Norinco Type 86S Bullpup
By Todd Burgreen

The rifle reviewed herein is a rarely seen Norinco Type 86S Bullpup style rifle. The Type 86S was imported into the United States by Norinco’s U.S. subsidiary China Sports. The Type 86S was intended for the U.S. civilian market as the design was never considered for Chinese military use. Fewer than 2,000 Type 86S rifles were imported into the U.S. during the late 1980s before the 1989 Assault Rifle Import Ban negated any chance of more reaching U.S. shores. It can only be supposition as to what caused Norinco to try the AK Bullpup path. The late 1970s and early 1980s did see a minor “blip” in Bullpup popularity with the British and French adopting Bullpup service rifles – the SA 80 and FAMAS. The Steyr AUG was also gaining notoriety in the gun press with its role in the Austrian army.

The fact that the Bullpup design has not gained widespread popularity in either other military services or civilian market is an understatement. A case can be made that military use, while sparing, is more prevalent than civilian. The Bullpup can be seen as a niche weapon, especially in terms of the civilian market. Firearms users are a conservative lot by nature and move to adopt “new” items at a slow pace. The increasingly prevalent trend of urban combat centered on controlling population centers would seem to favor the Bullpup design. In the civilian realm, for many a Bullpup is an alternative avenue to achieve short barrel rifle (SBR) like overall lengths without having to do compliance paperwork or if you live in a jurisdiction that an SBR is not permitted. The obvious advantage of compact size represented by the Norinco Type 86S without sacrificing barrel length and thus ballistic performance is one of its greatest attributes.

Importantly, the Norinco Type 86S has the AK operating system at its heart. The Kalashnikov gas-operated piston-rod system is maintained without modification ensuring reliability. Initial observations illustrated the simplicity behind the Norinco Type 86S Bullpup conversion. The Type 86S design departs from the usual AK-47 in several ways. The trigger-sear-hammer group is housed in a rear extension of the receiver, well behind the forward located trigger. The operating mechanism is the same as in the standard AK-47, with the exception of a connecting rod between the trigger and sear. The Type 86S’s bolt, bolt carrier, and magazines are inter-changeable with other AKs. The selector switch/safety is different than the sheet metal lever found on the standard AK-47. The Type 86S selector/safety is meant for thumb manipulation and is located on the right side of the receiver, directly above the pistol grip. The cocking handle is located under the carrying handle; this is a slight nod to ambidextrous manipulation along with the centrally located magazine release. The gas piston has been inletted to accommodate the cocking handle. There is a hole left in the bolt carrier where the bolt charging handle is located on a non-Bullpup AK. Little else is ambidextrous with the Type 86S with the safety selector on the right side with no way to change the typically brisk rightward ejection pattern of empty brass that makes left shoulder use problematic.

A vertical, spring-loaded, plastic folding foregrip is mounted on the front of the receiver. When not in use, it folds forward beneath the barrel. The folding polymer pistol grip resembles the one found on the Steyr AUG. The magazine well is located to the rear of the pistol grip and will accept 10, 20, and 30 round magazines as well as drum magazines. Both the front and rear sight are mounted on the handguard that clamps tightly onto the receiver above the gas tube. This hand guard contributes to the visually striking departure of the Type 86S from the normal AK appearance; along with the pistol grip located in front of the magazine well. The rear sight is an aperture/peep sight mounted on a cam. The front sight is a typical AK post and adjustable for elevation. Turning an adjustment knob located on the side of the rail sets the rear sight for 100 meter, 200 meter, or 300 meter ranges. The quality of the sights combined with the short radius makes 300 meter, and even 200 meter, quite an ambitious goal with this weapon. A metal assembly is installed behind the magazine catch under the receiver for use as a buttplate. An AK cleaning kit can be fitted inside the buttstock assembly. The most important part of the Bullpup conversion is the forward housing incorporating the forward pistol grip/trigger and forend. Norinco uses a sheet metal covering to flesh out the forward area. The Norinco Type 86S features what is described as a “fish lip” compensator. A photo is worth a thousand words related to the compensators aesthetics.

The Type 86S’s pistol grip provides for a positive comfortable grip and changes the balance of the Type 86S compared to a typical AK; so much so it was found possible to fire the Type 86S with one hand without straining. A key element of the Bullpup design is the trigger configuration. Inevitably, the forward mounted trigger has to be linked to the rearward sear placed with the action. The trigger on the Type 86S Bullpup is approximately 12 inches forward of the sear. Norinco used a stiff, steel wire connecting the trigger and sear. This wire is visible running alongside the magazine well of the rifle prompting initial concerns of its viability during hard use at the range involving magazine changes and other weapon manipulations. While trigger pull is not match grade, it is heavy but consistent. The important part is its consistency which allows it to be managed effectively, especially as range practice increases familiarity. One should treat Bullpup triggers like a Glock or Double-Action revolver trigger. Do not try to stage the trigger, but rather work it smoothly and you can make a precision shot without difficulty.

