Breakthrough: Glock's Super Ten

by Wiley Clapp

We live in changing times, and in no other way is that so true as it is in the world of modern automatic pistols. As recently as this past September, Guns and Ammo delved into the world of the ultra-powerful 10mm guns and their ammunition, commenting at the conclusion of a survey of six guns and twelve different loads: "Let's not further emasculate the round, but instead build guns that will handle ammo delivering a 180-grain bullet at 1,150 to 1,200 fps." There's plenty of good ammunition on the market that will do exactly that, but in terms of a modern, high-capacity, 10mm pistol which a shooter can carry easily and control, there's nothing out there. That is about to change.

Sometime in early 1990, Glock will offer the Model 20, a 10mm pistol that is light enough to be carried with ease, accurate enough for IPSC match use, and which remains controllable with any ammunition available on the market. After a too-brief shooting session with the pistol and a variety of ammunition, I am deeply impressed with what the Glock designers have done. The product of their efforts is a carryable, controllable, close-shooting handgun that will profoundly impact the automatic pistol market. The Glock 20 is arguably the first really practical 10mm combat pistol, a gun that fulfills the promise made by the Bren 10 of a decade ago - a handgun of high capacity and modern features, shooting a completely new cartridge of markedly increased power.

The Glock 20 is no larger than a number of conventional 9mm pistols, although it is slightly larger than the earlier 9mm Glock 17. The family resemblance between the two guns is unmistakable. The 10mm Model 20 looks exactly like the 9mm Model 17 from a distance. The dimensional differences are not obvious until the shooter takes the pistol in hand, at which time it becomes apparent the larger caliber gun is slightly larger in all dimensions except grip thickness. From side to side, the grip is the same, but the butt is a bit larger because of an increased front-to-rear reach. In similar fashion, the pistol's slide thickness is just a trifle more than the 9mm 17's. In overall length, the 10mm pistol is longer by a small fraction of an inch. Simply stated, the Glock 20 is a big Glock 17 chambered for a bigger cartridge.

And there are salient advantages to being a bigger version of the Glock 17. That particular handgun is one of the very best of the frontrunning 9mm pistols on today's market, so it necessarily follows that a pistol using the same system will be highly competitive and possibly end up on the top of the heap. All Glocks differ from their competitors in a number of ways, the most controversial of which is the means of constructing the basic pistol.

Glocks have a slide made from CNC-milled tool steel, but their receivers are made from moulded polymer-plastic. Since this material is not as hard as conventional steel or aluminum, the maker installs metal insert rails in the plastic frame, thereby eliminating a possible galling action between the two dissimilar surfaces when the slide moves back and forth. The big advantage to using a plastic frame is the relatively light weight of the resulting pistol, as well as a fairly low cost in manufacturing it. But beyond the advantages of a light and economical pistol the Glock has even more to commend it.

The system of operation in the Glock pistol is quite unlike any competitor, so much so that I will not attempt a comparison, but rather content myself with a hopefully accurate description of the unique handgun. All Glocks-17, 17L, 19, and the new 20-have a trigger system which the maker calls "Safe Action" and which does not use a conventional pivoting hammer. Instead, the Glock has a striker in the rear of the slide, which is in an essentially straight line with a chambered round of ammunition. As the shooter allows the slide to run forward into battery and chamber the round, the striker, or firing pin, sets into a partially tensioned position.

At this point, the trigger moves to its forwardmost position in the triggerguard and the unique trigger safety is in position. The trigger safety is a small lever mounted in the face of the trigger itself. It pivots on a tiny shaft in such a way that its front lower end must be depressed by the shooter's finger before its rear upper end will clear from contact with the frame. Without the finger pressure on the trigger, the trigger cannot move to the rear and the pistol cannot, therefore, fire a shot. When the shooter overcomes the action of the trigger safety with deliberate rearward pressure in an effort to fire a shot, he has cleared the first of three aspects of the Glock Safe Action system.

