The best pistol will not win the current XM9 (Personal Defense
Weapon PDW) trials. The finest military pistol in the world today,
in my opinion, is not entered in the XM9 tests.
Currently in service only with the Austrian Army, the revolutionary
Glock 17 pistol was withheld from the U.S. XM9 trials at the behest
of its inventor, Gaston Glock, who would not accept U.S. government
requirements to release the winning contender's production and
patent rights to open bidding. The Glock pistol represents an
entirely new era in small arms technology. Glock would have
submitted his pistol only if guaranteed production rights. However,
this stipulation does not conform to procedures practiced by the DOD.
In May 1980, when the Austrian Army opened bidding for a new
service pistol, Glock didn't know the difference between a revolver
and a semiautomatic pistol. His small company, employing only 38
people and located in the village of Deutsch-Wagram just outside
Vienna, had been in existence only since 1963. Glock, whose personal
background is that of a mechanical engineer specializing in machine
tool construction, had developed and provided the Austrian Army
with a heterogeneous mix of products, all of which combined his
unique talents in the fields of both metallurgy and plastics. Glock
produces nondisintegrating (but detachable) links for the MG74-3
machine gun (Austrian nomenclature for the MG42 in 7.62mm NATO),
military fighting knives, entrenching tools and training grenades.
Gathering several weapons experts together, Glock asked them
what features the ideal combat pistol would possess. In several
areas their consensus was unanimous. The pistol should be capable
of instant and instinctive performance. Any consideration of whether
the pistol is in a safe or fire mode should be eliminated, if possible.
Absolute reliability and simplicity of design were also stressed. Glock
then tested and evaluated the most highly regarded pistols available
and reviewed all existing patents. Within six months he had a working
prototype. Glock's startling response will stand as a hallmark in
innovation and the application of advanced technology for generations
Glock's pistol has a unique plastic frame which still manages to
retain a more-or-less classical appearance. Fabricated in a manner
and of materials Glock will not divulge (understandably), four steel
guide rails are integrated into the molding to accommodate the slide.
This has, of course, resulted in a considerable reduction in overall
weight. At 21.175 oz., empty, the Glock 17 (referring to its magazine
capacity) compares favorably with its competition. The HK P7 weighs
27.5 oz., the SIG-Sauer P226 is 26.25 oz., the Steyr GB is 29.6 oz.,
the Beretta 92SB is 34.5 oz. and the venerable Colt M1911 A1 is almost
twice as heavy at 39.5 oz. Loaded with a full magazine (also made
of plastic) of 17 rounds, the Glock pistol weighs only 30.1 oz. - just
.5 ounce more than an empty Steyr GB!
The overall envelope is as compact as it is light. With a length of
only 7.4 inches and a height of 5.2 inches, the Glock 17 is only 1.2
inches thick. In addition, the plastic frame's elastic qualities absorb
a significant portion of the counter recoiling forces during firing.
The Glock frame is also more durable under the distortion of hard
shock and dropping than steel or aluminum, having successfully
passed a two-meter drop test from all angles of contact. The
frame's final advantage lies in the area of cost-effectiveness.
Glock's only condescension to conventionality is the pistol's method
of operation, which is those of the Browning pattern. Recoil operated,
the barrel is locked up in the slide by a single lug which recesses
into the ejection port, somewhat in the manner of the SIG-Sauer
P220/P225/P226 series. The barrel thus moves rearward with the
slide about 3mm until the bullet leaves the barrel and pressures drop
to the safe level. At this time the barrel drops downward, separating
from the slide and terminating any further motion. The slide's continued
rearward movement and return cycle are those of the Browning types.
The Glock pistol's most distinctive feature is its so-called Safe Action
trigger system. A wide outer trigger encompasses a small inner trigger,
both fabricated from plastic. The outer trigger cannot be actuated,
such as by contact with the holster, unless the middle trigger is first
depressed. This two-component mechanism which can be pulled only
from the center, not the edges, constitutes the pistol's first fail-safe.
There is no manual thumb safety and no hammer. The trigger mechanism
consists of two stages. Stage one has a pull of approximately 2.2 lbs.
and travel of 0.25 inch. During this stage three things occur: (1) The
firing pin is fully cocked [it's always half cocked]; (2) the firing pin
safety is released [the second safety in the sequence]; and (3) the
previously blocked trigger rod is released [the final safety]. At the
second stage all slack has been taken up and we are at the point of
release. Five pounds of pressure will draw the sear down along the
oblique surface of the control spring, release the firing pin and fire
the round. (The absence of a hammer increases lock time considerably).
If the trigger is pulled without a cartridge in the chamber, it remains
rearward. It can be reset by pulling the slide back about 10mm.
The entire Glock 17 pistol consists of only 33 parts. Investment
casting processes are not used on any of the steel components.
The square-cut slide is milled from a single block of steel.
Everything is manufactured at the Glock plant except springs and
the cold-forged barrel stock which is obtained from Ferlach. The
barrel, machine finished by Glock, has an unusual bore profile
intermediate between conventional lands and grooves and a
polygonal configuration that offers superior barrel life. The original
barrels were of the land and groove type. Even though there
was no significant degradation of accuracy potential until 15,000
rounds had been fired, Glock opted for the improved barrel. The
barrel is 4.5 inches long with six grooves and a right-hand twist.
The sight radius is 6.5 inches. The ramped front sight is 0.12 inch
wide. The rear sight notch is 0.13 inch wide. The rear sight is
adjustable for windage zero by tapping right or left in its dovetail
on the slide. Different heights are available corresponding to
various types of 9mm Parabellum ammunition.
