Background of the real weapon
Towards the end of 1955 the chinese and Soviet regimes (during one of their frendlier moments) agreed a rather substantial arms deal. In a spirit of hospitality the soviet regime would supply the chinese with the tooling neccessary to produce their own versions of the SKS semi automatic rifle and the kalashnikov assault rifle.
Advisors, tooling and a whole hunk of parts were shipped over to allow production in Peoples Liberation Army factories to begin. The chinese designated the rifles (and other heavier armaments also procured in the technology deal) Type 56. The SKS was the Type 56 semi automatic carbine whilst the AK47 became the type 56 Assault rifle. This was maoist china so funky individual names for things werent realy the fashion
Initial prouction of the Type 56 followed the russian AK47 fixed stock milled receiver design. Later in 1963 production moved over to an AKM style stamped n pressed receiver, and the folding stock AK variant was added to the line up (known as the Type 56-1).
A late production Chinese Type 56-1
Its important to note that while the receiver became AKM style the remainder of the Type 56 and Type 56-1 were still AK47 based. As a result the chinese type 56s AKs have distinctive mix of AK design details (combined with a hooded front sight) not found on any other AK.
Due to chinese support for north vietnam US forces and their allies faced both the SKS and Type 56 assault rifle in large numbers during the vietnam war - indeed both chinese versions of these weapons vastly outweighted the involvement of their soviet equivalents when it came to that conflict.
AKs have become one of the mainstays of airsoft with many companies now producing their own versions based on the marui design, however not since the days of Falcon Toy Corp with their gas powered classic has anyone factory produced a Type 56.
More importantly no one has ever produced an airsoft AK of this quality.
Imagine Colt producing airsoft M16s, or H&K producing airsoft MP5s, using same materials and tooling etc as they use for the real thing. Because when it comes to the chinese producing an airsoft type 56 thats precisely what happened here.
Of course internally you wont find the bolt rails, ejector and trigger group etc of a real AK. AEG parts (and legalities) have caused the abscence of those. But externally to all intents and purposes this is
a Norinco produced Type 56
The RS type 56-1 ships in a rather subdued cardboard box. If big colourful cardboard boxes with funky graphics are your thing then this one isn't going to form the centrepiece of your packaging collection
Still don't let that disappoint you because what's inside makes up for that.
Opening up the box reveals an absolutely pristine replica of a Chinese type 56-1 with an orange plastic muzzle tip and barrel guard, stored securely in foam that's cut to fit the contours perfectly, and a steel mid cap magazine wrapped in brown oil paper.
A comprehensive manual in both Chinese and English, with the usual troubleshooting info and exploded diagram of the replica, is supplied together with a full colour A3 sized instruction sheet detailing the take down steps required for basic maintenance. Not forgetting your general retro style BB loading rod that some manufacturers still seem to have a stockpile of that they're desperate to get rid of
In addition to the replica we have the above bis n bobs:
A steel Type 56 threaded muzzle piece
A steel twin-threaded muzzle adapter that can be fitted instead of the standard one to allow fitting of air soft silencers
A traditional AK cylindrical metal factory cleaning kit (contents modified to suit the AEGs requirements and comprising of screwdriver/sight adjuster plus two airsoft attachements for the guns real cleaning rod - typical 'eye of a needle' type for swabbing the barrel along with a second blunt ended one for clearing BB jams)
A Chinese green plastic oil bottle of the sort that shipped with the original gun.
A dual ended AK rear sight removal and fitting tool
As well as providing a handy screwdriver for removing the (extremely authentic looking) pistol grip the case of the cleaning kit itself also doubles up as a tool to undo the upper hand guard release latch:
Unlike a lot of AK air soft guns the latch on this gun is as stiff as the real weapon and you'll do your fingers a big favour making use of this tool to release the latch rather than trying to do it by hand.
Fit and finish
Much has been made of Real Swords decision to make their AKs dimensionally accurate to the real thing by redesigning the rear of the type 3 gearbox to suit. That same attention to detail is carried into the fit, finish and materials used too. Every single external part of the gun is steel
- right down to the stock locking mechanism and its internal components, the bolt cover latch and the trigger (the sort of small parts which many manufacturers are quite happy to leave as cast alloy even on their 'all steel
Due to its source, all external parts of the gun are finished to the same standard as the real thing. The receiver, folding stock struts and rear sight base are all in a slightly brushed metal finish, the front sight and gas tube is a matt finish slightly rough to the touch, while the remainder of the external parts (upper receiver cover handguard retaining clips etc) are smooth.
This is finished off with a nice deep bluing that produces a jet black finish as good as that on my Russian military makarov pistol.
