Excellent info. Thanks.
In the past, I made a conscious decision to only provide reports from the HK Armorer Courses which covered HK weapons that most guys would never get to see up close or just don’t have much knowledge on. As such, that has meant that I purposely omitted the HK handguns in that process. With the huge popularity of the new VP9 and its departure from the more traditional line of hammer fired pistols from HK over the last two decades, I decided that the HK fans here would enjoy the effort to cover this pistol.
Yesterday, I attended the first official HK VP9 Armorer Course at the HKD facility in Ashburn, VA. Though I am always confident that the training will be superb, I’m never sure of what the class make up will be. I’ve been to some classes that were packed with LE and mil guys and others, where it’s just me and one other student. Going into this one, I knew that my friend and college classmate, Tommy (504Ranger) would be joining me, but upon walking in we were pleasantly surprised to see so many familiar faces. I was immediately met by Jim (G3Kurz) and one of his guys, Travis. In the back of the class, friends, Robbie and Barry, both HKD reps, were joining us. We also had two Border Patrol Agents in attendance and two armorers from a large firearms store/range. Lastly, I finally got to meet Mark, President of Present Arms, the producer of the outstanding armorer support equipment that has been incorporated into the HK Armorer training there and which I currently use myself.
A quick plug here, if you enjoy working on firearms and you haven’t checked out Mark’s products, you should: Present Arms Inc. His products are exceptional, allowing me to tackle previous “three-handed challenges” with ease, decreasing my stress level and making my Armorer work more efficient. Besides being incredibly receptive to the needs of his customers, he’s a veteran-owner and a down-right good guy. Like the rest of us, Mark was there to learn, but also to identify current gaps in HK training support to take back with him in order to design new products to make our jobs easier.
Here’s a photo from my workbench of one of his products that I use for HK pistols:
So, as you can imagine, it was great catching up with such great guys, friends and fellow HK fans. Lastly, of course, there was Bob, the director of technical and training services, who teaches the courses. Bob is a wealth of knowledge within HK. He’s been with the company now for over 20 years and is a gifted instructor; with a superb understanding of the design and function of each weapon and displaying a lead, teach, mentor approach to each task on the weapons. He also is very patient with us, especially when we repeatedly launch springs and other small parts across his classroom. Like earlier in my Marine Corps career, I always enjoyed opportunities to work with parachute riggers in order to find the different techniques they employed in packing parachutes, which allowed me to mold them into my own procedures to become more efficient, I look forward to learning the tips and techniques for specific disassembly or reassembly challenges that Bob provides, which are often completely absent from the provided manuals.
With all the introductions complete, we got started. As you may or may not know, the VP9 is the product of over six years of design within HK. Though their pistol line is well established, they have long realized the desire from their customer base for a striker fired system and the challenges that are associated with competing for some contracts without having such an offering to present. With that, the design team looked back at their previous striker fired designs, the VP70 and P7 series pistols. With a solid base of performance and success, they then focused on incorporating as much of their current technology and existing production as a technology sharing and cost savings approach.
Externally, at first glance, it is clear to see the influence from the P30 series. The excellent ergonomics were optimized with many carry overs, like the sights and dovetail, which are the same as the P30 and HK45 pistols, magazine release, design of interchangeable grip panels and even the same P30 magazines. You will also notice, that the pistol sits lower and further back in your hand. This is due to the fact that, with the absence of the large hammer system of the P30, there was the ability to move the smaller striker fired fire control assembly into a better position, thus improving recoil management.
As I just alluded to, the external similarity ends there. Internally, the VP9 is completely different than all of the other current HK production pistols. Within the slide assembly, the VP9 employs an updated striker fired system that borrows from both the VP70 and P7 series. The firing pin assembly looks very similar to the P7, but many of the parts which previously were steel are now polymer. Unlike the P7 though, which actuates from the side, the VP9 returns to the VP70 roots with an actuation from the bottom. You may notice the firing pin, like the P7 series, incorporates two springs. One is the traditional firing pin spring and the second is a compression spring, which is designed to insure that the cocking pawl is always far enough back in the firing pin assembly for the firing pin safety to engage it.
Another noticeable carryover in the slide assembly from earlier HK pistol designs, just adjacent to the feed pawl, is the incorporation of a vent/drain hole. First seen on the USP and since carried over to their long gun weapons as well, this hole prevents dirt and “gunk” from things like lacquered bullets from clogging up the firing pin channel. Like before, the extractor also serves the additional duty as a loaded chamber indicator.
