In the firearms world, many designs have come and gone; some stick around while others fade away. One such radically different approach is a proven design that packs full-size rifle performance into a CQB-sized carbine. It’s called a bullpup and Springfield uses it for the new Hellion 5.56 rifle.
A bullpup design moves the firearm’s action and magazine well behind the trigger group. There is speculation that the original meaning of the term “bullpup” dates back to the early 19th century, tying to the fact a bulldog puppy was “squat and ugly, but still aggressive and powerful”. While I’m not sure I agree with the ugly part of that, the design certainly does offer some unique benefits.
There is a long tradition of service rifles forming the foundation for popular rifles for the civilian market. This has been proven by examples such as the M1903 Springfield, the M1 Garand, the M14 (and its semi-auto sibling, the M1A), and the M16 (and semi-auto offerings like the SAINT series). Often, the civilian rifles improve the basic design to improve usability and accuracy.
The new Springfield Armory Hellion has a similar, but more international origin story. In the 1990’s, the company that we now know as HS Produkt began the development of an advanced bullpup rifle chambered for the 5.56mm NATO cartridge.
Those efforts resulted in the VHS-2 rifle. Today, it serves with the Croatian Armed Forces and proved itself in demanding environments ranging from Iraq to Africa and beyond. And it was from this solid foundation that the Springfield Hellion was born.
If you’re unfamiliar with the platform, let’s get you up to speed on the details.
The Hellion sports a 16” barrel while having an overall length of only 28.25” to 29.75”. It weighs only 8 lbs. Size is where a bullpup really shines. For an AR to sport an overall length of 26”, they must be equipped with a 10” barrel. A rifle with a 10″ barrel requires a federal tax stamp in the United States and slows down the purchasing process.
With the Hellion, you have a full 16″ barrel to avoid the arbitrary short barrel rifle designation and its associated headaches. Yet, you get the maneuverability of a CQB-style firearm. As a bonus, the weapon retains the ballistics of a full-size carbine.
The Hellion operates on a reliable short-stroke gas piston design with a rotating bolt. The system runs cool and clean.
It is also completely ambidextrous, from the safety selector and non-reciprocating charging handle to the ejection port. The ejection port is user-adjustable for right- or left-hand ejection, without the need for tools or extra parts.
For right-hand ejection, you simply insert the bolt into the bolt carrier with the extractor on the right side at the 10 o’clock position. For left-hand ejection, orient the extractor on the left side at the 2 o’clock position.
Once you have the bolt carrier reassembled, you then need to reconfigure the ejection port covers. The Hellion features dual spring-loaded ejection port covers, and configuring them for operation is a simple process. Retract the bullpup’s cheekpiece and rotate it to provide access to the port cover locking pin. Slide the pin rearward and reinstall it in the ejection port cover side that will not be in use, locking it in place.
Another design unique to the Hellion is a five-point adjustable buttstock. Most bullpups are not user-adjustable for length of pull, so this further differentiates the Hellion from the pack. A two-position gas regulator featuring “normal” and “suppressed” modes is also part of the design.
Another great feature of the Hellion is the inclusion of built-in, high-quality, flip-up iron sights integrated with the top strip of Picatinny rail. When down, they are perfectly out of your way, and once deployed they are sturdy and very easy to use. The Hellion sights deploy with a press of a button and spring into position and then lock in place. The rear peep sight has multiple apertures to scroll through depending on the distance at which you are shooting.
Here are the specs on the Springfield Armory Hellion:
|Chambering||5.56 NATO/.223 Rem|
|Barrel||16.0″ CMV, 1:7″ twist|
|Stock||5-position adjustable with cheek riser|
|Grip||BCMGUNFIGHTER Mod 3|
|Handguard||Polymer with M-Lok attachment points|
|Capacity||30+1 (one Magpul PMAG included)|
Shooting a bullpup has some unique handling requirements that mostly have to do with loading and reloading. The magazine release on the Hellion is located right behind the magazine well. It’s intuitively designed to either “grip and strip” the mag or, if you have another magazine in your hand, press the release with only your thumb and then load once the empty has cleared the mag well.
The manual of arms differs on releasing the bolt as well, with the bolt lever release located behind the magazine well and the mag release. Once you have inserted a new magazine, you can either move your hand behind the magwell and engage bolt lock to release it, or you can rotate your wrist and actuate the button with your thumb. Both methods took about the same amount of time for me, though the pinch method seemed to be the most reliable when moving quickly.
Shooting the Hellion was a lot of fun. I am a fan of smaller weapon systems that can stay close to your body. The compact nature of the Hellion made it extremely maneuverable in confined spaces, while also being a very smooth rifle to shoot. The recoil impulse seemed to be absorbed very easily, and muzzle rise was negligible.
For my testing, I wanted to see how well the Hellion handled in a CQB environment while also being able to reach out past 80 or so yards. I called up my firearms trainer buddy Rob Orgel from ERTactical to set up the range safely and to see how we could best put the Hellion to the test. He booked a range with a saloon-type building with doors and windows through which we could shoot.
We then went about setting up some paper targets outside the windows and doorways, as well as a steel target about 80 yards downrange. This was to see how well we could transition from moving quickly from window to window engaging targets at 15 yards and then make a quick accurate shot at distance.
The biggest adjustment for me was getting used to the longer trigger pull. If the bullpup design has one slight setback, it can be their trigger take-up. But once I got in the rhythm, it was just another precision piece of machinery in my hands. For my review, I used a Nightforce NX8 1-8X low power variable optic (LPVO) on an American Defense Manufacturing Recon SL low mount. The optic is super clear, has a great reticle and is great for quick and accurate sight acquisition.
The 1-8X power allowed me to engage targets at 10 yards rapidly, then take a knee, mag up to 8X and engage steel at 80 yards with accuracy. Even when running the shoot house at 1X the whole time, the optic was easy to acquire, and the ADM SL mount put it in the perfect position to not have to fight finding my position behind the Hellion. Also, I found the irons to be very easy to use, accuracy was spot on, and they were super quick to pick up.
After a few tries, I was reloading the Hellion nearly as fast as my AR rifles. The weight of the Hellion being more towards the rear really helped to keep the balance in towards my body. The charging handle was easy to grab from the left or right, and it is spring-loaded to snap right out of the way once you let it go. Attaching accessories to the Hellion via M-Lok is amazingly simple. Much like an MP5 handguard, the Hellion handguard detaches with a simple pin. Once you slide the handguard off you can run cables through the slots or get the perfect spot for your lights, switches, etc.
If you are intrigued by non-traditional rifles and you like a shorter-length rifle with full capabilities to maximize the .223/5.56mm cartridge, the Springfield Hellion should be just right for you. It’ll feel new and fun, but still familiar. Also, it’s a blast to shoot. If you have the chance to check one out at the range, be careful because you may be putting in an order for one!
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