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RECOIL EXCLUSIVE: Alien Pistol from Laugo Arms, the Full Review

This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 41

Photos by Eric Hagood and Courtesy of Laugo Arms

IN CZECH, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM

Believe the hype. This is the first truly innovative pistol design in over 30 years, with the potential to advance the evolution of handguns as we know them. Mighty big talk for a one-eyed fat man? Not when you can back it up.

This isn’t the first firearm Jan Lucansky, founder of Laugo Arms, has designed. After serving as a volunteer for the Croat HVO militia in the Bosnian conflict, he returned to his native Slovakia with a desire to make a submachine gun. So he did. That gun caught the attention of Czech manufacturer, CZ, who bought the rights to it and placed it into their catalog as the Scorpion — the rest, as they say, is history.

The first 10,000 or so guns left the factory with the legend “Designed by Laugo Arms” molded into their polymer frames, just above the trigger assembly, until CZ decided that giving another design house props wasn’t part of their marketing strategy and removed it from the tooling. Fun fact: Laugo Arms derives its name from the Roman 2nd century settlement of Laugaricio, located near the modern-day city of Trencin, Slovakia.

With its top rib removed, the skeletonized slide reveals a breech block containing the recoil spring and gas piston.

After spending three years at the drawing board perfecting the design of a pistol that started out with the name “Dream,” Laugo Arms was ready to start making chips. Its original moniker reflected a philosophy of not hewing slavishly to previous principles, but instead being free to reimagine what a handgun should look like. Although there’s no getting away from precedent, the Alien reuses certain features in a completely new combination.

All Aboard the Nostromo

We might as well start with its insanely low-bore axis, as that’s what everyone will notice right off the bat. It’s made possible by a combination of a gas-delayed blowback operating system placed above the barrel and a slide which drops both its breech face and center of gravity into the space normally occupied by lockwork. This combination is what drives everything else — the inverted hammer, the stationary top rib, the astounding lack of muzzle flip, the attention-grabbing looks.

Although using propellant gasses to retard the reciprocating parts, rather than drive them, was first implemented by Karl Barnitzke during the closing days of WWII in the VG 1-5 rifle, it wasn’t until the appearance of the H&K P7 and its cultlike following that it came to popular attention. In this system, a gas port right next to the case mouth taps off high-pressure gasses into a cylinder lying parallel to the bore axis where they hit a piston, driving it forward. This in turn holds the slide closed, counteracting pressure from the cartridge case pushing on the breech face — note that at no time is the breech locked in the conventional sense.

By adding gas to keep the slide closed, rather than just relying on inertia and resistance from a recoil spring, such as in the case of a straight blowback weapon, the amount of mass needed to balance forces generated by slinging a bullet downrange is drastically reduced. It also adds a measure of self-regulation to the system, as hotter ammo produces higher pressures at the gas port, which in turn increase resistance to the slide’s operation.

Switch out the top rail, and the user can go from first-class adjustable irons to an MRDS in about 15 seconds.

In the case of the H&K P7 (and for that matter the current Walther CCP), the piston is mounted under the barrel, where it occupies the same space that a recoil spring guide rod would in a Browning-pattern handgun. The Alien moves this to the top side, where it lies next to a small-diameter recoil spring, both of which are seated in a gas block, into which the barrel is inserted. Although the barrel is fixed to the frame — thus increasing its accuracy potential — it can be removed and replaced at the user level. We tried several examples with different gas port diameters; the end user will probably want to play with this tune to the gun to their shooting style. Bigger ports allow for a lighter recoil spring, but there’s still no getting away from Newton’s third law — you’ll either experience recoil as a sharper smack in your palm or as increased muzzle flip. You choose.

Lucansky managed to shoehorn a lot of mechanical components into a small space while shaving weight from the gun’s reciprocating components — the top of the slide is effectively missing. Or to look at it another way, it’s been turned upside down, as the majority of its mass sits directly over the top of the magazine.

Nuke it from Orbit

In order to get things moving, we need a means of ignition. The Alien employs what the company’s representatives term a “Hybrid Striker System.” They could instead call it the Easter Bunny, as both terms bear as much relationship as to what’s actually lighting off the primers, which is a hammer. It’s an upside-down, lightweight, CNC’d hammer, but a hammer nonetheless, housed along with its sear in the top rib.

Despite employing a novel operating system, there are still the same number of sub assemblies as your typical Browning-pattern handgun when field stripped.

About the only thing striker-like about it is that the tail of the hammer strut pokes out of the gun’s arse end when cocked, just like in a Springfield XD, Canik, or all the way back to the 1907 Roth Steyr. But it’s a hammer. This distinction is important, as the Alien is being marketed as a competition pistol, aimed squarely at the USPSA Production and Carry Optics divisions, and unfortunately, having a hammer means it’ll have a hard time meeting the division rules. But we digress, and we shall see.

Of course, being equipped with a hammer, dropped by a single-action trigger, places the Alien in the same category as a 1911. And the best news is that its trigger pull is every bit as good as a 1911. To be specific, a Series 70 with Wilson guts, hand-tuned by a ’smith who knows what the [email protected] he’s doing. Yeah, that good. While striker-fired guns have come a long way in terms of the quality of their triggers, the 1911 is still the gold standard, and the Alien emulates it in every way — crisp break, short, tactile reset, and once the initial takeup is passed, no sponginess in any way.

Like a striker-fired gun, there’s a gas pedal safety in the trigger’s face, but apart from this minor impediment, nothing else stands in the way of things getting loud. 1911 guys are probably shaking their heads right about now, muttering about, “single action pistols without thumb safeties, something something, accident waiting to happen, mumble…” but honestly, we’ve had at least two decades now of fully cocked strikers riding in peoples’ holsters and nothing to show for it apart from the occasional Glock leg. If there were an inherent flaw in the system, it’d have shown up in ways that didn’t involve egregiously violating Rule 3.

