China’s Exclusive Canadian Export: Emei Type 97NSR Semiautomatic Bullpup Rifle
By J.M. Ramos
The Emei Type 97NSR is an offspring of the Chinese family of military weapons QBZ-95 chambered for the potent 5.8x42mm (DBP87) small calibre high velocity cartridge, a home grown development in the late 1980s. Contrary to what many people believe, the new 5.56x45mm Emei Type 97NSR semiautomatic is not manufactured by China North Industries (Norinco) except possibly the prototypes and promotional models. Emei, the actual producer of these semi-auto variants is a private corporation known for their high quality and powerful airguns in the 1980s. They have exported two particular side lever models to the U.S. and Canada to include the XS-B3-1 and TS-45. The TS-45 is a conventional style air rifle while the XS-B3-1 features the Chinese Kalashnikov side folder pattern. This particular model is of interest since it utilized real Chinese AK rifle parts such as the folding stock used on the AK Type 56-2 assault rifle, the pistol grip, tangent rear sight and front sight post. These .177 caliber pellet airguns are capable of up to 1,000 fps in muzzle velocity – quite powerful even by today’s standard. By the mid 1990s, the Chinese government issued a ban on airgun manufacture and Emei was included in the list. From this point it is uncertain if Emei Corporation actually ceased its manufacturing operation or had switched to other manufacturing ventures in order to survive. It is interesting to note that when Norinco finally decided to produce a semiautomatic version based on their export model, the QBZ-97 assault rifle chambered for the .223 cartridge, they selected a private company experienced in turning out a quality product that could compete in the international market. The end result was the Emei T97NSR.
Having demonstrated Emei’s capability to manufacture a quality airgun in the past, Norinco definitely made a wise choice when it decided to subcontract the manufacture of the new T97NSR to Emei. Emei worked closely with Norinco in the final refinements of the improved semi-auto trigger mechanism of the gun to appease the stringent requirement imposed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), who has been responsible for rejecting the first generation semi-auto models imported into Canada with the original designation of Type 97A. Between December 2006 and November 2007, about 60 T97A rifles with 18.5 inch barrel were imported into Canada and initially classified as non-restricted based on the information provided by the importer, photos and specs from the manufacturer followed by an inspection report by a business nominated verifier. A verifier is used to check to make sure the guns are what the exporter declared they would be. Verifiers could be anyone with knowledge of firearms and were given a one-day course from the RCMP. A business that sells weapons can nominate their own verifiers. But the discovery of a gun the RCMP says should never have made it into Canada sparked an attention to the potential problem with the government sponsored verifier program. There is a serious concern that the first loyalty of the business verifier is to the importer that nominated him and that this could hurt the accuracy of the verification itself. In October 2009, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) alerted the RCMP to a second shipment. This time, the rifles were given a full physical inspection by the RCMP and determined the weapons should be prohibited. In March 2010, the RCMP sent letters of notices to about 35 civilian owners of the Norinco Type 97A rifles demanding they turn in their guns. This came after the RCMP decided the guns are prohibited after determining they could easily be converted to fully automatic fire. The gun in question is the Type 97A Carbine with 14.5 inch barrel originally imported by Lever Arms of British Columbia (the only version of this rifle that is available for sale). According to the RCMP technical department these models are originally-built fully automatic firearm with fully automatic features disabled by the manufacturer, which were not disclosed to the RCMP. It was said that these guns can be very easily converted back to a fully automatic firearm. Owners of the subject weapons issued a court challenge, including the importer of the weapons, but lost the case in 2012 after RCMP technicians allegedly demonstrated to an expert of the defence how it was done quite easily with minimum of tools and was able to convince the judge that it was a dangerous weapon that must be outlawed. As a result of the court decision, the Type 97A rifles and carbines are no longer legal for civilian ownership and its importation to Canada was banned.
