A Nurse with a Gun

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Helwan Brigadeer

In November of 2003 I purchased a Helwan Brigadeer from Southern Ohio Guns. I wrote a review on my experiences with this pistol, and I've dredged it up from the old files on my hard drive. For those who may be interested in this 9mm Beretta copy, here it is.
For many years I have been interested in Berettas. One derivative in particular has fascinated me, the single action Egyptian Helwan Brigader. The Helwan is a 8 shot 9mm copy of the Beretta 1951, much the same as a Sistema is a copy of a Colt 1911. Beretta set up the factory and trained the workers to produce the pistol in Egypt. Of course, that was a long time ago.

Helwans have often been derided in the US as a cheap pistol with no real value. Click to enlargeRecently Helwans have once again become available for $159 at SOG. I placed an order. I figured for that kind of money, I could take a chance.

When the pistol arrived, it was NIB, and a pretty flimsy box at that. It came with a manual, two single stack magazines, and a brush. The fit and finish was OK, but not up to Beretta standards by any stretch of the imagination; not even close. The serial number and importer's marks were the typical CAI buzzpen job. The slide is obviously cast. The sights are pure itty bitty military. The magazine release is on the bottom of the grip, Euro style. The barrel locks up with a falling block, like the 92FS. The safety is a button that runs though the frame at the top of the grip. Left to fire, right to safe. Cocked and locked is an option. The safety blocks both the sear and the hammer.

I began to clean the pistol, and lube it in preparation to go to the range. I found that the grips do not like Gun Scrubber. "Ah well, it's a cheapo pistol, and a bit of spray paint will take care of it" I thought. The trigger was heavy, and the underside of the slide was corrugated with machining marks, but it slid easily along the frame rails. The barrel locked up tightly. It is about as narrow as a 1911, with the length a bit longer than a Commander.

The next day, after the grips had hardened up again, I took the pistol to the range. I also carried 300 rounds of Winchester White Box, 100 rounds of Wolff, and a gallon bucket of 9mm reloads. I did my usual load one shoot one, load two shoot two, load three etc routine and had no unintended double taps. I ran a target out to 25 feet and loaded up a full magazine. I began to shoot 4 inch groups, and as I settled into the heavy trigger, they began to shrink down, finally averaging around two inches.

I stopped counting rounds at 500 (and still had a half bucket of ammo). I had no failures of any kind. No failures to extract, no failures to eject, no failures to fire. Nothing. The recoil was heavier than I was expecting in a pistol this size. I'd equate it along the lines of my HK USP in .40S&W. The pistol will empty a magazine as fast as you can pull the trigger.

The slide release was a bit pointy and could use some smoothing out, and the trigger never did lighten up. All in all though, I have to say that I am happy with the pistol. It is a low buck service pistol. You have to figure that into the analysis. It has the design of a Beretta, the finish of a KelTec, and the price of a High Point. I found this pistol to be reasonably accurate at combat ranges. Helwan Brigadeer Click to enlargeIt is certainly no target pistol, nor was it meant to be. I found it to be easy to aim and shoot despite the small sights.

I will definitely strip this one down and see if I can lighten up that trigger some. Oh, and I think it deserves some new grips. It's a keeper.

Helwan Update:
Today, I tested my trigger job. I had replaced the hammer spring with a 1911 18 pound mainspring. I had also polished up the sear and hammer hooks and applied a bit of Action Magic. The trigger was sweet now, and at the range, I saw some benefit in my accuracy.
After approximately round 1200 though (total round count), the Helwan choked. It failed to extract a shell, and the pistol jammed hard. I was unable to field strip it at the range, so I pulled the magazine, put it in my bag and went to another pistol.

Tonight, it took a bit of work to tear the pistol down, but I was able to do it using my hands and leverage. The front of the frame rails had peened where the slide impacts them, making movement of the barrel very difficult. I could find no cracks. I took a file and removed the burrs from the front of the frame rails. I stoned the rails everywhere the barrel contacts them. After a bit of work, I had the barrel sliding nicely again. I reassembled the pistol and the action worked smoothly. I'm hoping that the original rough machining in the frame rails and slide rails contributed to the burr development that brought shooting to a halt. If so, then beveling these corners should prevent it from reoccuring.

