New things come to the market all the time. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the new products. Most of the time I find a large portion of these products are largely uninteresting or gimmicky. Sometimes it’s because the product doesn’t bring anything to the market. Other times I just don’t find much in the way of value in the product. Every now and then, certain things catch my eye and I know that I must buy them.
I’ll be honest, I had never heard of Foxtrot Mike Products before I saw their Gen 2 5.56 uppers and rifles at Brownells. Come to find out, they’ve been around awhile and do a lot of really neat 9mm AR’s. They were clearly looking to innovate and bring something new and useful to the 5.56 AR market with their Gen 2 guns and uppers. When I say innovative, I mean very different.
I had been looking to build a side folding AR that fits in a backpack and to use as a truck gun. Well, a car gun actually as I no longer own a truck. As mentioned side folding was a must. Being able to shoot it while side folding was what I wanted. There aren’t many options out there. Sure theres the BRN-180 and I could get an MCX, but the MCX is stupidly expensive and I’m just unsure about the 180. I was thinking more along the lines of the old school super rare long dead and gone ZM Weapons LR-300… a gun I wish I had bought while I had the chance.
Enter the 11.25″ FM Gen 2 5.56
When I saw the FM Gen 2 5.56 rifles and uppers at Brownells, I was incredibly intrigued. It was side folding, but unlike most AR side folding options, it could be shot while side folded. On top of that, its side charging. Two features that a lot of people find a large amount of value in. I am no different. The feature set seemed to fit my goals for a backpack/car gun, but not in a 16″ gun. I was kind of disappointed that there wasn’t a shorter variation… but that disappointment lasted all of about a few days when I heard AIM Surplus was going to be getting an exclusive 11.25″ version.
It was a short wait until the 11.25″ variant came out. Even then, it took me a long while to get my hands on one. Outside of its unique features, one of the first things that caught my eye was the price. In fact, I thought Foxtrot Mike Products was crazy for releasing something with a feature set like their Gen 2 5.56 rifles for the price they were asking. I expected a bare minimum of $1500 for a complete rifle/pistol and $1000 for an upper. Boy was I way off. The 11.25″ upper came in at $600, while the complete pistol came in at $800.
Recently it has come to my attention that they are also making 12.5″ and 13.9″ variations. Both of which are also compelling. The 12.5″ because it is an all around good compromise in barrel length vs ballistic performance and the 13.9″ makes a good platform to pin and weld a flash hider onto while having very good performance. Barrel lengths, the side folding, side charging, ect. are all cool, but there are so many other neat things going on with these guns/uppers that they don’t advertise.
It Comes With Stuff…
Before I get into some of the neat features, I feel like it’s important to talk about how the uppers come. Most of the uppers I have ordered only came with brief break-in instructions if anything at all. FM sent out their upper with a short novel. Why is this important? After all we’re mostly men and we don’t need any damn instructions, right? Well, this upper, while not horribly complicated, is very different from your standard AR upper. One might say it’s not really an AR any more. This manual covers everything from their recommended break in to how to disassemble and reassemble the upper.
This might seem dumb, but I really do appreciate the fact that they shipped their upper with rail covers. Any one who shoots high volumes of fire, especially suppressed, knows how hot your handguard can get. I tend to hate gloves even though I have them and running out to buy a Burn Proof Gear Rail Wrap every time I build a gun is expensive. Regardless of whether or not you use them, they’re there. It’s a nice touch on their part.
The other awesome thing that they include is a picatinny rail adapter. This essentially replaces your buffer tube with a section of picatinny rail. It is definitely a well thought out piece. It is a two part adapter. One part has the picatinny and keys to the upper much like an end plate would. The other part screws into the lower where your buffer to does, as well as into the picatinny adapter. Once tightened down it sucks the picatinny adapter to the end of the lower. It then uses the buffer retainer to effectively lock the adapter in place and keep anything from backing out. They also give you access to your rear takedown pin detent and spring via a threaded hole with a set screw to contain it all. Genius!
The Neat Features
It is obvious that a lot of thought went into this upper. I mean a lot. I think that this upper will prove to be pretty resilient. One of the reasons is because the gas block is both keyed to the barrel and pinned in place. Set screws to hold a gas block on are nice, but screws back out. Pinned gas blocks are bomb proof. Not to mention being keyed to the barrel means that the port will always be properly lined up with the gas block.
