The Springfield Armory Hellion made a huge splash when it was introduced. Bullpup fans and obscure gun nerds have been clamoring for an imported VHS-2 for years, and it finally happened. But how does the Hellion perform? Is it more than just an interesting gun for collectors?
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In the interest of full disclosure, it is important to state the terms of the review as well as my own personal biases. Springfield loaned the Hellion for this review along with a Nightforce NX8 1-8×24 scope. TFB supplied most of the ammunition, but some came from my personal stocks. I do not have any relationship with Springfield and have never spoken with them prior to setting up this review.
I also would not be described as a “bullpup guy.” While I have shot most of the options on the market, I have spent decades shooting normally-configured rifles and do not own any bullpups. Finally, I will be referring to this rifle as both the Hellion and the VHS interchangeably.
While more and more rifles trend towards AR-15 control layouts, bullpups tend to go their own way due to their unique configuration. Most bullpups place the safety near the trigger and keep the other controls near the magazine well.
The nonreciprocating charging handle is located above the barrel inside the optics rail. It is very reminiscent of the charging handle on the SL-8 or G-36 but executed better. The handle can be pulled out to either side for ambidextrous access. When pulled to the rear, the charging handle can be left to the rear and the pivoting handle stays locked out to the side. It returns to the middle positions (in line with the barrel) when the charging handle is released forward.
The safety has an interesting design. Its location is good, and I found it easy to reach. But the angle between the lever and the indicated direction makes for a very counterintuitive setup. It is hard to tell if the safety is on or off by feel alone. I regularly would start to take pictures of the gun only to realize I had left the safety off when I thought it was switched on. The throw of the safety is very short which does make it an efficient movement, but that narrow movement range also made it less obvious which position was selected.
The magazine release and bolt release are back by the magazine well. The magazine release is fine, but the bolt release is an odd setup. Instead of a paddle or lever, the VHS has a sort of sliding button that is pinched against a stop. It also only functions as a release, it cannot be used to lock the bolt open. The bolt catch is only activated by inserting an empty magazine or by reaching up into the magazine well to lift the bolt catch which is activated by the magazine follower.
My primary complaints about the Hellion are the safety and bolt release. If an upgraded model is ever released, it should include a more intuitive safety and a bolt release that also functions as a bolt catch. And while changing the controls would make for a more functional gun, it would take away some of the fun that comes from how unique the Hellion is.
One of the main goals of this review was to shoot a lot of rounds in varying situations. I shot it outdoors in varying weather as well as indoors. Some shooting was done on formal ranges, and some was done on public land while in and around a vehicle.
Across all settings, the Hellion was easy to live with. The short length makes it easy to toss in the passenger seat, but it delivered hits downrange like a full-size carbine. And while some of the controls were a bit wacky I found them becoming more and more instinctive as the round count climbed.
Bullpups are not known for having incredible triggers, and the Hellion is not an exception to that trend. The pull weight is similar to other bullpup designs, but it differs in the pull length. It has a rather long pull, somewhat reminiscent of the short-lived SIG 556xi.
This is a trigger at home in a military service rifle. It is not a match trigger. However, the aftermarket may be able to supply a better trigger because the trigger pack is quite easy to remove. An improved trigger would make the Hellion even more competitive in the market.
My efforts at accuracy testing were stymied by the trigger, and I did not feel like I could provide useful data in that regard. A more skilled shooter may have felt differently. But the trigger was not an issue when it came to actually hitting steel at varying distances. Hits were easy on steel at 300 and 400 yards, and still a fairly regular occurrence at 500.
While bullpup designs do tend to have compromised triggers, they pack improved ballistics into a small package. Without a suppressor, the Hellion is almost exactly the same length as my 11.5″ AR. With a suppressor, it is about the same size as a 16″ AR. Going from an SBR-length barrel to a full carbine barrel is a significant difference in ballistic performance. You can absolutely tell that it hits like a true rifle instead of a cut-down house clearing gun. That added velocity also reduces drop and wind deflection which makes hits easier.
In total, I (and friends) fired about 1,200 rounds in this review, 1,000 PMC .223 55-grain, about 200 reloads (a mix of 77- and 75-grain), and 20 rounds of Tula steel case at the very end. There were no ammunition-related issues during the review. Everything cycled like it should, including the steel case. I even tried to get the steel case stuck by leaving it in a hot chamber as it cooled, but it still ejected like normal.
I disassembled the gun fully at the beginning of the review to see how the internals looked. I stripped the gun down again at the end of the review to see if there was any unusual wear, and none was found. As should be expected, 1,000 rounds on a military service rifle did not produce any concerning signs of wear. The only area where real wear was visible was the cover/deflector around the ejection port. Ejected brass hits this polymer and it does show some divots from those impacts.
The Hellion is designed for use with a suppressor. Unlike certain expensive imported 5.56 gas piston rifles, using a suppressor does not void the warranty. The gas system on the VHS has two positions, “N” for normal and “S” for suppressed. That setting is easily changed by pressing the knob in and rotating it 90 degrees.