Despite the set-back, Norinco did not lose hope in regaining the lucrative civilian market and offered a new re-designed semiautomatic Type 97A. To accomplish the task, Norinco and Emei’s engineers teamed up and made all the necessary changes to re-create a new civilian version that would pass tight RCMP scrutiny. After a few years of lengthy negotiations and design revisions of the bullpup rifle, the company finally got their stamp of approval for the re-importation of the improved T97A back to Canada. The new gun has been re-designated as Emei T97NSR exclusively produced by Emei Corporation. On April 28, 2013, the Chinese import was once again re-classified as a non-restricted firearm by the RCMP. It went on sale to the general public in September 2013 for about $1,000 (CAN). As the good news spread among Canadian gun consumers, all the T97NSRs available in the country were sold out almost overnight. Soon, just about every tactical firearms accessory producer in the country was busy turning up accessory upgrades for this sensational oriental bullpup. Many tactical firearms aficionado call this gun a real bargain over high priced imports in the likes of the Israeli Tavor, Swiss Arms SIG 530 and brand name American made AR-15s. What truly made the Emei rifle an instant success in the Canadian market was its modern layout and non-restricted status. It was able to take USGI AR-15 magazines, was lightweight and compact and had excellent balance and recoil management. Despite all these high marks in its design credentials, the 5.56mm T97NSR is far from perfect when compared to its military siblings as adopted by the Chinese military and its other branches.
The Type 97NSR parent weapon, the QBZ-95, evolved from a Chinese new weapon design requirement based upon lessons learned from the Vietnam conflict calling for a light, compact and reliable weapon utilizing a cartridge claimed by its developers to be more potent than the 5.56mm NATO and the 5.54mm Russian. China’s new battle cartridge (5.8x42mm) develops a muzzle velocity of 930 m/s from a 520 mm standard barrel, with a bullet weighing 65.74 gr. NATO’s SS-109 (FMJBT) cartridge in comparison has a 62 gr. bullet and delivers 940 m/s. The final version of the QBZ-95 assault rifle was put into full production in 1995 and was first seen in the western media in 1997; the year that China reclaimed possession of Hong-Kong from Great Britain. The QBZ-95 was develop as a family of weapons, all incorporating the same basic action and bullpup configuration that include the standard rifle, a compact carbine, a bipod equipped light support weapon with snail type 75-round drum magazine and a heavier barrel for sustained fire capability. In addition, a sniper type version (QBU-88) with longer barrel and folding sights was also develop and produced. The usual carry handle format was eliminated in favor of a flat top receiver with mounting rail for a long range scope. This particular model fires semiautomatic only and is also offered in the civilian market without a bayonet lug and a different forearm as a competition/sporting model with 22 inch barrel and a 5-shot magazine capacity. The original QBZ-95 weapon system was said to be a joint effort of a design team headed by Duo Eiken, one of China’s most prolific veteran gun designers, who is highly influenced by the works of Mikhail Kalashnikov and Eugene Stoner, two of the world’s most famous infantry weapon inventors of the 20th century.
The T97NSR is a gas operated, magazine fed, semiautomatic rifle with a bullpup format. It features a short-stroke gas piston and a rotating bolt. The charging handle is located at the top of the receiver inside the carrying handle. The overall construction is a modular type comprising of steel and high strength polymer material. In the military version, the receiver is made of forged duralumin and CNC machined then hard coat anodize. The receiver of the civilian model is made of steel forging with parkerized finish that matches the plastic furniture. The standard model has an 18.5 inch barrel and a long bird cage style flash hider while the carbine “Shorty” model has a 14.5 inch barrel and a large two-piece funnel shape muzzle brake/flash hider combo and twin grips. The small front grip is an integral part of the trigger guard. The standard model has a separate front sight tower having a longer sight radius while the Shorty had its front sight tower concealed by the front end section of the carry handle. The gas regulator switch on the standard model is parallel to the front end of the upper hand guard while the Short model has a half-moon gas regulator switch with index notches that extends past the gas block and fully exposed outside the front end of the carry handle. This model has a spring loaded catch located above the gas regulator switch which acts as an index lock for the setting. The charging handle of the T97NSR is .460 inch wide plastic and is less than an inch tall that resembles an inverted 1911 pistol trigger. The travel channel for the charging handle is quite wide on each side and there are some sharp edges noted on the rim of the plastic material that can cause a slice on the operator’s hand when the finger operating the handle gets too close to the edge of the channel while pulling the handle to the rear. This is one particular area that needs serious attention. Not only is the tiny charging handle difficult to operate with one finger (particularly with shooters having weak hands/fingers) but it poses a hazard to the operator. The space in front of the charging handle is cramped. In fact, the trigger guard has more room to operate the trigger than the charging handle. The majority of bullpup rifles with the same layout provide a lot of room in this