Note cut line at beavertail, where the serialized part of the pistol meets the customizable grip module.

The Alien’s trigger hinges on a pin located in a steel chassis, which looks much like an STI or SVI. Like its predecessors, the lower half of the grip is replaceable, machined from aluminum bar stock in this case. According to the manufacturer, there’ll be polymer (lighter) and steel (heavier) options in the future to allow the user to further customize the handgun to suit their needs. For the moment, there are different sized and profiled grips and backstraps, as well as two sizes of magwell. The grip is dovetailed to the chassis and secured with a single screw at the front of the trigger guard; once it’s in place, there’s no slop or play between the two. There’s another two screws holding the frame nose cap in position, which acts as the front anchor point for the removable top rail and which could just as easily morph into a compensator or muzzle brake.

The Alien’s other unique feature — that one-piece, stationary top rib — contributes greatly to its shootability at the range. When a round is fired, the gun cycles just like any other semi-auto, but the sights stay put while the sides of the slide whip back and forth — it’s noticeable when using iron sights, but really comes into its own with an MRDS, as anyone who’s shot an Open division blaster will tell you. In this case, the dot never leaves the lens, which means you don’t lose sight of it during recoil, making follow-up shots that much faster. The rail itself is secured at three locations: frame nose, gas block, and beavertail, by closely fitting hooks, ensuring the sights return to zero after disassembly. We shot a couple of different configurations, one with a Picatinny rail running the entire length and carrying an Aimpoint Micro, so larger tube and holographic sights are a viable option with this system.

Blasting Facehuggers

We spent an enjoyable afternoon in the company of Laugo Arms staff on a range about 45 minutes outside of Prague, putting the gun through its paces on a USPSA-style stage. Rather than warm up and fire a few unhurried groups, we launched straight into it and broke out the timer, going head to head from the holster with one of their pro shooters. No pressure then…

Did that novel design and operating system pay dividends? Yes, but like everything else in this life, you’ll have to work at it in order to maximize your return on investment. The first thing you notice when you pick one up is that Glock shooters will have no trouble adapting to the Alien. Anyone who’s more used to a 1911-style grip angle will find their shots landing higher than normal, until this is taken into account, but hopefully there’ll be a combination of grip panels and backstraps to make the transition easier.

Slap a compensator on that puppy and it might shoot a little flatter.

Once this hurdle was overcome, the next problem we encountered was that the heady combination of lack of muzzle flip and super fast trigger suckered us into outrunning our meager talents. Yes, it’s easy to shoot this pistol fast, but it does you no good if you start shanking rounds into the C zone because you’re mashing the trigger and getting sloppy with the sights. Even if it does feel so good. Just because it’s better, doesn’t mean you’ll be.

Having been a card-carrying member of the P7 cult for a number of years, we’d been anticipating having to halt proceedings after a few magazines, in order to let the pistol cool off. Gas-delayed blowback isn’t without its drawbacks, one of which is heat. We’re glad to report that at no time did the gun become uncomfortable, and while it probably would get too hot to operate after multiple mag dumps, running hoser drills and field courses didn’t seem to create any undue temperature increase.

Who’s Going to Buy It?

Bringing any new gun to market is a risky venture. Laugo Arms is a tiny company — no, scratch that; in comparison to the likes of S&W or Ruger, they’re barely more significant than a speck of dust on the corporate boardroom table. So why gamble everything on a pistol that may not make it into the competition divisions they’ve built the gun around? Well, there’s an Austrian chap who was probably told the same thing when he started hawking an ugly-assed, plastic-framed semi-auto to police and military markets in the 1980s, but which turned out to be a better mousetrap than anything available at the time.

First 500 guns ship in a custom case with holster, mags, and RDS, much to the delight of collectors everywhere. Pity, as this is a gun to be used hard, not admired in a case.

We have to imagine that the manufacturers who currently dominate the relevant competitive divisions are lobbying hard to keep the Alien out of their playgrounds. If the USPSA and IPSC find a way to exclude the Alien from matches, it’ll be a great pity, as the role of competition in the civilian world has been as a test bed for innovation. If a particular technology gives an advantage and proves to be reliable, it eventually finds its way into the hands of our warfighters — think low power variable optics, mini red dots, compensators, extended base pads, skateboard tape, stippling, offset irons, and a host of other items that are nowadays common downrange and were first validated on the competition circuit.

Make no mistake, the Alien is a significant step forward. It’s easy to envision a lighter, duty-sized version of this weapon finding a ready home in service holsters across the country. With no significant G-forces to deal with, the designers of red-dot sights can switch their focus to making the windows larger, while maintaining impact resistance. For police departments everywhere, the time needed to train personnel to accurately place rounds on target just got cut significantly. Place dot on target, press match-grade trigger — congratulations, recruit, you passed. Now, let’s work on those reloads.

Of course, all of this is just blue-sky spitballing, and you shouldn’t take our word for anything preceding this sentence. After all, there are legions of gun writers who’ve never met a firearm they don’t like; how often can you recycle the same, tired material? But this one is different. Go shoot one if you get the chance. Make up your own mind, then decide if the juice is worth the squeeze. The first production run of any new item incurs significant startup costs, which are factored into the price of admission, so don’t expect this to be anywhere near the same price range as a plastic fantastic. That said, Gen 1 Glock 19s are fetching crazy money at the moment, so maybe there’s something about being first with the best…


Alien spec box


Visit http://www.laugoarms.com/alien.html



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