FULL-AUTO BELT-FED FREE­DOM

A BELT-FED THAT SHOOTS THE AF­FORD­ABLE 9MM CAR­TRIDGE

Gun World - - Contents - By Andy Mas­si­m­il­ian

The Free­dom Ord­nance FM-9 Elite up­per re­ceiver is a 9mm PCBF (pistol-cal­iber belt-fed) that of­fers belt-fed fun in the more-af­ford­able-to-shoot 9mm Luger. It works on any MIL-SPEC lower re­ceiver, in­clud­ing our class 3 se­lect-fire.

Free­dom Ord­nance’s FM-9 belt-fed 9mm is among the most in­ter­est­ing up­per re­ceivers ever made for the AR-15. De­signed by broth­ers Michael and David Winge, the FM-9 de­buted in 2015 af­ter about eight months in re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

The Winges are hardly new­com­ers to gun mak­ing, how­ever, hav­ing in­vented and patented ad­justable gas sys­tems used on two tac­ti­cal shot­guns. Self-taught and self-made men, each with 12 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in firearms de­sign, they have com­ple­men­tary skills. Michael is the con­cep­tual driver of the pro­ject who served in the Ma­rine Corps as an ar­morer, and David is a tal­ented tool and die maker with CAD ex­pe­ri­ence.

Af­ter sell­ing the shot­gun patents, they formed Free­dom Ord­nance (FO). FO makes the FM-9 and FX-9 (an AR carbine that ac­cepts 9mm Glock mags) at a mod­ern fa­cil­ity in Chan­dler, In­di­ana.

Al­though the FM-9 is not ubiq­ui­tous at the av­er­age shoot­ing range, its at­tributes make it a fa­vorite with class 3 en­thu­si­asts and com­mer­cial ranges and give it a de­cided ad­van­tage over the typ­i­cal belt-fed weapon that uses a ri­fle car­tridge. The FM-9 of­fers the ex­cite­ment of a belt-fed but with­out the cap­i­tal cost of oth­ers of the belt-fed breed: It works with in­ex­pen­sive 9mm range ammo, gen­er­ates less noise and can be safely used on steel tar­gets at fairly close dis­tances. All of that mat­ters when it comes to the fun fac­tor, which the FM-9 of­fers in abun­dance.

GUN DE­TAILS

The FM-9 is blow­back op­er­ated, fires from a closed bolt and fits any stan­dard AR-15 or M-16 lower with­out mod­i­fi­ca­tion. It is fed from the left side by a dis­in­te­grat­ing link belt con­tained in a ny­lon ammo bag that hangs be­low the mag well and holds 150 rounds. The FM-9 at­taches to the lower re­ceiver as does any other up­per re­ceiver. You only need to in­sert an alu­minum block hold­ing the ejec­tor and ammo bag mount into the mag­a­zine well from the top be­fore join­ing the re­ceivers to­gether.

The FM-9 works in semi- and full-au­to­matic modes, as de­ter­mined by the lower re­ceiver. Op­er­a­tors need to un­der­stand how the FM-9’s me­chan­ics work be­fore load­ing up. De­spite us­ing the same lower re­ceiver, there’s very lit­tle trans­fer­able knowl­edge be­tween an AR-15 and the FM-9.

Here’s a con­densed de­scrip­tion of how it op­er­ates.

Belted rounds are fed onto a steel feed ramp from the left and held in place by me­tal “fin­gers” on the pawls. Dur­ing counter-re­coil, the bolt

moves for­ward, strip­ping the car­tridge from its link us­ing a “pusher,” feed­ing it down­ward from the feed ramp into the cham­ber, which sits be­low and for­ward of the feed ramp. Upon fir­ing, the bolt’s rear­ward move­ment ex­tracts and ejects the empty case and ac­tu­ates the feed pawl, which ad­vances the ammo belt one car­tridge to the right. The empty case is ejected while the empty link is pushed off the right side of the feed ramp (above the ejec­tion port) by the next loaded round. As the bolt comes for­ward dur­ing counter-re­coil, it re­peats the cham­ber­ing process by en­gag­ing a belted car­tridge that is now prop­erly po­si­tioned on the feed ramp.

