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FN FAL (Fusil Automatique Léger - Light Automatic Rifle) is a battle rifle that was developed at Fabrique Nationale de Herstal alongside the SAFN-49 self-loading rifle. Both were developed by the same team, so their mechanism is quite similar. Initially, starting in 1946, the FN FAL was developed for the 7.92x33mm Kurz intermediate German cartridge. Later, it was dropped in favor of British .280 (7x43mm) intermediate cartridge.
In 1950, FN FAL was tried by US military, along with British EM-2 bullpup rifle. The US military was impressed by the FN FAL's performance, but insisted on using the full-power T65 cartridge instead (which became 7.62x51 NATO standard in 1953-1954).
Following US insistence, the FN FAL was redesigned for this new ammunition, and the first rifles were produced in 1953. Ironically enough, Belgium was not the first to adapt those rifles in 1956 - Canada did so a year earlier, in 1955. It was in the Falklands War wherein the British and the Argentinian Forces are using both rifles. The British are using semi-auto variants while the Argentinians are using the full auto variants, Which majority of British soldiers would pick up the full auto FALs and using it instead of using their semi-auto FALs
FN FAL rifles were quickly recognized as reliable weapons, having 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 countries of British Commonwealth, and they are often limited to semi-automatic use. "metric" patterns, on other hand, usually were capable of automatic fire.
Technically, the FN FAL rifle is a gas-operated select-fire rifle. The mechanism usually includes a gas regulator to adapt for environment and to safely launch rifle grenades. It is fed from 20-round magazines (30 round magazines were also used in Hbar versions). 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.
Although the FN FAL has automatic fire capability by design, accuracy of automatic fire is moderate at best, due to the power of the cartridge. Typically, FN FALs are used as Battle Rifles, and automatic fire is used only in emergency situations. This, of course, does not include the Hbar modification, which was designed as a light support weapon, and works as such quite well.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.
By the middle of WWII, the Germans became convinced that the individual soldier rarely engaged targets beyond 400 meters and that the ability of his weapon to deliver short bursts of full-automatic fire was a desirable characteristic. To these specific ends they designed a cartridge of reduced ballistic values, the 7.92mm Kurz (short) and the world's first true assault rifle (Sturmgewehr), the MP 43/44 (StG 44/45). Picking up on this concept after 1945, the rest of the world raced headlong down the path of intermediate cartridges and lightweight, select-fire assault rifles. The most notable early example is the 7.62x39mm ComBloc cartridge chambered in the AK-47.
By 1950, the British, following this trend, had developed the .280/30 cartridge and chambered it in the British EM2 "bullpup" rifle and the Belgian FN rifle before that year's light-rifle trials staged in the United States. The United States had taken the position that "there have been no changes in combat tactics which would justify a reduction of rifle caliber and power." Thus, the U.S. entry was the "full-power" T65 cartridge, which merely shortened the .30-06 case, a modification made possible by propellant improvements.
In 1953, the modified T65 cartridge was finally adopted as standard by NATO and designated 7.62x51mm. This was done without any consideration being given to the desirability of select-fire capability in a light rifle - a specification which absolutely necessitates the use of an intermediate-power cartridge.
Using D.J. Saive's breech mechanism, which closely resembles that of the Soviet Tokarev semiautomatic rifle, the original FN FAL (Fusil Automatique Legere: Rifle, Automatic, Light) prototype was chambered in the German 7.92mm Kurz. After its redesign to 7.62mm NATO, by Saive and Ernest Vervier, the FAL soon became one of the greatest success stories in the history of modern military small arms. It has at one time or another been adopted and used by more than 90 nations, including numerous Latin American countries, the British Commonwealth and Israel. It has been manufactured by Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Great Britain, India, Israel and South Africa.
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 reduce recoil.
If the correct procedure is followed, adjustment of the gas regulator is simple. Start 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).
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 rounds single-shot. 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 follows. After the projectile passes the gas port in the top of the barrel, some of the gas is diverted into the gas cylinder where it expands and drives the short-stroke piston back, which in turn strikes the face of the bolt carrier. This 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.
A total of six different FALs were used in SOF's test and evaluation of this legendary weapon. 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 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.
The trigger mechanism of the FAL is ingenious and well-designed and has been much copied. It incorporates both the usual 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 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 take-down lock lever has been moved from its former position, directly to the rear of the upper receiver where its motion was often impeded by the rear sling swivel on the paratroop models, to a more convenient location under the upper receiver on the LAR.
The absence of markings on the gas-regulator sleeve has already been noted. The front-sight markings have also been removed from the LAR, leaving no frame of reference other than several small dots. In addition, the "A" (Automatic) and "Gr" (Grenade) markings have been eliminated from the gas plug. However, the "A" side of the gas plug is still notched for identification.
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.
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 tubular aluminum folding stock on the LAR "PARA" model has a newly added complexity. To open or close, the spring-loaded stock must be pressed downward as before, but now an additional spring-loaded catch must be simultaneously moved to the left - a difficult and confusing procedure, especially in combat. The folding stocks on the Galil and AK-74S are much easier to open or close quickly under stress.
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. A weak feature which has caused many a malfunction, this front lug should be inspected periodically. The Canadians solved this problem by installing a separate beefed-up front lug. While all other FAL magazines can be used in the Canadian FALS, their improved magazine can be used in no other. A 30-round British Bren Conversion (L4A2) magazine was employed during the tests. It worked well but is quite heavy.
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.
The FAL/LAR is a comfortable rifle to shoot and it handles well. 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 semiauto fire. Little difference in felt recoil was noted between the 18 and 21-inch barrels of the two folding stock paratroop models. Well-built, rugged, handsomely finished for a military rifle, and adequately reliable except under the most severe sand and dust conditions, the FAL/LAR's reputation is largely well deserved.
Firing an FAL in the full-auto mode - on those versions possessing this feature - is best restricted to only the most experienced operators in two to three-round bursts at extremely short distances. At ranges of 200 meters or more, employing an unsupported kneeling or sitting position, it can be anticipated that the second and third rounds in the burst will hit at least 10 meters above and to the right of the first shot. Full-auto fire offhand with an 8- to 10-pound rifle in caliber 7.62mm NATO is strictly an emergency procedure. In fact, many, if not most, of the nations which adopted the FAL have removed the select-fire option entirely.