The second feature that I absolutely love is the wrench flat machined into the barrel. Why is this so cool? Not everyone has a reaction rod to hold their upper when removing and installing flash hiders. You can simply remove and install a flash hider with a pair of wrenches. Any one whos tried to install a flash hider without a reaction rod will realize how awesome this feature is.
Their Mk2 handguard and barrel nut really stand out to me. Not only because they have Mlok on all sides, but the barrel nut is substantial. It’s incredibly long. The barrel has a special taper on it that the barrel nut engages with. This helps the system really lock together. Think of it kind of like how Q mounts their cans to their muzzle devices. The long bearing surface of the barrel nut and the handguard design also feels incredibly ridgid.
I didn’t do any scientific rigidity testing, but it’s noticeably more rigid than my Geissele handguards and my Midwest G4 Mlok handguards, which are two of my favorite handguards. it may not be DD RIS II stiff, but I’d run an IR laser on it without fear. It is also keyed into the upper receiver much like an H&K 416. Thus, it is impossible for this handguard to rotate on you.
The Main Attractions
Get to the side charging you say! Well, it does that. The charging handle is non-reciprocating and can be mounted in 4 positions. Basically it can be mounted on the left or right hand side of the gun. It can also be installed in such a way that it is canted either upward or downward depending on what is most comfortable for you. The charging handle is also short and does not seem as though it would be a big snag hazard.
Did I mention that it side folds? Of course I did. Side folding is perhaps this upper’s biggest and best feature. Being able to shoot this upper while the gun is side folded is what makes this upper so desirable. In a normal AR15, it requires a buffer tube, recoil spring, and buffer. On most side folding AR’s, you must unfold the AR to put the buffer system back in line with the bolt. This is absolutely necessary for the function of the gun. They simply can’t shoot folded.
This upper is a completely different story. The buffer system has been moved completely into the upper. To do this the upper was made about 1/4″ taller than a milspec AR15 upper. The recoil assembly consists of two nested recoil springs on a guide rod that keys into both an end cap and a modified, and much taller, gas key. The gas key also rides on the guide rod. It’s hard to tell without destructive disassembly, but the gas key also appears as though it might have a lug that interfaces with the carrier. Talk about well thought out.
The carrier itself is only the front half of a traditional AR15 BCG. Meaning they put it on a diet. Its short and it’s far lighter than a milspec carrier, however, it maintains important milspec dimensions. This short carrier and and relocated recoil spring assembly allows the bolt to reciprocate without the need for a buffer tube. Hence, it can shoot side folded.
The Rest Of The Specs
Lets talk specs. After all, they are important. This upper is an 11.25″ barreled upper. The barrel is chambered in .223 Wylde and has a 1:8 twist. Both are very desirable traits in my opinion. This allows you to run .223 or 5.56. The twist rate will allow you to adequately stabilize most any grain bullet you’ll put through it.
The muzzle device is attached with 1/2×28 threads, which is standard for 5.56 AR15’s. The handguard, while proprietary, is a 10.5″ Mlok handguard with Mlok on every side. Much like the Model-T, you can get these in any color so long as that color is Black. Outside of the proprietary parts, you can essentially outfit this thing as you would any other AR15.
In the interest of giving you guys more info, I slapped a pistol lower with no frills and an SB-A4 brace on this upper and weighed it. With nothing bolted to the upper the complete package weighed in at 6lbs. That is reasonably light. With an EO-Tech EXPS2-0 and G45 magnifier mounted on the upper it came in at 7.2lbs. With a light you could expect a tad more weight, but you still might end up under 8lbs. While not incredibly light, that is still a very comfortable weight to be at.
My First Impressions
Let me be up front. I bought this upper with my own money. These are literally my first impressions. I’ve yet to shoot this upper, however, from a technical standpoint I think that there is a lot to be said about this upper. Outside of the two best features of this receiver, there are a lot of nice touches and little things that Foxtrot Mike Products incorporated to really set this thing apart from other offerings on the market. I have mentioned a lot of these, but they’re worth bringing up again.
The handguard is impressive both in its rigidity and barrel nut design. Using a taper on the barrel and barrel nut has many advantages. Tapers by nature will give that barrel nut much more surface to really lock into. Not to mention tapers are also self centering. I can imagine that it helps with concentricity. Using a longer barrel nut that has more bearing surface will help the handguard clamp to the barrel nut and add rigidity, especially on a shorter handguard. Keying they handguard and upper together is also a bomb proof proven method of anti-rotation. I am in love with this system.
