This review was first published in Airsoft International Volume 7 Issue 8
You don’t see many Real Sword Type 97s on the skirmish field; in fact, you don’t see many real steel ones although contrary to popular belief, they are actually a Chinese-made gun designed solely for export. This replica promises to be as faithful and accurate to the original as possible though, so let’s see if it lives up to the hype, and let’s see how well it performs.
The Type 97 is commonly misidentified as the gun issued to the People’s Liberation Army, or the armed forces of the People’s Republic of China and being fair, it’s an easy mistake to make, the weapon issued to these troops is in fact the Type 95 which bears many resemblances with the Type 97 aside from a few key points. The Type 95 is manufactured in a joint venture between Norinco and Jianshe Corp. for military issue; it was developed as a replacement for the Type 81, a weapon itself developed by the Chinese for their armed forces, but one which borrowed much from the AK family of arms. Although it had some significant improvements over its forerunner, the Type 81 still used the same 7.62mm ammunition and could not shed the few ergonomic idiosyncrasies it carried over, in addition to this the Chinese were keen to develop their own weapon using their own intellectual property.
The Type 95 (or QBZ-95) was developed prior to 1995 and first seen outside of China in 1997, presumably as a publicity stunt and demonstration to the world as the United Kingdom handed sovereignty of Hong Kong over to China. The weapon departs significantly from the Type 81 in its construction and appearance primarily through its bullpup configuration and synthetic, polymer construction. Not evident from an over view is the round the weapon fires. Gone are the days of heavyweight 7.62mm ammunition and in is an intermediate, high velocity 5.8x42mm cartridge developed by the Chinese that allegedly performs better than the NATO and Russian equivalents. The Type 95 represents an entire weapon system developed by the Chinese almost from the ground up, in fact the one hangover from the AK-based system, and of particular note to us, is the magazine. The Type 95 retains a magazine design that is both shaped and fitted to the rifle in a similar style to the AK (and Type 81) in that its leading edge is offered up and the rest of the magazine is “rocked” into place.
The Type 97, the weapon of which the AEG we have here is a model derived from the Type 95 but built for export. Instead of the 5.8mm round, it is chambered for the more abundant 5.56mm NATO standard ammunition and instead of the AK style magazine, the weapon is fitted with an alternative receiver with a deep magazine well able to accept STANAG type M4 magazines. Whether Real Sword chose to manufacture a replica of precisely this model for the ultimate level of realism, after all it’s unlikely that you’d see a Type 95 in the hands of anyone other than a member of the Chinese authorities, much less overseas, or they did it purely for reasons of practicality remains a mystery. We are quietly confident in feeling the reason is the former though, since no expense or attention to detail has been spared elsewhere in the manufacture of this replica.
The concept of “realistic” in the context of airsoft guns is something that is bandied around quite a lot, although there are only a select few that are truly realistic, for reasons mostly based on cost and practicality, many manufacturers make compromises. The most well known of which is the width and size of your average M4 AEG pistol grip, it’s significantly fatter than a real steel model since it has to house a motor that doesn’t cost the earth, but is also powerful enough to make the gun turn over. This isn’t the case with Real Sword, and in the case of this AEG it’s built from the ground up to be as exact a replica as possible.
The entire gun’s back bone is formed by the beefy receiver and a steel barrel that thanks to the bullpup design is deceptively long, long enough to house a 485mm inner barrel. To put that into perspective, a full length M16 only has a 509mm inner barrel as standard and at only 760mm in total length the T97 is decidedly shorter than the M16 at around 1000mm. This adds up to a weapon that should be accurate and efficient with being cumbersome. The receiver itself is CNC machined from a hunk of what Real Sword call “Duralumin” which in layman’s terms is a nice heavy and importantly, hard metal. It’s hard anodised in a dull matte black and left without any kind of lacquer which would add undesirable shine to a tactical weapon. Real Sword claim that this is the same anti-corrosion finish as the real weapon, not that it is produced in the same factory as some reports online have claimed, either way, it’s an impeccably high standard of finish that looks realistic and very business-like.
The vast majority of the remainder of the gun is constructed from a high strength polymer material, which again is produced to the standard of the real steel weapon, according to Real Sword. It’s all a dulled, matte black finish again and if you’ve been put off of “plastic” guns in the past, taking hold of this one could well sway you, it’s incredibly solid feeling. This sturdiness is aided by the fact that the outer of the weapon is produced from very few parts; in fact, the entire user interface area (the pistol grip and forestock) is formed from one large piece meaning no creaks or other off-putting movement. The plastic pistol grip and trigger guard (which is of ample size to be easy to use with even thick gloves) are moulded as one piece, with an accessible storage area inside the grip. One concession to total realism though, is the fact that this space is used to house a custom type battery to power the AEG.