The only exception externally is the visible portion of the bolt, which is supplied in a light grey parkerized finish.
Type 56's can be found with both parkerized bolts and highly polished ones, I prefer the latter for this model of AK so as a result a number of the photos in this review will show the bolt after a couple of minutes preliminary work out on my bench polisher, rather than how it originally shipped
Similarly the wood furniture is built to the traditional Chinese AK design using the same method and varnished to the same standard. Buying real steel hand guards for this gun is pointless - all you'd get thru the post is identical to what's already on there
To prevent damage to the woodwork, the butt of the under folding stock retains the small buffer pad of the original under folder design, albeit with a small foam rubber pad attached rather than the original square of leather used in 1960s examples.
With exception of the magazine, the fit of all external parts is perfect. There is not a single wobble, creak or gap between parts in the entire construction. The magazine does have some side to side play in it, though its hardly flapping in the wind
As a result of this gun following the real steel design, take down of the upper and lower handguards is as per the original. Having released the retaining latch with the aid of the body of the toolkit, the gas tube and upper handguard can be lifted out, allowing access to the lower handguard retaining ring latch.
Rotating that latch thru 180 degrees frees its cam from a notch in the outer barrel, and allows the lower handguard retaining ring to slide forward, freeing the lower handguard from the receiver.
Due to the real steel aspect of the gun this latch is stiff in the extremes. The VFC version is pretty tight but not like this - I ended up levering it with a screwdriver then knocking it forward with a mallet (hand pressure alone wouldn't have been enough).
A similar situation awaits you if you ever decide to remove the gas block or the front sight. Both are fitted as per the real deal using an interference fit onto the barrel and thru pins to hold them in place. Again unlike your average airsoft AK where the thru pins can be knocked out with the aid of a small drift and a few light taps, these ones are there to stay (unless you want to start getting the blowtorch out to give the housings a fair bit of heat).
Before looking at the internal construction its worth mentioning one minor annoyance I have with the externals of the gun, and that's its markings.
First off Real Sword opted to mark the fire select of the weapon with L and D markings rather than traditional chinese characters. Now while that's in keeping with some late production weapons I'd have much rather my Chinese AK variant had more typically Chinese looking markings on it.
Likewise the front trunnion where the factory stamp and serial number would normally go. Instead of a common factory mark for type 56s like the 'Triangle 66' mark (the factory where a large percentage of them were made for the PLA) and an authentic looking serial number, we simply have 56-1 RS # 001166 (well in my case its 001166, all of these guns have individual serial numbers).
Once again you'll find T56's with all sorts of trunnion markings on them from all sorts of Chinese factories, but for a gun that's such a close replica to the real thing in almost every way? I'd really have liked factory marking together with the 56-1 and a serial number more in keeping with real (rather than real sword) production numbers.
In fact I cant help feeling that a replica this
close to the real deal actually deserves a nice collection of factory inspection marks worked onto parts of it like the barrel and bolt carrier too.
Other than that it is
a perfect external replica. This really is as close as you're going to get to a set of airsoft internals fitted inside a real AK without breaking umpteen laws in various countries
Construction of the rifle I'll cover in detail in a follow up take down guide type post. However I'll cover the basics of the design as relevant to a review here.
As mentioned previously this is a completely steel gun built as a 1:1 external replica of the real Chinese Type 56-1. Where it deviates from the real weapon is really just the internal structure.
To accommodate the gearbox the receiver has none of the internal rails etc of a real AK (although the external spot weld marks of those missing components have been retained to ensure it looks correct from the outside). Instead it features three felt pads to act as buffers for the gearbox against the inside of the receiver.
Similarly and a little more controversially, the outer barrel to front trunnion attachment is achieved using two grub screws hidden under the rear sight block. As opposed to the real steel design which uses yet another interference fit thru pin to fix the barrel in place.
This is more in keeping with Inokatsus design than real steel. It wouldn't be a major issue if it weren't for the fact that Real Sword opted to fix the hop unit directly to the outer barrel as per inokatsu etc, rather than use a VFC style sliding hop unit block.
Because of the design of the breech area and this directly attached hop unit, to move the hop unit clear of the gearbox and allow for gearbox removal, necessitates the loosening of the outer barrel (which no doubt is why Real Sword didnt go with a thru pin).
be possible to modify the breech end of the outer barrel woth the aid of a mill to get around this issue (you'ld then just need to undo the two screws on the hop unit and slide it forward on its own to clear the gearbox).
To be fair they do provide a rear sight removal tool which allows fast access to the barrel retaining screws and makes it far less of an awkward job than it would other wise be, but in all honesty its an issue that could have been avoided entirely had real sword incororated that sort of mod into the design or just made use of the VFC style sliding hop unit design.
