Rock Island Armory’s AL 9.0 Revolver

I received a sample revolver recently from Armscor/Rock Island Armory to review, after it caught Mike’s interest at the SHOT show. The AL 9.0 Revolver was made by Alfa Proj in the Czech Republic, a company that opened for business in 1993. Their revolvers are imported by the folks at Armscor USA in Nevada- thanks to them for providing this one for us to test.

Details

Opening the plastic shipping case revealed a blued, medium frame revolver. The bluing was deep black and uniform, the 3” barrel wore a full length underlug like a 586. The barrel sported a thick rib on its top that matched the stout frame nicely. The front sight was notably tall with a red insert near the top of the serrated blade. The adjustable rear sight will look familiar to S&W fans, although smaller than the S&W assembly. The trigger and hammer appeared to be investment castings. The grips were black rubber with finger grooves and raised texture “dots” on the side panels; they completely covered the back strap.

Using the de-mooning tool will add longevity to clips and keep them running trouble free. The AL 9.0 chambered every 9mm load the author could find to run through it.

The right side of the gun bears a single inscription – “9 mm Luger” tastefully adorns the barrel. The left side of the gun has small proof marks on the barrel and frame and the serial number is prominently displayed below the cylinder. The frame wears the “RIA” branding above the thumbpiece and APINTL-PAHRUMP NV along with ALFA-PROJ Czech Republic Model AL 9.0 below it.  The gun has a distinctive European look; sort of like a slightly scaled down Manurhin MR73.  I would describe its appearance as handsomely utilitarian.

Construction

Picking it up revealed the heft of the steel gun. Its dimensions appeared to be about K-frame sized except for the top strap looking thicker than that of the S&W. It compelled me to dig out calipers and a scale, along with a few S&Ws for comparison. According to my scale, the gun weighs 33.8 ounces empty. It balances well in the hand with just a slight muzzle heaviness. The kidney shaped thumbpiece has vertical serrations on its face and pushes forward to open the cylinder. It operated smoothly and is well shaped for its purpose. The cylinder is similar in length to .357 Magnum cylinders measuring 1.613”. Earlier variants of this gun featured shorter cylinders; I was pleased that this one came with a longer cylinder. Experience with the S&W 547 taught that the free bore of a long cylinder provides a ballistic advantage with the short 9mm cartridge.

This picture in the owner’s manual shows a model with a shorter cylinder. It would decrease the weight of the gun an ounce or two but velocity would be lost.

Opening the cylinder shows the face cut for moon clips and reveals the shoulders cut in the chambers that allow the cartridges to headspace with or without moon clips. The cylinder rotates counterclockwise and lock up was solid on all chambers.

You can see the moon clip cut on the back of the cylinder and the chamber shoulder that allows loose rounds to be loaded and fired in a pinch.

The cylinder’s external diameter was 1.468”; the S&W 547 measured 1.443”. The top strap of the AL 9.0 was significantly thicker than the K frames measured. It ran .238-.270” at outer edge and center while the S&W went .158 to .210”. The top of the long hammer spur was serrated from side to side for purchase. The trigger was a pleasing width (5/16”) and had shallow vertical grooves on its face that were not sharp.

FEATURES

Taking stock of the case contents revealed an owner’s manual, a test target showing a very nice 15-meter group, a de-mooning tool and three moon clips. Curiously, the clips were two different styles. Two had grooves (like on a factory Ruger moon clip) and one was solid. All were easy to load with finger pressure. It’s always better to use a de-mooning tool to remove cases from clips to keep from bending them- even with the ones that load easily. Bent moon clips are hard to load in the gun and can cause drag in cylinder movement.

Two of the supplied moon clips had gaps between the rounds while one was solid. Both styles worked well and were easy to load by hand.

I read through the manual due to my unfamiliarity with the gun. It reads like it was translated from a different language, but it gets the job done. I’ll use Alfa Proj’s nomenclature for the guns parts as I describe them. It revealed an interesting feature- the AL 9.0 is equipped with an “eccentric pin” that adjusts the strength of the trigger spring. Removing the grips revealed the main spring to be a coil spring like on a J frame or a Ruger Security Six/GP-100. The head of the eccentric pin is behind the trigger on the right side of the frame. It can be turned with a small standard screwdriver; turning the pin moves the rear “arm” of the trigger spring. The manual advises turning the arm to face down lowers the “trigger strength”. Moving the arm to face upwards increases the trigger strength. I experimented with positions of the spring arm for some time- I couldn’t detect much difference in the trigger pull regardless of where the arm was located.  It felt marginally lighter and smoother at the arm’s lowest position, so I left it there.

The AL 9.0 has a coil mainspring. You can see the rear arm of the trigger spring peeking out to the right of the mainspring. Just right of it is the “eccentric pin” that adjusts trigger pull weight.

The side plate is secured with three screws. The AL 9.0 is technically a “four screw” gun, as it has a frame screw in front of the trigger guard, like a pre-1961 S&W.  The firing pin is frame mounted and the gun is equipped with a hammer block.

Notice the flat “foot” sticking out on the crane. It engages the bottom of the cylinder window (you can just see the worn spot where it sits) and provides some front lock up.

