Jacques Brel. Poirot. Tintin. They are the only famous Belgians I know. And two of them are fictional, so they don’t really count.
In the world of small arms, however, there are rather more famous Belgians. This is largely thanks to the efforts of FN Herstal, the country’s prolific armaments manufacturer. Perhaps their most famous product is the classic FN FAL.
Designed in the late 1940s, the FAL came to prominence in the 1960s as the so-called ‘Right arm of the free world’. Several European countries adopted it as their standard rifle along with their client states in the developing world. It’s often seen in photos of the Congo conflict, usually in the hands of mercenaries or Belgian paras.
In the 1980s, FAL variants were used by both sides in the Falklands war. Today, FALs can still be seen in the hands of more discerning Syrian terrorists/freedom fighters (take your pick – I do not judge).
Back in the fantasy world of airsoft, I’ve got a bit of a thing for FAL variants, as you might have guessed from my earlier piece on the L1A1 SLR (or Stupidly Long Rifle). Of course, the SLR was an anglicised version of the FAL. However, elsewhere in my arsenal lurk two FALs that are as Belgian as moules et frites.
The first one I acquired was a full-length King Arms FAL. I got it because I missed out on the first release of KA’s SLR, which is the gun I really wanted. Despite it being second best in my eyes back then, I’ve grown to love its reliability as well as its classic good looks.
In order to make it look more SLR-ish, I camouflaged the stock and handguard with hessian sandbag fabric, stained with shoe polish and cold coffee. This mirrors the field-expedient camo technique adopted by British soldiers in the 1970s and 80s.
Beyond that cosmetic addition, the gun is stock. It shoots at a steady 300 fps. While this is not a massively impressive figure, the long barrel gives it a very satisfactory range.
On its first outing, the cocking lever came unscrewed and was lost. I searched high and low for a replacement but ended up using a bolt from my local hardware store. Since then I’ve learnt to put a dab of loctite on all the detachable parts of my KA guns. Their externals are not the most secure.
More recently, I’ve picked up a carbine version of the same weapon. Like the SLR, the long-barrel FAL is quite unwieldy, and the carbine is a bit more practical for non-woodland work. Though it’s still longer than an M4.
The carbine lacks the long gun’s carrying handle and has a less elaborate flash-hider. Both guns can pack a large battery in their stocks, making them ideal all-day (or even all-weekend) carries. Their magazines are also interchangeable (not the case with the KA SLR).
I’ve left the carbine’s internals stock. It currently shoots between 360 and 370 fps. This is just a little on the warm side for some sites, depending on the strictness of their margin-of-error policy. So I generally take a second rifle just in case, at least until the spring wears in and the power comes down a little.
I have made a few revisions to the cosmetics, however. Like some FALs in African service, the furniture is now painted brown. I’ve added a Picatinny rail on top, and a discreet rail at the bottom of the handguard accommodates a flashlight for night work.
Like most of my rifles, the carbine is fitted with a simple single-point sling. I’ve acquired an original leather sling for the full-length version, though.
Both my FALs are satisfying replicas to own and to use. While parts are in short supply, and the magazines aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as those for M4s/M16s, they cut a dash on the field and are decently robust.
So when it comes to naming famous Belgians, I’m pleased to say I have two more to add to my list.