Not as noticeable though, if you look at the area on the top of the slide, just forward of the ejection port, you can see a discoloration in the finish. This area, which takes a heavy amount of stress during firing, has been laser hardened to prevent chipping and cracking. This process also began with the USP series, and with the HK hammer fired pistols, the laser hardening is also found in the rear of the firing pin tunnel, where the hammer impacts into the firing pin. With this bit of info, I’m always amazed at what new things I’ll learn when training at HK, as I had never noticed or been briefed on that previously.
What will clearly be different to those of you who flip their slide assemblies upside down and peer inside is the change in the design on the firing pin safety. With the USP series pistols and forward, we’ve become used to the style of firing pin safety which is vertically mounted and pushed up and out of the way by the control latch when the trigger is pulled. The change to a horizontally mounted firing pin safety was made to ensure the pistol would pass the stringent NATO and German drop tests. These six-phase tests involve dropping a loaded pistol from different heights onto concrete (NATO) and steel (German). Each phase involves a drop onto a different area of the pistol: muzzle, rear, left and right sides, mag well and sights. It is the drop onto the sights which creates the greatest chance of failure with the vertically mounted firing pin safety. In the VP9 design, there is a raised detent on the firing pin safety which makes contact with a corresponding raised detent on the trigger bar, and as the trigger bar is moving reward with the pull of the trigger, the pressure of those detents making contact, sweeps the firing pin safety to the side, removing the block of the firing pin’s forward movement.
The recoil rod assembly is provided with a painted orange color. HK uses this color to distinguish the 9mm recoil rod assemblies from those of similar size and likeness, the .40 S&W/.357 Sig, which are traditionally silver painted. Of note here, there is a front and rear orientation regarding the firing pin assembly. The dimpled end is to face to the rear when mounted into the barrel and slide assembly, so that it will make contact with the step on the locking lug of the barrel.
Before moving on from the slide assembly, I’d be remiss if I did not mention the barrel. As many of you know, HK barrel design is a major advantage over their competition. Deep drilled and cold hammer forged from huge barrel blanks, these barrels are guaranteed from HK for a minimum service life of 15,000 rounds, but it is not uncommon for these barrels to shoot an excess of 60,000 rounds and still remain in spec.
Looking internally at the chamber of the VP9 barrel, you’ll notice something interesting. At the base of the chamber, just prior to the beginning of the polygonal rifling, you’ll see a slight raise, like a step. This “fouling ring” is incorporated to provide a proper seal around the 9mm cartridge, which if you did not know, is slightly tapered, being more narrow at the front end then the rear. It’s just another small feature that HK focuses on and one that you can inspect the next time you’re at the range, as a fired casing will leave a small impact ring around the end of the case from its contact with the fouling ring.
Of note on the barrels, though HK incorporates polygonal rifling into these pistols, for the German military, they are banned from using this and as such, all HK weapons in German service (except for MP7A1 for some reason) have traditional rifling. Also, here’s another interesting fact, the European variant of the VP9, the SFP is not rated for +P or +P+ ammo, as its slide was designed to be 30 grams lighter than its US counterpart.
Here’s another fact, HK fires 17 rounds for each weapon before it can be shipped from the factory, two for proofing, five for accuracy and ten for reliability. Also, collectors of the legacy HK weapons may have noticed that when those weapons were provided with test targets, the employee who fired each weapon had his name stamped on the bottom of the target. That employee was named Pixa. Though long since retired, his son has taken his spot and is now responsible for firing each weapon.
Now, let’s continue, covering safety from where I left off from the description of the slide assembly, as that is always a major focus of HK design. I’m always impressed with how ingenious HK’s design features are, many of which you would never even realize with a casual glance. First, the takedown lever. One of the downfalls for other striker fired pistols is the fact that you have to pull the trigger in order to remove the slide from the receiver. This has to be done to decock and release the striker and of course this could lead to a negligent discharge, if the shooter had failed to clear the pistol properly beforehand. Sadly, this has happened. So, HK designed the takedown lever to work in conjunction with the disconnector, trigger bar and magazine safety to overcome this issue. First of all, with a magazine inserted in the pistol, the magazine safety is pushed up, blocking the rotation of the takedown lever. This ensures that you must remove the source of ammunition from the weapon before you can actuate the takedown lever and remove the slide. Next, in order to actuate the takedown lever, the slide must be locked back. This obviously encourages the shooter to take the step to ensure the chamber is empty. Lastly, when the takedown lever is rotated, the trigger and trigger bar are pulled slightly forward and in combination with the disconnector, prevent the sear release latch from being actuated, as well as uncock the firing pin spring. So, even if a round were left in the chamber, it would be impossible to discharge that round during disassembly.