I used a SilencerCo Chimera for the suppressed portion of the review. Mounting that silencer necessitated a change of the muzzle device, from the stock 4-prong flash hider to a 1/2×28 ASR flash hider. The factory flash hider was attached very tightly. I was quickly approaching the point where I thought something else would give before the muzzle device came loose. But, thankfully, the stock flash hider broke free before anything was damaged.
The Hellion is a pleasant gun to shoot suppressed. It does not dump gas into your face like an AR-15. The piston system inherently moves less gas to the rear than a direct impingement gun. Also, the location of the ejection port seems to help direct gasses away from the face. With the gas system on the suppressor setting, ejection was essentially the same as unsuppressed on the normal gas setting.
One portion of the suppressor test was dumping 100 rounds as fast as possible. Some guns do not handle that kind of heat buildup well, but the Hellion did. And while there was heat radiating out from the handguard it never became too hot to handle.
I removed the suppressor after about 300 rounds, at which point there were severe failure to feed issues. Fouling had built up in the bolt and chamber and it created enough drag that the bolt could not strip a round and feed it into the battery. Reattaching the suppressor resolved the issues, likely due to the additional back pressure.
It is important to note that the bolt was completely dry up until this point. I decided at the outset of the review not to apply any lubrication so that failures would be more likely. It was not an issue until the fouling from several hundred suppressed rounds was added to the fouling from about 700 unsuppressed rounds. I removed the bolt carrier, rubbed some oil on friction surfaces, and the gun began to function normally again. No cleaning or detail stripping was needed to restore functionality.
In my opinion, this was a very impressive showing. An AR-15 would have likely failed earlier in this shooting schedule. Also, the fact that it only took a bit of oil and a shop towel to get the VHS running again is a good sign that even basic preventative maintenance would have prevented these failures.
The VHS is new to the US market, and while it uses standard AR-15 magazines, some guns have advertised similar compatibility in the past but have been far pickier in practice. Here is a list of magazines that worked flawlessly:
- Magpul M2 30
- Magpul M3 20, 30, 40
- Magpul EMAG 30
- D&H 30
- Surefeed E2 30
- FAB Defense 30
- Lancer 30
- Duramag 20
- E-Lander 30
There was one magazine that did have issues: an Okay Industries Surefeed 20. It was brand new, so excessive wear was not a factor. The issue with the Surefeed 20 was the most serious problem encountered during the review. During a mag dump, there was a failure to feed. The round was stuck on the feed ramp with the bolt against the side of the case. And, most seriously, the magazine was stuck in the magazine well. The lack of an external bolt hold open was a real problem for clearing this malfunction. Ultimately, I held the charging handle to the rear while a helpful RSO pulled on the magazine. The magazine came loose after a couple attempts.
This malfunction surprised me because I own several Surefeed 20s and they have been wonderful. I tried this particular mag in several AR-15s to see if it would stick in any other guns. The magazine in question dropped free from PSA, Rock River, S&W, Bushmaster, and LAR lowers. It did not drop free from an Aero Precision or two FN lowers. I did try two other Surefeed 20s and neither of those had any issues. I feel confident categorizing this as a magazine-induced malfunction.
This review sample gun did not include a manual, and I was unable to figure out how to swap to left-hand use. Thankfully, Forgotten Weapons covered the left-handed swap procedure in their excellent video. Once I understood the process it was very easy to do and only took a couple of minutes. This is a huge advantage over some competitors which require replacement parts for southpaw use.
I am not left-handed, but my dad shoots lefty, so he was recruited to help with the review. Though he was new to bullpups, he was very excited about the easy swap to left-handed use. His feedback on the shooting experience was similar to the right-handed shooters who tried the gun, namely, that the trigger was not great but it was a nice gun to shoot.
I did try firing it from the right hand while having the rifle set up for the left eject. It worked fine, and if a situation called for a shoulder switch, it is doable with the VHS. However, it was less comfortable. It is worth switching the ejection to match the primary user’s preference, but it still functions fine if you needed to switch hands without changing it over.
James Reeves handled the swamp portion of the testing in the TFBtv review, so it fell to me to conduct the winter portion of the testing. Our winter has been fairly mild but I was able to find a few patches of snow to use. There wasn’t enough snow to bury the gun so I settled for packing snow around the ejection port. About half of the time, the Hellion was able to blast through the snow cone on the ejection port. The other half of the time the first round would fail to eject, but most or all of the snow would clear. It was right back into action after a simple malfunction clearance drill.
The VHS was completely unlubricated for this test. It is possible that there would have been a higher success rate had the bolt been lubricated and operating more freely. Some adjustable gas systems have an “adverse” setting, which the VHS does not. That might be a good bonus feature to add to a future version but it is probably not necessary.
As a connoisseur of weird rifles, I am always happy to see an as-yet-unimported gun make it to the US market. From that standpoint, the Hellion is a huge win. But, more importantly, the Hellion is a good gun. Among the bullpups, it is my favorite. With a few tweaks and refinements, it could be an incredible gun. All it would take is a rework of the safety and bolt hold open and a refined trigger, and the Hellion would undoubtedly be the bullpup to beat. But even with those quirks, the Hellion is still a solid, reliable gun with a military pedigree. If you are in the market for a legit bullpup, you should consider the Hellion.
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