The FAMAS was one of the first mass-produced bullpup rifles, and as a forerunner in the area, it shows a number of interesting features, both good and bad.

FAMAS F1 rifle
FAMAS F1 rifle

The FAMAS spent 9 years in development, beginning in the late 1960s and finally being adopted as the standard French Army service rifle in 1978 (replacing the MAT-49 SMG and the MAS 49/56 rifle). During this time, prototypes and 7 progressive variants were made (A1-A7) before finally settling on the F1 model for adoption.

Mechanically, the FAMAS works much like a San Cristobal carbine or AA-52 machine gun, using the lever-delayed blowback system developed originally by Pál Király. The bolt is not rigidly locked when fired, and immediately begins to move backwards. An “H” shaped accelerator lever is connected in the center to the bolt itself, with the bottom legs firmly against recesses in the receiver below, and the upper legs pushing on the bolt carrier. The accelerator cannot move back past the receiver lugs until it has rotated about 45 degrees, and its upper legs are longer than the lower ones. This forces the bolt carrier to move backwards much farther and fasted then the bolt itself can move. The time required for the bolt carrier to move far enough to release the accelerator lever and allow the bolt to move backwards is long enough to allow pressure to drop to a safe level in the chamber, and the built up momentum of the bolt carrier is used to cycle the action and load a new cartridge. A fluted chamber is used to facilitate extraction.

FAMAS Mechanism
Two stages of the FAMAS mechanism firing – note the difference in movement distance between the boltface and the carrier above it.
FAMAS bolt sequence
FAMAS bolt sequence – fully closed at top and fully open at bottom

This system is fairly simple and negates the need for a gas system, but it does have limitations. It is really at the limits of a safe mechanism for a high-pressure cartridge like the 5.56x45mm, and does not have much tolerance for variation in chamber and barrel pressure. The initial F1 variant of the rifle adopted by the French Army was designed around the 55gr M193 cartridge, including a 1:12″ twist that is not compatible with the now-popular heavier 62gr and 77gr bullets. We have also been told (although not found confirmation) that the locking system itself is not overly reliable with heavy bullets, due to the difference pressure curve created by those rounds. The newer G2 and export versions of the rifle are built to run fine with heavier rounds (mainly SS109 62 grain), but the vast majority of Army rifles in use are still original F1 versions, which will eventually be replaced with a completely different rifle (the H&K 416, we understand) rather than reworking them for the new standards.

In addition, France had removed its military forces from the NATO union in the late 1960s, and the FAMAS was not designed around NATO standards, although it did use the same ammunition. Magazines were straight 25-rounders, not interchangeable with STANAG M16 mags (although this was also changed in the 1990s G2 version).

Unlike many other bullpup rifles, the FAMAS was not built with optics mounting in mind – it is equipped with iron sights inside the top of its carry handle. These are enough to get the job done, but not particularly outstanding. It is worth noting, though, that both the front and rear sights are actually mounted to the barrel and receiver, and the carry handle mounts around them. This does improve accuracy, as slop in the carry handle mounting will not translate into movement of the sights.

FAMAS F1 receiver stripped
The vertical tower is the rear sight, with the carry handle removed

The fire selection leaves something be desired. The rifle has a safety lever inside the trigger guard, which rotated from left to right. The right (marked “1”) is for semiauto fire, the middle position (which physically blocks access to the trigger) is for safe, and the left (marked “R” for “refale”, or burst) is for automatic fire. That automatic fire can be either full-auto or a 3-round burst, as dictated by a second selector located under the buttstock. That one has markings of “0” (for unlimited full auto) and “3” for 3-round burst. Today burst firing has pretty much been determined to be undesirable, but it was still though to be a neat idea when the FAMAS was being designed.

FAMAS burst selector
Burst selector underneath the stock – “0” for full auto and “3” for a limited burst

Most notable for an early-adoption bullpup, the FAMAS can be fairly easily changed from left-handed to right-handed use. The charging handle is entirely ambidextrous, located atop the receiver inside the carry handle. The bolt is made with cutouts for the extractor to mount on either the left or right side, and the receiver has ejection posts in both sides. The desired ejection port is left open and a detachable cheekpiece is mounted over the other one, and the extractor is fitted to the ejection side of the bolt. To switch the rifle’s ejection side, the extractor and cheekpiece are simply moved to the opposite sides. This is not practical to do in combat, so the rifle can’t effectively be juggled from shoulder to shoulder, but it does allow lefty shooters to use the rifle without handicap (and without needing to have any lefty-specific guns or parts).