Af­ter read­ing the afore­men­tioned de­scrip­tion, it’s ob­vi­ous that the FM-9 op­er­ates much dif­fer­ently than the AR-15 and other mag­a­zine-fed ri­fles. There­fore, care must be taken to learn and ap­ply the cor­rect pro­ce­dures. For in­stance, check­ing the cham­ber re­quires open­ing the top cover, lift­ing the feed ramp and re­tract­ing the bolt. In ad­di­tion, the bolt must be re­tracted and held rear­ward be­fore clos­ing the top cover and at­tempt­ing

fire. If the bolt is for­ward when the top cover is closed, the unit will be dam­aged upon fir­ing.

There are dif­fer­ent as­pects of main­te­nance to learn as well. Links can be sprayed with rust in­hibitor, but ammo should not be lu­bri­cated. The FM-9 can be run dirty, but it al­ways needs a light coat of lu­bri­ca­tion on its mov­ing parts. For those un­ac­cus­tomed to belt-feds, Free­dom Ord­nance has posted sev­eral videos ex­plain­ing the unit’s op­er­a­tion; and the man­ual is clearly writ­ten.

Two ver­sions of the FM-9 are avail­able: the Min­i­mal­ist, which has a fixed bar­rel, and the Elite, which fea­tures a quick-change bar­rel and quad rail forend. I tested the Elite model, which al­lows the user to switch bar­rels by sim­ply de­press­ing a lever on the trun­nion and then ro­tat­ing the bar­rel and re­mov­ing it. Elite bar­rels are made in 6, 11 and 16.5 inches, each hav­ing an A2-style full bird­cage flash sup­pres­sor and a carry han­dle. Switch­ing to the 6-inch bar­rel re­quires chang­ing the quad rail by re­mov­ing eight hex-head screws.

The FM-9 is made with qual­ity ma­te­ri­als and very good work­man­ship. In­ter­nal steel parts are made from 4140 chrome-moly steel and are heat treated and ni­tride coated for hard­ness, abra­sion re­sis­tance and cor­ro­sion re­sis­tance. The re­ceiver is thicker than an AR-15 up­per re­ceiver and is made from hard coat-an­odized 6061 alu­minum. The bar­rel is ni­trided for wear re­sis­tance. Even the links—which are unique to this plat­form—are made from heat-treated spring steel to main­tain ten­sion. They are re­us­able.

Belt-feds re­quire far more en­ergy to cy­cle than mag-feds, so low-pow­ered ammo will not run the sys­tem re­li­ably. Bul­lets with ex­posed lead on the bear­ing sur­face should also be avoided.

Free­dom Ord­nance rec­om­mends Winch­ester USA and Tula FMJ loads. My test­ing con­firmed the re­li­a­bil­ity of these choices, along with Fed­eral Amer­i­can Ea­gle and In­de­pen­dence FMJ. A re­mov­able bolt weight is in­cluded to ad­just/tune the unit for vari­ances in hot ver­sus light am­mu­ni­tion, as well as the type of buf­fer in your lower re­ceiver.

AC­CES­SORIES TO MAKE LIFE EAS­IER

The FM-9’s sturdy con­struc­tion has it at 7 pounds (up­per re­ceiver only), but once you add the lower re­ceiver, 150 rounds of ammo and an op­ti­cal sight, it be­comes ob­vi­ous that this weapon sys­tem is best de­ployed with a bi­pod.

For prone fire with the FM-9, I used a GG&G bi­pod. It is light­weight and works well on un­even ground. How­ever, it does not al­low the gun­ner to pan and put fire onto a hor­i­zon­tal tar­get ar­ray, so I also used a new tri­pod from Firestorm Works. Made of steel, this tri­pod is much stur­dier and heav­ier than the light­weight alu­minum ver­sions typ­i­cally seen.

