Every year handgun manufacturers come out with the season’s “new and improved” handgun designs. These “upgrades” usually involve moving parts around to cater to a specific demographic of shooters and, occasionally, some minor quality of life improvements. While we are no strangers to companies claiming to be coming out with cutting edge innovation, rarely do we actually see anything experimental in the foundational design of handguns that is able to compete with a Browning tilting barrel, polymer frame design. It seems as though we have found the most optimal pistol design and any improvement in the near future would come from the field of material science rather than firearms design. However, recently Laugo Arms came out with a very experimental pistol that may actually change the way we think about designing handguns in the 21st century.
The Laugo Arms’ Alien completely abandons the tried and true Browning tilting barrel design in an attempt to improve on many of the flaws and setbacks of handguns that we’ve become so accustomed to. But how does the Laugo Alien go about doing this, and does it succeed in its mission to innovate handgun designs?
Well let’s start with the most obvious difference in the Alien’s design, the slide—or should I say lack of slide. The slide on the Alien is completely separate from the rail, meaning the rail stays in place while only the slide cycles between every shot. This reduces the momentum of the action. It also has the added benefit of keeping the sights in place. This reduces the strain on your optics while also making it significantly easier to maintain aim between shots. Additionally, the Alien has one of the lowest bore axes (height of the bore above the shooter’s grip) that I have ever seen on a pistol. Consequently, the minimal mass of the sliding action, low bore axis, and an incredibly low profile design greatly minimizes the muzzle flip of the Alien.
The Alien’s system is also uniquely fitted with a piston chamber that actually acts against the sliding system until the bullet has left the chamber. As a result, the process of cycling does not start until the bullet has left the barrel and enough gas has leaked from the piston. This creates a gas delayed system that is also cushioned by the pressure in the piston, further reducing the muzzle flip that would otherwise be caused by the slide hitting the back of the frame. A problem that many modern pistols face is an overheating of the trigger and trigger guard area, making prolonged use more difficult for the shooter. The Alien system gets around this issue by having its gas port located on top of the barrel. While this redirects heat to the top of the gun, the trigger and trigger guard remain cooler for a greater amount of time.
There are far too many innovative advantages in the Alien’s design over the Browning design for me to go over in a single article, such as the crisp trigger pull design over the striker fire pistols, and interchangeable rail types. That being said, there are some fair criticisms of the Alien in practice. For one, the piston retains gas and heats up the gun faster than a typical Browning designed pistol. Secondly, the bore axis is so low that left-handed shooters cannot rest their thumb against the frame without blocking the ejection port and causing it to occasionally jam. Thirdly, the Alien is heavy af. At 1,121 grams with an empty magazine, the Alien is nearly twice as heavy as a Glock 17. This can be seen as a benefit that many competition shooters can appreciate, but is more undesirable as a service pistol. Lastly, the durability of the Alien remains undetermined! It is not known how well this system holds up under harsh conditions, namely, desert, winter, and wet environments.
All in all, the Laugo Alien does exceed the Browning system in significant ways. It should not be overlooked that Laugo’s first iteration of the Alien system is recognized as one of the greatest competition pistols ever designed. Many professional shooters applaud the Alien for having incredible control at high firing rates and potentially opening the door on a new generation of pistols. While there are flaws that may keep the Alien outside the realm of service pistols, its design has, at the very least, proven that the status quo set by 100+ years of Browning pistol production is not the ceiling. Significant innovation in mechanical design is still possible.