The sights are still metal though, the front being on top of the gas parts that are mounted to the barrel, which is all also made of steel and the rear being formed by a part of the receiver that braces the rear of the integral carry handle. The front sight is an enclosed post that is adjustable for elevation, and the rear is a revolving multiple aperture design, with three different sized peepholes and one open post, an unusual combination but true to the real weapon.
The gun terminates at either end with a steel birdcage type flash hider that screws on to the usual 14mm thread in a counter clockwise direction, and a rubberised butt plate for comfort. To field strip the weapon, it’s simply a matter of removing two pins with your bare hands and taking apart the exterior which is well explained in the accompanying literature. Even though the battery lies deep within the gun, it’s easy to get at thanks to the realistic take down.
The user controls however, are a little awkward, no fault from Real Sword though since they have only replicated the real weapon. The fire selector is inconveniently place in the firer’s armpit when aiming, so a concerted effort is required to switch from safe to one of the fire modes. The mag release is also in an awkward position behind the magazine well on the right hand side of the gun. Sure this is likely a compromise on the original designer’s behalf, since this is a modification of the Type 95 design, but it sure takes a little getting used to. Strangely, these quirks remind us a little of our very own L85, another ergonomically challenging bullpup!
As individual as the Type 97 looks on the outside, it all pales into insignificance when you take a peep under the hood. An entirely unique gearbox shell holds the steel gears which run on 7mm bearings ABOVE the piston and cylinder assembly. Also incorporated into the shell is the motor which sits above the cylinder pointing backwards along the length of the gun, it’s all very unusual and to be frank it would be hugely off-putting if the quality of the factory fitted components wasn’t so high. When disassembling AEGs you learn to get a feel for the quality of the factory build and nothing within this AEG made us think anything but stringent attention to detail has gone into this product. The reason for such a proprietary gearbox is to maintain the external realism to the furthest extent possible and it’s been designed cleverly and implemented well here.
Another major part of the internal portion of the gun is the hop unit, another unique design that is screwed firmly to the chassis of the gun, something that encourages consistency when firing by stabilising the inner barrel and keeping the seal between the air nozzle and hop unit tight from shot to shot. It’s adjusted using a wheel accessed through the ejection port of the gun and has a solid, slack-free feel, with a huge range of adjustment to allow you to squeeze maximum range out of your chosen ammo. It is possible to choke up the barrel with the hop on full, so take care when adjusting to avoid damage to the hop rubbers or gearbox.
Satisfied with our analysis of the gun as a whole, it was time to put it to the test on the chrono to find out how all these parts worked together. Given this gun’s origins, it’s no surprise that the velocity it was spitting out BBs was a little lacklustre compared to some. Over ten shots it ranged between 296 and 307fps on a .2 BB but thanks to the quick change spring design, high quality internals and readily accessible gearbox it’s quite literally a 5 minute job to throw a stronger spring into the gun. The included magazine also fed flawlessly at 682 rounds per minute when using a 7.4v Lipo and Excel .2g BBs, although we did encounter a couple of jams with G&G branded BBs.
Whilst the Real Sword Type 97 isn’t exactly a “go to” choice in terms of what it replicates it’s a very, very high quality AEG. It’s not going to appeal to many airsofters, perhaps taking influence from what can be seen in the media, the news and in movies, and since it’s not technically a military gun (remember, that’s the Type 95) it might not suit the die-hard re-enactor type.
Aside from it being a replica of a somewhat obscure gun, which when we gather some perspective on the matter, is the only real downside, the Real Sword Type 97 is a beautifully made piece of kit. Real Sword haven’t got sidetracked by adding bells and whistles, they simply made one of the best AEGs I’ve handled, in terms of build quality, design and faithfulness as a replica, it’s copied 1:1, warts and all.
FPS average: 301.2fps on .2g BB – Moderate but sensible!
ROF average: 682rpm or 11.3rps on 7.4v – Going Steady!
Overall Length: 760mm – Positively stumpy!
Weight: 3.5kg – A solid heft!
Extras: 1x mid-cap magazine, multi-piece cleaning rod, dummy oil can – Just the basics.
Price: Around £410 from Landwarrior Airsoft
At a Glance…
External Parts = 5
Internal Parts = 5
Performance = 3
Field Testing = 3
Good Stuff – Beautifully made, accurate replica, easy to work on gearbox, very unique.
Not-so-good Stuff – Awkward ergonomics, restricted battery space, may be hard to find spares.