FN PS90 Rifle: The Space-Age Bullpup Carbine
Let’s look at a new weapons system from Fabrique Nationale: The PS90 carbine.
How History Bucks Innovation
Famous gunfighter and lawman Wild Bill Hickock continued to use a brace of .36 caliber Colt Navy cap-and-ball revolvers as his primary armament until his untimely death in 1883, long after cartridge revolvers were in widespread use.
Colt introduced the double-action revolver, in a form that has remained nearly unchanged, in 1892. Yet lawmen in Western states still continued the use of single-action Colt revolvers until WWII, and probably, even today, you can find a local lawman somewhere in a remote corner of the west (or Alaska) still packing a single-action revolver as primary armament.
And speaking of double-action revolvers, the NYPD, the largest police agency in the world, didn’t drop its double-action .38 revolvers as the primary duty weapon until the 1990s. The 1911 single-action pistol has been around since well, 1911.
Yet it is only in the last 15 years or so, and particularly in the last five that we have seen a veritable explosion in its popularity and the number of manufacturers making and modifying and providing accessories for this previously “specialist only” pistol-putting this pistol in the hand of seemingly every serious/semi-serious pistol shooter. But it took almost 100 years to get to this point! FN PS90 Rifle
Another example is stainless steel and synthetic stocks. These have been available since the 1960s for hunting rifles, but they had been ignored in favor of traditional walnut and blued steel for 30 years or so until the majority of shooters figured out the advantages of these materials in bad weather situations.
Lets give some credit where credit is due. We aren’t always THIS stodgy. For example the Glock pistol took off like a rocket after initial (and fraudulent) media reports provoked concerns about its polymer construction slowed its acceptance.
In doing my review of the FiveseveN pistol and the PS90 carbine, I wanted to keep this history in mind. As this duo is still relatively new to the civilian shooter (or privately purchased LE market) I felt that the guns should be viewed in terms of three factors, or portions of these factors, in order to determine shooter acceptability.
These factors all directly affect the end user, the shooter. Are these guns, or parts of them innovative, unconventional or odd? Why? If the guns are innovative, they will be accepted in rather short order. Glock’s design is innovative.
The polymer frames, high reliability and user-friendly simplicity made them a market success. If guns are unconventional, there will be some acceptance issues. While an entire weapon may be innovative overall, parts of it may be unconventional. Glock’s Safe-Action™ trigger system, was at the time of introduction, unconventional — there was no other manual safety on the weapon that had to be engaged or disengaged for use. There wasn’t even a de-cocker. FN PS90 Rifle
While today this system is mostly viewed as innovative (and actually normal), there are still a number of police administrators that view Glocks as unsafe and unconventional and will not permit their issue or use.
Finally, if a gun or parts of it are viewed as odd, then we have a serious acceptance problem. There are two examples that come to mind, both developed in the 1960s, of odd guns that never made it. The first was the Gyrojet pistol. This odd weapon fired rocket-powered cartridges in both pistol and rifle form. It was neither accurate nor particularly powerful.
Its rocket projectiles could be stopped by the human hand at the end of the barrel without damage since they hadn’t gained sufficient velocity. It took several feet of travel to gain appropriate speed. The second was the Dardick pistol, a very strange pistol that was a combination of revolver and semi-automatic pistol that fired a .38 caliber plastic cased “tround” cartridge that contained bullet and powder. Both guns looked toy-like and are now collector’s items.
So with these parameters in mind let’s look at a pair of new weapons systems, and the cartridge they fire. From Fabrique Nationale come the FiveseveN pistol and the PS90 carbine. First lets examine the PS90 carbine.
Fabrique Nationale PS90 Carbine
The PS90 is the civilian-legal version of the original P90, which was designed as a “personal defense weapon” for specialized military personnel whose main duties do not revolve around the military rifle. These troops are normally issued a pistol as a personal defense weapon. For U.S. forces that pistol is the Beretta M-9. These soldiers include tank or artillery crews, pilots and air crewmen, and troops operating to the rear of forward areas. FN PS90 Rifle
However, it has long been felt that the pistol, in the hands of the average soldier is not up to the task. I have to agree to a large extent. If our military pistol shooters had trained up to a reasonable level in IPSC or IDPA-style shooting for example, I might feel differently. But such is not the case and military training with the pistol for non-spec ops personnel is very basic.
