil market with a “revolutionary new” idea brought some benefits to Zel Custom Manufacturing, but the current situation could not be used forever. By the middle of the current decade, the company was forced to curtail the already mass production of Tactilite receivers of all developed versions.
Looking ahead, it is worth noting that the company “Zel Cast” could not resist and in the market of replacement parts or spare parts for small arms of popular models. In the middle of this decade, she was forced to curtail her activities and stop the production of all new devices. The official reasons for the closure of the company were production difficulties and personal problems of M. Brendzel. However, the cessation of the release of new products had almost no effect on the operation of those already sold. A large number of rifles and guns are still equipped with parts with the Zel Custom brand, and a certain number of shooters continue to use the Tactilite system.
Wanting to get their share of the market, small arms companies often offer the most original ideas of one kind or another. Some of these projects cope with the tasks assigned and bring their creator to the market leaders; Other, however, fail. The company Zel Custom Manufacturing, setting the release of various spare parts for rifles, came to the original idea of a replacement module, which includes a receiver, a barrel and a shutter, but not subject to registration as a separate weapon.
This development was expected to attract the attention of buyers and took its niche. Nevertheless, the narrowness of such a niche did not allow continuing production for a long time, and besides, it could become one of the reasons for the closure of the developer company.