The FAL was developed alongside the SAFN-49 self-loading rifle; the two rifles operate very similarly. Initially, starting in 1946, the FN FAL was developed for the 7.92x33mm Kurz intermediate German cartridge as the Universal Carbine. This was dropped in favor of the British .280 (7×43mm) intermediate cartridge.
In 1950, the FN FAL was submitted to U.S. military trials, along with the British EM-2 bullpup rifle. The U.S. military was impressed by the FN FAL's performance; however, the U.S. insisted on using the full-power T65 cartridge instead of the .280 British. Following U.S. insistence, the FAL was redesigned for this new ammunition, and the first rifles were produced in 1953, with the Canadians being the first to adopt it as their new service rifle in 1955.
In 1954, the British adopted a semi-automatic only version of the FAL, designated as the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle.
The FN FAL rifle is a gas-operated, magazine-fed, select-fire rifle. There is usually a gas regulator to adjust the gas pressure, which aids in safely launching rifle grenades. It is fed from 20-round magazines (30 round magazines were also used in Hbar (heavy barrel) variants). Some of the FN FALs are restricted to semi-automatic fire only. Customarily, FN FALs are equipped with the long flash hider, which doubles as a rifle grenade launcher.
The FAL is gas-operated and fires from the closed-bolt position in both the semi- and full-auto modes. It has an operator-adjustable gas regulator which works on the "exhaust" principle. Under ideal conditions the major portion of the gas is passed through the regulator and out into the air. This system helps to better manage the gas pressure, which helps in managing the recoil.
To adjust the regulator, with the gas-regulator sleeve fully screwed up over the gas port. Then unscrew the sleeve - with either the adjusting tool or the head of a cartridge - one complete turn so that the gas port is completely exposed. On an older FAL, the number "7" on the sleeve will be in line with the axis of the rifle. (However, these numbers have been eliminated from the new LARS, apparently as a cost-saving device). This is the fully-open position of the gas regulator and when a round is fired short recoil will result (the hold-open will fail to engage).
The adjustable gas system, placement of the gas cylinder above the barrel, and alignment of the stock with the barrel axis all reduce the tendency of the weapon to climb in rapid semi-auto fire.
With an empty magazine fitted to the rifle, screw the gas-regulator sleeve forward one click at a time, and fire one round only after each adjustment by inserting the cartridge into the chamber through the ejection port. When the hold-open finally engages, verify by firing several more individual rounds. As a safety margin, screw the gas regulator forward by two additional clicks and the exhaust regulation is set.
The gas regulator offers firing with the lowest possible recoil combined with the ability to direct more gas into the system under adverse conditions or in case of fouling.
The FAL's operating sequence can be briefly described as such: the projectile passes the gas port in the top of the barrel, where some of the gas is diverted into the gas cylinder where it expands and drives the short-stroke piston back. The actuator rod strikes the face of the bolt carrier; the carrier moves independently to the rear about a 1/4 inch, during which time the chamber pressure has dropped to a safe level.
After this free movement, the carrier's unlocking cam moves under the bolt lug and raises the rear portion of the bolt out of the locking recess in the bottom of the receiver. The bolt and its carrier now travel back, compressing the recoil spring. The extractor withdraws the fired case, holding it on the bolt face until it hits the fixed ejector and is propelled out of the rifle through the ejection port.
The recoil spring drives the carrier and bolt forward, stripping the top cartridge out of the magazine and driving it into the chamber. The bolt stops and the carrier continues forward a short distance until its locking cam rides over the bolt, forcing and holding the bolt down into the recess at the bottom of the receiver.
Fire control group
The trigger mechanism incorporates both the sear which is attached to the trigger by a pin and an "automatic safety sear" which is in front of the hammer and must be depressed for the hammer to rotate.
The original FAL receivers were forged and milled with a projected lifespan of 80,000 rounds. Blake Stevens (personal communication) has observed one of these receivers which cracked in the locking-lug area after 60,000 rounds. Stevens has also seen a Canadian army FAL receiver (manufactured by flame cutting on a pantograph machine) which cracked after 40,000 rounds.
In an effort to lower production costs, the LAR receivers are investment-cast and mill-finished, with an estimated life of 40,000 rounds. The new investment-cast receivers are missing several of the lightening cuts that were milled into the older forged receivers.
All of the FAL/LARs had a baked-enamel exterior finish: the early FALs glossy black, the Congo FAL a two-tone gray and black, and the LARs matte black.