Further, not everyone has the same abilities. What those in the research areas felt was needed to compensate for lack of proficiency with a pistol was a handy, shoulder-fired weapon of high magazine capacity and adequate power. The goal was to have a firearm that could be carried conveniently for extended periods of time in place of the pistol, and that would allow hits out to 100 yards or so.
The PS90 Carbine As a Defensive Weapon
Does the M-1 Carbine of WWII fame come to mind here? Same problem, different time. In fact, wasn’t switching to an easier-shooting 9mm from the .45 supposed to solve most of these “problems”? Guess it didn’t.
Like the original M-1, the new PD weapon needed to be light-recoiling and easy to fire. Unlike the M-1, it was to be full-auto capable with a large magazine capacity and as a part of FN’s design plan, totally ambidextrous in operation.
What FN ended up with was, well, a very cool weapon, futuristic in appearance and totally unique, the P90. While the P90 is already in use by a number of agencies such as the Secret Service, and is also the signature weapon of the science fiction television show Stargate, it has not been adopted, at least by the U.S., in its intended military role.
Lightweight, Compact Close-Quarter
According to the manual the PS90 is a blowback-operated bullpup carbine firing from a closed breach. It weighs 6.61 lbs. (which is really deceiving, since it seems much lighter, undoubtedly due to its small size), has a maximum width of 2.3 inches and an overall length of only 26.3 inches and has a fixed optical sight.
It is truly ambidextrous in operation, with the disk-shaped safety capable of being operated by the trigger finger of either hand, pulling it toward you to fire if you are right-handed, and pushing it away from you if you are left handed.
Cartridges are fed through a translucent amber-colored polymer magazine that sits flush on top of the stock, but underneath the sighting module, parallel with the bore and chamber. Release the magazine by operating either of the two magazine releases on either side of the magazine at the chamber.
The weapon is charged by grasping one of the ambidextrous cocking handles located on either side of the barrel assembly, and pulling directly backwards. The trigger, which has been complained about by some, is to me, ok.
I originally agreed with the opinions of the trigger, but I went back to the original concept that this is an emergency defensive weapon, and that the trigger is the essentially set up the same as the full-auto version, to allow for controlled fire bursts, not long-range sniping. FN PS90 Rifle
What’s Different from the P90?
With that being said, there are only three things that differentiate it from the P90. The first is the civilian legal 16-inch barrel (which still puts the OAL about the same as the excellent M-16 Clinic Viper™ with its 7.25 inch barrel) and gives improved ballistic performance to the 5.7 x 28 cartridge over the much shorter P90 barrel.
The second is that the PS90 fires in semi-automatic mode only.
The third is that it is shipped with a single 30-round magazine that is marked as a 50-rounder. The magazine spring is modified to allow for loading of only 30 rounds. Fifty-round magazines are available from internet suppliers.
The overall assembly is modular in format, and breaks down easily for cleaning. There is a single sling attachment slot in the toe of the buttstock. Up to this point, everything I have described falls under the classification of being innovative.
First Impressions: Cool, But…
Now lets look at the PS90 in subjective detail. When I first got my sample of the PS90, I kind of shook my head. FN PS90 Rifle
Ok, it appeared, like I said, cool, but there were a number of things that bothered me about it. First was the price. Innovation comes with a price. The retail price is $1,500.
I imagine that the price will come down somewhat as more of PS90’s become available, but heck, I could have a really sweet AR for that kind of money, and the PS90 didn’t even come with a sling (really, for $1,500 can we get a sling shipped with it, please?).
Also, I was troubled at first by the fixed Optical Ring Sights™ sighting system. They are not adjustable; at least there is no adjustment method described in the manual or visible on the sight. There are only two mounting screws. Chalk that up as odd.
