The debate is almost as old as the guns themselves- AK-47 or AR-15? Each one has its own benefits and drawbacks. As an avid AR-15 shooter who’s first gun was an AK-47, I’m caught somewhere in the middle. The AK-47 seems to run no matter what the conditions, and Soviet legends claim that the AK-47 was one of 3 artifacts to survive the Great Flood of Noah (the other two being Vladimir Putin and the T-72 Tank). Not sure how true the legend is, and I may have made it up for this article, but nobody can argue about the sheer ruggedness of the AK platform.
AR-15 rifles have come a long way in recent years, however. I was talking to a friend of mine, an experienced firearms instructor who has been in the business far longer than I have, and he was relaying how he would always have several other rifles on hand to replace AR-15s when guys would show up to his classes with their ARs. But with modern manufacturing technology, ARs have become just as reliable as their blockier counterparts from the Second World. Where it used to be uncommon for an AR-15 to successfully finish an intense carbine course, now it is uncommon for them NOT to finish an intense carbine course. The AR-15’s argument against the AK-47 has generally revolved around the ergonomics of the AK-47, or lack thereof. The AR is a svelte, easy-to-manipulate platform, and it’s been hard for the AK to counter that.
Testing out awesome guns and new gun stuff is a rough job, but I do it for the people. Over the past several months I’ve had the opportunity to play with the Lightning Bolt AK-47. What is it? It’s simply a left-side charging handle addition to the AK bolt. And I think it could bring the AK up nearly to the level of the AR-15 when it comes to ergonomics.
The AK I got to play with was an IO AK-74 in 5.45×39, although the Lightning Bolt will work on an AK-47 chambered in 7.62×39. It had a Midwest Industries quad-rail up front, and a Troy vertical fore grip. Nice and low, an Aimpoint Micro sat on top of the rail, nearly co-witnessing with the XS Big Dot iron sights. And although the infamous 5.45 "Poison Bullet" has very little recoil, a Gamma Precision VG6 brake finished off the front of the gun. The receiver itself was a sleek gunmetal gray/blue color, and accented the black furniture nicely. A large magwell, improved trigger, Magpul AK pistol grip, a Krebs safety lever, and a side-folding stock led this rifle to be one sweet-shooting and sweet-looking gun.
By far the neatest feature on the already-impressive AK I was playing with was the Lightning Bolt dual charging handle. A different dust cover had openings on both sides of the rifle, which allowed two charging handles on the gun. The right-side charging handle was a standard AK-style charging handle, nothing new there. The left side charging handle was physically identical to, but set farther back than the right side charging handle. And like all AKs, it was a reciprocating charging handle.
SHOOTING AND OPERATION
I played with the gun, practicing my high-speed operator reloads in my bedroom, and immediately grew to love the Lightning Bolt. Although I was used to the standard style of working the action of an AK (either reach over the gun with your left hand, or under the gun with your left hand- I personally tend to reach under the gun, but the situation dictates), the left side charging handle just made everything… Easier. Smoother. Like Mikhail Kalashnikov had missed something in his design (cue the hate mail). The not-really-awkward step of working the action with your hand over or under the gun was that much simpler.
Then I went out and shot the sucker. And as all nice AKs will do, it shot like a dream. Super low recoil, easy to control, and accurate. At first, I was just enjoying the nice day at the range (I may or may not have had a date with me), but then I remembered I had to get back to the rough job of reviewing stuff for you, the reader. And with that, the reloads commenced. Just like I practiced in the tough terrain of my house, they went smoothly. And another advantage of the Lightning Bolt became clear- malfunctions were much easier to clear. Now, before you get all debatey with me about how AKs never malfunction, you should know they were induced. Snap caps and empty cases can make for one heck of a malfunction in any gun, and force you to deal with things in a hurry. Having the ability to manipulate the bolt using my left hand, which kept my right hand free to clear double feeds, or on the grip while clearing Snap Caps, made for much faster smoother, and simpler operation of the gun. Win, win, win, win.
The Lightning Bolt I got to use was the 2nd generation version, which has both the right and left side charging handles. The first generation was only the left side, but after using the Lightning Bolt, I found I didn’t use the right side charging handle, really at all. When shooting support side for a few drills, then yes, but for the majority of operating the rifle, the Lightning Bolt worked as advertised. Some have said that the extra ports to accommodate the upgraded bolt help keep the gun cooler, and if so, excellent. The Lightning Bolt should come factory with all AKs, in my opinion, and is one of the first upgrades I would suggest to anyone. No matter what you use your AK for, the Lightning Bolt delivers the speed and ease-of-use I have come to expect from a modern fighting rifle directly to the AK platform.
But now here I am, with my regular ol’ AK-47, forced to reload like a Soviet peasant and work the charging handle like the rest of humanity. Told you this was a rough job.
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