The slide stop release is mounted on the left side of the frame
directly below the slide, where it can be manipulate with ease
by the thumb of the shooting hand. The magazine catch-release
button is also where it belongs - on the left side of the frame,
directly to the rear of the trigger guard. The plastic magazines
are light, yet they fall freely from the magazine well. Holes in
the rear of the magazine housing indicate the number of remaining
rounds. The trigger guard is moderately hooked for those who
wish to employ its use with the support hand.
The grip-to-frame angle is somewhat steeper than competing
designs, but the pistol points instinctively and despite its large
magazine capacity the grip sits well in normal-sized hands. As
the frame is plastic, the pistol is decidedly muzzle heavy - also
a desirable characteristic.
Disassembly procedures are quite straightforward. Remove the
magazine and clear the chamber. Pull the trigger (with the pistol
pointed in a safe direction!). Jack the slide back 2 to 3mm and
simultaneously depress the two spring-loaded disassembly levers
(located on each side of the frame above the trigger guard)
downward. The slide can now be pulled forward off the frame.
Separate the barrel, recoil spring and guide rod from the slide.
Reassemble in the reverse order. Make certain the frame's four
steel guide rails are mated to the slide's guide slots. Remember,
the slide cannot be replaced unless the trigger mechanism is in
the pulled position. Pull the slide rearward until the two disassembly
By May 1982 Glock submitted samples and a price proposal to
the Austrian Army. His offer was 25-percent lower than the next
lowest bidder. As the Glock pistol was somewhat of an enigma,
the Austrian Army test facility decided that it must first pass a
preliminary firing test - 10,000 rounds with no more than 20
stoppages. The 10,000 rounds were fired with only one malfunction!
This test was waived for the other contenders as it was assumed
they would be able to complete this portion of the trials.
Tests of function and parts durability included firing under conditions
of extreme heat, ice, sand and mud; a drop test (2 meters onto a
steel plate - muzzle and rear); oiled and unlubricated functioning;
and the firing of normal, low- and high-pressure ammunition (the
high-pressure requirement was double NATO specifications - 5,000
BAR [56,000 psi]).
The test parameters also included accuracy potential on the first
shot (a hit within 2 seconds was required from a bolstered gun);
second-shot hit potential; precision shooting at 25 meters; magazine
capacity (if the magazine capacity was 16 rounds or more only
one issue magazine with each pistol was required; if less than
16 rounds, then two issue magazines were required); energy levels;
handling characteristics; steps required to make ready; weight;
dimensions; direction of case ejection; steps required to change
magazines with the shooting hand; maintenance (no tools are
required to completely disassemble the Glock pistol); parts strength;
storage capacity; and necessary cleaning equipment. Training
parameters such as the time required to train shooters, the number
of parts manipulated to place the weapon into operation, and
the possibility of dry-fire exercises were also evaluated.
The Glock 17 won hands down. No other competing pistol was
even close. Glock was awarded the entire Austrian Army contract
of 25,000 units plus spare parts. Delivery will be completed by
1985. After the manufacture of every 3,000 pistols, a gun picked
at random must pass a 10,000-round firing test with parts assembled
from five different units.
Five thousand miles is a long way to travel just to shoot another
9mm pistol. But the Glock 17 is not just another pistol. I must
admit, however, that my initial reaction was genuine skepticism.
Is nothing sacred anymore? Now they're even making pistol frames
out of plastic? In our pop culture "plastic" has come to mean
vacuous or devoid of substance. Yet, plastic is a salient feature
of the Glock design. Not only the frame, but the trigger and
magazine as well are made of this material.
The proof of the pudding, in this instance, is in the firing. And
the Glock 17 does that quite well, thank you. The specimen I
was handed to test had already fired 8,000 rounds without a
single malfunction. During the hundreds of rounds we fired, I
experienced one stoppage - a failure to eject - much to the
embarrassment of Herr Glock. The pistol digested an unbelievable
assortment of ammunition: Austrian Hirtenberg, German Geco,
Federal hollow points, Winchester-Western Silvertip hollow
points, Finnish Lapua, Israeli Eagle, Norma, Remington, Czech,
Spanish, and W-W ball. It will successfully feed all currently
popular 9mm projectile types. We also buried the pistol in a
sand pile, retrieved it, shook it off briefly, and then continued
the firing sequences without any further stoppages.
What a pleasure to fire so many rounds from the modified Weaver
stance without the slightest trace of hammer bite! The grip almost
seems to mold its configuration to the individual hand. The frame's
amazing elasticity reduces felt recoil considerably. The accuracy
potential is significantly enhanced by the barrel's positive lockup
in the ejection port. With a clean, constant trigger system, hit
probability is quite high. The Safe Action trigger mechanism should
pose no problem to even the rankest amateur.
Safe, reliable, accurate, instantly ready, easy to maintain, a minimal
number of parts, light, compact, durable (almost indestructible),
low felt recoil, a large capacity magazine, simplified training, and
natural, instinctive pointing qualities - the Glock 17 possesses every
single charateristic anyone has ever dreamed of having in a combat
pistol. I have only one major criticism: It is not yet available in the U.S.
An importer has not been selected to date. Furthermore, the pistol
will have difficulty passing the BATF factoring system for imported
handguns. The plastic frame will lose points, as maximum credit is
granted to all-steel frames. At the very least, the BATF has informed
me that a metal plate containing the serial number (which is now
marked on the slide) will have to be molded into the frame. If the
import situation is resolved, other pistol manufacturers have much
to fear from the tiny village of Deutsch-Wagram. The price is expected
to be extremely competitive.
originally published in the October 1984 issue of Soldier of