FAMAS F1 bolt face
FAMAS bolt face (this one has been demilled by welding over the firing pin hole). Note the two extractor mounting positions.

One other feature to note – the lever in front of the charging handle is actually a grenade launching sight. The FAMAS was designed to use 22mm rifle grenades that slip over the barrel. To aim them, the rifle is laid on its side, and that lever is flipped out to a detent setting based on the desired range of the grenade. The firer then sights down along that lever at the intended target.

FAMAS F1 grenade launching sight
FAMAS F1 grenade launching sight

 

FAMAS grenade sight
Manual illustration of the grenade launcher sight for indirect fire

Manuals

We have two manuals available for the FAMAS, one in French and one in English (both describing the original F1 variant):

FAMAS F1 manual (English)

FAMAS F1 manual (French)

Photos

You can also see the full gallery of photos (or download the whole batch here as a zip archive):

17 Comments

    • Though I heard that they fixed most of the problems present on the F1 on the new FAMAS G2 rifle. I’ve also heard that it has been adopted as the mainstay rifle for the French Navy & French Marines though the French Army is still holding onto their F1’s for reasons I don’t know. I might venture to guess that cost might be a factor. Plus I always wondered why DuGalle got all pissy with NATO.

      • Well, it’s mostly because we (the US) said All of NATOs nukes had to go into the pot, and the French said “Ahaha… Non.” and did their own thing

  1. Why was De Gaulle “Pissy” please put yourself in His shoes , it goes back to WW2 while forming free France movement,the US send via a submarine in the mediteranee sea a secret “they thought ” diplomatic and military mission to negotiate with Vichy and the Nazy …that dis not fly very well , later when Nato was created it was nothing but an extention of the US , De Gaulle wanted none of it and got France to develop, the nuclear bomb and the missile to deliver it just about anywhere , including the soviet union , it paid out . sadly the program was basically dismantled by the socialistes …..

  2. Degaulle also wanted the US to use a nuclear bomb at Dien Bien Phu, wiping out the Viet Minh that had concentrated there (and the Foreign Legion defenders too, but hey, its the Foreign Legion! They don’t vote!) The US declined to do so in support of Vichy French colonialists demanding back payments for the time that the Japanese were in occupation, rather supporting Ho Chi Minh, who had been a US ally in WWII, and who had helped recover US pilots.

    The Viet Minh 105mm artillery at Dien Bien Phu was of US make, and had been transported from Korea, where it had been captured during the Korean war.

  3. Does the famas have a fluted chamber, i cant seem to find information on this and the two manuals contradict themselves (the french saying it has a “fluted chamber” an the english a “rifled barrel”)? The famas apparently has several issues regarding the extraction of brass cases forcing the french army to used steel cased cartriges with a bullet inadapded for the twist of the rifling, which causes a severe degradation in accuracy as well as supply complications. The extraction problems seem to be caused by the extremely high rate of fire and a violent extraction cycle (this last one, common to unfluted delayed-blowback designs). I wanted to know if it is solely due to the high rpm or if it can be improved on by fluting the chamber. if you had a stock photo it would great ^^. thanks in advance.

  4. I was an American in the Legion. I don’t know too much about guns but this gun always worked. I never had a problem with it.

    • I was in the Legion and I fully disagree! FAMAS has loads of stoppages due to excess of gas in the chamber, loose mags (very poor quality FMAS mags), dust around the chamber, and the list goes on and on. A true weapon is a weapon that you can deploy in the worst conditions and needs no cleaning for the duration of mission, especially if you don’t fire the weapon. Overall, FAMAS is a shit weapon.

  5. I was a legionnaire for 5 years in the 2 REI and carried the famas in the 80’s.It was a very reliable weapon in all conditions.The rifle’s blow back system can handle nato rounds which we were issued and fires high pressure rifle grenade blanks.The only complaint I would have was it’s high rate of fire on full auto,1000 rounds per minute,emptied a 25 round magazine in 6 bursts.

  6. The FAMAS is not good! About years, I can say the best weapon is a russian AK-47, this gun is the best, ever.
    I like AR-15, AR-10, FN-Herstal FAL, Colt, but these machines are not good like AK-47.
    Anyway, there are no good machine if the soldier can not carry yourself.
    It does means, if you clean your machine and repair constantly, your machine will work as a good machine.
    And at French Foreign Legion, we are always cleaning our machine, cleaning, repairing, what ever, as a same as Navy Seal, but anyway, there are no better machine as AK-47, Water, Desert, Forest, Ugly and Dirty, always working…

    • i’m french and i don’t talk english well, so, if a french guy can translate what i’m say, it’s nice. l’AK-47 est efficace niveau cadence de tir et puissance mais le FAMAS est plus précis je trouve, après, c’est peut-être moi qui m’en sert mal, mais j’accroche pas trop a l’AK-47, bon après moi, j’utlise plus souvent les armes lourdes, du genre du 12.7 ou du 14.5 (ce dernier, je l’utilise très rarement), merci de votre attention.

