Signature AK with Custom-Shop Flair: Rifle Dynamics RD501 5.45 AK

Leupold 2.5X IER Scout scope assisted with RD501 accuracy testing thanks to Ultimak rail installed by Rifle Dynamics.


If you thought nothing more could be written about the AK, this article may force re-evaluation of that opinion.

The true hallmark of the AK series of rifles gaining acceptance in the U.S. has been the rise of businesses catering to its clientele. Rifle Dynamics, well respected in the AK realm, is again leading the way.

Rifle Dynamics has decided to offer a signature RD AK line encompassing many upgrades and modifications over “factory” standard AKs. These improvements are based on Rifle Dynamics’ experience and feedback from customers. The RD signature AKs are labeled RD700 for 7.62x39mm rifles and RD500 for 5.45x39mm. This article features the RD501 5.45x39mm AK.

Rifle Dynamics (RD) is a unique blend of manufacturing capability married to an intimate knowledge of the “best usage” practice of the product. RD is driving the concept of the AK rifle both in theory and application, producing an AK fit for the 21st century.

BRINGING AKs TO THE USA

Jim Fuller was one of the earliest proponents of the AK in the U.S. Fuller has focused his efforts on the AK platform because of its potential, though he feels it has been neglected, especially when compared to the AR in the U.S. The AK is legendary for its ruggedness and ability to operate when other rifles fail. Thus, RD AKs, epitomized by the RD700/500 series, are meant to make the AK more efficient, ergonomic, and in tune with how an operator wants to operate the AK under stress.

Fuller is the driving force behind numerous techniques that maximize the AK, and he is always looking to expand AK popularity. Custom AK projects are still a focus of RD, but with so many customers asking Jim’s opinion of what an AK fighting rifle should be, he decided to invest in making an RD AK available to customers without making them endure the wait associated with custom projects. These production RD AKs benefit from years of experience gained from doing improvements on customer-provided rifles and custom orders.

Fuller has always been impressed with the simplicity and reliability of most Soviet-bloc weapons, especially the AK rifle. Jim believes the AK is the most dependable fighting rifle ever produced and, while it may not be quite as accurate as other rifles, it is still plenty accurate for the job it was designed to do. The Kalashnikov long-stroke gas-piston operating system is a benchmark in terms of reliability for other actions.

Leupold 2.5X IER scope can be left in place on the RD501, as performance was positive.


A key component of the AK design is the looser tolerances in its moving parts when dirty from field conditions or hot and grimy after firing numerous rounds over extended periods of time. This translates into reduced sensitivity to debris in the action and ultimately lower maintenance requirements to keep it functioning.

Jim Fuller explains that “The RD700/500 AKs are basically the same except caliber (7.62×39 and 5.45×39) and stock configurations, with either standard triangle side folder or Magpul CTR with our new AK/M-4 stock adapter. All RD700/500 models have the RD custom front end with 3rd generation Bolton Gas Block.”

Various muzzle devices are offered, with the Primary Weapons Systems (PWS) FSC the standard option. Tuned Tapco G2 triggers are used, and the ALG AKT trigger is also available.

The finish on the RD700/500 AKs is Norrell’s Moly Resin applied over fresh parkerizing. Rifle Dynamics has found this to be the best finish for a rifle that will take a lot of abuse, heat, and lack of cleaning. Jim reports the finish has proven itself many times over in the worst conditions. Available colors are Black, Flat Dark Earth, Grey, and OD Green.

The U.S. PALM AK Grip and Arsenal lower handguard are standard furniture. Options outside those listed are purposely limited since these are essentially rifles needing to be built in a timely manner. The RD700/500 line provides customers an alternative between full-blown custom and standard AKs. The benefit is the quality you expect from RD custom builds at a lower cost.

Leupold LCO red dot was right at home on RD501’s Ultimak forward rail.