The fixed rear sight of the early paratroop FAL has been replaced by a two-position (150 and 250 meters) flip sight. The sight's protective ears have been enlarged as well.
The LAR's synthetic butt stock is a considerable improvement over the old wooden stocks. More impact-resistant than wood, it is capped by a substantial rubber pad which significantly reduces felt recoil.
The front lug of the FN FAL magazine locks up into the receiver when the magazine is properly inserted front end first. This front lug has been merely punched out of the sheet metal of the magazine body.
FN FAL rifles have been adapted in service by numerous countries, including the United Kingdom. They were also manufactured by license in many of those countries (with local modifications). Around the world, FN FALs can be found in two major patterns - "inch" and "metric". Sometimes, magazines could not be interchanged between those two patterns. "Inch" patterns were widespread in the British Commonwealth countries, and they are often limited to semi-automatic use. "Metric" pattern rifles were usually were capable of automatic fire.
Although there are many modifications for the FN FAL, there are four basic configurations to mention:
- FAL 50.00, or simply FAL, with fixed buttstock and the standard barrel.
- FAL 50.63 or FAL "Para", with a folding skeleton buttstock and a short barrel.
- FAL 50.64 with a folding skeleton buttstock and a standard length barrel.
- FAL 50.41 aka "FAL H-Bar" aka "FAL-O", with a heavy barrel, bipod, and an extended magazine.
A total of six different FALs were used in SOF's test and evaluation. Three of the rifles were semiautomatic variants of the so-called LAR (Light Automatic Rifle - the nomenclature used overseas by FN for the FAL since the early '70s and by Steyr since it began to distribute the rifle in this country in 1977),, which is available through the Steyr-Daimier-Puch of America Corporation (Dept. SOF, 85 Metro Way, Secaucus, NJ 07094). They were a folding-stock, long-barreled (21 inches) paratroop model (No. FN 50-61); a standard, or "match," version with a rigid stock (No. FN 50-00); and the LAR heavy-barrel model with bipod (No. FN 50-41). Three older FALs were used for comparison: a semiautomatic "G" series (so called because of the "G" prefixing their serial numbers), one of 1,836 rifles imported from 1959 until January 1963, when they were reclassified by the BATF as exempt machine guns; a full-auto, folding-stock, short-barreled (18 inches) Belgian army paratroop model (No. FN 50-63) from the Congo; and a very early (serial No. 409) full-auto FAL without a flash suppressor.
The semiautomatic "G" series FALs imported in the early '60s contained a number of modifications, including elimination of this automatic safety sear, to render them incapable of full-auto fire. The BATF decided this was insufficient and demanded that the cut milled in the receiver to accept the safety sear be eliminated on all FALs imported to the United States. The 1,836 rifles imported prior to this judgment were declared exempt from this requirement.
In 1973 when FN went to an investment-cast receiver, the company forgot to omit the safety-sear recess in the receivers manufactured for U.S. delivery. As a result, Steyr sold more than 2,000 rifles (including SOF's test weapons) which were no different from the original "G" series FALs that BATF had reclassified as machine guns. BATF has agreed to exempt the LARs also, provided they have not been modified. All future LARs imported into the United States must conform to BATF requirements, i.e., the receiver recess for the automatic-safety sear will have to be omitted.
The very early full-auto test FAL was notable by the absence of a flash suppressor. It was intended for use with IMR-type powders, which in general do not produce as much flash as the more common ball propellants. This rifle's unusual bayonet has two prongs attached to the hilt, which, together with the blade itself, serve as a flash suppressor.
Both the full-auto Congo paratroop FAL and the "PARA" LAR had combination flash-hider/grenade launchers. They were equipped with a tubular-handle, convex-bladed bayonet. The flash suppressor on the "G" series FAL and the "match" FAL was long and slender and not designed for grenade launching.
The LAR Heavy Barrel has its own flash suppressor which also aids in reducing muzzle climb, at the expense of increased side blast. As imported into the United States, in semiautomatic only, the LAR HB serves no discernible purpose. Complete with its bipod and chrome-lined heavy barrel, it weighs in at over 13 pounds. Far too heavy to fire effectively off-hand, its weight and bulk would be justified only if it were capable of firing in the full-auto mode.
- Due to its widespread use by a variety of NATO and first world countries during the Cold War, the FAL was given the title of "The Right Arm of the Free World".