Mikhail Kalashnikov has passed away today in Izhevsk, Russia. While the official cause of death has yet to be released, the 94 year old firearm designer had been hospitalized for the past month with various health ailments. Considered a national hero in his home country of Russia, Kalashnikov designed the AK-47 rifle for a national competition, and notably never profited from its production.
Kalashnikov is survived by three children, and perhaps the finest legacy any inventor can dream of. His first successful firearm design was the iconic AK-47 rifle — a true gun of the people for its ease of use. By 2009, various sources estimated over 100 million copies of the design had been manufactured worldwide. The rifle remains in widespread use and dozens of variants are in manufacture today.
Kalashnikov suffered from health problems early in life, but still conscripted into the Red Army at the age of nineteen. He showed an aptitude for mechanical tasks, and was assigned work as a tank engineer. It was during his career in the Red Army that Mikhail Kalashnikov began developing firearms. Kalashnikov suffered a bullet wound to the shoulder in battle, and began designing firearms while recovering in the hospital.
By 1944, Kalashnikov had a design for a semi-automatic, gas-driven rifle, which he submitted to a national competition to design the Russian military's next weapon. His design lost to the SKS. But by 1946, the Red Army was already looking to replace the SKS.
Another competition was opened up, and Kalashnikov submitted a new design, his "Avtomat Kalashnikov", or "AK" for short. This design won the national competition and went into immediate manufacture, with the first models rolling out of the factory in 1947. The AK-47 was born.
While Mikhail Kalashnikov continued to design firearms up until his death, none have impacted the world like the AK-47. It is considered to be the single most prolific firearm in all of history. Instantly recognizable, the AK-47 is the gun of both freedom fighters and dictators alike, and its reliability and ease of use means nearly any person in any situation can operate it.
The AK-47 and its variants have been used by various militaries worldwide for over half a century and production continues today.
This is the underfolding-stock variant of the Soviet AKM. Chambered in 7.62x39mm, it is built on a stamped-steel receiver and has a metal stock based upon the German MP-40 submachine gun. It is fitted with a hammer-forged, chrome-lined, 16.1-inch barrel; laminated-wood furniture; synthetic pistol grip; and slant-cut compensator. This particular rifle was built using parts Israel captured from the Palestinian Liberation Organization during the Lebanon conflict of the 1980s.
Chambered in 7.62x39mm, this is the closest clone of the Russian AKM in the world. It has a stamped-steel receiver, laminated-wood stock set, beavertail fore-end, synthetic pistol grip and slant-cut compensator, and it is pictured with a Polish bayonet and oil bottle.
Polish PMKMS underfolder
This is the stamped-steel-receiver version of the PMKM with underfolding stock. Chambered in 7.62x39mm, it has an AKM-type beavertail fore-end and a slant-cut compensator. It is pictured here with a Polish bayonet.
Polish Tantal WZ88
Chambered in 5.45x39mm, the Tantal is distinctive in that it features three-round-burst capability in addition to Semi and Auto. It also has a unique selector switch on the left side of the receiver (inlay) and folding stock for added mobility. It is fitted with night sights and a distinctive muzzlebrake with a grenade-launcher attachment. It also has Bakelite handguards and a side-folding metal stock that collapses to the right of the receiver.
Romanian PM md. 63
First produced in 1963, the PM md. 63 was Romania's first AK variant and was chambered in 7.62x39mm. It is almost identical to the Russian AKM but has a chromium-plated bolt, chamber and piston. Also, it is fitted with an AK-47-style barrel nut and a wooden pistol grip.
Romanian PM md. 65
The first underfolder from Romania, the PM md. 65 is identical to the original PM md. 63. Chambered in 7.62x39mm, it is built on a stamped-steel receiver and has a vertical foregrip.
In 1989 Romania formed the 700,000-strong Patriotic Guard. They were equipped with semiauto-only PM md. 63 rifles that had a 'G ' engraved on the left side of the rear sight. This is the most popular version of the Romanian rifles, as more than 20,000 have been imported to the U.S. It is chambered in 7.62x39mm and fitted with a distinctive wooden vertical foregrip.
