We have been following the AK-50 project (AK chambered in .50 BMG) pretty much since its very beginning. Brandon Herrera (a.k.a. The AK Guy), the founder of AKG Industries, had started the project about two and a half years ago and ever since he has been continuously working on it gradually refining and perfecting the gun. The purpose of this article is not only to show the current state and the progress of the AK-50 project but also to use it as an example to talk about some product designing challenges and solutions in general.
About a year ago, we saw that the AK-50 has successfully fired its first round. Later, they managed to make the rifle cycle the action. And just recently, Brandon has released a couple of videos showing the latest developments in this project.
To keep up with the storyline, let’s watch the cycling test video first. This video shows how complicated it was to make the gun cycle. Although it successfully fired rounds before, when trying to make it cycle they encountered a problem that was not obvious during the CAD designing stage. There was simply not enough clearance to allow the cases to eject out of the gun. Another important part was the selection of the correct gas port size. They started with a smaller size and kept increasing it until the gas port was large enough to vent the amount of gasses necessary to cycle the action.
Although making the gun cycle was a major achievement in AK-50 designing process, it didn’t mean the gun was working properly. The examination of the camming groove on the bolt carrier showed an excessive amount of wear with a fairly low round count. They have discovered that the reason for it was basically the absence of underslide distance – the “free travel” distance of the bolt carrier. They fixed this issue by reshaping the camming groove which now allows the AK-50 bolt carrier to travel a certain distance before starting to rotate the bolt in the unlocking phase and travel a little bit further after locking the action. Such design feature does exist in AK rifles. Take your AK and watch from the magazine well while slowly pulling the charging handle. You will see that the bolt remains still at the first few millimeters of bolt carrier travel. This design solution not only allows the pressure to drop in the barrel before the unlocking starts but also allows the bolt carrier to gain some momentum before starting to rotate the bolt and ensures a more reliable operation.
As The AK Guy said in the previous video, fixing one problem leads to the discovery of other issues. And this is a continuous process until the design is finally perfected and the gun works flawlessly. What they discovered next is the excessively deep extractor mark on the case rim which indicates that the action was still trying to open too early. When there is still a significant amount of pressure in the chamber and the brass hasn’t yet completely retracted back, it causes extra resistance and can result in extractor ripping off the rim or breaking off.
While the above-described bolt carrier free travel feature (underslide) does partially solve this issue, it was still not enough in this particular case. The problem was the too short gas system resulting in a too long dwell time and violent action. In order to fix it, they had to relocate the gas port. They soldered a steel sleeve around the existing gas port to close it and drilled a new gas port three inches forward from the previous one. For the new, longer gas system, they also had to make a new gas piston and gas tube.
They have also changed the gas piston to bolt carrier attachment method from a pressed to a threaded one to increase the reliability of the system. To learn more about these final design changes, watch the video embedded below.
So we have seen how they fixed a lot of problems with the V1, the first firing prototype of the AK-50. Once the gas system and cycling of the action is finally adjusted, I think the next (probably the last) major design challenge will be making the gun feed reliably. So looks like Brandon Herrera is quite close to finish the project and introduce the final production version of the AK-50.
These series of videos really help us understand what it takes to design a firearm. At the first glance, designing a rifle like the AK-50 might seem simple. One might think what can be easier? Mikhail Kalashnikov has already designed it, just scale it up and you are good to go. However, as Brandon’s experience shows, when you are designing a larger version of an existing firearm, you can’t just proportionally scale up all the parts. Some parts (stock, grip etc.) still have to fit the human body and would be impractical if scaled up. Other parts (e.g. springs) will have improper mechanical characteristics if simply scaled up. So you have to find different solutions.
Also, there are a number of other things that may cause problems when designing any product: outsourced parts not being delivered in time and/or delivered with improper characteristics, funding delays, cost of prototypes (as Brandon says in one of the videos, making an AK-50 prototype costs him $16,000), design problems that were hard or impossible to predict etc. The schedules and designing time is also hard to estimate. Being involved in many product designing projects myself, I can assure you that often times you can’t tell when will you finish the project. It is not unusual to plan designing something within a month and ending up spending a year on it … I am not exaggerating.
Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? But what keeps the designer to face all these problems and overcome all the obstacles is the vision of the final product and the confidence that he can do it. Closely following the AK-50 project and having a chance to meet Brandon and his team at SHOT Show 2018, I have no doubt that these guys have that passion and fever to finish the project. With such commitment to a project, it is just a matter of time until it becomes a finished product ready to be offered to the market.
As always, we will keep our readers posted about the further development of the AK-50. Stay tuned!