More trigger pressure causes a lobe on the top edge of the trigger bar to press a spring-loaded plunger in the top of the slide upward. Moving this plunger up clears a path for the firing pin, or striker, to move forward and fire a round. This is the second of three aspects of the Safe Action system. The third one, which went into play when the pistol's slide went forward into battery, is overcome with increased trigger pressure. That pressure continues the rearward movement of the striker, pushing it off of the safety ramp where it ended up at the conclusion of the slide's previous forward motion. Safe Action is a term which is most apropos-the designers have done a great deal to make this a safe handgun. Other features of the Glock are more or less conventional, with a tilting-barrel breech locking system, but the trigger system is in a class by itself.

As complex as the description of the trigger system might seem, operating the pistol is simplicity itself. After inserting a loaded magazine and running the slide forward to chamber a round, the shooter has only to pull the trigger to make the pistol fire. There is no manual safety; safety is a function of trigger manipulation, with each of the three safety functions sequentially overcome as trigger pressure increases. No levers to sweep off or buttons to depress-just pull the trigger. Glocks are not, however, impervious to improper handling. The pistol fires when the trigger is pulled-period. For this reason, shooters need to understand that the Glock is intolerant of the shooter who likes to rest his finger lightly on the trigger and that all Glock training must heavily emphasize a simple rule - Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. That's good advice with any gun.

The subjective feel of the trigger is considerably different. I most commonly think of it as feeling like the trigger on my beloved M1 rifles of years past. There is a fair amount of initial movement in pulling the Glock trigger, analogous to the slack in a military rifle trigger. After that, the pull is fairly crisp, sometimes with a bit of creep, but releasing with typical pressure. In multiple shots, the shooter does not have to release the trigger all the way back to the front and go through the long trigger arc. He simply pulls through the same final pressure as used on the previous shot.

We have a nasty tendency to want to attach labels to everything, but referring to this system as a form of either double or single action seems improper to me. This is different in many ways from either. It is Safe Action-and unique.

In handling any of the several Glock models, the shooter notices the somewhat different balance inherent in a pistol with a plastic receiver and a steel slide/barrel unit. Despite the slightly top-heavy feel of a Glock, the grip is easy to like. The polymer receiver has a grained finish moulded into the material and there are no removable grips. This makes for a slim, no-nonsense contour to the frame and allows the maker to use a polymer magazine with steel stiffeners. Although the magazine is of the double-column variety, the resulting butt section is one of the trimmest on the market. Glocks are compact and shootable handguns, with high-capacity magazines.

How about the newest Glock? It's a 10mm and a slightly larger pistol - a completely new ball game. Avid G&A readers may remember 10mm articles I've written in recent issues (September '89 and November '89) in which we looked at all available 10mm guns and loads, then made a comparison of the 10mm round as opposed to the ever-popular .45. In the course of preparing these articles, I fired a wide variety of the ammo in a lot of different pistols. My general impression of the 10mm cartridge is that it is both accurate and powerful. But it is also a round which is difficult to engineer into a shootable handgun of reasonably compact weight and dimensions.

The problem lies in the fact that the cartridge induces high slide velocity, which is hard on the gun as well as the shooter who tries to shoot rapidly and accurately. Pistols of the size and weight of the Javelina, Grizzly, and Omega tame the 10 easily; they have extra-heavy slides and/or re-engineered lockups to help them deal with the slide-velocity problem.

The Glock 20 is not a heavy pistol, and its locking system is not any different than the one used on the 9mm 17 and 19 models. Compared to a Glock 17 with empty magazine, which weighs 24 ounces, the 10mm Glock 20 weighs 30.5 ounces. That is about a 6-ounce weight disparity. But almost all of the weight increase is in the slide. The slide and barrel of the 10mm Glock 20 are considerably heavier than the ones used on the lighter 9mm pistols. Rather than fool around with dual springs or recoil buffers, or even re-engineered locking systems, the Glock designers just made the slide heavier. In effect, they tamed the tiger that is the 10mm cartridge.

Although the pistol we had for inspection and evaluation firing was in G&A offices for a too-brief period of time, we did manage to get to the range with the gun and a variety of factory ammunition.