The gas block is also another nice touch. The fact that its keyed to the barrel means that it can’t be misaligned. Also the fact that its pinned in place means that it is physically impossible for it to rotate or move. The reason why I love FSP guns is that the FSP is pinned in place and is bomb proof. So the fact that the gas block is pinned is a huge plus for me. Gas blocks that use locktited set screws always have the potential to have those screw back out. This can result in failures due to the gas block rotating. This issue is completely eliminated on this upper due to the pinned gas block.
The gun still operates off direct impingement. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact I prefer it. Piston guns have their place, but a well built DI gun will be very reliable. The BCG of this gun is what really reminds me of the old school ZM Weapons LR-300. That gun could be shot while side folded as well and used a cut down carrier in much the same fashion, however it relocated the recoil system to under the handguard. The LR-300 was known for its excellent recoil impulse. The FM15 Gen 2 incorporates a lot of the same concepts and from what I’ve read, has a very smooth light recoil impulse. Being a dissipator guy, I can appreciate that.
On top of that, there are many other nice touches. The machining is nice and the quality is superb. The staking on the carrier key, while not the perfect dimple, is staked absolutely properly. The cam pin is a round cam pin with one flat edge for disassembly. This also means BCG is always reassembled with the cam pin in the same orientation. The bolt appears to be milspec, which is awesome. I don’t see any markings for magnetic particle inspection or high pressure testing, however, it’s not really a big concern of mine.
It Can’t All Be Good Can it?
As far as first impressions go, I am in love with this upper. I struggled to knit pick this upper to find anything that I didn’t like. The fact of the matter is, I really appreciate all the little touches and engineering that went into this upper. Every time I play with it I literally think to myself, “God damn that thing is so neat.” With that said, in the interest of being fair, I did look incredibly hard to find anything that I thought could be an issue. I found one thing that could potentially be a problem. It could also be easily remedied.
One of the hardest failures I’ve ever experienced with an AR15 was a blown out primer that dropped into the fire control group. Getting it out was hard and it totally locked the AR up. Luckily, AR’s are a fairly sealed system and its hard to get external debris inside it. Garand Thumb’s mud test demonstrated how sealed the AR15 actually is in comparison to other firearms such as the AK. That is the one knit picky thing I was able to find about this upper. There is a small gap between the end of the BCG and the end of the ejection port. It could possibly allow debris inside the upper.
That being said, I don’t think its is a huge deal. Some of us religiously close our ejection port doors after shooting. I am one of those people. Unless you are intentionally shoveling mud onto the side of your gun, then I highly doubt it will be an issue. If you’re using your gun for home defense, then the risk of getting mud, dirt, or small rocks through that tiny gap is just about non-existent. Hell, in a SHTF situation in an urban environment, it probably would still be a non-issue. I can only see this being a concern if you were shooting under conditions similar to the trenches of WWI or if you’re intentionally throwing your gun in the mud.
I fully intend to put this upper through its paces. I’ll put hundreds of rounds through it on the ground under a V-tac barricade. If stuff is going to get inside the upper under normal use, that’s how it’s going to happen. I’ll run it right on the ground, in the desert sand, in pea gravel hell, and anywhere else that seems particularly nasty. If it’s going to have issues, then that kind of stuff will induce them.
I highly doubt that this one knit picky thing will be an issue though. Its highly speculative on my part, but if it is an issue I will bring it up when I write a review of the testing of this upper. I do plan on running it hard and abusing it in a variety of situations. It will get my typical testing. For those that don’t know, it typically involves lots of desert shooting in the sand, no cleaning, lots of suppressed shooting, and the only favor I do the guns is add grease when they get dryish.
I can wrap this up in a few short words, but that’s not how I roll. I freaking loved this thing the second I got it out of the box and checked it out for the first time. The guys over at Foxtrot Mike came up with one of the coolest uppers I’ve ever seen. They packed it with so many little features and niceties that it blows my mind. It is incredibly well thought out and their engineers deserve a raise.
My current plan is to build a lower fitting of this upper. It will be built out as a pistol at first. Ambi is a must and I want some form of easy bolt hold open. After the lower is built out, then I plan on giving it a rattle can camo job and I’ll proceed to abuse the crap out of it. I’ll come back once the testing is over and write a performance review.
I expect great things from this upper. It is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in the AR world in awhile. In my opinion Foxtrot Mike Products hit it out of the park on this one from an engineering standpoint. They packed so much into an upper that it’s mind blowing. I’m looking forward to running this upper.