Was Macht der Glock Besser?
Why Glock's High-Tech, Double-Action, Semi-Automatic Handgun Took Sport Shooting and U.S. Law Enforcement by Storm.
By John Wooldridge
The slide leaps forward, chambering the first round with a precise metallic snap. Light seems absorbed by the dark-finished steel slide, polymer receiver and grip. The Glock is light and controllable in your hands, easy to point. White highlights on front and rear sights line up quickly. At the range officer's signal, you take aim, slip your finger inside the trigger guard, and squeeze off six quick shots. The guy in the position next to you shooting a well-regarded revolver also fires six rounds, then stops to reload. You continue firing, concentrating on the target instead of reloading, squeezing off another 11 rounds before it is time to insert a fresh magazine. The firepower advantage is clearly yours.
High capacity and a wide range of useful calibers mean superior firepower for law enforcement and sport shooters alike. First chambered in 9mm for international military and police use, Glock pistols are now available in .40 S&W (a potent round developed by Smith & Wesson and Olin/Winchester), 10mm, and the venerable .45ACP -- an increasingly powerful range of bullet weights and muzzle velocities to satisfy military and law enforcement needs. Availability of the .45 caliber model is good news for those who have long prized big-bore challenges on the firing line and sure takedown potentials in personal protection situations.
The Glock 17 is a remarkable success story. Gaston Glock, an Austrian mechanical engineer specializing in synthetic materials, but having virtually no firearms experience, produced the first two working prototypes of the Glock 17 from scratch in roughly eight months. These he submitted to the Austrian Army, who were searching for a new 9mm sidearm that was lightweight and very durable, with a large capacity magazine. Following rigorous testing and intense competition, the Glock 17 was selected in 1983 and 28,000 pistols were purchased. In 1984, the Norwegian Army followed suit after Glock's new pistol toppled existing NATO sidearm standards.
The first shipment of Glock 17s arrived from Austria in January, 1986. After more than 10 years in the U.S., Glock pistols are the issued or authorized sidearms for over 3,600 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, with over 1,300,000 in use nationwide. Achieving that kind of success was no accident. Neither was it easy.
The first thing you notice about the Glock 17 is its virtually indestructible synthetic polymer receiver. When it was first introduced to the U.S. market in 1986, this element ignited a firestorm of sensational press coverage and anti-gun political rhetoric, which briefly hindered acceptance of the Glock in this country as a viable law enforcement pistol. The Glock 17 was variously described as an "all plastic gun," as a firearm that would "pass through metal detectors undetected," and as the pistol that "Libyans are said to be trying covert methods to obtain."
Once the headlines had cooled down and the government hearings were completed, the facts snuffed out the fears. The Glock 17 is hardly all plastic -- 19 of its 24 ounces are steel. No gun with 83 percent of its mass invested in steel will pass undetected through metal detectors or X-ray scanners, unless the machines are unplugged or the operators are asleep at the wheel.
Having surpassed that blockade, the Glock endured further challenges. Consider the torture tests devised by the Miami Police Department, which requested two Glock 17s to evaluate as duty weapons. With a primed casing in the firing chamber, a Glock was hurled against steel and concrete walls, then repeatedly dropped 15 feet to a cement walk, landing on all sides. Because of its revolutionary safeties, the firing pin never touched the primer. Fully loaded with a live round in the chamber and 17 more in the clip, a Glock 17 was buried in beach sand, dug up, and discharged 18 times. Fully loaded again, a Glock 17 was dropped into a bucket of Biscayne Bay sea water and left for 50 hours, retrieved, shaken dry, and discharged 18 times. According to the Miami Police Department, who subsequently purchased more than 1,000 Glock 17s, their two test guns were thereafter carried by instructors as duty weapons, and both have in excess of 50,000 rounds through them without stoppages or breakdowns.
The original Glock 17 is a hammerless, auto-loading 9mm pistol measuring 7.21 inches long, 5.16 inches in height, and 1.18 inches wide at the grips, roughly the same overall dimensions as the Colt M1911-A1 and numerous similar standard-sized pistols. A double-column magazine accommodates 17 rounds stacked offset rather than in-line, with "witness holes" on the back for a quick visual check of rounds remaining. A fully-loaded Glock 17 weighs in at 31.41 ounces, just at or below what similar-sized steel frame pistols weigh empty.
From its massive steel slide to it's virtually indestructible synthetic polymer receiver (lower portion of the frame), the Glock17 is a durable, high-tech marvel that is designed and constructed to be unique among auto-loading pistols of all calibers.
