The FN FAL rifle (Fusil Automatique Leger – Light Automatic Rifle) is one of the most famous and widespread military rifle designs of the 20th century. The FN FAL was developed by the Belgian Fabrique Nationale company. It has been in service with some 70 or more countries and was manufactured in at least 10 countries.
At present, the service days of FN FAL rifles are generally behind us, but it is still in current use in some parts of the world.
The history of the FAL began circa 1946 when FN began to develop a new assault rifle, chambered for the German 7.92x33mm Kurz intermediate cartridge. The design team was led by Dieudonne Saive, who at the same time worked on a more traditional semi-automatic military rifle, chambered for the “old-time” full-power rifle cartridges. This rifle later emerged as the SAFN-49. It is thus not surprising that both rifles are mechanically quite similar.
In the late 1940s Belgians joined with Britain and selected a British .280 (7×43 mm) intermediate cartridge for further development. In 1950 both the Belgian FN FAL rifle prototype and British EM-2 bullpup assault rifles were tested by the US Army. The FAL prototype greatly impressed the Americans, but the idea of the intermediate cartridge was at that moment anathema for them because of their insistence on a heavy caliber self-loading rifle as the way forward. The USA insisted on the adoption of their full-power T65 (7.62x51mm) cartridge as a NATO standard from 1954.
Preparing for this adoption, FN redesigned their rifle for the newest T65 / 7.62×51 mm NATO ammunition. The first 7.62mm FALs were ready in 1953. Belgium was not the first country to adopt its rifle in 1956. Canada was probably the first, adopting their slightly modified version of FAL as ‘C1‘ in 1955. Canadians set to produce C1 and the heavy barreled ‘C2′ squad automatic rifles at their Canadian Arsenal factory.
Britain followed suit and adopted the FAL in 1957 designated as ‘L1A1 SLR’ (Self-loading rifle), often issued with 4X SUIT optical scopes. Britain also produced their rifles at the RSAF Enfield and BSA factories.
During the first half of the ninety fifties the FN FAL rifle was also extensively tested in USA. Early test guns were made by FN, but later ones were produced in the USA using Canadian-made inch-pattern drawings. Those rifles were made by H&R and designated “T48”. They competed for US adoption against the T44 rifle, designed in the USA at the Springfield armory. The latter eventually won American trials and was adopted in 1957 as the M14 rifle.
Austria adopted the FAL in 1958 as ‘Stg.58’ (Sturmgewehr 58) and manufactured their rifles at the Steyr arms factory. Various versions of FAL were also adopted by Brazil, Turkey, Australia, Israel, South Africa, West Germany, and many other countries. The success of the FAL could have been even greater if FN had sold the license to West Germany, which wanted to produce the FAL as a ‘G1’ rifle. Belgians rejected the request. Germany instead purchased the license to produce Spanish CETME rifles and as a result of this, the H&K G3 rifle became probably the most notable rival to the FN FAL.
Over time the FAL rifle has been produced in numerous versions, with different furniture, sights, barrel lengths, etc. There are, however, only four basic configurations of the FAL rifle:
There are also two major patterns of FALs around the globe: “metric” or “inch” FALs. As the name implies, these were built in countries either with metric or imperial (inch-based) measurement systems. These patterns are slightly different in some dimensions, and magazines of metric and inch patterns generally could not be interchanged.
Most “inch” pattern FALs were made in British Commonwealth countries (UK, Canada, Australia) and have folding cocking handles. They were also mostly limited to semi-automatic fire only (except for Hbar versions like the C2). Most “metric” pattern rifles had non-folding cocking handles and may or may not have the select-fire capability. As with other light select-fire weapons chambered for the 7.62×51 mm NATO round, the controllability of the full-automatic fire is disappointing, and the shot spread in burst mode is extremely wide.
The only countries still producing the FAL rifles at present are Brazil and most surprisingly, the USA. Brazil adopted the FAL under the name Fz. M962 and manufacture it at the IMBEL facilities. The USA produced a small amount of FALs as the T48 at the H&R factory in the early 1950s for Army trials, but at present, some private US Companies manufacture various versions of FAL rifles using either surplus parts kits or newly manufactured parts. Most of these rifles are limited to semi-auto only and are available for civilian users. Probably the most notable US manufacturer of FAL modifications is the DS Arms company, which produces its rifles under the name of DSA-58 in a wide selection of variants, for civilian and security use.
The FN FAL rifle is a gas-operated, selective fire or semi-automatic only, magazine-fed weapon. It uses a short piston stroke gas system with the gas piston located above the barrel and having its return spring. After the shot is fired, the gas piston makes a quick tap to the bolt carrier and then returns, and the rest of the reloading cycle is commenced by the inertia of the bolt group.
The gas system is fitted with a gas regulator so it could be easily adjusted for various environmental conditions, or cut off completely so rifle grenades could be safely launched from the barrel. The locking system uses a bolt carrier with a separate bolt that locks the barrel by tipping its rear part into the recess in the receiver floor. The receivers were initially machined from forged steel blocks. In 1973 FN began to manufacture investment casted receivers to decrease production costs.
Many manufacturers, however, stuck to the machined receivers. The trigger housing with pistol grip is hinged to the receiver behind the magazine well and could be swung down to open the action for maintenance and disassembly. The recoil spring is housed in the butt of the rifle in fixed butt configurations or in the receiver cover in folding butt configurations.
So the folding butt versions require a slightly different bolt carrier, receiver cover, and recoil spring. The cocking handle is located on the left side of the receiver and does not reciprocate when the gun is fired. The bolt handle, as stated can be folding or non-folding, depending on the country of origin. The safety–fire selector switch is located at the trigger housing, above the trigger guard. It can have two (semi-automatic) or three (select-fire) positions.
The firing mechanism is hammer-fired and uses a single sear for both semi-automatic and full-automatic fire. The barrel is equipped with a long flash hider which also doubles as a rifle grenade launcher. The particular design of flash hider may also differ slightly from country to country. The furniture of the FAL can also differ – it could be made from wood, plastic of various colors, or metal (folding buttstocks, and metallic handguards on some models). Some versions, such as the Austrian Stg.58 or Brazilian LAR came with light bipods as a standard fitting.
Almost all heavy barrelled versions were also fitted with bipods of various designs. Sights are usually of the hooded post front and adjustable diopter rear types but can differ in details and markings. Almost all FAL rifles are equipped with sling swivels and most of these rifles contain bayonet lugs.
|Full text name
|FN FAL rifle (Fusil Automatique Leger – Light Automatic Rifle, Belgium)
|7.62x51mm NATO / .308 Winchester
|Overall length, mm
|1100 (990 - FN FAL "Para")
|Length, folded, mm
|736 (FN FAL "Para")
|Barrel length, mm
|533 (431 - FN FAL "Para")
|Weight empty, kg
|4,45 (3,77 - FN FAL "Para")
|Magazine capacity, rounds
|Cyclic rate of fire, rounds/min