The Firestorm tri­pod is de­signed for use from a stand­ing po­si­tion, with the gun height pre­cisely ad­justable via a threaded cen­ter pole. The legs are made of ¾-inch steel pipe sold at hard­ware stores, so mod­i­fy­ing its height be­yond what the cen­ter pole pro­vides is sim­ple and in­ex­pen­sive. How­ever, the an­gle of spread of the legs is fixed, so it won’t be as sta­ble the closer you bring it to the ground. The FM-9 mounts to the tri­pod us­ing the bot­tom hand­guard rail and quickly de­taches with a lynch pin. An op­tional as­sem­bly I used al­lows the gun­ner to set the bar­rel’s el­e­va­tion for re­peat­able travers­ing fire.

Be­cause the FM-9 was tri­pod-mounted and mated to a se­lect­fire lower, I felt com­pelled to add a Gen 2 Spade Grip from KNS Pre­ci­sion—one of my fa­vorite ac­ces­sories for an M-16.

IF I COULD GIVE AN AWARD FOR THE BEST AR UP­PER IN­TRO­DUCED IN THE PAST DECADE, THIS BELT-FED WOULD BE THE UN­EQUIV­O­CAL WIN­NER.

The KNS Spade Grip is an adap­ta­tion of the shovel grips and pad­dle-style trig­ger found on the Brown­ing M2 ma­chine gun. It in­stalls over the buf­fer tube in place of the butt­stock and con­nects the pad­dle be­tween the spade grips to the trig­ger via a link arm. There are no mod­i­fi­ca­tions re­quired to mount it, other than re­mov­ing the butt­stock and the pistol grip.

The FM-9 begs for a brass-catcher to neatly col­lect all those re­us­able links and ejected brass. The best de­sign in my ex­pe­ri­ence is made by Tac­ti­cal Brass Re­cov­ery. The TBR mounts to the right-side hand­guard rail with a throw lever for easy po­si­tion­ing and quick de­tach­ment. It’s also hinged to al­low ac­cess to the charg­ing han­dle and ejec­tion port.

Brass and links were caught with­out any spillage and emp­tied out the zip­pered bot­tom of the cloth col­lec­tion bag. I es­pe­cially like how this de­sign elim­i­nates bounce-back onto the ri­fle; this is typ­i­cal of cheap col­lec­tors with flimsy mesh and wire frames and the plas­tic snap-on mod­els I first used years ago. It’s also qui­eter than the plas­tic types.

LIVE FIRE

I tested the FM-9 for ac­cu­racy us­ing the 16.5-inch bar­rel and tar­gets set at 50 yards us­ing the bi­pod and sand­bags at the rear. Re­li­a­bil­ity with sev­eral loads was as­sessed in semi­au­to­matic and au­to­matic fire modes. For ac­cu­racy, the FM-9 pre­ferred the Winch­ester Win­clean 147-grain BEB load, which pro­duced the small­est and best av­er­age five-shot

groups: 1.1 inches and 1.8 inches, re­spec­tively. I feel that is very good per­for­mance—con­sid­er­ing that the 1913 rail clos­est to the rear is too short to mount a mag­ni­fied op­tic, leav­ing me to use a non­mag­ni­fied EOTech holo­graphic sight mounted up front.

There was also a loose fit be­tween the up­per and lower re­ceivers that I par­tially cor­rected with a rub­ber re­ceiver wedge or hold­ing the re­ceivers tightly to­gether at the rear with my sup­port hand. Sec­ond and last place be­longed to Winch­ester USA 115-grain FMJ, at 1.4 inches and 2.2 inches, re­spec­tively, and In­de­pen­dence at 3.0 inches and 3.7 inches, re­spec­tively.

