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Rifle Dynamics RD-74: The AK Perfected

Rifle Dynamics is a Las Vegas-based firm specializing in custom-built ComBloc rifles, including the AK-47 and its variants.

Rifle Dynamics' Off-the-Shelf RD-74

The Rifle Dynamics take on the AK-47, the RD-74.

Kalashnikov rifles have seen action in just about every conflict, in almost every continent on Earth, since the 1950s. The quintessential Communist Bloc rifle is the AK-47, which was adopted by the Soviet Armed Forces in 1949 and widely distributed to most Warsaw Pact nations. Today we have the Rifle Dynamics AK.

But back to the history.

The rifle and its improved variant, the AKM, are famed for their reliability and robust build.

The AK's strengths lie in its simple design and, oddly enough, its loose tolerances, both hallmarks of Soviet-era design. It is estimated that there have been over 100 million AK-pattern firearms produced since the AK-47 was first introduced to Soviet troops in 1947.

What's even more amazing is that, for other than a few tweaks here and there-such as the AK-74, it has essentially remained unchanged for 65 years; until now.

Custom ComBlocs

Enter Rifle Dynamics, a Las Vegas-based firm specializing in custom-built ComBloc rifles. Founder Jim Fuller's love for the AK and other ComBloc firearms stems from his combined 30 years of security related, instructional, and gunsmithing experience.

His hands-on work in the field gave him a firsthand account of the strengths, and the weaknesses, of the AK platform.

Fuller realized early on that there weren't many armorers willing to work on AKs. This made sense; AKs, with their unrefined build characteristics and Communist Bloc roots, were considered to be the enemy's gun. Traditional gunsmiths didn't want to touch such a monstrosity, let alone try to improve it. Fuller, however, decided otherwise.

Custom AKs

The Fuller rear sight mod makes for a faster targeting gun.

The Fuller rear sight mod makes for a faster targeting gun.

Rifle Dynamics was set up in 2007 to fulfill a growing consumer demand for customized AKs. Fuller, along with his partner, Roger Flores, have been doing brisk business selling refined, customized AK rifles and other weapons.

Flores has worked for the likes of the National Security Agency and the CIA for 30 years, most recently as a U.S. State Department contractor. The combined experience of this dynamic duo is impressive, to say the least. For the last five years, Rifle Dynamics has been strictly a custom-build shop.

At times, the waiting list for a build is known to stretch as long as a year. When asked who its clientele is, the company's response was that it is quite varied. Customers range from civilian recreational shooters to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to U.S. (and foreign) government agencies.

Off-the-Shelf Production

For those who don’t have the patience to wait for a custom build, you’re now in luck. Rifle Dynamics is releasing its first-ever line of off–the-shelf, production rifles, the RD-74. Based on the 5.45x39mm caliber AK-74, the RD-74 features the same quality and refinement as the company’s custom-ordered guns, but without the wait.

Rifle Dynamics chose to release its initial, over-the-counter gun as a 5.45 caliber because, according to the company, it provides faster, flatter shooting, and ammunition is considerably cheaper than that of other AKs.

Most of what makes a RD-74 different from AKs offered by other manufacturers is what you don’t see. To Rifle Dynamics, it’s not just a build; it’s also the mindset that goes into it.

“The design and construction of the AK comes from an Eastern Bloc mindset,” Fuller explained, “Most people working on the AK in the U.S. don’t follow the basic principles of this type of design. Our upgrades and improvements do take into account the design features that made the AK famous. We only upgrade what will actually give you improvements in performance, reliability, accuracy, and usability. Beyond that, we approach the gun with a minimalist mindset, and only add features that will actually improve the gun.”

Unlike other manufacturers that might choose used, demilled, parts kits from Eastern-European countries, the RD-74 is produced by using a new, Russian made, production Saiga IZ 240 as its base.

Haley Strategic’s Thorntail Mount puts the SureFire M300A within thumb’s reach.

Haley Strategic’s Thorntail Mount puts the SureFire M300A within thumb’s reach.

“We are currently working with several manufacturers for a quality U.S.-made barrel, as well as receivers and other parts needed to build a U.S. version of the Kalashnikov,” Fuller said, “Until we can perfect our own parts, we will continue to use the IZ 240’s. We use the stock Saiga as a base gun because the Russian receiver and barrel are superior to anything currently being produced in this country.”