Typical full-sized centerfire automatic pistols weigh from 34 to 40 ounces. If they get much heavier than this, they cease to be truly carryable service-type handguns. The Glock 20 weighs 30 1/2 ounces with an empty magazine in place; that's a minimal burden for the on-the-job police officer. With most of the weight in the slide, the pistol is quite comfortable to shoot. I was downright surprised to find that the Glock 20 is easy to fire in fast exercises. I am no speed shooter, but I was able to take down six consecutive steel plates at 15 yards with no conscious effort going into pulling the pistol down from recoil. Bob Gates, who has wrists like most people's biceps, was shooting the piece at a very rapid rate. Everyone who fired the pistol felt that the bugaboo of nearly every other service 10mm, hard-to-manage recoil, was not a factor in shooting the Glock 20. I think the pistol is best described as recoiling about like an M1911 with a good service load.

The Glock will not be sold with a limit on the ammunition to be used in it. The pistol will accept and fire any 10mm load made to SAAMI specifications. It is not necessary to use the reduced-velocity 10mm load made for the FBI by Federal. Using a 180-grain JHP bullet at 950 fps, the FBI 10mm should be an absolute pussycat in the Glock 20. One of the loads we tried was the Pro Load 180-grain JHP, which comes out of a Bar-Sto Colt at 1,222 fps. It's the same Sierra bullet as in the FBI load, but with a hefty velocity increase. The Pro Load combo was not hard to manage. Neither were Hornady 170-grain JHPs, PMC 170-grain JHP and 200-grain FMJS, and Norma 170-grain JHPS. The pistol is just not a problem with any currently-available ammunition.

There's more to commend the gun also. I have never found the accuracy of any Glock I have fired to be in the Blue-Chip category. This 10mm pistol might be a bit different. Circumstances at the range forced me to do my accuracy evaluation the old-fashioned way - standing two-handed in a Weaver stance. From the 25-yard line, I was able to call up enough of my waning marksmanship skills to keep ten shots in a group that measured a little over 3 inches. The group would have scored a 97-4X.

While I do not necessarily endorse a pistol on the basis of its capacity, a great many people place a lot of importance on a high-capacity magazine. The Glock 20 magazine holds 15 rounds and another will, of course, fit in the chamber to give an on-tap total of 16. Nine-millimeter Glock magazines are often fitted with the +2 floorplate option, which in effect makes a 17-rounder into a 19-shot magazine. The same will be true of the Glock 20, and the 15-shot magazine will thereby become a 17-shot. With a round up the spout, the Glock 20 gunner will have 18 shots ready to go.

As a shooter who has watched the progress of the 10mm round from its earliest days with the pioneering work of G&A staffer Whit Collins, I am impressed by the Glock 20. I was beginning to think the 10mm was reaching the point where it was going to be relegated to extra-heavy pistols in the hunting fields. The Glock is a light, compact, accurate, and shootable automatic pistol that holds up to 18 rounds of ammo, each round of which can reliably deliver a well-designed 180-grain bullet at around 1,200 fps. The pistol will likely be warranted for 40,000 rounds in law-enforcement use.

This is impressive stuff , and it substantially extends the performance envelope of what we can expect of service pistols in general and 10mms in particular. Others are going to have to hustle to stay even and run like hell to get ahead. The Glock 20 is a breakthrough.

Originally published in the January 1990 edition of Guns & Ammo

Glock 20 Specifications
Caliber 10 mm Auto
Action Safe Action (constant double action mode)
Overall length (slide) 7.59 in. (193 mm)
Height, including magazine 5.47 in. (139 mm)
Width 1.27 in. (32.5 mm)
Barrel length 4.60 in. (117 mm)
Sight radius 6.77 in. (172 mm)
Rifling Hexagonal profile with right-hand
twist of one turn in 9.84 in. (250 mm)
Weight, without magazine 27.68 oz. (785 g)
Weight, empty magazine 2.64 oz. (75 g)
Weight, full magazine ~11.46 oz. (~325 g)
Magazine capacity 15 rounds
Standard trigger pull ~5.5 lbs. (~2.5 kg)
Trigger pull length 0.5 in. (12.5 mm)
Number of safeties 3

information courtesy of GLOCK