The ve­loc­ity of each load was mea­sured us­ing each bar­rel length. The re­sults demon­strate that the Winch­ester 115-grain gained 116 fps of ve­loc­ity be­tween the 6-inch and 16-inch bar­rels, fol­lowed by 98 fps for the In­de­pen­dence 115-grain load. The Winch­ester 147-grain load showed a much smaller gain—48 fps. The FM-9 cy­cled each of the three loads tested for ac­cu­racy with close to 100 per­cent re­li­a­bil­ity with semi­au­to­matic fire. How­ever, with au­to­matic fire, the flat-nosed, 147-grain Win­clean round failed to feed about 15 per­cent of the time. With few ex­cep­tions, the 115-grain FMJ round­nose rounds from Tula, as well as Fed­eral Amer­i­can Ea­gle, also cy­cled in au­to­matic with­out any prob­lems. Loads I had is­sues with in­cluded Rem­ing­ton 115-grain FMJ, which was in­con­sis­tent, and U.S. Car­tridge’s 124-grain, plated round­nose, which did not cy­cle at all.

THE UL­TI­MATE PLINKER

If I could give an award for the best AR up­per in­tro­duced in the past decade, this belt-fed would be the un­equiv­o­cal win­ner. In­ter­est­ing and unique, re­li­able with econ­omy ammo, well-made and backed with an in­dus­try-lead­ing war­ranty that cov­ers the life of the unit, the FM-9 Elite is the ul­ti­mate plink­ing ma­chine. GW

OP­ER­A­TORS NEED TO UN­DER­STAND HOW THE FM-9’S ME­CHAN­ICS WORK BE­FORE LOAD­ING UP. DE­SPITE US­ING THE SAME LOWER RE­CEIVER, THERE’S VERY LIT­TLE TRANS­FER­ABLE KNOWL­EDGE BE­TWEEN AN AR-15 AND THE FM-9.

Load­ing links can be done by hand, but the belt linker loads up to 15 at a time. Links are made of very durable, heat­treated steel.

“The whole 9 yards?” Not quite. The ammo bag holds 150 rounds, which lay out to a bit over 2 yards.

Bot­tom, left im­age: The one-piece bolt is sim­pler than the AR-15’s, but it does a lot of work. The roller on top guides it and ac­tu­ates the feed pawl mech­a­nism on the top cover (left, mid­dle im­age), and a small, up­ward­pro­trud­ing hand in front pushes the car­tridge for­ward off its link.

Top im­age: The patented feed chute is es­sen­tial in mak­ing this unit run. Note the roller on the top of the feed bag for re­duced fric­tion feed­ing and a spring-loaded catch that pre­vents the ammo belt from fall­ing into the bag when de­tached from the weapon.

The TBR brass-catcher works per­fectly with the FM-9. It folds out on swing arms and can be pushed flat for stor­age.

The bar­rel on the Elite model is eas­ily changed by first de­press­ing the spring-loaded latch be­hind the Pi­catinny rail, which un­locks it from the trun­nion.I

Above: A KNS Gen 2 Spade Grip with but­ter­fly pad­dle as a re­mote trig­ger. Push­ing the pad­dle in­ward re­tracts a con­nect­ing rod (above, right-side im­age)—shown at­tached by two small sil­ver nuts— which ac­ti­vates the trig­ger on the AR lower. Note that the trig­ger guard is com­pletely shrouded by the KNS de­vice and mounts in place of the pistol grip.

Three bar­rel lengths are of­fered for the FM-9 Elite, each with a carry han­dle to aid in­stal­la­tion/re­moval.

Two lynch pins se­cure the weapon to the tri­pod for ease of mount­ing and re­moval. The smaller pin is for the link that ad­justs the bar­rel’s at­ti­tude for set­ting travers­ing fire at a given el­e­va­tion. Note the ammo bag sus­pended by the mag­well block. The block is pre­vented from fall­ing out by a rim at its top—not by the mag­well re­lease.

C

B

A Belt-feds don’t clear like an AR-15. This photo se­quence shows— Im­age A: The ammo belt in proper po­si­tion for cham­ber­ing with links fac­ing up (“brass to the grass”) and bolt closed. Im­age B: Belt re­moved from feed tray.Im­age C: Feed tray is flipped up to in­spect the cham­ber with the bolt pulled to the rear.

The au­thor, locked and loaded, is about to “get his free­dom on!” (Photo: Chet Lukasiewicz)

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