For reasons associated with importing the weapon, the standard Saiga IZ 240 is actually factory detuned to become a sporterized version of the AK-74. This means that the trigger assembly is moved further back from where it usually sits, resulting in an even worse trigger pull.

Those who have fired any of the AKs can confirm that the their trigger feel is not its strong suit; moving it back only makes it worse. In fact, the entire feel of the action of the gun is best described as clunky, or even rough. The IZ 240 is outfitted with a hunting-style-rifle stock and a smooth, synthetic forearm. When you see an IZ 240 in this form, you would be hard pressed to recognize that what lies beneath is the makings of a frontline RD-74.

Stripping the Rifle Dynamics AK to the Base

The very nature of ComBloc guns means that the initial factory build quality is rough. Tolerances are loose, edges are left sharp, and parts don’t quite line up or fit perfectly. Rifle Dynamics makes sure that every part is stripped from the base gun, leaving just the bare receiver.

The parts then go through hours of meticulous hand fitting, dehorning, and finishing. Each gun is stripped down, enhanced, and reassembled by the same armorer. Each one is assigned a gun and works on it from start to finish; there is no assembly line at Rifle Dynamics.

“The guns are heavily tested during the production process,” production manager Billy Cho explained,“ Rockwell hardness testing is done in intervals to assure quality in the parts we use.” This extra quality assurance helps make the RD-74 stand out from its counterparts.

Changes to the base gun also include converting it from its sporterized form to its more familiar, pistol-grip form. The trigger group is moved forward to its original position, just behind the magazine release paddle. A beefy US Palm AK battle grip is installed, along with a polymer hand guard and a polymer folding stock as standard equipment. The prototype model we tested had a standard AK grip installed.

Also standard is a Picatinny, rail-equipped, UltiMAK Scout optics mount that sits forward of the rear iron sight, replacing the standard gas tube, and providing the user with an option to install a red dot optic. The mount allows for co-witnessing of both red dot and iron sights.

The polymer folding stock and US Palm grip come standard on the Rifle Dynamics RD-74. The featured prototype rifle is outfitted to Fuller’s preferences.

The polymer folding stock and US Palm grip come standard on the Rifle Dynamics RD-74. The featured prototype rifle is outfitted to Fuller’s preferences.

Rifle Dynamics customizes the rear iron sight by utilizing what it calls the Fuller rear sight mod. Addressing complaints from users that the traditional AK rear sight is small and hard to pick up quickly, Fuller consulted with an optometrist to find a solution. The duo found that widening the rear sight notch and rounding the corners makes the eye naturally align with the sight notch, which allows for a much-improved sight picture.

From the factory, the chrome-lined and hammer-forged barrel measures 16.25 inches in length without a muzzle device. Armorers check for straightness and begin custom, front-end modifications. The barrel is lathe cut about two inches shorter, threaded, and crowned; a Battle Comp AKBC 74 muzzle device is pinned on to re-establish its 16.25-inch overall length. The shorter length of the barrel actual lightens the front end and makes it a much more nimble gun to handle.

The original gas block is swapped out for a Venom Tactical Bolton gas block. The Bolton unifies the front sight tower and gas block together into one unit. It has the correct height for the AK sight and provides a front sight post that is easily acquired.

To address the stock gun’s clunky action, all of the AK’s internals are reworked and fitted properly by hand for a noticeably smoother operation. The bolt and bolt carrier are then fitted and the gun is reheadspaced. The gas system is then tuned for use with a suppressor. This tuning ensures that the carbine won’t be overgassed when running a suppressor, while not effecting the cycling of the gun when unsuppressed.

Final Stages

The RD-74’s exterior surfaces are dehorned where the shooter holds the rifle, then finished in Norrell’s Moly Resin over parkerizing in the customer’s choice of Flat Black or Flat Dark Earth. The model we tested is Fuller’s very own prototype that is finished in Olive Drab. After all, when you own the company, you can have any color you want.
We spoke to Flores about the final stages of the build and he explained that reassembling the rifle wasn’t the end of the process. The AK is thoroughly tested before it is put back together in its final, ready-to-ship form.

“Our range testing consists of 60 to 90 rounds to verify function and reliability before the refinishing stage,” Flores said, “Once the guns are refinished and reassembled, they go to the range again for another 30 rounds of reliability testing and a 25-yard zero.”