In order to prevent the AEG internals being visible thru the side of the receiver when the selector is off of its safe setting, RS have adopted the marui full length bolt design (the rear section of this is painted black rather than parkerized and covers up any view into the receiver). To ensure wobble free attachment it also has a full length guide rod (the front end of which is inserted into a hole at rear of the front trunnion to locate it securely).
However this full length bolt design severely limits the bolts travel. Not just from an authenticity POV, but actually to the point where the bolt travel is so
short (around 2 cms!) that its quite awkward to carry out accurate adjustments of the hop up lever (as there's so little room available to access it thru the opening provided).
I'd suggest shortening the rear of the bolt a little
to allow some more travel and better access to the hop lever, but I'd caution against chopping a large chunk off
– as you're then likely to induce a lot of unwanted bolt rattle by removing one of its stabilising lugs in the process.
Sights and controls
The Chinese Type 56 uses a distinctive hooded front sight (rather than open front sight of the russian AK) and that detail is replicated here. Unlike many airsoft AKs where a fake 'sight post barrel' is cast as part of the front sight housing, and thus allowing only front sight elevation adjustments of the central front sight post, the RS type 56-1 offers windage adjustment on the front sight with a proper sight post barrel held tightly in the sight assembly.
However due to the root of its parts being in real steel, adjusting the windage on the front sight of this AK will require the appropriate tool as pictured above -either a real one, or a copy of it sold by Real sword. those living in the US would be around 10 dollars cheaper buying one of the many copies available over there than buying the Real Sword one. If you're one of the rest of us living elsewhere then it may well be best to order up the real sword one at same time as the gun.
The rear sight is adjustable for elevation and, due to the need to remove the rear sight in order to access the outer barrel grub screws, a combined rear sight assembly and disassembly tool is included with the rifle (whereas the front sight windage tool is considered an optional extra).
This tool is definitely not a luxury - attempting to remove or fit the rear sight is no easy task without it. The leaf spring providing tension to the rear sight is a proper AK strength one and the alternative of using a wide flat blade screwdriver to perform the same job can result in some not so lovely puncture wounds to the hand. So don't lose the sight removal tool!
The fire select is AK47 style, in keeping with the Chinese Type 56 mix of AKM receiver and AK47 parts, this adopts the now common high end practice of using a one piece bolt to hold the selector lever onto the gearbox rather than a domed cap covering a recessed philips screw as found on the Marui and early Cymas etc. Fire select follows the AK convention of Safe at the top Auto in the middle and Semi at the bottom.
Rather than being totally flat the selector lever has been curved slightly at the factory to provide good spring tension against the retaining bolt, and the lever has a positive click for each selector position.
Indeed coming back up from auto to safe can be quite a push – at times the detente on the selector lever really does lock onto its notch on the receiver.
The old AKS folding stock design has been the bane of many a marui and cyma 028S owner. That's not an inherent fault of the folding stock design, just the lightweight materials marui and cyma chose to make theirs from. The locking mechanism has several small parts and diecast alloy just doesn't cut it for making those.
Real Sword thankfully haven't skimped on their underfolder. While an exact copy of the original locking mechanism is impossible in an airsoft version (the real one incorporates a thru bolt that no AEG gearbox could accommodate) Real Sword have done the next best thing and produced an adapted version of the locking mechanism constructed from machined steel parts.
Those combined with the heavy guage full steel stock itself (2.5mm thick pressed steel for the arms of the stock, and 2.2mm for its butt plate!) provide a really
solid and positive engagement of the under folder. The locking button is crisp, pops into its extended and folded lock postions with an audible click, and requires a nice amount of deliberate force on the button to unlock it from either externed or folded position, as mentioned previously it also incorporates a small beffer pad to prevent the butt plate digging into the underside fo the lower handguard when carried or used in the folded position.
Part 1 conclusion
Far as I'm concerned externally at least this gun is as near damn perfect as your ever likely to get a kalashnikov replica – construction, parts and finish all authentic to the model its supposed to represent (without need for the owner to refinish it or source any real steel parts like handguards and sights etc to replace their airsoft equivalents), and as a result of all that its built like a tank.
To summarize, my only complaints on the externals are:
The use of less than stereotypical markings that could have placed more of a play on the guns Chinese heritage for a western audience.
The exceedingly short travel of the bolt making it difficult to access the hop
The design of the breech end of the outer barrel - making it necessary to loosen the outer barrel in order to slide the hop unit clear of the gearbox.
To be fair both of those latter issues can be user modified in order to solve which just leves the slightly annoying markings.
I'll cover the gearbox internals in part 2