RD501

Aesthetically, the RD501 tested herein gets your attention immediately with its 14.5-inch barrel with pinned PWS FSC flash hider. The Bolton Gas Block also sets RD AKs apart from others. The RD modification removes almost one pound off the front of the rifle and moves the center of gravity about four inches closer to the body. This makes the RD501 very light and, more importantly, the fastest-handling non-SBR length AK on the market.

The RD front-end work is complemented by adding an Ultimak gas tube scope rail, which provides a solid mount point for whatever forward mounted optic you prefer. The RD501 evaluated here has a triangle-style folding stock fitted.

The RD501 features a Fuller Modified Rear Sight unit. Jim reports customer feedback indicates this is one of his most popular RD AK modifications. Over the years, many have complained about the iron sights on the AK. The Fuller Rear Sight improves this tremendously.

The Fuller Sight has the notch widened and corners radiused to specs that were given to Jim by an optometrist for maximum efficiency in centering the front post in the rear notch. Both windage and elevation adjustments are made on the front sight. Jim ships the rifle with a long front post, expecting elevation adjustments to be fine-tuned by filing down the sight, and windage adjustments by turning the front post to whichever side is necessary.

Rifle Dynamics RD501 with U.S. PALM ACS plate carrier, High Speed Gear Patrol belt, and BlackHawk chest rig used during T&E.


Jim takes great pride in the amount of fitting that goes into everything Rifle Dynamics produces—and there is a tremendous amount of fitting on the RD501. Each one receives internal reliability checks, with the fire-control group polished and light planing on the bolt/carrier group and guide rails, combined with exterior surfaces being dehorned. Even without firing a live round, the RD501’s superiority over a standard AK can be detected in the smoothness of the action, trigger pull, quality of finish, and overall weapon feel. The customer receives a rifle ready to run as soon as the custom RD rifle case is opened.

What sets the RD501 apart is the amount of product development, field trials, and support it receives from Rifle Dynamics. The RD501’s overall length measures 34.5 inches and 25 inches folded. Weight of the rifle is in the six-pound range.

ACCURACY TESTS

Test and evaluation of the RD501 consisted of initial orientation and confirmation of iron sight zero. I took advantage of the Ultimak rail by mounting a variety of optics to the RD501. A Leupold FX-II Scout IER 2.5X28mm scope was mounted for baseline accuracy testing.

Once accuracy testing was completed with the Leupold FX-II, a Leupold Carbine Optic (LCO) red dot was mounted. The LCO’s red dot reticle has 16 brightness settings to let you find the exact intensity you need in any conditions. At its highest setting, the dot shines brightly in the middle of the day. It is night vision compatible on lower settings. The manual push-button on/off switch with integrated brightness control puts all the power at your fingertips.

The LCO has a battery life of up to five years using a common CR123 lithium battery. It has a large field of view that makes it ideal for use on a fast-handling rifle—the housing disappears and the one MOA dot floats superimposed over the target. The LCO is quick on target when needing to engage multiple targets.

Several 5.45x39mm loads were tested with the RD501, including Wolf and Red Army Standard in 60- and 69-grain weights. Surplus 5.45×39 53-grain ammunition can occasionally be found, despite the BATF in April 2014 ruling it armor piercing, thus prohibiting its further importation.

The surplus 5.45×39 is loaded with the 7N6 “poison pill” bullet that first gained notoriety in the Soviet-Afghan War. A unique design feature of the 5.45×39 7N6 bullet is an air cavity inside the jacket near the bullet’s tip. The air space shifts the bullet’s center of mass toward the rear, possibly contributing to its very early yaw when impacting a soft target such as human flesh.

Rifle Dynamics is known for its AK custom front-end work, which incorporates a Bolton Gas Block complemented by an Ultimak gas tube scope rail. Ultimak provides a solid mount point for a forward-mounted optic.