particular area for quick access and comfort. There are a few things that can be done to correct this major flaw. (1) Increase the height of the charging handle for two finger operation and close the gap of the travel channel and round off the plastic edges. (2) Modify the design of the charging handle and make it ambidextrous like the H&K G36 rifle and be able to swing on either side of the carry handle. This will definitely make the operation of the charging handle more convenient and easier at any given situation. The fire selector of the gun is positioned way too far near the butt on the left side of the receiver where it is quite awkward to operate and must be rotated a full 180 degrees for indexing. The fire selector must be moved above the pistol grip where it could be conveniently manipulated by the thumb of the firing hand. This design change is now incorporated on the new improved QBZ-95G that is now replacing the older QBZ-95 series. In order to accommodate the STANAG (AR-15/M16) magazine, a push button type magazine catch was necessary. The FAMAS rifle has the same arrangement; however the French gun had a large magazine catch button for easy access while the Chinese version has the size of a pencil eraser-head that is barely sticking out for convenient operation. A good solution for this design flaw would be to incorporate a secondary paddle type magazine catch similar in arrangement to the H&K G3 and MP5 series of weapons. The rear sight of this gun is another area that needs refinements. It features a rolling square disk with four different settings graduated from 100, 300 and 500 meters with the fourth setting being a simple post. Presumably, you have to line up the two posts together to hit the target. The rear sight has a very narrow square disk that is only .210 inch wide (USGI peep sight disk has .380 diameter). The disk virtually disappears when you aim at the target making accurate follow up shots very difficult especially at longer ranges. Windage and elevation adjustment is through the front sight. The gun is supplied with an elevation adjustment tool along with the cleaning kit (stored in the pistol grip) but windage is by manual drifting with a punch. The height of the rear sight is perfectly tailored for the buttstock. However, when you install an optic over it, it is quite awkward and very uncomfortable being too high even with a low mounted type. There is still a lot of room for improvement to make this import a user friendly weapon by western standards. On the other hand, this is good news for tactical accessory innovators who are now busy exploring the shortcomings of the T97NSR and are now starting to market upgrades to maximize its ergonomics and optic compatibility.
Bolt Group and Gas Regulator System
Although the T97NSR did not get my high mark in the end user’s perspective, it earned a good score in overall reliability. The original QBZ-95 assault rifle where the T97NSR design evolved from is a conglomerate of weapon systems combined to create a hybrid bullpup to meet the Chinese military small arms modernization program for the 21st century. The bolt and bolt carrier design including cut outs is a near perfect copy of the FN FNC while the striker system and double sear mechanism is derived from the Czech Vz.58 battle rifle but in a self-contained modular format. Although both the FNC and QBZ-95 incorporated a gas regulator system, they differ in arrangement. The Chinese rifle features a separate spring loaded piston that acts against the regulator while the Belgian rifle features a simpler arrangement but functions in the same manner. The T97NSR’s gas regulator has three settings (1 for normal, 2 for adverse and 0 for gas cut off/grenade launching). About 250 rounds of Winchester 62 grain full metal jacket was fired in this gun to test its reliability and accuracy using both the factory iron sight and optics. The gun worked flawlessly from slow to rapid fire mode using the supplied USGI aluminum magazine made by D&H Tactical. The Magpul Gen III polymer magazine had a few jams and it is difficult to insert and remove. Trigger pull is long and mushy but surprisingly light. The gun has no provision for rails at the bottom of the forearm to install a bipod but a vintage Vietnam era Colt M16 clip-on type bipod works just fine on the barrel sleeve just forward of the gas block. In the military model, the bayonet lug is an integral part of the sleeve and was omitted in all the civilian models. Best accuracy obtained from 50 yards on a bipod is 1 ½ to 2 inches (5-shot group) while at 100 yards grouping is 3 ¼- 3 ½ inch with the same number of shots using Tasco Pro-Point red dot. With iron sight, the group spread quite considerably even on a bipod, which can be attributed to the poor peep sight design. One admirable thing about this gun is its balance and lightness when shoulder fired compared to an AR-15/M4. The recoil is also noticeably lighter and smoother by almost 35-40 percent making follow-up shots a breeze. The pivoting buffer system (borrowed from the FAMAS design) definitely showed its efficiency here. If the factory improves the peep sight design, this gun will not need an optic for accuracy up to 150 meters. When the weapon is stripped for cleaning, the gas regulator and the spring loaded piston is very difficult to remove. A spray of oil was needed to loosen up the heavily clogged-up spring and piston that had to be pushed out with a bit of effort. The gas regulator setting was set at “normal” for the entire shooting session at -20 degrees temperature at an outdoor range. It is quite likely that the regulator setting will need to be set at “adverse” if the number of rounds fired is doubled in order for the piston to cycle the action reliably.
