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An inside look at the history of Russian Lebedev PL-14/15 pistol

A few months ago, I had a pleasure of working with Larry Vickers on his trip to Russia. I wanted to highlight some weapons we shot for the TFB readers and give a little background about why and how certain weapons were developed.

Today we will talk about one of my personal favorites, PL-14/15, which stands for “pistol designed by Lebedev” in Russian. The variant you see in the video is merely a prototype of a future compact handgun, more or less similar to Glock 19 in size and purpose.

 

The author with a compact PL-15K pistol

However, this prototype works well and it really has a remarkable trigger pull – short, crisp and very light. The reason for that is simple – PL’s designer is a shooter himself with over 30 years of experience.

I will never forget the day I met Dmitri Lebedev for the first time. The year was 2013, and it was just another slow day at the private indoor range where I worked as an instructor when a stranger wearing glasses and grey lab coat stormed in. He had a box of complex scientific equipment, some ammunition and a lot of unique charisma.

Picture courtesy of Kalashnikov media: https://kalashnikov.media/en/

Picture courtesy of Kalashnikov media: https://kalashnikov.media/en/

You could not really tell how old he is. He was bright, very energetic and looked like he was in his early 30s, but had way too much experience for someone of that age.

After a short conversation, I realized that he is not “just another Russian weapons design engineer”. Unfortunately, many Russian weapon designers are very square – they are not interested in the latest developments and designs, rarely do they engage in any research on foreign weapons and trends.

Lebedev was just the opposite of that. Five minutes into the conversation, he was explaining to me the HK USP recoil reduction system that I knew nothing about. That was truly fascinating. He also told me about the project he worked on at the time.

Dmitri Lebedev and PL-15 with threaded barrel. Photo courtesy of Mihail Mihin: https://onepamop.livejournal.com/

Dmitri Lebedev and PL-15 with the threaded barrel. Photo courtesy of Mihail Mihin: https://onepamop.livejournal.com/

In Russia, we are very limited with ammunition and weapons that we have. Normally, in IPSC/USPSA open class you would use something like 38 Super, but in Russia, nobody is manufacturing that round, and shooters at that time were not allowed to reload their own rifle/pistol ammo.

So, open class IPSC shooters are forced to buy 9×19 mm pistols and hope that someone will finally develop 9×19 round that will be hot enough to give you a major power factor, but not hot enough to destroy your expensive competition blaster. At the time, Lebedev was doing some R&D for one of the prominent IPSC shooters, who wanted to find that perfect 9 mm round with minimal recoil and major power factor.

It is interesting how Dmitri became a firearms design engineer in the first place. In the 1970s he started shooting competitively and in a few years became an armorer for the shooting team. There, he had an opportunity to work with one of the best competition handgun designers in history – Efim Haidurov.

Efim Haidurov, weapons design engineer, ISSF pistol world champion AND the most accomplished Soviet national shooting team coach. He designed several competition pistols (TOZ-35, TOZ-35M, KhR-64, IZH-KhR-30/31, KhR-79, KhR-82 KhRB-88 and two revolvers TOZ-36/49), some of those still used by BOTH US and Russian competition shooters.

Efim Haidurov, weapons design engineer, ISSF pistol world champion AND the most accomplished Soviet national shooting team coach. He designed several competition pistols (TOZ-35, TOZ-35M, KhR-64, IZH-KhR-30/31, KhR-79, KhR-82 KhRB-88 and two revolvers TOZ-36/49), some of those still used by BOTH US and Russian competition shooters.

Dmitri Lebedev had a unique opportunity to learn from Haidurov, who was, in my opinion, the most talented Soviet/Russian handgun design engineer.

After few encounters at the shooting range, next time I heard about Dmitri was in 2014. A friend of mine told me that Lebedev was recruited for Kalashnikov factory to develop a new pistol.

Legend has it that once he was hired, they locked him in the house in the suburbs far away from civilization, brought him food and would not let him out until the preliminary 3D model of the pistol was completed.

In the late summer of 2014, the first prototype was ready. On September 19, which is celebrated as “the Day of the Gunsmith” in Russia, the prototype was demonstrated to a small group of defense industry executives.

PL-14, first prototype

PL-14, first prototype

When the presentation was over and all the guests left the range, we all finally had a chance to try the new handgun. Despite being an early prototype, the pistol held up very well and easily withstood an angry mob of gun experts trying to take advantage of free ammo.

After all of the shooting was over and the all remaining ammo was locked away, we got together in a large gazebo right next to the shooting range. There, I participated in the tradition that I never heard about before.

Dmitri disassembled the pistol and put the barrel into the whiskey glass. Now, everyone in the room had to take a sip from the glass, propose a toast for a bright future of the new handgun and pass the glass around. I am not a big drinker, but I think it is a wonderful tradition.

From there, the prototype slowly started to evolve into the actual duty pistol. In the summer of 2015, PL-14 was demonstrated to the public for the first time during the annual “Army-2015” exhibition in the “Patriot” park.

PL-14, summer of 2015. Photo courtesy of Konstantin Lazarev: https://www.facebook.com/konstantin.lazarev.1982

PL-14, summer of 2015. Photo courtesy of Konstantin Lazarev: https://www.facebook.com/konstantin.lazarev.1982

Personally, I loved the pistol, but it was just a little bit too long – roughly the length of Glock 34. I have very strong feelings for compact pistols, I can deal with standard duty pistol (Glock 17 for example), but I personally do not see much value in Glock 34 and other “sporterized” duty pistols (I am weird like that).

All prototypes of PL pistol used CZ mags. Photo courtesy of Konstantin Lazarev: https://www.facebook.com/konstantin.lazarev.1982

All prototypes of PL pistol used CZ mags. Photo courtesy of Konstantin Lazarev: https://www.facebook.com/konstantin.lazarev.1982

By 2016, my prayers were heard, and the new pistol, PL-15, was shorter than the predecessor, about the size of a Glock 17.

PL-15 pistol, produced in 2016. Note shorter overall length and slightly different shape of the grip.

PL-15 pistol, produced in 2016. Note shorter overall length and slightly different shape of the grip.

Another highly debatable topic was PL-14’s trigger. Originally, the pistol was designed to have a double-action-only trigger mechanism. That requirement was included for several reasons: the double-action-only mechanism is simple and very safe because the hammer is always decocked. Trigger pull won’t be that great, but an average police officer in Russia is not exactly that picky when it comes to trigger pull and weight.

Do not get me wrong, it was a great DAO trigger, probably one of the best there is. However, it was still DAO – with very long reset and a bit stiff trigger pull.

In the video you can see how the original trigger mechanism of PL-14 worked – it had long reset, but was overall manageable

It was not bad by any means; it is just that great aftermarket competition triggers spoiled us all. Consequently, all the cool kids vocally despised DAO trigger and something had to be done.

On one gloomy winter day, Lebedev showed up in the office with a smile on his face, he was visibly excited. He told us that finally, the prototype with striker-fired trigger mechanism is ready. I grabbed the gun, racked the slide, and… the new trigger was amazing! The same trigger was on the PL-15K that Larry Vickers was shooting in the video. We’ll see if the same quality trigger will be on a production gun.

Author, shooting PL-15K with new and improved trigger

Right now, IZHMEKH factory is slowly preparing to start production of PL-15.

We will see if the handgun would have any teething problems, but overall, I believe that eventually, it might finally replace an aging fleet of Makarovs in Russian Army and LE units. It is about time since Makarov was accepted into service over 67 years ago.

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