I liked the small ring within the large ring for the reticle concept, but the field of view is very small, and under poor lighting the ghostly white (apparently a black ring is also available) reticle disappears until a parallel and perpendicular set of tritium bars that intersect the center circle appear to enhance the sight picture.
When I got home and tried the sights in a darkened room, I could see the tritium appear, but it is not what you would expect from tritium sighting. It is vaguely orange and not bright. That seemed unconventional, and borderline odd. It was not what I was used to. FN PS90 Rifle
But, I thought again, the PS90 is derived directly from an emergency combat weapon and is supposed to be durable and require no maintenance, and should be as idiot-proof as possible.
Innovative Sighting Solution
I guess the sights work, so they moved up to the unconventional level as I figured that what I would really like on the PS90 was a good red dot sight of some sort. But after working with it some more during live fire, and making another discovery about the sighting system, I moved the Ring Sight™ all the way up to innovative.
What was the discovery? Not mentioned in the manual is that the PS90 as well as the P90 have a set of AMBIDEXTROUS backup open iron sights built right into the barrel support and optical sight group assembly. FN PS90 Rifle
I only discovered this after dropping (sorry FN) the PS90 onto the carpeted floor (unloaded) and checking the optical sight. Suddenly there they were, one set on either side of the optical sight.
They were part of the construction, regulated on either side to the point of aim of the optical sight, in the same black coating that the rest of the assembly is covered in. If the Ring Sight™ is damaged in a mishap, you have the open sights to use in their place!
I have never seen anything like this before. They work just as well for the right- or left-handed shooter! This really ought to get a mention in the manual. Chalk up another one for being innovative.
Another issue for me that I was aware of from reading other reviews was that the PS90 had no last shot bolt hold-open feature. My disgruntlement was quickly dismissed during loading and firing.
Once the weapon has been shot empty, and you get the empty trigger “click,” you cannot easily see the chamber anyway with the magazine in place.
You have to check through the bottom ejection port to see the chamber with the magazine in place. In order to check and clear if you don’t want to remove the visibly empty magazine, you turn the weapon over and pull back on the charging handle and check. In the big scheme of things how big a problem is this really? Not having the hold-open also eliminates the need for an additional ambidextrous control built into the weapon, which reduces consumer cost.
As you can see, one must not be too quick to judge an entirely new design right away. It really takes time to develop an opinion, good or bad, when faced with evaluating a product with this much innovation, and this many unconventional features. FN PS90 Rifle
PS90: Ultra-Reliable, No Recoil
As I continued to work with the PS90, my opinion began to change even more. After several sessions at the Union County Sheriff’s Office range in Marysville, Ohio during both department M-16 qualifications and Columbus State Community College Police Academy firearms training, I not only changed my opinion on the points of contention outlined above (except the lack of a sling, and for that matter a spare magazine) I have grown to really love this little weapon.
Firing really drove home three positive (and innovative) aspects, even though I already knew of two. The first was that the system is totally, and I mean totally, reliable. The second is that there is no recoil, and very little muzzle blast, which was mitigated to some degree by the integral flash hider. The third, be careful when firing the PS90 either from a kneeling or sitting position. You start to accumulate a pile of warm empty casings on your leg since the ejection is straight down, right over the thigh.
Also be forewarned that if you are equipped with body armor by “second helping” rather than by Second Chance™, you will find your shirt streaked with small black casing sized marks from the downward ejection against your protuberance.
The gun and cartridge make for easy “minute of felon” hits at 100 yards, and some very nice groups at 25 yards and in, the range really intended for this gun. I know you are asking about cartridge performance, and I will get to that in future articles, but suffice it to say for now that this thing is loads of fun to shoot, and anyone that handled it had a big smile on before, during and after firing.
That was followed by the exclamation, “I have got to have one of these!” And those words from shooters who due to their, shall we say, lifetime of experience, have become a bit jaded.