Polymer in the pistol's receiver, unaffected by extremes of cold or heat (it has been fired at temperature extremes of minus 40 degrees to plus 140 degrees Fahrenheit), by everyday oils and solvents, or by considerable physical abuse, diminishes corrosion and minimizes required maintenance compared to traditional materials. Glock says that it will withstand heat ranging up to approximately 392 degrees Fahrenheit without any structural changes. Ounce for ounce, Glock's patented polymer is about 17 percent stronger and 14 percent lighter than stainless steel.
demonstrate how tough this material really is under fire, a Glock 17 assembled from random components fired 10,000 rounds in four hours during one highly publicized event, suffering only a broken trigger spring at approximately 4,500 rounds fired. Field stripping and replacement of the broken spring required one minute.
Glock also uses polymer or polymer/steel components throughout the pistol -- in the trigger and trigger mechanism housing, the recoil spring assembly, the magazine and the sights, just to name a few. Glock patents the specifications of the polymer they employ, and they injection mold the receiver to include recesses for internal components as well as external features, such as the deep-checkered panels on the backstrap and front of the grip for a secure, non-slip hold.
Corrosion resistance in firearms has progressed over the years from bluing, to chrome plating, and most recently to the use of stainless steel. Steel surfaces inside and outside of the Glock 17 barrel and slide, as well as surfaces of other small metal parts, are protected by a carbo-nitrating hardening process, producing what Glock calls a "Tenifer" finish. This penetrates the metal surface several thousandths of an inch, locking it up against corrosion, and producing a surface hardness rated as 70C on the Rockwell Scale, one step down from diamond hardness. Scrape the resulting glare-free, matte-black surface with a file, punch or nail and the streaks you see will be microscopic bits of metal left by the tool you dragged across the Tenifer surface.
Four steel bearing plates set into the upper rails of the receiver support the slide and prevent friction wear as it recoils (cycles back and forth, ejecting a spent casing and chambering a new round from the magazine) between shots. The slide rides higher than other pistols, which usually have milled rails in the frame for close-fitting slides, making the Glock less likely to jam when choked with sand, dirt or mud.
Length of the cold-hammer-forged barrel is 4.49 inches, featuring a distinctive hexagonal profile rifling with a right hand twist measuring 9.84 inches that is free of the sharp, square cut edges of more typical lands-and-grooves patterns. Glock credits the atypical rifling with several advantages: Carefully radiused lands and grooves lacking sharp edges allow a better hot powder gas seal between bullet and barrel, producing higher velocities and less fouling. Bullet deformation is lessened for improved accuracy and barrel life is increased, as well.
The first time you pick up a Glock pistol, you immediately notice the light weight and the comfortable grip which is not overly wide despite the increased width of the double-column magazine. The magazine catch is on the left side of the gun, located to prevent accidental release. Right-handed shooters must actually rotate the pistol grip slightly left in their palm to release the magazine with the right thumb and catch or pull the magazine out with their left hand. Left-handed shooters will find it a little easier, but by no means can they accidentally release, either. A molded guard protects the slide stop lever from accidental engagement by the right thumb or left forefinger.
Experienced shooters will also immediately notice the lack of an external thumb or grip safety. Glock pistols are "double-action-only," meaning that there is no way to fully cock the gun and then engage a safety (a condition called "cocked and locked"). Some auto-loading pistol shooters may find this unsettling, but modern double-action revolver users are, for the most part, accustomed to this condition. Training a long-time revolver shooter to use the Glock pistol is easier, because they are taught from the beginning to keep their finger out of the trigger guard until making a decision to fire. It is possible to carry a Glock with a round in the chamber, but it is imperative to not pull the trigger until you are ready to fire. Law enforcement and military professionals, who require a higher level of preparedness and are specifically trained for combat conditions, are best suited to carry pistols with a round in the chamber.
Professionals who carry cocked and locked must rely on their external safeties to prevent accidental discharge, may very often reach in first and then release the safety, and must constantly check to assure that the safety is engaged. Since most semi-automatic designs are single-and-double-action, they can carry their pistol in a de-cocked condition, with a round chambered and the safety on, but that requires vigilance regarding the safety as well. And in single-action, the shooter must re-cock the weapon and disengage the safety, losing the advantage of the double-action shooter's first-shot option in a combat situation.
Glock pistols have three unique safeties which work in sequence. When the slide is retracted and released to chamber a round, the internal firing pin is moved rearward to a partially cocked position and the trigger is moved forward from its de-cocked rearward position. Three safeties are engaged: the trigger safety, a pivoted lever on the trigger's face that swings down to contact the frame and block rearward trigger movement; the firing pin safety, a passive overhead plunger that drops down to engage and positively block firing pin movement of any kind; the drop safety, a cross-shaped portion of the trigger bar that moves onto a safety ramp, preventing release of the spring-loaded firing pin without further rearward movement of the trigger.