It did not take an inordinate amount of range time to become familiar with the Type 86S Bullpup and its handling. The normal protocol of hundreds of rounds fired was not followed due to the rareness of the Norinco Type 86S here in the U.S. A handful of magazines were fired to verify feel of recoil and functionality. Most of the manipulations were done via dry fire and handling drills. The magazine sitting closer to the body took a little getting used to during reloads as well as orientating hand location when racking the bolt via the top mounted charging handle during weapon manipulation. The cycling of the actions via the center handle was smoother than expected with no binding. One must pay attention to hand placement when changing magazines in relation to the pistol grip to avoid coming into contact with the back of the pistol grip. This is a result of converting the Type 86S into a Bullpup configuration combined with the “rocking’ needed for seating the AK magazine.

It seems more of an issue of ingrained conservatism than anything else why more countries/civilians have not taken a liking to Bullpups. The weapon being closer to the body, with resultant center of gravity more toward the rear due to the weight of the action at the butt, combined with hands being orientated next to each other on the weapon makes the weapon seem lighter than what it is. This contributes to better handling over longer time frames due to lessoning fatigue on the arms and shoulders. Some may question effects of muzzle blast with barrel and action orientated closer than normal to a user’s face during operation. It is no different than user experience with an SBR and possibly less considering the Type 86S Bullpup offers 17+ inches of barrel for powder burn. Firing from the left shoulder during T&E proved impractical due to the likelihood of the shooter’s face coming into contact with the reciprocating bolt or ejecting brass.

The compactness is one of the most oft repeated positive attributes of Bullpup rifles, while maintaining a full length barrel to maximize cartridge performance. The Type 86S weighs 7 pounds and measures 26.5 inches long with its 17.25 inch barrel. For comparison sake, a Rifle Dynamics AK74 and Krinkov SBR were used. The standard configured AK74 with 16.25 inch barrel length measures 37 inches and the Krinkov SBR measures 29 inches with its 8.5 inch barrel. An example of this beneficial compactness would be working in/around vehicles. As a driver or passenger you can have a Bullpup rifle pointed muzzle down between your legs, with the buttstock resting on the seat cushion. Movement with the Type 86S inside of structures is much easier and very similar to the size advantage offered by a SMG without the terminal ballistic penalty. It is easy to use a Bullpup typified by the Type 86S with one hand since the center of gravity is farther back, so if you have to open a door or other similar tasks the Type 86S offers you an advantage. You can effectively treat the Type 86S like a big pistol if situation demands. Bullpups are generally the same size of specialized short barrel rifles (SBR) without having to resort to sub-16 inch barrels to achieve this size.

There are shooters that ignore the Bullpup design citing various reasons. Some of these reasons are that they can not get past the looks and "strangeness" in terms of ergonomics. The hesitancy with shooters adapting to the Bullpup stems from the manual of arms compared to “standard” rifles that most of us have more experience with. For example, Bullpup magazine changes are different combined with the action not being as readily visible. The action is contained in the stock and thus out of view in most Bullpup designs; the Type 86S is not included in this category since the action can be viewed by tilting the rifle to the left. Another point raised is that some Bullpups are not as ambidextrous as others. This is definitely the case with the Norinco Type 86S. While other Bullpup designs do offer better examples of the Bullpup’s full potential with better ergonomics and ambidextrous use, the Norinco Type 86S did exhibit all of the positive Kalashnikov characteristics including reliability and ruggedness. Arms aficionados desire the Type 86S due to its differences with the standard pattern AK rifle and lack of availability due to limited numbers imported. Unfortunately, there are some weapons that most of us will not be able to experience or handle. This is especially true of foreign made rifles, submachine guns, or machine pistols. Without getting into the reasons right or wrong, this is just the way it is due to different laws and regulations. The Norinco Type 86S is such a weapon. The track record of Bullpup popularity would suggest the Norinco Type 86S mystique stems more from its lack of numbers in the U.S. versus perceived performance. Whatever the case may be, the Type 86S is an interesting weapon based on the Chinese attempting to create a Bullpup out of the AK platform.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (March 2013)
and was posted online on February 1, 2013


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