I am thinking about adapting a B92 Shok Buff if I cannot find one specific for this pistol. It's possible the steel may be a bit soft. I tried to fit a heavier B92 recoil spring, but it would not fit.

On another note, the blueing seems to be a bit thin, and is already starting to wear off the barrel. By contrast, my Beretta 92FS that I purchased in 1992 has about the same amount of wear with many more rounds through it.

As of right now, I cannot recommend this pistol to anyone who is not a tinkerer. For the money, it certainly is not a pistol to take to a gunsmith to fix. Because of this failure, I cannot recommend the Helwan as a defensive pistol either. It is not a failure that can be cleared without taking tools to the pistol. On the flip side, If you can find a jammed one used, you might be able to pick it up for under $50 and put it back into range use with a minimum of effort. I am not calling the Helwan a POS yet, as the problem may have been erased for good with a little filework and stoning. Time will tell.
I never did get around to shooting the Helwan very much after that. There were other pistols to keep me interested. I did see a Helwan in a pawn shop for $119. I passed. Today, my Helwan still resides in my gun room, as a lesson learned and a possible bartering bit should I ever need one.



Anonymous TJH said...

I don't how much your tinker gun budget happens to be, but have you tried the Firestar? I picked one up for $200 used. If this is how the Spaniards built their handguns, then boy did I miss out.

It's a compact and very comfortable all-steel 1911 derivative, but with some fancier angles. All carbon steel (watch out for rust), and almost 2(!) pounds. Very easy to shoot with all that weight, but not a summer carry gun, I'd presume. It has a magazine-trigger disconnect and thumb safety, but the latter is not forgiving of those with bad trigger discipline.

There are three models -- I have the 9mm one. It has shown surprising accuracy with some rushed reloads and one-size-fits-all commercial ammo. It's a shoot-it-til-it-breaks gun, though, because after Astra / Star folded, the remaining employee-owned reorganization made the very odd decision to destroy a fortune worth of spare parts.

It's not a milsurp, just cheap and relatively unknown.

Oh, and is SoG out of Enfield No.5s for good? :o(

9:28 PM  
Blogger Dr. StrangeGun said...

Umm... so he modified the gun with what may have been a too-light mainspring, peened the rails at the frame stop, and then disrecommends the gun because of failures?

7:10 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Yeah, Strangegun, on reflection, you are 100% correct.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Dr. StrangeGun said...

Sorry about the "he"... I tend to skim in the mornings and thought you'd reposted someone else's review.

Didn't mean to come across as harshly either :)

6:42 AM  
Blogger Jay G said...

Appropos of nothing, but the gun in your picture looks like the bastard love child of a Beretta 92FS and a CZ-52... :)

10:33 AM  
Blogger John said...

John Said..

Thanks for the info. My almost new Helwan jammed hard on me with +P+ hollowpoints and I now have some idea of what to check and fix. I cannot seem to get it apart with my hands though. I had another new Helwan about 15 years ago, and it worked fine, but I did not use hot ammo in it.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Night Hunter said...

Your review is quite good, complete and detailed.... HOWEVER...

Are you comfortable with the degree of fairness you demonstrate by leaving the test at this point.

You stated that the burrs causing the failure could have been a factor of the rough machining yet after cleaning the them up you never bother to check to see if that is the fact.

I owned one of these pistols and put thousands of rounds through it with no problems although mine was manufactured in the early days of production so a difference between our samples is quite possible.

Still, leaving your review where it sits may be giving a good gun a bad rap. If it's a matter of cleaning up and deburring to result in a reliable pistol, people should know that. On the other hand if the burring continues, that knowledge should be shared as well.

Just a bit of constructive recommendation from a long time reviewer of guns and such.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Those are my experiences. I have never, as I stated, really gotten around to the gun again. I just moved on to other things.

4:22 PM  
Blogger kiljon said...

i have a helwan 9 mm. but the barell locking block has a fracture in it. i cant seem to locate one. i need help. i love the gun but im worried abbout shootint it

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Danny said...

I know this post is old but hopefully you check it once in a while. I have three helwan 9mm magazines that i am trying to sell, I don't know anyone that has one. If anyone is interested please e-mail me at d_sharier@yahoo.com


6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how do you break this thing down. I have one and cant take it apart to clean it, and it keeps jamming on every shot...Help..

