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When I heard KelTec was coming out with a pistol chambered in 5.7x28mm, I assumed it would be a traditional type, perhaps something reminiscent of the company’s CP33 or PMR30 and meant to compete with the Ruger-57. Instead, the engineers at KelTec said, “Tradition? Ha! Hold my beer and watch this!”
And I mean that in the absolute best, positive, you can’t tell me what to do, take this job and shove it, I’ll see your tax and raise you a Boston Tea Party, 100-percent American independent spirit. In construction and design, the KelTec P50 breaks just about every rule, including a few you probably didn’t know existed.
It is a semiauto, but top ejecting with a top-break design. It is not just chambered in the unsual bottlenecked PDW cartridge but fed by the weird 50-round magazine of that PDW, which runs horizontally through the middle of the gun like the vanilla stripe in Neapolitan ice cream.
If this gun isn’t appearing in sci-fi movies within months of its introduction, I’m going to lose a bet. It looks like RoboCop’s new sidearm. As soon as you’re done staring at the photos and wondering just what the hell you’re looking at, join me in the below paragraph and I’ll go over the specs of this one-of-a-kind firearm.
The P50 is a single-action, hammer-fired semiautomatic. It is 15 inches long and has a 9.6-inch barrel. The barrel is threaded 1/2x28 and comes with a thread protector. Unloaded, with an empty magazine in place, it weighs 3.2 pounds. Whether empty or fully loaded, the balance point of the pistol is in the center, making it comfortable to hold in two hands, but a bit muzzle heavy if you’re trying to hold it with just one.
The P50 is chambered in the small bottleneck 5.7x28mm cartridge invented by FN for their P90 PDW. More in a bit on the cartridge and the P90, but what separates the P50 from the other pistols chambered in this caliber is the fact that it is fed by those same iconic P90 magazines. These translucent 50-round magazines are as unusual as anything you’re likely to see in the firearms world. They lie horizontally on the gun and the cartridges in them crosswise to the chamber. That disc you see at the end of the magazine contains a spiral ramp that rotates the rounds 90 degrees as they feed up, so they can then slide into the chamber. This may sound convoluted or unreliable, but in fact the select-fire P90 has proven very reliable over the past 30 years.
For most of its length, the P50 is only 1.8 inches wide. The round end of the magazine is two inches wide, and the steel wings at the front of the gun that keep the magazine in place are 2.2-inches wide.
As I mentioned, the entire top half of the pistol breaks open for loading and unloading. The hinge is in the front, and the lever to separate the two is at the rear of the receiver, just above the web of your hand as you grip the gun. The lower receiver is polymer and contains the safety and fire control group. The upper and lower receiver mate very tightly, with no side-to-side movement.
The bilateral safety is at the rear of the lower receiver above the shooter’s thumb and pivots at the top. When back, pointing at the “0,” it is on “Safe.” Rotating it straight downward so that it points at the triangle symbol puts it on “Fire.” If the hammer isn’t cocked, you can’t engage the safety or close the receiver.
At the front end of the lower receiver is a 3-inch section of polymer rail to mount accessories. It is more than large enough for any light of your choosing. A hand stop might be a good idea or, depending on the brand/design, you might be able to fit an angled foregrip. However, as much as the P50 begs for a vertical foregrip, you can’t put one on. The BATFE has ruled that vertical foregrips on pistols are illegal. Like most federal guns laws, this goes against both the letter and the spirit of the Second Amendment, but you don’t want to be the guy in cuffs arguing that in front of a federal judge.
The upper half of the pistol is steel and aluminum. The upper receiver, enclosing the action, is aluminum. It sports a 8.5-inch rail along the top for mounting optics and has a number of cooling holes in it for that “ventilated shroud” look. Most ventilated shrouds (like the type seen on shotguns and old-school SMGs) are stamped steel, but those holes and the top rail are all one piece of CNC-machined aluminum on this gun. And that one piece is directly connected to the fixed barrel, so you don’t have to worry about losing your zero every time you break open the pistol to reload.
