In Memoriam: Melvin Forbes

An iconic gunmaker and the founder of Ultra Light Arms.

by
posted on June 13, 2024
Melvin Forbes

Melvin Forbes, 77, founder of New Ultralight Arms, died on June 5 at his home in Granville, WV, surrounded by his family and loved ones. Forbes has been a mainstay in the firearm industry since the mid-1980s, when his Ultra Light Arms—as it was then named—introduced its line of highly accurate and lightweight rifles.

Forbes was born in Morgantown, WV, in 1946, graduated from high school there and began work in the glass industry as a mold maker. He went on to teach machine shop at Monongalia County Vocational School (now Monongalia County Technical Education Center) in Morgantown, but began gunsmithing in his spare time. He resigned that position in 1984 to start Ultra Light Arms.

The company’s first rifle, the Model 20, became officially available in 1985, wearing a new and innovative stock with Kevlar and graphite construction. The approach was radical compared to the heavier and weaker fiberglass versions popular at the time, but it trimmed total weight of a firearm and riflescope to his stated goal of only 6 pounds. The downrange performance quickly caught the industry’s attention.

By the 1990s Ultra Light Arms rifles were considered among the best handling around, yet they were capable of delivering the precision enthusiasts expected from firearms twice the weight. In 1999, Colt, eager to enter the hunting rifle market, purchased the company. The deal didn’t work out as planned for a variety of reasons, and Forbes regained control of the firm.

Titan Machine, a defense industry manufacturer, bought Ultra Light Arms in 2012 and relaunched it as Forbes Rifles. Attempts to increase production efficiency, however, compromised the legendary performance. Its doors ultimately closed.

Forbes relaunched the firm as New Ultra Light Arms and brought it back to prominence. Then in 2022 Wilson Combat purchased the company.

“I have all the faith in the world in Bill Wilson, and this is a project whose time has come,” Forbes said. “I’m genuinely pleased that future generations will be able to enjoy the same rifle that I’ve been building, and that thousands of others have enjoyed, for almost 40 years.”

For his innovative work, Forbes received the NRA’s Golden Bullseye Pioneer Award in 2011.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Patricia, son John, daughter Lisa Price, grandchildren Wesley Forbes, Hannah Metz, Amanda Bradley, Courtney Price, Brandi Strawser, Samantha Strawser and great-grandson Carson Metz.

In memory Melvin Forbes, Wilson Combat is inviting people to honor his legacy by donating to the Melvin Forbes Next Generation Scholarship fund at the Montgomery Community College School of Gunsmithing. The support will help nurture and develop future generations of skilled gunsmiths, ensuring his dedication to craftsmanship and excellence continues to inspire.

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