This process is consistent, either during manual retraction of the slide or during slide recoil due to a fired round. As long as there is a round in the chamber, the firing pin is under partial pressure and the trigger is ready to move back as the safeties are disengaged. Interestingly, if the shooter makes a decision not to fire a round, and moves his finger outside the trigger guard, all three safeties reengage.
Placing your finger squarely on the face of the trigger immediately negates the trigger safety. Initial pull on the trigger causes an upward extension of the trigger bar to lift the firing pin safety clear of the firing pin. Final and complete pull on the trigger causes the cross-shaped portion of the trigger bar to drop down a ramp, releasing the firing pin, which has now fully-compressed its spring. Its wedge-shaped tip passes through a vertical rectangular cut in the breech face to strike the primer and ignite the round.
Also consistent is the trigger pressure necessary to fire the first round, no different from subsequent rounds by nature of the firing pin always being under partial pressure. Greater pressure and longer trigger travel inherent to other double-action mechanisms is eliminated, greatly improving first shot accuracy. Depending on the trigger spring selected, a Glock 17 can have 3.5-pound (factory-installed, only for Glock competitive models 17L, 24, and 24C), or the standard 5-pound or 8-pound trigger pull. The average pistol shooter will find the 5-pound trigger very crisp and responsive.
Some law enforcement agencies are opting for heavier springs to help minimize accidental discharge by the shooter, should training be forgotten in the adrenaline rush of a firefight. The "New York I" spring increases trigger pull from 5 up to 7-8 pounds, while the "New York II" spring increases trigger pull from 5 up to 9-11 pounds. It may interest you to know that the New York State Highway Patrol, for whom these springs were designed, was one of the first law enforcement agencies to adopt the Glock. If you own a Glock and want to change the trigger pull, the factory will make the swap for a nominal $12.50, plus shipping.
Field stripping the Glock for normal cleaning is straightforward and simple. Remove the magazine, retract the slide and engage the slide stop lever. Check the magazine well for any unspent rounds, then look through the ejection port to ensure that the chamber is empty. Release the slide, point the pistol in a safe direction and pull the trigger. It will remain rearward
Holding the pistol in either hand, and with four fingers curling over the slide and your thumb wrapping around below the curve of the upper grip, pull the slide back approximately 1/10 of an inch. Move it back too far and you will partially cock the firing pin, which must be released by pulling the trigger, as above. Using the thumb and index finger of your free hand, pull down both sides of the slide lock, located in depressions just above the trigger guard, and hold them. Push the slide forward, and it will separate from the receiver. Carefully push the tensioned recoil spring and tube forward and raise it until free. Grip the barrel by its lugs and lift it free, chamber end first. Reassembly is carried out in reverse order, taking care to seat the back end of the recoil spring assembly in the half-moon cut in front of the forward barrel lug. But further dis-assembly must be left to trained gunsmiths or armorers.
At this point, we should note that the Glock 17 has only 33 parts, roughly half the number found in other auto-loading 9mm pistols. All of the components are manufactured on fully computerized machinery to strictly-held minimum tolerances, meaning that the trigger mechanism housing, barrel or slide stop lever from one Glock 17 will easily interchange with those components from any other Glock 17. No hand modification or fitting of individual parts is necessary.
Because of its potential use in combat situations, the Glock 17 is warranted to feed and fire a wide range of 9mm ammunition, from Federal's Hydra-Shok 147-grain sub-sonic round (1062 feet per second/310.5 foot pounds), to Winchester's 124-grain full metal jacket NATO round (1185 f.p.s/387 ft.lbs.), to Remington's 88-grain jacketed hollow point round (1500 f.p.s./440 ft.lbs.), up to and including the powerful carbine rounds intended for military use. Failure to feed usually indicates non-standard or reloaded ammo.
Even with the introduction of new models, little has changed from Gaston Glock's original concept for 9mm semi-automatic pistols. Several minor dimensional adjustments were required to accommodate larger 10mm (Model 20) and .45ACP (Model 21) rounds. Two compact-frame versions of the 9mm (Model 19) and .40S&W (Model 23), and two subcompact 9mm (Model 26) and .40S&W (Model 27) pistols have propelled Glock to the heights of law enforcement acceptance, primarily because they are easier to conceal than the standard Glock 17 frame.
If you're fortunate enough to have a chance to fire a Glock of any caliber, you'll find it an interesting experience. From the comfort of the grip to the ease of firing, from the low recoil to the ingeniously simple yet effective safety mechanisms, you 're bound to marvel at the fact that Gaston Glock's pistols are so right. And considering that, you're also bound to wonder what he'll patent next.