If you look close, you might see that the pistol is supplied with sights. They are small and do not project above the rail, but they’re there — a steel post front and a small notch rear just forward of the charging handle. The rear sight is adjustable for windage via a small screw. The front sight post is adjustable for elevation with a flat-head screwdriver. They’re so small I consider them emergency sights and assume everyone is going to mount a red dot to the rail of the P50.
This pistol does not have a traditional slide. The upper receiver remains stationary, and the bolt moves back and forth inside it. To chamber a round, you use the charging handle at the back of the gun. Its location, shape and function should be familiar to anyone who has used an AR-15.
The ejection port is at the top of the receiver, just behind the rail. There is a spring-powered pin-type ejector located at the bottom of the bolt face, which sends empty cases out the top of the gun. Empties fly up and to the right, and fast enough that you won’t notice them while shooting. The bolt will not lock back on an empty magazine, but the same is true of the original FN P90. The design of the magazine doesn’t allow it.
Inside the upper receiver is a small T-shaped bolt. It is connected via two operating rods and two buffer tubes to the bolt rod mount at the front of the receiver, which encloses the barrel. With every shot, the bolt moves rearward, as does the bolt rod mount, compressing the dual recoil springs. To me, this is somewhat reminiscent of the FN P90, which also has two piston-type recoil springs and a square breech block not unlike the P50’s internals. Bolt movement is very smooth.
After experimenting with the pistol, I found the best way to reload it isn’t to put the fresh magazine on the bottom half and then lower the top down onto it, but rather the reverse. See those spring steel wings on either side of the pistol near the muzzle? They keep the front of the magazine from moving side to side. They still hold onto it when the pistol is broken open. Stick the end of a fresh magazine between them, rotate it upward until it mates with the upper receiver, and then, while holding onto the sides of the magazine with your fingertips, close the two halves of the gun. Of course, that’s exactly how KelTec recommends loading the pistol in the manual. The more rounds in the magazine, the more force will be needed to latch the receivers together.
Now let’s talk about the cartridge, and a bit about the FN P90 PDW. PDW stands for “personal defense weapon.” A PDW is meant to be smaller and lighter than a rifle or carbine while being more powerful and easier to aim/shoot at distance than a handgun. On the military side, they’re meant to provide better-than-pistol firepower to troops not on the front lines but who may need something that is small and convenient to have nearby.
One other function of many modern PDWs is the ability to defeat armor. Perhaps the neatest-looking PDW is FN’s P90, which is chambered in the 5.7x28mm catridge they introduced along with this firearm. This small bottleneck cartridge and its original hard-cored bullet (not available commercially) was specifically intended to defeat intermediate barriers like soft body armor, just like the 4.6x30mm cartridge of HK’s MP7 PDW, something the 9mm generally will not do.
The 5.7x28mm cartridge has a bottleneck design, which is uncommon when it comes to pistol cartridges. Think of it as a scaled down .223 Remington and you’ll have a good idea of both its looks and performance.
The P90 has a 10.4-inch barrel, just a tad longer than the 9.6-inch tube on the P90, so you’ll see similar numbers to the published velocities. Commercial 5.7x28mm loads offer bullets between 27 and 40 grains in weight, running between 2,100 to 2,300 fps out of this barrel. You have your choice of FMJ, hollowpoints and polymer-tipped expanding bullets. Those numbers work just fine for small game hunting/pest eradication. As for other uses, the 5.7 cartridge was originally designed as an antipersonnel round, and in that role it has proven itself in a few incidents. It is at least as effective as a traditional handgun round.
Your choice in 5.7 ammo is limited. Fiocchi is the biggest manufacturer of this caliber, producing it under their own name and also for FN. One reason why not many companies make 5.7x28mm ammo is because the cases need to be lightly lubed at the factory. You might not notice it on your fingers unless you handle a lot of rounds, but that lubing helps prevent those small bottleneck cases from getting stuck in the chamber. Many ammunition companies do not have the machinery required for this additional process. When it was just the FN Five-seveN pistol on the commercial market, it didn’t make sense for anybody not already making 5.7 ammo to jump into that game. But with the FN PS90 (a semiauto carbine version of the P90), the Ruger-57, a few companies offering ARs in 5.7 and now the KelTec P50, demand for this caliber is greatly increased. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more companies manufacturing this ammo within the next few years.
