Hesse FAL Type Rifles
Historically similar standard and heavy barrel semiautomatic rifles made from U.S. and imported parts
By Jim Benson
The Belgian Fabrique Nationale (FN) Fusil Automatique Leger (FAL) was one of the basic NATO caliber weapons resulting from the "rifle controversy" of the early 1950s in which the nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization sought to develop a new infantry rifle.
Chambered for the U.S.-imposed NATO standard caliber of 7.62 x 51 mm (.308 Win.), the FAL was a heavy (9.5 pound), big (43.6-inches long) and strong recoiling weapon which was unwieldy in full-automatic fire mode. Despite these shortcomings it proved to be, as the 12th Edition of Small Arms of the World put it, "an exceedingly popular weapon" which was rugged and reliable and which saw wide use by military forces throughout the world and was produced in larger quantities than any other NATO caliber rifle since 1945. From the 1950s through 1980, the military forces of some 79 countries used FALs.
Considered largely obsolete for military purposes today, the FAL is still a popular rifle among collectors, shooting enthusiasts and others familiar with its qualities. These rifles were banned from further import by the U.S. government in 1989 and they are outlawed as "assault weapons" by California and other jurisdictions.
Now Hesse Limited (Dept. ASG, 1126 70th Street East, Inver Grove Heights, MN 55077-2416; phone/fax 612-455-5760) is producing FAL type rifles using imported foreign parts and domestically produced internal parts. Since the rifles are more than 50 percent U.S. made and have been altered to comply with current legislative restrictions, the Hesse FALO heavy barrel and FALH standard barrel rifles, as they are designated, are fully legal in the U.S. and even in California at this writing.
The external parts--barrel, receiver, stock, fore end, optional bipod, etc.-- are military specification and are imported from Israel, Germany and Brazil, while internal parts are manufactured by Hesse here in the U.S. The muzzle brakes for these rifles are also Hesse manufactured based on the original FN muzzle brake but slightly larger than the original to comply with the federal crime bill.
The Hesse FAL type rifles come in two styles of furniture: Israeli and German, with the German stock and fore end being very close to the original Belgian FAL furniture. The FALO rifles are heavy barrel models and FALH rifles are standard barrel models. Stocks and fore ends can be in either natural wood or epoxy black finish and the rifles may be had in either standard barrel length of 21 inches or the "Congo" style short 16.2-inch barrel.
Hesse Ltd. shipped us two of its rifles, the FALO Heavy Barrel with Israeli wood furniture and bipod, and the Congo Rifle with short barrel and Israeli black epoxy furniture. The heavy barrel model has an overall length of 45 inches including muzzle brake and the Congo has an overall length of 37 inches and has no bipod. Neither rifle has a carry handle. Both have rear aperture battle sights adjustable for windage and elevation and front post sights adjustable for elevation.
"These rifles are built using Israeli parts," said Hesse Ltd. President Robert A. Hesse. "These rifles are standard metric pattern and will accept most metric parts. The only real difference between the two are the barrel length (the FALO has a 21-inch barrel, the FALO Congo has a 16.2-inch barrel) and the stock finish (the FALO Heavy Barrel has the natural wood stock, the FALO Congo has the epoxy black finish). Either rifle can be had with either finish. All parts under go a physical inspection and are refinished in a tough black oxide.
"We use [Brazilian made] IMBEL type 3 receivers," Hesse continued. "The type 3 is the latest design. It was found that the type 1 and type 2 receivers would develop cracks during use. Production of these receivers was halted in the early 1970s. We conducted an extensive search and did exhaustive testing on all makes of receivers. We have found that the IMBEL is, by far, the best. These receivers have been manufactured in an FN licensed facility for the past 30 years.
"We use a muzzle brake of our own design patterned after the standard FN version. The barrel has the threads machined off and the muzzle brake is press fit on, then secured with flush fitting set screws. Our muzzle brakes are fully ATF approved for use on post-ban guns.
"The FALO has our muzzle brake welded on to the bipod connector, which in turn is secured to the barrel with set screws that screw into recesses machined into the barrel. The muzzle brakes are removable, but it takes a bit of force, and maybe an application of heat, to get them off."
"All our FAL type rifles feature an adjustable gas system," said Hesse. "The rifle can be adjusted to just about any load, from very light loads all the way up to the heavy game loads. The gas plug on the end of the cylinder can also be rotated to the off position. This turns the rifle into a single shot weapon requiring manual operation of the charging handle to chamber each round."