In addition, upon bullet impact with tissue, the lead core just behind the air space shifts farther forward, accentuating the tumbling effect, which is particularly devastating when striking flesh. This shift of lead occurs asymmetrically and may be one reason for the peculiar curvature of the bullet’s path in the last half of its travel through tissue. One downside typical to most surplus ammunition is that it utilizes corrosive primers.

One 5.45 ammunition loading of interest when combined with the magnified forward optic is Hornady 60-grain V-MAX™. This load is a godsend for AK owners looking for quality U.S.-made ammunition for their rifles. It delivered accuracy in the two-inch range at 100 yards.

Other ammunition brands produced two- to three-inch groups at 100 yards. The 69-grain 5.45×39 loads produced 2,770 feet-per-second (fps), and the 60-grain nudged high 2,800 fps, with the 53-grain surplus ammunition clocking in at 2,950 fps.

All test shooters appreciated the optional upgraded ALG AKT trigger, which provided a light three- to four-pound trigger pull and short reset.

PRACTICAL EVALUATION

After a couple hundred rounds smacking steel on Echo Valley Training Center’s (EVTC) Ranges #1 and #2, we moved to the Jungle Walk range, a 300×50-yard space that allows for random placement of targets, with the shooter taking advantage of cover and other terrain features while advancing down the undulating path. Individual as well as team exercises are based on real-world scenarios relayed to EVTC staff from the wide cross-section of students who visit EVTC.

The RD501 had no problems during the various runs on the Jungle Walk. Each run consisted of multiple magazines and engaging targets from 15 to 215 yards. This is a good way to gain an appreciation of a rifle and how reliable it is under the pressure of field conditions.

U.S. PALM ACS plate carrier and BlackHawk chest rigs were used to support the RD501 T&E. Nearly 600 rounds of 5.45×39 were expended over two days of scenario-based testing. The smooth minimal impulse of the 5.45×39 chambered RD501 has to be experienced firsthand to be fully appreciated. Though risking excommunication by 7.62×39 AK users, who are the clear majority here in the U.S., I will declare that the 5.45×39 has a lot to offer. The Soviets switched to it for their service rifles for a reason. Many of the same themes heard when the U.S. moved to the 5.56mm are present, such as ability to carry more ammunition for the same weight, lower recoil and muzzle climb, higher velocity providing a flatter trajectory, and all in a rifle that is lighter than its AK-47 predecessor.

CONCLUSIONS

The Rifle Dynamics RD501 is a fighting rifle with all improvements focused on making it excel as such. One can be sure that any ideas presented by Jim Fuller and Rifle Dynamics and then backed up with products are well thought-out. Everything is proofed during numerous training cycles and personal applications in the field under the most rigorous conditions. To my mind, Rifle Dynamics’ goal is to integrate the best of Eastern design and Western shooting methods without sacrificing the inherent AK characteristics of reliability and ruggedness.

The RD700/500 series AKs are what many AK connoisseurs have been waiting for and knew was possible but had never seen in one package ready to go with only a minimal wait. As exemplified by the RD501, the AK platform has made another progression in the U.S. market thanks to Rifle Dynamics.

Todd Burgreen has been a freelance writer for the last 20 years, with articles in numerous publications. He has attended many personal defense, team tactics, firearms, and driving courses from some of the country’s most influential training personalities and schools.

SOURCES

RIFLE DYNAMICS
(702) 860-7774
www.rifledynamics.com

BLACKHAWK
(800) 694-5263
www.blackhawk.com

ECHO VALLEY TRAINING CENTER
(540) 450-7998
www.echovalleytrainingcenter.com

HIGH SPEED GEAR
(877) 301-2116
www.highspeedgear.com

HORNADY MFG. CO.
(800) 338-3220
www.hornady.com

LEUPOLD & STEVENS, INC.
(503) 526-1400
www.leupold.com

U.S. PRIMARY ARMAMENT LOGISTICAL MANUFACTURING
(480) 398-3412
www.uspalm.com

WOLF PERFORMANCE AMMUNITION
(888) 757-9653
www.wolfammo.com

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