[Review] FN PS90: Futuristic Design
Unique, compact, and “what the heck is that?!” The FN PS90 may be a bit of an ugly duckling, but this curious bullpup rifle is so much more than meets the eye. FN PS90 Rifle
The PS90 is the civilian-model little sister of the P90, both manufactured by the Belgian gunmaker Fabrique Nationale de Herstal, commonly referred to as FN. The main difference between the P90 and the PS90 is the action. While the P90 had full auto, select fire capability, the civilian-friendly PS90 is a semi-auto.
Originally developed as a personal protection rifle for military and law enforcement use, the purpose of the P90 was to replace the pistol-caliber carbines commonly in use and offer an option that could deliver a round capable of piercing the lightweight body armor that was becoming popular.
Curiously enough, FN chose a rather unconventional round for the P90—the 5.7x28mm cartridge. Essentially, this round is approximately half of a 5.56×45 (.223 Remington) cartridge, which was NATO’s go-to cartridge and the choice of small and medium-sized varmint hunters. There’s a reason for this smaller ammo size, though. The 5.7x28mm’s reduced size and taper allowed FN to use smaller stick magazines, that still had a 50-round capacity.
The PS90 looks a lot like its older sister—and can even use the 50-round mags the P90 uses—but its semi-auto status and slightly longer barrel puts it safely into the civilian-use category.
So, what did we think of the PS90?
Let’s talk about that and take a closer look at the PS90’s fit and finish, trigger, reliability, maintenance, and more!
Fit and Finish
When the P90 first was introduced, the revolutionary design and polymer construction was pretty modern. The polymer body of the rifle is a now-iconic design that’s inspired its use in a number of film, television, and videogame appearances—including many episodes of the Stargate franchise and various Call of Duty games. FN PS90 Rifle
The PS90 does have a slightly longer barrel than the original P90 so that it meets the minimum required length to avoid being labeled a short barrel rifle (SBR). The 16.04” barrel is cold hammer-forged and chrome lined. It also is equipped with a ported muzzle brake, which increases the length of the rifle by a little bit.
Despite its larger stature than the P90, the PS90 still is plenty compact and will work well for personal defense situations in tight quarters.
The stock design makes the PS90 not only unique looking, but pretty ergonomic to boot! The thumbhole design and minimalist design of the stock make for a comfortable rifle, whether shooting at the range for an afternoon or carrying the PS90 all day.
We also love that the PS90 is fully ambidextrous, with dual magazine releases, charging handles, and a molded sling attachment point. The manual safety can be operated from either side of the rifle, as well. The ejection port is located on the bottom of the rifle, just forward of the buttstock—a bonus for lefties and courteous shooter-to-the-rights. The PS90 can be equipped with a shell catcher bag, which is perfect for reloaders.
Originally, PS90s came with a permanently mounted FN Black Reticle sight, but they’ve since moved towards a MIL-STD 1913 accessory rail with back up iron sights. The original FN reticle sight is just one of the many optics options you can select for your PS90. FN PS90 Rifle
Interestingly, the 5.7x28mm ammo doesn’t provide enough pressure to require a locked breech action. Instead, the PS90 has a blowback action. Because of this, the PS90 enjoys considerable reliability.
Like other bullpup rifles, the trigger on the PS90 sits far forward of the action, so it uses a sliding trigger. The trigger on the PS90 has a smooth pull and a crisp release. The PS90’s stock plastic trigger has a 6 lbs., 13 oz. pull weight.
Your safety switch is located at the bottom of the trigger in the trigger guard. This means it’s easy to manipulate the safety with your trigger finger, regardless of which hand is your dominant hand. However, its close proximity to the trigger may be tricky to learn at first without firing the gun.
Accuracy and Recoil
Reviewers reported great accuracy results, especially at close-quarters ranges. Since the PS90 is a personal defense weapon, it’s great to see that it performs well at ranges up to 50 yards. Once sights were dialed in, the PS90 had no problem hitting the target.