As noted earlier, the trigger mechanism of the T97NSR (and its military siblings) is loosely based on the Czech Vz.58 assault rifle design including its striker firing mechanism. Unlike the Vz.58, the Chinese rifle incorporated a self-contained trigger lock work. The housing itself is a stamped sheet metal .056 thick in a “U” shape format. Contained in the module are the trigger lever, the primary sear (left), secondary sear (right), the one-piece coil spring that powers both sears and the trigger lever and the flat spring that serves as a retainer as well as an index for the fire selector switch. The primary sear is about .116 thick while the primary sear is .100 thick. The trigger lever has two separate cams. The smaller cam connects with the bottom section of the primary sear. When the trigger is pulled, the upper section of the trigger lever is pulled forward by the long trigger bar and its smaller cam pushes the extended bottom section of the primary sear below its pivot point and causes the rear of the sear to move downward and releases the striker to fire the weapon. The long cam of the trigger lever serves as a rocker and is positioned at the center between the two sears. This part is always held downward by the center portion of the coil spring, which also powers both sears on each side. The rocker moves in tandem with the primary sear each time the trigger is pulled and released. As soon as the primary sear releases the striker and the gun fired, the secondary sear automatically moves upward ready to catch the striker during rearward recoil, while the primary sear is held downward whilst the pressure on the trigger is still on. When the trigger pull is released, the spring actuated rocker resting over the secondary sear’s underside bent will force the secondary sear to move downward to release its connection with the striker. As the striker reaches its halfway mark from being released by the secondary sear, the primary sear (slightly shorter in length) begins to engage the striker. By the time the secondary sear disengages from the striker, the primary sear is fully engaged with the striker and ready for the next shot. This sequence of operation is repeated each time a shot is fired and trigger pull is released. The striker and sear has a full .100-.103 contact when the weapon is cocked making the weapon extremely safe but resulted in a long mushy trigger pull. The primary sear is blocked by the fire selector on SAFE position. It must be rotated 180 degrees to the FIRE position in order to charge the weapon. When the striker is cocked, there is about 3 inches of travel distance before it hits the firing pin. The long travel and weight of the striker when it hits the back of the bolt does create a minor disturbance during aimed fire. On the other hand, this set-up definitely provides more positive ignition over conventional hammer fired mechanism. This arrangement also lowers the cyclic rate in fully automatic (650 rpm) models due to its delayed ignition system.
Disassembly and Maintenance
This is another area where the T97NSR got an excellent grade. If you are one of those who likes to strip guns almost to the bare bones without the use of tools, this is the gun for you. The first and most important step before the disassembly of the weapon is to make sure that the chamber is empty and no magazine is in place. Once the weapon is cleared start by removing the stock. Restrain the butt (under spring tension) while pushing the stock pin from left to right. The pin will stop once it clears the connection with the stock. Separate the stock from the receiver by sliding it out to the rear. Remove the striker assembly and recoil spring. The fire selector must be on the FIRE position and trigger is pulled in order to be able to remove the striker from the receiver. Disassemble the bolt/bolt carrier group next. To separate the bolt from the carrier, pull the bolt head forward then align the locking-unlocking lug with the slot of the carrier, then rotate it to the left and separate it from the carrier. Remove the upper hand guard next by pushing it backward about 5-8 mm then lift the rear section upward until it clears the scope mounting platform then separate it from the receiver body. Next, remove the gas regulator. Press on the center protruding portion of the locking piece then rotate it on horizontal position then pull it out from the gas block. Remove the piston and its spring. Push out the retaining pin of the lower hand guard (pistol grip) from left to right and separate it from the gun. Pull the hand guard down to disengage the trigger from the trigger bar then push the hand guard forward to disengage it from the hook at the bottom of the gas block. To remove the fire selector, depress the flat retainer spring behind the trigger mechanism module then pull the selector out of the receiver. Now you can slide the trigger mechanism module from the rear of the receiver then disconnect the lever pin from the trigger bar. The trigger bar can be slid off the gun from the other end of the receiver. For re-assembly, simply reverse the above order. (NOTE: The trigger mechanism module can also be completely disassembled for cleaning if required using the tip of a cartridge to push out the two retaining pins). Currently, the Emei T97NSR is not available in the U.S. but the manufacturer is busy promoting its three models in the European market.
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