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Pointy-Eared Pistol: Lionheart Vulcan 9



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The Next Generation: Lionheart Vulcan 9

The latest from Lionheart is a new gun but one with a lot of history. In the early 1980s, South Korea’s Daewoo first began designing a handgun named the DP51. When it was adopted by the Korean military in 1989, it was dubbed the K5. The K5 saw limited exports to the United States in the 1990s through several companies, but not in earnest until 2011 when a small company named Lionheart became the sole importer. The gun that was the DP51-turned-K5 became known as the LH9, and the Lionheart Regulus was essentially an improved, American-made K5.

In 2020, everything changed when Rob Falkenhayn acquired Lionheart and moved the whole works from Redmond, Washington, down to Winder, Georgia. Falkenhayn, who first got his start with the founding of Exotac, consolidated the disparate manufacturing operations of Lionheart in-house. Being vertically integrated not only allows for greatly improved problem solving, but also streamlines QA and QC.

“We’re pioneering new manufacturing procedures for firearms that have never been done before,” Falkenhayn tells us. The barrels are a good example: instead of multiple operations requiring different machines and multiple people, pre-hardened 416 stainless steel goes into a single machine and a complete barrel comes out. This metal stock is gun-drilled, burnished, polished, three-tooth broach rifled, milled, and finished with zero human intervention (and zero human error) between the steps. This approach has a heavy up-front setup and cost relative to farming out fabrication, but Falkenhayn believes the most methodical approach ultimately makes the best enterprise.

With lessons learned from the Regulus, engineers at Lionheart set out to make something new — not a variant, but more “inspired by.” And though Lionheart has only existed as an entity for a bit over a decade and produced pistols for under half that, the collective knowledge of the crew spans more than a generation; the lead designers and engineers at Lionheart were the magicians behind the curtain for several successful firearms from large companies you know.

The end result of all of this R&D is the Lionheart Vulcan 9 you see here. It’s not an entirely new frontier, but definitely the next generation.

The gun shown here is a preproduction sample (it didn’t even have a manual at the time of writing) but closely represents what you’ll see on the shelf when it hits around the time this issue is published. Any potential differences between this gun and full production will be highlighted as we go on.

THE VULCAN

Premium and plastic aren’t words that typically go together, and that’s not what we have here either. Sans striker and hammer-fired, the Vulcan 9 has an alloy steel 4140 slide paired with a 7075 aluminum frame. Though the Vulcan 9 isn’t a variant of the Regulus (very few parts are reverse-compatible), it still shares similar lines and is reminiscent of the ’80s-awesome S&W 5906.

The machine work on the Vulcan 9 is pristine, with chevron-shaped serrations on both sides and along the top of the front. The front and backstraps have a dimpled texturing that matches those on the grips, and the finish is deep, uniform, and smooth. The Vulcan looks good in the case, but absolutely oozes quality once you pick it up.

The Vulcan has what some call “triple action,” but Lionheart refers to as “Double-Action Plus.” The first time we saw this atypical feature was on a heavily customized BHP, but the Vulcan has it out of the box. What it means is the Vulcan can be fired double-action, single-action, and a third in-between action accessed by cocking the hammer then physically pushing it forward. This moves the trigger forward, giving you the same pull length of a double-action but a trigger weight less than single-action.

The hinged trigger is shaped like a J, with a flat front and a hook at the bottom. It’s not the proverbial “glass rod” trigger — there’s too much travel for that — but it’s an excellent carry trigger with a predictable and distinct wall before the break. Per our scale, the smooth DA trigger pull was 9 pounds, 4.5 pounds SA, and just over 3 pounds in plus. When in plus mode, the trigger rides on a cam and the additional length adds more inertia to the movement — think the difference between a rolling start and a dead stop.

The magazine release is in the normal spot and can be reached without repositioning the hand. It isn’t ambidextrous but is swappable — call it a wash. The Vulcan retains the “backward” frame-mounted safety pivot of the LH9 and Regulus, making it easy to take off but harder to engage. While taking the safety off is the most important of the two, it still can be annoying. Without changing the pivot point (which we’re told would mean a complete workover of some important parts), a simple increase in the surface area could help. When the safety is engaged, the trigger is dead — it can be manipulated with no weight. However, the hammer can still be used, allowing one to move from SA to “plus” without disengaging the safety.

The grips of the Vulcan have been entirely redesigned relative to the Regulus. Arranged like an upside down “L,” the G10 slabs extend above and forward of the handle to beyond the slide stop. On the left side, a comfortable and oversized gas pedal is integrated directly in the grip (both left-handed guns and grips are available). If you’re concerned that a simple pair of screws can’t hold this arrangement in place, you’d be correct: the grips on the Vulcan not only have machined indexing points but are also dovetailed into the frame itself.