Romanian AIMS 74
This 5.45x39mm variant of the PM md. 65 has a vertical grip on the lower handguard and a side-folding metal stock. The stock collapses to the right side of the receiver. An AK-74-type muzzlebrake is fitted to reduce felt recoil.
Chambered in 7.62x39mm, this short-barrel AK has been used by Yugoslavian special forces. Built on a stamped-steel receiver, it has a two-position rear sight (inlay) mounted to the topcover, an underfolding stock and an expansion-chamber muzzle device.
Chambered in 7.62mm, this is the rifle that is issued to the Yugoslav army. Built on a heavier, 1.5mm-thick, RPK-type receiver, it has wooden furniture, a rubber buttpad, a gas shut-off valve and grenade-launcher sights. It can accept a thread-on grenade launcher (inlay). It is shown with an M52P3 anti-personnel land mine and some practice grenades.
First produced in 1963, the AKM-63 is a full-size rifle with a wood stock and a metal fore-end with a vertical wood foregrip to help control recoil during automatic fire. There is no upper handguard. Only about 1,100 of these were imported, so they are one of the rarest AK variants on the U.S. market.
Chambered in 7.62x39mm, this short, 12.6-inch-barrel rifle has the same foregrip as the AKM-63. A side-folding wire stock is fitted to make it more maneuverable in confined spaces such as armored vehicles and tanks. The shorter sight radius and barrel make this a less accurate rifle than the AKM-63, but the overall handiness offsets the loss in accuracy. Note the 20-round magazine.
East German MPi-KMS72.
This side-folder is chambered in 7.62x39mm and was produced at the Ernst Thaelman factory in East Germany. With a wire stock, Bakelite grip and upper handguard, it was originally issued to airborne troops and mechanized infantry units.
Chinese Type 56
The Chinese introduced a stamped-receiver variant of the Type 56 after China and the Soviet Union split. Because of this, the stamped-receiver model seen here was reverse-engineered without Soviet technical assistance. Two unique features of the Type 56 are the fully enclosed front sight and the folding cruciform bayonet. Also note the distinctive Chinese rivet pattern at the front of the receiver. It is estimated that 10 to 15 million Type 56 rifles have been produced since the 1950s.
Chambered in 7.62x39mm, this stamped-steel-receiver AKS has a side-folding Phenolic stock set (inlay). It is one of the rarest of the Chinese guns in the U.S.
A semiauto version of the milled-receiver 7.62x39mm Type 56, it is the closest copy of the Russian AK-47 Type 3 that China ever made. Type 56 production was set up by the Soviets, who supplied machinery and technical assistance.
Russian AKM Khyber Pass clone
The Khyber Pass is the region between Pakistan and Afghanistan where the majority of trade routes are located. These rifles are normally made by gunsmiths in dirt-floor markets using whatever parts they can find. This rifle is chambered in 7.62x39mm and has an AKS-74-type side-folding stock. This is also the model that the late Osama bin Laden is seen shooting in several videos.
Chambered in 7.62x39mm, the 'Maadi ' (as some call it) was massively imported into the U.S. by Steyr-Daimler-Puch of New Jersey in the early 1980s. Built on a stamped receiver, the Maadi is a very close clone of the Russian AKM. This one has a side-folding wire stock.
Iraqi Tabuk Carbine
Chambered in 7.62x39mm, this Iraqi Kalashnikov version was produced at the Al-Qadissiya establishments. Based on the Yugoslav M70B2, it has a stamped, RPK-type receiver; wooden furniture; rubber buttpad; gas shut-off valve; rifle grenade-launcher sight; and slant muzzlebrake. This model is capable of launching rifle grenades. A common sight in Iraq, many were captured by U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Iraqi Tabuk DMR
Chambered in 7.62x39mm, the semiauto-only Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR) version of the Iraqi Tabuk features a barrel that is 23.6 inches long and a 4x24mm scope (a Russian PSO-1 is seen here, but Romanian LPS Type 2s and Yugoslav ZRAKs are also encountered) for engaging targets out to intermediate distances. It is often mistaken for the larger, more powerful 7.62x54R-chambered sniper rifles. It is essentially an accurized, scoped RPK.