Another obvious visual safety measure is the “glock-style” trigger safety that we’ve seen HK incorporate previously in the MP7 series. This center-mounted, spring-loaded safety must be overcome before the trigger can move rearward. Though currently not considered an external safety in the traditional sense, it serves as such. HK has also cleverly left space within the receiver to incorporate a lever style external safety at a later date, if that requirement were part of a contract/customer need.
This would be a good time to discuss what occurs during firing. As the slide goes into battery, chambering a round, the cocking pawl on the firing pin assembly is caught by the sear (this is why you see the red indictor pin in the rear of the slide, as the striker is cocked at this point). When the trigger is pulled, the trigger bar is pushed to the rear, where it engages the sear release latch. As the sear release latch is pushed back under pressure from the trigger bar, the rear of the sear release latch pivots down. This action causes the adjacent sear to simultaneously pivot down and out of contact with the cocking pawl on the firing pin assembly, releasing the firing pin to strike the primer on the chambered round. To prevent out of battery fire, the disconnector is designed so that when engaged, and the trigger is pulled, the trigger bar is pushed down and under the sear release latch instead of in contact with it, thus preventing the sear from being released from the cocking pawl.
The receiver, as mentioned previously, borrows much externally from the previous P30 series. One noticeable difference is the slight extension of the attachment rail. Designed for lights, lasers or anything you might want to attach to the picatinny rail, HK recommends that whatever you choose, that you not exceed 160 grams/5.6 ounces or you could experience inconsistent cycling, especially during one handed shooting. The receiver retains its ambidextrous magazine release and slide releases, but the left side has been redesigned and recessed into the frame. In shooting, I’ve found this to be a great advantage over the earlier designs, as my thumbs are no longer pressing up against it during firing, which sometimes prevented the slide from locking on the last round fired. Not an issue with the VP9.
As with other similar posts, I’ve chosen not to focus on the actual steps involved in the disassembly and reassembly of the pistol, but instead the design features and background of the development here, but I’ll explain here, this pistol is not nearly as user friendly in relation to disassembly and reassembly as the other current HK production pistols. I know there are lots of guys out there who like to take their USPs and newer model pistols apart, swap out internal parts, with activities like match trigger kit installations and LEM conversions, but I will tell you that this pistol is far more complex, with many non-familiar, small parts and I would not recommend trying to disassemble and reassemble this pistol on your own. My fellow students would agree and Bob recommended the same. Though designed for long term usage as a duty weapon, repeated disassembly and reassembly is not what this pistol was designed for and will cause more wear and tear on many of the small, internal parts. Even more common things like replacing the trigger return spring was found to me more difficult with the redesign of a wider and more robust model.
In fact, after several rounds of repeated disassembly and reassembly, I was suddenly taken back to photos I have seen posted of guys taking their VP9s and burying them in the mud and water and the visualization of the amount of build- up that must be in these tight confines that compressed air and Q-tips just don’t have a chance of reaching.
Back to the receiver, I think most would agree that the most challenging issue when designing a striker fired pistol is perfecting the trigger. HK placed a significant amount of effort into this and the result is a trigger pull that comes in at about 5.4 pounds, with a smooth break and relatively short reset.
As mentioned previously, the trigger return spring for this design is noticeable larger than previous HK pistols. Also borrowing from earlier successes with the MK23 and MP7 series, designers incorporated a shaped spring for the trigger bar. This works in concert with the trigger return spring to aid in the responsiveness of the trigger bar and reducing what would otherwise be a less than ideal trigger pull. You can see this coiled, shaped spring tucked into the right side of the magazine well.
Somewhat related to the trigger is the unique fire control assembly, which much like that in the MP7 series design, slides out of the receiver in one unit. Held in place by a few small pins and a tongue and groove fit within its trigger housing, I appreciated its simplicity in design. As part of that trigger housing, HK incorporated the ejector. This allows a damaged ejector to be replaced by simply replacing that trigger housing. With earlier pistol designs from HK, the ejector is part of the receiver, so damage to the ejector, often means that the entire receiver has to be replaced.