Achieving a solid cheek weld isn’t hard, thanks to the unique design and light weight of the PS90. For defensive uses, you’ll find that the PS90 has decent enough accuracy out to 100 yards—though you might not be winning any sharpshooting competitions with it, unless you’re Major Carter.
The PS90 has very low recoil, making it a great choice for shooters looking for less kick and better rapid-fire accuracy. Even though the PS90 weighs so little, the slightly underpowered ammo it uses means that you can keep shooting without struggling to remain on target. FN PS90 Rifle
The complicated-looking magazine feed system may seem a likely culprit for poor reliability, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, many reviewers were surprised to discover that the PS90’s reliability was stellar—many experienced no failures, even with several thousand rounds tested.
Magazines and Mag Release
If the rest of the PS90 is considered unique, the magazines this rifle uses are truly unlike anything else. The original P90 used an incredibly compact 50-round magazine, though FN downsized the capacity for the PS-90 to either 30 rounds or 10 rounds. No worries, though—the PS90 will accept the 50-round mags, too!
The magazines are made of translucent, smoke-colored plastic and numbered, so it’s easy to tell how many rounds you have left. These mags load similarly to a traditional box magazine, but this is where the innovative design of the PS90 really shines. As you load the rounds into the magazine, a helical ramp twists the round 90 degrees and aligns them sideways in the magazine. As you fire, the rounds twist back up the ramp and align with the action.
This incredibly simple design means that you get fantastic reliability, even when rapid-firing.
To load the magazine, all you need to do is slide the bottom end of the magazine underneath the sights and drop the open end into the top of the rifle. While a few videos out there feature shooters smacking the mags into place, it really isn’t necessary—the PS90 is incredibly easy to load.
Maintenance & Disassembly
Looking at the PS90’s build, easy disassembly may not be the first thing that crosses your mind. We were pleasantly surprised to learn just how easy it is to field strip the PS90 into its four major component groups. FN PS90 Rifle
Simply press the barrel release button to remove the barrel. Once that’s been removed, you can slip the moving parts group off of the gun, which contains the bolt and recoil assembly. The removal of the moving parts group opens up the butt plate, which slides up to reveal the hammer group hidden inside the stock.
Stripping this rifle down could hardly be easier.
Specs at a Glance:
- Type: Semi-automatic only. Blowback operated. Closed bolt system.
- Caliber: 5.7x28mm
- Capacity: 10 or 30 rounds, 50 rounds for P90 mags
- Weight: 6.28 lbs.
- Barrel: 16.04”
- Overall Length: 26.23”
- Construction: Molded polymer stock. Black oxide coated alloy steel upper receiver.
- Trigger: Sliding trigger
- Safeties: Ambidextrous safety switch inside the trigger guard
Bang for Your Buck
For a rifle that uses an unusual ammo type and has limited options to modify or upgrade, it can be a little hard to justify the price for a semi-auto rifle that really only shines as a self-defense weapon. FN PS90 Rifle
Unfortunately, there just aren’t too many options to upgrade your PS90. For those who are interested, though, here are a few ways you can make your PS90 your own.
The P90 comes with a 10.39” barrel, though FN opted to give the PS90 a barrel that was just barely over the minimum length to avoid being considered a short barrel rifle (SBR). If you’re willing to go to the work of getting approval from the ATF, you can “manufacture” your own SBR version of the PS90.
You’ve got a few options to shorten your barrel. You can DIY it, which involves removing the entire barrel unit, removing the barrel shroud from the barrel, cutting down the barrel, re-crowning, and rethreading it. You can send it to a licensed Title II manufacturer to handle the SBR process. This route does have its advantages, including that you won’t need to handle the actual work or engrave your name on the gun as the manufacturer.
The third option is to file all the proper paperwork and pick up a kit, like the CMMG PS90 10.4” Short Barrel Rifle Kit with P90 Style Compensator. This isn’t the least expensive option, but if you don’t want to get into some serious gunsmithing, a conversion kit can be a way to still manufacture an SBR out of your stock PS90. FN PS90 Rifle