All of this refinement doesn’t come cheaply. At a list price of $1,700, the RD-74 certainly isn’t your typical battlefield pick up. For that kind of cash, you can walk away with several lesser AKs plus a large cache of ammunition. But the old idiom, “You get what you pay for” really comes into play here. Like most AKs, the RD-74 is capable of withstanding rugged use—and abuse—in less-than-ideal situations.

But unlike others, the RD-74 is a finely tuned rifle that operates as if it’s almost not an AK in the traditional sense. With it, you won’t experience any manufacturing blemishes, canted front sights, or operational issues. The rifle is impeccable, its action is smooth, and the trigger is improved. The added enhancements make the carbine more ergonomic to use, although it still lacks ambidextrous controls, which is typical of all AK platforms.

Test Model Rifle Dynamics RD-74

Our test model was set up with an optional Rifle Dynamics stock adapter and a Magpul UBR collapsible stock. Unlike most other adapters on the market, Rifle Dynamics’ stock adapter allows the user to install an AR-15 stock to an AK without modification to the rear of the receiver.

It also allows an AR stock to sit at the optimal height for a proper cheek weld in relation to both iron and red dot sights. We found this to be true with the Aimpoint Micro H-1 red dot optic that was on our test gun. It was also fitted with a Haley Strategic Thorntail billet aluminum adaptive light mount attached to the upper Picatinny rail. The lightweight mount put the SureFire M300A Mini Scout Light within perfect thumb’s reach of its activation tailcap.

We took the RD-74 out to the firing range to get an initial impression. We immediately noticed that it shot extremely flat and had what seemed like a complete lack of recoil. Much of that is attributed to the combination of the light-shooting, 5.45x39mm caliber round and the effectiveness of the Battle Comp AKBC 74 compensator.

Size comparison between the 7.62x39mm (L) and 5.45x39mm (R).

Size comparison between the 7.62x39mm (L) and 5.45x39mm (R).

The recoil feel was somewhere in between that of a .223/5.56x45mm and a .22LR. (No, we’re not kidding!) The ammo used was 5.45x39mm, surplus rounds, which comes pretty cheap. We found Russian-manufactured, surplus, 5.45x39mm ammunition ranging from $140 to $150 for 1,080 rounds. If you do a lot of shooting, this is a cost-effective way to get plenty of live firing practice from a centerfire rifle.

The RD-74’s trigger is much improved, with all the grittiness of a stock, AK trigger replaced by a consistent, smooth press. The noticeable reset allowed for confident, quick, repeatable firing. Even the safety was much smoother to manipulate.

When engaging multiple, paper targets at 25 yards, we felt the lightweight front end really come into play. The shortened barrel and lighter Bolton gas block/front sight unit made swinging the front end from target to target a precise shooting affair.

It felt Robocop-precise nailing each target deliberately and efficiently without overshooting. Our fully equipped, test model with an optic sight, a flashlight, and the hefty Magpul UBR stock weighed in at a scant 7 pounds, 4 ounces unloaded. In comparison, a typical AR-15 weighs about the same, without any of those accessories.

Clearly, the RD-74 is not a bench gun. The rifle’s strengths multiply, coming into play when moving and shooting. Its light weight lends itself to being a true, run-and-gun carbine; we could carry one that was fully kitted out for an all-day, carbine class without breaking a sweat.

Those who have ever attempted to shoot while moving know that it’s difficult to be consistently accurate. The flat-shooting, low-recoil characteristics of the RD-74 helped us get effective, minute-of-man, center-mass hits even while on the move from 25 to 50 yards.

In terms of craftsmanship and utility, Rifle Dynamics delivers what it promises with the RD-74, an off-the-shelf rifle with custom workmanship built into each one. Rifle Dynamics’ fine-tuning, combined with the robustness of the AK platform, equals a weapon that you can turn to for high-volume round-count, tactical courses or casual Sunday plinking at the range.

The $1,700 price tag is tough to cough up for most, but just like a high-end 1911, you are paying for top-dollar components that are precision fit by armorers with extensive knowledge of the AK platform. Jim Fuller, Roger Flores, and the rest of the Rifle Dynamics’ crew have a good thing going. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next.


MSRP: $1,700

This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 2

Corey Graff contributed to this article.

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