April 2001:

Brazilian Flag A Tale of Two FALs:
Israel Arms, Inc. M444
Entreprise Arms STG58C Target
Austrian Flag


Polish TT-33 Type:  Self Loading Rifle
Caliber:  7.62mm NATO
Capacity:  20 round box magazine
Sights, front:  Elevation adjustable post
Sights, rear:  Fully adjustable aperture
Length: 44"
Barrel length:  21"
Weight (unloaded):  9.8 lbs
Suggested Retail Price:  $900

Beginning with enthusiastic acceptance of a sample order in 1954, Brazil has always exhibited a no-nonsense approach to the FAL.  Troop trials featuring FN made FAL's were again supplied from Belgium in 1958 and 1962.  The rifle was adopted in 1964.  More recently the updated M964 was in volume licensed production at the Brazilian government's Fabrica de Armas de Itajuba, part of the giant state owned Indústria de Material Bélico do Brasil (IMBEL) arms complex, located in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.  Brazilian FAL production was so successful that it competed with FN in sales of its M964 rifles in Latin America.  More than 250,000 Brazilian FAL's have been made to date.

One of Brazil's clients for the M964 was Chile.  Chile had adopted the FAL in 1960.  In 1975, in anticipation of a border war with Argentina, Chile purchased a large quantity of M964 FAL rifles from Brazil.  Recently, some 25,000 of the rifles from this purchase, along with new semiautomatic IMBEL receivers, were imported by Houston based Israel Arms, Inc. (IAI)  As required by federal law, the original selective fire receivers were destroyed leaving the remaining parts intact.  IAI assembles the parts onto the new semiautomatic Type 3 FAL receivers and markets the product to the American shooting public as the M444.  (Editor's Note:  Yes, the law requires the IMBEL parts to be  taken off one IMBEL receiver, which is then destroyed, only to be put back onto another IMBEL receiver.  We don't get it either.) The parts themselves are in superb mechanical condition, having been "carried a lot but shot a little" by the Chilean military.

Each M444 rifle produced at IAI's Liberty, Texas assembly plant undergoes a number of redundant quality checks.  When the barrel is indexed to the receiver, a twin laser alignment tool is used to ensure that the proper timing is set.  Headspace is checked three times (when headspace is checked, prior to test firing and after headspacing), to ensure that no rifle in an unsafe condition goes out the door.  The headspace standard is that each rifle should close on a 1.630" gauge and not close on a 1.634" gauge.  This self-imposed standard is one of the tightest in the "sporting FAL" industry.

IAI is now distributing the M444, and it can be purchased by Type 1 FFL holders from wholesalers such as AIM Surplus of Springboro, Ohio and  Southern Ohio Gun (SOG) of Lebanon, Ohio.  Given that we're pretty much unable to resist anything that has to do with the FAL, we called up IAI and ordered one.  A few days  later, the BBT arrived, bearing our M444.

External Inspection
The finish on the M444 was a uniform dark grey (what scale modelers call "Panzer Grey") manganese phosphate that contrasted nicely with the black synthetic stock, handguards and pistol grip.  The finish was well applied with no streaking or other blemishes in evidence.  The military stock and handguards showed some evidence of use, but there were no deep scratches, gouges or cracks.  The most "used" looking part of the furniture was the buttpad.  It had lost most of the smooth original surface and was showing significant wear, but was still perfectly serviceable.  All in all, the M444 is one of the most nicely finished "rack-grade" FAL's that we've seen to date.
The M444, like all self loading military style rifles that fall under the provisions of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922r, must contain no more than ten parts of foreign manufacture out of the twenty listed in the associated portions of the Code of Federal Regulations.  Which means that for a FAL, seven of the listed parts must be replaced with those of domestic manufacture.  Since the M444 uses a Brazilian made Type 3 metric FAL receiver, other parts would need to be replaced.  The parts replaced on the M444 are:

Pistol Grip
Muzzle Device
Magazine Floorplate
Magazine Follower

Most noticeable of these are the pistol grip and the muzzle device.  The pistol grip is an entirely new fabrication.  It remains true to the original pattern in both look and feel, retaining the shiny plastic found on guns produced by FN.  There are some subtle differences, however.  It is slightly thinner in lateral cross section, and while providing a very comfortable grip, it is something that those with smaller hands will especially appreciate.  Additionally, if used with the original retaining nut, the FN pistol grip cleaning kit cannot be fitted.  The IAI grip also lacks the scallop on the left side that provides clearance for the selector switch's travel to the full auto position.  Instead, a small hemisphere of plastic is carefully removed from the top so that the grip provides a positive stop for the selector in the semiautomatic position.  This is a nice touch, as the rifle will not function with the selector past the semiauto position or in the full auto position.