      • Here is, at last:
        AK-47 is efficient for rate of fire and power but the FAMAS is more precise to me, but maybe it’s me that don’t use it properly (the AK) (TN: no it’s not you…), but I am not very found of the AK, I mostly use heavy weapons like .50 cal or 14.5mm (very rareley for the latter), thanks for your attention.

  7. Many thanks for this informative article, and thanks for this interesting web site.

    In general, a lot of french engineers tend to like inovative and elegant solutions, the are a bit perfectionist in their own way and a lever delay blowback action is both a the same time. It is ingenious and there is some kind of beauty on a system that cannot be understood even a drawing or stetches or any visuals, you need knowledge (just like quantum mechanics). So, starting from strach in the 70’s, there was no reason not to adopt this system as it is no bad or better than any other.

    The is a lot of comment about what a lever delay blowback action can and cannot do, all usual pros and cons that is supposelly attached to this mechanism. I think the is a common misconception about how we can evaluate a technical product. There is a general tendency to misunderstood a principle with its application. Every design engineer is very aware with this distinction because it is the core of it’s job to find out a proper way to implement a principle, a technical solution, that’s all engineering is all about by the way.

    Usually we read about:

    The weight:
    if tou take most “long” barrel rifle (around 19.2 to 20″) made in the 70’s made of the same kind of material.
    At 3,61 kg (7.96 lbs) the FAMAS F1 is in the same range that many gas operated rifle:

    in bullpup SA80: 4,13 Kg and Steyr AUG: 3,8 Kg

    in roller delayed HK G41: 4,1 Kg

    and

    M16A1: 2.89 Kg and later M16A2 3,77 Kg
    AK74: 2.97 Kg and later AK74M: 3.4 Kg
    FNC: 4,06 Kg (FN CAL was lighter at 3,0 Kg but there was issues)
    HK G36: 3,6 Kg
    Beretta AR-70: 3.8 Kg
    SAR80: 3.7 Kg
    SIG550: 5.05 Kg

    The twist:

    Usually the more you asked to a mechanism, the more you have to do to make it work such as high tolerance, good alloy & materials.
    The FAMAS F1 was design from the begining for a certain weight and a certain type of cartridge just like any other rifle. Even an increase of 10% is enough to have to change a lot of component in many rifles and from 55g, 62g and then 77g is a lot.

    Remember the M16, the original AR-15 twist have to change from 1:14 (for 53/55 grain) to 1:12 just due to atmospheric conditions and when it have to change from M193 to the M855/SS109 (62 grain), the M16a2 take a 1:7 twist.

    Extraction and curve pressure:

    The extraction problems the FAMAS F1 occurs doesn’t seems to append before the change of manufacturer’s cartridge, after the closure of the french plans, purchase has been made overseas. If you fire a badly made round on a rifle (or even a round not exactly designed for this rifle), the is a good chace that it will not go so well.

    Sensitivity to the specific pressure curve design:

    It is sensitive for sure, just just like any high performance automatic mechanism, I put aside the Maxim machine gun and alike.
    A gas port automatic rifle may have a lesser sensitivity with a gas port valve like the FAL for instance. But what’s the point to argue about the supposed insensitivity of the curve pressure if you don’t have any setting like the M16 and so you have to change the whole assembly of buy a new rifle more conveniently for the seller if the cartridge change.
    Nobody complain about the sensitivity of the M16 when they change from M193 to M855, they just buy new ones.

    The next time the french army (and the same for the others) will have to change the ammunition, what kind of solution they have to figure out beside pass an order to HK and wait again 10 years for 90 000 rifles ? (at $4800 piece ! who said the FAMAS was expensive ?)

    For the pros, you just have to shoot a box of 5.56 and you’ll see by yourself.

    By the way, the TKB-517 was considered and usually had very good rating after extensive test, even better than the AKM, more accurate,better control on automatic mode, less expensive and no gas port to clean.

    In conclusion, lever delay blowback action might be consider as a good technical approach and the FAMAS is a good example of this.

    Have a nice day.

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