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The "Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947 g." or AK-47 is a gun designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov and produced by LZh, widely used by the USSR armed forces from the 1950s through the 1980s. It is classified as an assault rifle, a mid-caliber rifle (7.62 mm, which is approximately equal to .30 caliber) that can be fired semi-automatically, or in fully-automatic bursts. It is intentionally smaller and shorter-ranged than WWII battle rifles.

The AK47 is cheap, light to carry, and easy to clean and repair in the field. It is mostly reliable though the ejector pin tends to break. Derivative designs replaced the AK-47 during the 1980s.

AK-47 and derivatives are favoured by non-Western powers because of their ease of use, robustness, and simplicity of manufacture. Copies were made by many factories in other countries including Israel, Finland, Hungary, China and Poland, where they remain in production today.

Table of contents
1 Operation
2 Notable Features
3 Ballistics
4 History
5 Versions
6 Sources
7 External links


To fire, insert a loaded magazine, move the right selector lever on the right to the bottom position, and pull back and release the cocking lever on the right top. Aim and pull the trigger.

Notable Features

The selector lever is a large lever on the right side, easy to manipulate with mittens under arctic conditions.

The highest position of the selector lever is safe. Safe prevents trigger movement and cocking. In many models, this position is unmarked. International weapons may place a "0" in this position.

The bottom position is single-shot. On Russian weapons this is marked "OD" in Cyrillic. International weapons may have a "1" or a single dot.

The middle position is full automatic. On Russian weapons this is marked with "AB" in Cyrillic, for "ABtomat...". International weapons have an infinity-sign or multiple dots in this position.

Classic AK-series have a cycle rate of 600RPM. Newer versions have delayed automatic sears that cycle at 300RPM.

The standard flip-up iron sight is calibrated with each numeral indicating in hundreds of meters. It is released by squeezing the two buttons on the back end. The standard calibration of the flipped-down sight is 50 meters, the normal minimal distance for aimed fire. Distances below this range are usually handled with instinctive fire. For night fighting, Russian models have a flip-up luminous dot, also calibrated at 50m. The sights are one of the most heavily-criticized feature of the rifle, being both farther from the eye than many common rifle sights, and less accurate than peep-sights, such as those found on the M16 rifles.

The magazine release is in front of the trigger guard. The trigger guard is very large, to permit gloved fingers.

A sling is provided for accurate aimed fire. It should wrap around the left fore-arm.

Models for paratroop, horse troops and mechanized troops have folding stocks. Most fold sideways, but a few fold forward over the pistol grip to make submachine guns.

Bullpup models exist, in which a shoulder pad is bolted onto the back of the receiver, and the trigger is moved up to the front of the barrel. These weigh less because they have no stock, yet they still have full-length barrels.

Some models include an integral folding bayonet.

Some models include a gas valve on the forward gas port (above the barrel) to permit firing grenades. Sometimes the valve is controlled by flipping a special "grenade sight" up into position.

Some makes of removable bayonets can attach to their scabbards to form a scissors-stye barbed-wire cutter.

The barrel and chamber are chromium-plated, to resist corrosion, but cleaning after every firing is recommended. Most military ammunition uses corrosive primerss.

A cleaning rod is under the barrel. It bends slightly for removal. In standard AKs, cleaning patches and a metal bottle of oil and solvent are in compartments in the shoulder-pad of the stock.

To field strip, release the magazine catch, remove the magazine, and cock the rifle, holding the left hand ready over the receiver to catch any ejected cartridge. Release the catch on the right side of the rear sight. Push the piston assembly cover forward, detaching it from the rear receiver. Lift it and then pull it backwards. Remove the piston assembly and bolt. Clean as needed, with special attention to the barrel, gas hole and gas piston. Oil slightly and reassemble. Before inserting the magazine, press the trigger to release the spring tension.


The standard AK-47 or AKM fires a 7.62x39mm round with a muzzle velocity of 710 m/s. Muzzle energy is 2,970 joules. Cartridge length is 38.6mm, weight is 18.21g. Projectile weight is 7.91g.

The new model AK-74 fires a 5.45x39mm round with a muzzle velocity of 900 m/s. Muzzle energy is 1,385 joules. The cartridge weight is 10.75g. Projectile weight is 3.42g.

Both bullets are full metal jacket designs. The outer plating is copper and zinc. The shell is steel. There's an inner layer of soft lead, with a core that's a steel penetrator. There is a bubble in the nose.

When shot into 10% ballistic gelatin at 4C, the bullets always tumble. X-ray examinations of ten bullets showed that the lead invariably shifts into the bubble in the nose, possibly unbalancing the bullet.

With the 5.45mm bullet, the tumbling produced a maximum wound expansion twice at 10 and 40cm of depth. With the 7.62mm bullet, the maximum wound expansion occurred at approximately 30 and 40 cm. 40cm is the average thickness of a human trunk.

Some people have said that the Russians were concerned about the lower energies of the assault-rifle bullets and designed them to cause more damage than might otherwise occur.

Rate of fire is between 300 and 600 rounds per minute. Later models have modifications to the trigger assembly and bolt to fire more slowly. This helps to make the weapon more controllable and waste less ammunition. This may help reduce logistic requirements.


The AK-47 was not the first assault rifle but was derived from earlier German and Italian designs.

Wounded in the battle of Brausk, tank sergeant Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov began imagining his weapon while still in the hospital. He had been informed that Elisarov and Semin had developed in 1943 a 7,62 x 39 cartridge, so a weapon was needed for it. Sudayev's PPS43 was preferred to Kalashnikov's first attempt, but having examined a STG 44, in 1946 Kalashnikov found the design for rifle (and the similarities remain evident). There were many difficulties during the first phase of production, as the Soviets weren't able to use stamped sheet metal to build it. Instead, they preferred machining the components. Even though it was famous as the "AK 47" (where AK stands for Avtomat Kalashnikov, or Kalashnikov's Machine gun), the Russians were not able to distribute it to soldiers until 1956. The first transfer-stamped sheet metal version appeared in 1959 and is named AKM. The last Soviet version is AK 74, and it is scheduled for replacement by the AN-94 Nikonov rifle.


AK47 and AKM have been extensively modified and improved upon since their first designs.

Standard Kalashnikovs include:

Later designations:
Derivative designs included these: Many foreign variants and foreign produced models exist.


Edward Clinton Ezell, "The AK-47 Story." Ezell is curator of weapons at the U.S. Smithsonian Museum.

External links