While they’re very unique, the 50-round P90 magazines are not complex to load. Slide a cartridge in against very minimal spring pressure. When you slide the next one in, the cartridge under it rotates 45 degrees. When you insert the third cartridge, the first one rotates another 45 degrees for the full 90-degree turn and enters the main body of the magazine. There are round count markings on both sides of the magazine — 10, 25 and 50 rounds. Unlike with the FN P90, they are not visible when the magazine is in the gun, but they definitely help when loading the magazine.
KelTec provides two — count ’em, two — 50-round magazines with the pistol to those who live in a free state. FN does make reduced capacity 10- and 30-round magazines. If you want additional magazines, they’re available online for $49 apiece, or less if you find them on sale.
In the P90, the magazine feeds downward, and empties eject out the bottom of the gun. With the P50, that is reversed. The rounds feed upward, and cases eject out the top. As I mentioned, they are heading skyward so fast you won’t notice them while shooting. The specs call for a five-pound trigger pull. My sample had a four-pound trigger pull, with a bit of a rolling break. The trigger itself is aluminum, a bit wide and vertically serrated.
Shooting this pistol was very interesting. It is a bit louder than a traditional pistol, with a sharper bark, but very minimal recoil. Bolt motion back and forth is very smooth, and the gun just rocks in your hands, at least when not using the provided sling. You will need to watch your support hand. If it gets a little forward, those metal wings holding the magazine in place tend to poke your fingers. I was worried that the safety would poke my trigger finger when shooting, but that was not the case.
KelTec provides a very nice nylon sling with the P50 that has QD swivels on the ends. This is a two-point sling, which confused me at first, as I only noticed one QD sling swivel socket on the gun, at the rear below the charging handle. Then I found the second one on the bottom of the pistol grip.
Sling the gun over your neck and shoulder, or just the shoulder of your strong hand, and push out hard. This tension will reduce the already low recoil by about half, and mostly you just feel the bolt moving back and forth in the gun.
The only complaint I have with the P50 isn’t with what it is, but what it isn’t. I wish there was some way to fit an arm brace to the rear of the pistol. You can run it very well pushing out against the sling, but the extra points of contact a brace provides would bring this pistol to the next level in handling. Unfortunately, a rear-mounted brace just isn’t possible with the flip-top design, unless some enterprising engineer can design one to work off the QD socket.
For 25 years (seriously, how did I get this old?) my FFL has been Double Action Indoor Shooting Center and Gun Shop in Madison Heights, Michigan. Al Allen, the owner, and his two sons have seen it all and are filled with encyclopaedic knowledge and a jaundiced eye when it comes to the gun industry and guns. They tell me their brutally honest opinions of the guns I get in for testing, whether I ask for them or not.
Well, they loved everything about the P50. Maybe its the magazine capacity. Or the sci-fi-on-steriods looks. Maybe it’s the thumb-in-the-eye of traditional design. Or pehaps it is all of that at once, the audacity of a gun that flips a giant middle finger, er, I mean, blazes its own unique trail in the marketplace. The P50 sits squarely in the “I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but I want one” category of firearms, at least for everyone who has seen it thus far.
It’s 2020. We were supposed to have flying cars by now. We don’t (thanks, Obama), but we do have the KelTec P50.
Type: Single action semiautomatic
Capacity: 50 rds.
Barrel: 9.6 in., threaded 1/2x28
Overall Length: 15 in.
Overall Height: 6.7 in.
Weight: 3.2 lbs. w/ empty magazine
Width: 2 in.
Sights: Post front, adjustable notch rear
Trigger Pull: 5 lbs. (4 lbs. tested)
Accessories: Two 50-rd. magazines, sling, hard case
Safety: Manual two-position