As with all of the Armorer training, one of the highlights is getting to see the "cutaway" weapons, which demonstrate the internal operations during the 8 step cycle of operations. The new VP9 cutaway did not disappoint. Especially helpful, was the fact that there is a large cut out on the left side of the slide and a smaller cut out on the right side, both allowing you to see the firing pin assembly function, as well as the trigger bar, sear and sear activator latch.
Of course, for me at least, one of the most interesting portions of the HK Armorer training is getting to see and work with all of the expensive and unique tooling and gauges that HK designed for use with each weapon series. Though some of the tooling specific to the VP9 is still being developed, it was fun for all of us to see, discover and discuss unique techniques to make difficult tasks relating to disassembly and reassembly much easier. We also were able to take turns utilizing the gauges which check specific parts of the weapon to see if they are within or out of spec. Seen below, are the gauges for trigger pull, recoil spring, disconnector, bore and chamber erosion and headspace. You don’t want to know how much these cost!
One tool that we did not have present, but which was covered is the updated sight tool. The previous model, which can be used with the majority of the USP and newer production pistols is too narrow to accommodate the charging supports of the VP9. It is also too tall to support the overall smaller height dimensions of the VP9. The new sight tool has recesses in the interior to allow the VP9 slide to fit. I’m looking forward to receiving that.
And then there is this gauge. I’m not even sure what it does, but it looked cool and I wanted to incorporate into the dash of my car. I mean who doesn’t want a HK gauge on your instrument panel?
Before we wrapped up our training at the end of the day, received our SWAG and certificates and raced out to join the bumper to bumper DC traffic, Bob brought out this beautiful VP9 from the arms room and I thought you’d enjoy seeing it as well. I’ve got to say I prefer this green color scheme over the more popular RAL-8000. This one is based off a new military design which incorporates IR-reduction capability into the finish, and has me thinking about sending a slide off to Birdsong. The Heinie sights look great too and will be a nice addition to a future threaded barrel variant.
So, for those of you who are anxious for more caliber and model options from the VP series of pistols, have no fear, the .40 S&W is inbound and development is in process for compact and tactical models. And for those of you who are impatient for such offerings, I ask you to refrain from the “HK hates us” BS. The truth is that the company is not as massive as one might think and their R&D department, as capable as they are, is currently working to fulfill large scale contracts as well as compete for others. Soon, my friends.
Excellent info. Thanks.
The beatings will continue until morale improves.
Great write up as usual James and had a blast with everyone in the class.
HK Certified UMP and VP9 Armorer
Excellent write up James! Yes! The VP9 is a fine piece of German engineering. I wish we would have had the gauges and tooling in my class. And, yes I was also told that there were other VP9 variants in the works. However, no timeline was given.
Excellent write up and highly informative as always! Thanks for taking the time to put this together.
Based on your earlier write ups, I acquired the Present Arms platform and it is as excellent as described, and Mark is very helpful and personable. (Let's hope they get the HK417/MR762 project going...)
Agreed great write up as usual. I too bought the present arms AR platform. Just got it this week and am still in the process of putting it through its paces. I got the small turntable and multiple pistol post's as well. I must say it is an incredable system and very well built. It is mission specific but it completes that mission very well.
I also am hopeful for the MR762 accessories to make a future appearance. I think I am going to buy a pistol platform in the future too. Mark is very knowlegeable and his service is second to none.
A Diamond is just a piece of coal that made good under pressure!
Thank you AGAIN for another excellent write-up on your continued education into HK armoring.
I, for one, am glad to hear they're working on filling large contracts. Need HK to keep their doors open if they're going to keep making civilian products. Would like to see them stick around for a long, LONG time.
Also, after finding out the 416 barrel-nut spanner is $960, you're right- I don't want to know how much those VP9 tools cost ;)
PS- whats the name of that new green color? I love it WAY more than RAL-8000.
[Insert Witty Comment Here]
Gopher it's the company Birdsong's finish they call "Green-T". Their black finish is appropriately called "Black-T".
Black-T Protective Coatings for Metals, Weapons and PartsBirdsong ? Black ? T | Protective Coatings for Metals
HK Certified UMP and VP9 Armorer
After reading your write up James, something tells me that the VP9 will become the number one HK pistol returned as a box of parts...With a note that says Help Please! ;) It was not me, My brother in law did it. :)
A Diamond is just a piece of coal that made good under pressure!
The most impressive and rare thing displayed was the new HK Stipple Depth Guage tool. Can't imagine what those cost ;)
Last edited by 504ranger; 02-14-2015 at 10:54 PM.
HK Certified UMP and VP9 Armorer