The bipod on the heavy barrel model is genuine Israeli military and folds up under the barrel when not in use. It is removable by driving out the retaining pin on its barrel mount and sliding the bipod off the barrel.
The charging handle on these rifles, located on the left side of the receiver, is also of Israeli design and can double as a forward assist. If you push the charging handle knob in toward the receiver a pin engages the bolt carrier and you can push it closed with the charging handle. The bolt locks open after the last shot has been fired. We were shipped standard 20-round FAL magazines with these rifles but Hesse ships its rifles with 10-round magazines.
The selector levers on these rifles still has a position for full-automatic fire, as well as for safe and semiautomatic fire positions. There is no full-automatic fire mode on these guns, however, and if the user moves the selector switch to the full-auto position the hammer follows the bolt closed, giving you essentially a single shot rifle, a fact demonstrated to us when we were at the firing range.
"The barrels on these rifles are a heavy contour and fully chrome lined, Robert Hesse said. "This helps with accuracy, heat dissipation and barrel life. Rifling is right hand, four grooves, 1-12-inches twist.
"These FALO rifles also have flip up butt plates, similar to the M14. This adds stability during rapid fire.
The Congo model weighs nearly 10 pounds empty and the heavy barrel model with its big bipod weighs about 14 pounds.
Test Firing--At a private outdoor gun range we put the FALOs through their paces with three kinds of.308 ammunition: some Portuguese military surplus full-metal & jacketed ammunition, some of the new Black Hills moly-coated 168-grain boat-tail hollow point match cartridges, and some Federal Gold Medal 168-grain boat-tail hollow point match ammo.
We began firing at targets set up 100 yards away with the full-sized heavy barrel FALO with bipod from a shooting bench. We ran into a problem immediately and after several unsuccessful attempts at adjusting the gas according to instructions in the owners manual, the rifle continued to require cocking after each shot to chamber and fire another round. Then, after again consulting the owners manual, we realized we had the selector switch set on the full-auto position, which turns the gun into a single shot weapon. These being receivers used by the Israeli military, the markings are in Hebrew and we had misunderstood them. After moving the selector switch to the correct setting for semiautomatic fire, the rifle functioned flawlessly and we experienced no further problems for the rest of our test firing session. The Congo FALO also functioned perfectly with all the ammunition fired in it once its selector switch was set on the right position.
We found that the shorter-barreled Congo shot a little better than the full sized FALO, probably due to that big, heavy bipod flexing the full-sized FALO's barrel, which would have to throw accuracy off a bit, as well as a lighter trigger pull on the Congo.
The rifles were fairly accurate with the military ball ammunition, but as would be expected, we shot the most accurately with the Black Hills and Federal match stuff. Our best groups with the surplus ball ammo were in the 3-to 5-inch range, and the match ammunition delivered groups in the 2- to 3-inch range. One of the best groups was 4 shots in 2 inches with three of those shots in '1.5 inches, fired with the Black Hills ammo. We all felt that with more time and practice, we would have improved on our accuracy.
Felt recoil was more pronounced with the Congo but was quite manageable in both rifles. Their weight and gas operation help to give the shooter better control of these big, powerful rifles.
We noticed that the triggers on the rifles had a fair amount of creep in them, which had an adverse affect on accuracy. I measured the trigger pull of the full-sized FALO at about 7.5 pounds while the Congo rifle had a lighter pull of about 5.5 pounds--another factor contributing to its better accuracy.
These are battle rifles and were not meant to be match shooters. They are extremely rugged and reliable and, with the correct gas and selector settings, will deliver good to very good accuracy as Is, but with some good gunsmithing work we have no doubt these rifles could be made even more accurate for much improved long range accuracy.
The Congo FALO retails for $899 and the full-sized FALO is $849 with-out bipod, which is a $30 option. The Standard barrel full sized and short barrel FALH models are also $849 and $899, respectively.
It's been a long time, since before the gun ban hysteria of the late 1980s and 1990s, that we have been able to shoot FAL type rifles, and we were pleased and satisfied to be once again, shooting a bit of history. If these rifles are typical of the Hesse Limited products, we believe the owners of these rifles will be well satisfied with their purchase. ·
Taken from American Survival Guide July 1997
Article Provided By Hesse LTD
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