7:58 PM  
Blogger mearcwelder said...

1 Jan 2009
About Helwan 9mm
What I have found is that they are based on of the Beretta 951 which is a 1951 design. Based on that I am guessing that the issues of the locking block and impact burr are probably related to ammo. The specs for the Beretta 951 calls for 115 grain 1150 fps, meaning do not fire heavy bullets or +P etc. Critical lube points are the Locing block, lock/block pins and the Rails/slots on the slide where the locking blocks ride. The Berettaweb site has the manual, you may need to go there then find the manual on the list.
The Recoil spring guide can be incorrectly installed, causing the rod to be bent or broken when slide is put together. The one I bought had that but I replaced it before firing the pistol.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, i myself own a helwan, only paid 110 for it and the bore was in mint conditon, i noticed that there were lots! of burrs on the slide, so i filed them down, took it out to shoot, with winchester 147 grain JHP's and had 7 FTL's in one mag, realised that the spring on the slide release was wayyyy too light, so i put in a heavyer spring, took it back out with Cor-Bon 115 +p JHP, had every single one FTL after a shot, apperently helwans dont like +p rounds, tried out some remmington 115 JHPs and it fired GREAT! 100% accurate with 3" grouping at 50yds. also realised the Locking Block issues totally have to do with the produciton. the NEW mass production models are made of much cheaper and softer metal. and the locking block tends to fracture and snap, however the older model with the arabic seral number on the right side of the slide does not have any locking block issues at all, although the trigger pull is much more harsh..overall its a great gun i think , and for the price if you can get a military issue.....its definately worth it. *side note*....if you cant find magazines for this pistol, i found that old single stack 1911 mags fit and funciton perfectly in the Helwan 9mm, exept for the fact that you may only be able to load 7 rounds into some. and if you do, make sure the mag has a steel lifter, not plastic, the plastic ones tend to snap off because of the sever blowback in the pistol :-D

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Michael Joseph said...

I recently bought one of these guns for around $275, it seems to possibly be an older one.. it has Israeli writing on one side, the otherside of where it says Made in Egypt.. It seems to be slightly different then the gun in the photo above.. it also has "Interarms Alex, VA" on the left side of the barrel when facing target..

I'm looking for more clips.. please e-mail if you have any, lambgenius@yahoo.com

ps I will post a review in the near future of how it shoots at the range..

9:55 PM  
Blogger Brenda said...

Hello! I've been searching the web for locking blocks for the Beretta 951 for my husband. He has 2 of these guns, and can't seem to find the locking blocks for them. I know your post about your gun review is older, but I found you through googling. Anyway, if you or anyone know where to find the locking blocks, or if one of the newer Beretta models, such as the 92FS, will fit the 951, please email me at thejewelrybox.smith@gmail.com. BTW, my husband and I love your review and all the comments.
Thank you,

1:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are looking for magazines, look no further than Triple K, I've not had any problems with Triple K mags.. so far. They are better than the Pro (crap) Mags by far. Yeah, they're $35 a mag, but so far, worth the price.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Reese23 said...

I can't find a single stack magazine for this at all if anyone can find it for me please email me reece_reese1@yahoo.com

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Ricardo X said...

I own a Helwan 9mm bought new c.1995. The frame (front-right) is stamped "INTERARMS ALEX. VA". At first this gun gave me problems at the range by locking up hard after three or four shots. A further perusal of the manual revealed that the slide must not be allowed to fly forward on its own after reloading; the slide must be restrained somewhat manually when moving forward. The finicky part seems to be the takedown lever. It can over-travel and cause the gun to lock up hard when the manual is not followed and the slide is allowed to snap forward unrestrained.

The gun shoots very well and I like the lanyard ring. Ever since learning to manage the slide, I have not had a malfunction of any kind. I have fired only a few K rounds through it (almost all FMC 115 gr FMJ) and the gun shoots better than I can aim. The safety operates (from the shooter's perspective) much like that on Ruger's 10-22.

I have never encountered the peening described in the original post. Stiff moly grease helps the takedown lever behave. The machining (?) on the frame and slide is not pretty, but this example has worn together pretty nicely. I keep mine spotlessly clean. I like this gun for practice at the range; I would never carry it.

7:02 PM  

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