The look and feel of the 15-round magazine bodies scream Mec-Gar, and indeed Lionheart turned to them for OEM magazines. Mec-Gar embodies the ideal that if you’re only going to do one thing, you should do it well. The baseplate not only has texturing that matches the rest of the pistol but has a special storage slot for a MultiTasker Nano 2 (and the Vulcan 9 comes with a one Nano 2 included). The Nano 2 not only features a small flathead to adjust optics but a T10 Torx bit that fits the grips. In terms of reverse compatibility, the magazine bodies from the Regulus will work with the Vulcan but not the followers and floorplates.

The initial release of the Vulcan 9 includes four models: the Shadow (featured here) has a gray PVD coating, the Ember is Cerakoted burnt bronze, the Anode has a black nitride slide and anodized frame, and the Combat is Cerakoted in concrete gray and also has a threaded barrel.

SIGHTS & OPTICS

The iron sights are one of the things that will change between what you see here and on the shelf. On this example, the Vulcan comes equipped with a black, steel, serrated U-notch rear sight paired with a green fiber-optic front. The full production irons will be slightly taller and designed for ease of racking off of a belt or boot in the event of an emergency. The sights will still cowitness, but in the lower-third of the window instead of absolutely. Given our druthers, we’d ask for dovetail blanks in order to eschew the irons completely.

Because the slide of the Vulcan is just under an inch wide, a “normal” Trijicon RMR or Leupold DeltaPoint Pro would result in a lot of overhang. What makes the Vulcan unique is that it has a mounting system with integral bosses that accept optics with both the RMSc and RMRcc footprint.

OUTFITTING

With a pistol named the Vulcan, how could it be paired with anything other than the Holosun 507K-X2 with the ACSS Vulcan reticle? The Holosun Vulcan reticle features a familiar circle and dot arrangement, but with a twist — the circle is too large to be in field of view when you’re centered and square on the target. Instead, the circle exists as a guide to let you know if you’re off-center and what direction you need to adjust. This feature is exceptional for newer dot shooters and running drills under stress or in unconventional positions. Anything that reduces the search-wobble before the break is a win.

In terms of weapon-mounted lights, the Picatinny rail on the Vulcan is too short for full-size duty lights like the SureFire X300U or Streamlight TLR-1 but it does fit compact WMLs like the Streamlight TLR-7sub, Inforce WILD1, and SIG Foxtrot2.

In terms of holsters, the Vulcan 9 fits into any Regulus holster, and both Black Arch and Blackpoint Tactical make Vulcan-specific options.

ON THE RANGE & LOOSE ROUNDS

As this is a preproduction gun, any extensive testing could lead to conclusions that won’t apply to production pieces. But if a preproduction gun doesn’t run, it can still sour the mouth. While the majority of the ammunition put through the Lionheart Vulcan 9 was 124-grain Belom from Serbia by way of Global Ordnance, several party pack mags were run. Party pack mags were stuffed with everything from Brown Bear to Federal — and everything between. There were no functional issues with the pistol, which wasn’t surprising as Lionheart does more-organized party pack mag testing themselves.

Though it’s not particularly pleasant to shoot a +P+ round followed by a mouse fart, it does make the range trip more interesting. It’s a supremely easy pistol to snug your hand in, and the 24 ounces of steel and aluminum combined with the gas pedal soak up recoil.

In the future, it would be great to see the safety further refined along with an actually-ambi magazine release.

In the normal course of events, you won’t use the DA capability of the Vulcan. It’s great for dry-fire and having the ability for a second strike, but as there’s no decocker the only reliable way to make the gun both chambered and in DA mode is to use the trigger and slowly lower the hammer onto the firing pin — no thanks. The choice many will make when carrying the Vulcan will be with the safety off but the hammer in “plus” mode. That way you’ll have the long DA pull length, a lesser weight than SA, plus the ability to ride your thumb on the back of the hammer to ensure safety when holstering.

In a world chock full of plastic-injected striker-fired stagger-stack nines, a high-quality hammer-fired gun milled from metal stands out. Is the Vulcan the cheapest pistol? Of course not — nothing about it is cheap. Like wearing a nice mechanical watch even though a cellphone is in your pocket or eating wagyu instead of a Whopper — you don’t do it because you have to, but because you want to. That’s only logical.

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  • Toss the dot sight and flashlight down an abandoned mine shaft (where all trending "electro-crap" belongs) and it seems like it would be a very viable firearm.

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