The muzzle device is TIG welded onto the barrel.  Made by Hesse Arms, it is an attractive piece made in the style of the original "Belgian short" flash suppressor.  It differs from the original in that it is somewhat thinner in diameter, and is threaded are at the base rather than toward the middle of the brake.  Also, there are only two rows of gas ports, rather than the four of the original.  The ports are angled forward at approximately 45 degrees.

Careful technical inspection revealed that the internal parts varied in state from mechanically excellent to like new.  The bore was bright and shiny with sharp rifling.  A headspace check revealed that the rifle's headspace was set to 1.633".  This was well within the SAAMI .308 Winchester tolerance of 1.630" minimum and 1.640" maximum.  More importantly it was within the FN factory specifications for a new or overhauled FAL of 1.6315" minimum and 1.638" maximum.  (Editor's Note:  The FN factory specification for an "in service" FAL was 1.6315" minimum and 1.640" maximum.)  This was one of the most tightly headspaced "commercial" FAL's we've seen to date.

Shooting the M444
We were very excited have to take the M444 to the range, if only because there's a certain cachet that comes with having the best looking rifle on the firing line.  We packed up the rifle, some ammunition, and half a dozen magazines and headed out to the NRA range in Fairfax, Virginia.

Four types of 7.62mm NATO ammunition were used to test the M444:

German DAG 147+/- grain FMJ
Portuguese FNM 147 +/- grain FMJ
British Radway Green 147+/- grain FMJ
US M80 147+/- grain FMJ

We fired the M444 at fifty yards, the maximum distance possible at the NRA range..  Target was a three inch black center.  Accuracy was impressive for a stock FAL, with the German DAG ammunition turning in the best results.  Our best efforts were:  One ragged hole measuring about an inch and a quarter at fifty yards.  Sight regulation was very good at all ranges with the mean point of impact and the point of aim coinciding nicely.  This wasn't especially surprising, as IAI's stated goal is to give the shooter a rifle that is adjusted for windage right out of the box.  Given the combination of a rack grade service rifle, open sights, service grade ball ammunition, and our meager abilities, we were well pleased.

Recoil and Ergonomics
There's bad news and there's good news:

The bad news is that recoil was, well, intense.  It had a sharpness that was both unnerving and painful.  Shooting the M444 was unpleasant in a way that compared to no other FAL we've ever fired.  Two of our testers walked away with bruised shoulders, and one with a bruised cheek.  The recoil sensation, instead of being the "shove" we've come to associate with 7.62mm NATO firearms in general, and FAL's in particular, was a particularly hard slap.  This puzzled us at first as the internal construction of the M444 differed not at all from four other metric FAL's that we compared it to.  The only discernible difference was the muzzle brake, which we soon began to refer to as the MRID (Muzzle Recoil Intensification Device).  We immediately called IAI to inquire about this phenomenon.

The good news is that IAI was well aware of the brake's shortcomings and will be offering an improved brake on the next production run of M444's.

The M444 retains the FAL's excellent ergonomics.  It is a comfortable rifle to hold, and it balances well for both large and small framed shooters.  The rifle comes easily to the shoulder, and the grip is natural and readily repeatable.  In fact, one of the FAL's great strengths is its user friendliness.  The selector is well positioned and easily manipulable, and the positioning of the cocking handle on the left side of the receiver means that the shooter never has to move his right hand from the pistol grip when charging the arm.

The sights, an aperture rear and post front, provide a clear, easily acquired picture.  Shooters familiar with the M1/M14 and AR-15 will have no problem adjusting to the FAL sight system.  Sight adjustment typical for FAL's and very European in tenor, with only rear sight elevation being easily adjusted.  Front sight elevation adjustment requires a specialized tool, and rear sight deflection adjustment requires a flat head screwdriver.

The minimum gas setting for reliable function was 5, which is to say, mostly open, indicating a very smooth and well balanced action.  We fired over two hundred rounds of various  ammunition.  No failures to feed, fire, extract, or eject were noted.

The M444 could be one of the best buys in a "rack grade" FAL on the market.  Fit and finish are superb, mechanically it is excellent, and range performance leaves nothing to be desired.  We say "could be," however due the extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable recoil characteristics displayed by our sample.  Left as it is, this would dissuade us from buying one.  Assuming, however,  that the new muzzle brakes solve the problem, we rate this rifle as one of the best buys available in FAL's.

And now, our Buy-O-Meter rating for the M444:

. . .based on the provision of new muzzle brakes.