The ejector rod has no lock up at its front. The crane has a cut out that indexes on the bottom surface of the cylinder window when the cylinder is closed. This appears to help with providing front lock up. Overall, the fit and finish of this revolver is very good.

FIRST SHOTS

Shortly after picking up the gun, I stopped by an indoor range to get a feel for the AL 9.0. Starting at 7 yards on a green IPSA silhouette, I ran several cylinders worth of Armscor 115 FMJ downrange (Armscor was good enough to provide 100 rounds of their ammo for this test). Recoil was nearly nonexistent, and flash was minimal in the indoor range. I used B8 targets to check accuracy at 10 yards and hit a speedbump. The sights and the light in the indoor range did not agree with my aging eyes. I had a very difficult time getting a repeatable sight picture on the black background. The rear sight notch is shallow in height and doesn’t allow much daylight on either side of the front blade.

On the left is the 15-meter test target supplied with the AL 9.0. Author was able to get a similar sized group shooting off hand at 15 yards.

I switched to a white reduced silhouette target and ran it out to 15 yards. I achieved a workable contrast on the white background and ran through six rounds double action. I bore down with my grip, as the double action trigger was a bit of a struggle. Bringing the target back showed a much better group than expected. It rivaled the group on the supplied test target and gave an indication of the gun’s accuracy capabilities.

The AL 9.0 was accurate with most everything the author put through it. This 10-yard group was fired off hand with Hornady 135 grain +P Critical Duty.

I shot 60 rounds, 54 of the Armscor FMJ’s and 6 Speer 124 gr. GDHP. At home I cleaned the revolver, keeping the cylinder installed as per direction of the manual. five dozen jacketed bullets made for an easy revolver cleaning day.

CLIPS

I had been surfing TK Custom’s website for something or other and discovered that they sold moon clips and tools for the AL 9.0. This made me happy, because TK’s stuff is as good as it gets, and the fact that they made clips for it was a nod of credibility to the Czech revolver.

TK Custom manufactures their excellent moon clips for the AL 9.0.

Eli from TKC was kind enough to send me a package of their moon clips for this test. TK’s clips are stout; they can be loaded with fingers, but it takes effort. They hold rounds with less wobble and keep them from drooping. This makes a reload faster, and the strength of the clips makes them less likely to bend. The de-mooner is required to remove empty cases.

ROUND TWO

I made it to an outdoor range the second time out with the AL 9.0. I wore a Simply Rugged Pancake holster for a 3” K frame and it worked well with the gun.

Author used a Simply Rugged Pancake holster for a 3” S&W K frame with good results. The Simply Rugged Moon Clip pouch was designed for clipped .45 ACP rounds but worked fine for range use.

I started with a round of dot torture to comply with Revolver Guy’s testing protocol. I confess that this was the first time I had shot that drill, so I did it from the standard 3-yard distance. I used the remainder of the Armscor hardball and some Federal 115 FMJ to finish. I shot a 48/50; losing a round strong hand only and one rushing on a reload drill.

Author’s first attempt at dot torture with the AL 9.0. 48/50.

I then fired multiple loads over the chronograph while shooting offhand groups at 10 yards. The sights were more visible in the sunlight than the dark indoor range. Like S&W’s 547, the 3” barrel garnered impressive velocities.

It was a windy day and I struggled with the double action pull shooting groups off hand. I reverted to shooting single action for this purpose- something I rarely do.  The gun grouped very well being shot thusly. I fired 174 rounds; ignition and ejection were flawless. I found myself reverting to the FBI Method for reloads because the moon-clipped empties came out so dependably.

Practice and fighting ammunition from 115 -147 grain bullets documented on the chronograph.

The gun was 100 % reliable and the diet of all jacketed bullets certainly kept the gun running clean and smooth. Recoil control was a breeze with the gun’s weight and well-designed grips, even with that sporty Winchester +P load.  I inadvertently dropped loaded moon clips into the gravel a few times through the day. The factory clips would always lose a round, the TK clips would not.

Round three

I took the gun out on another hot windy day in June and shot a second round of dot torture. I stayed at 3 yards because of the wind but improved the score to 50/50.

The second go around was a 50/50.

Shooting CCI Blazer Brass 115 FMJ revealed one of the issues with 9mm revolvers. Picking up a partially depleted moon clip after a reload, I found a bullet lying next to an unfired case in the clip. CCI likely didn’t anticipate bullet pull as an issue with a 9mm load and gave it a light taper crimp. Removing the partial clip from the cylinder showed another round that had broken crimp and was starting to back out of its case.

Blazer Brass was crimped a little light for revolver use. Author had ejected a moon clip with a live round left in it on a reload drill.  The bullet was lying beside its case upon retrieval. The taller round on the right was subject to 5 recoil cycles in the gun and jumped crimp noticeably.

This was the only ammunition that displayed this tendency with the AL 9.0 up to that point. I fired several rounds from ranges of 5-20 yards double action as fast as I could acquire a sight picture- 116 rounds fired.

Round Four

The last range visit made, I fired 50 rounds of aluminum cased 115 gr. CCI Blazer just to see how it would do. I’d heard that 9mm revolvers don’t play nice with steel and aluminum casings. Loaded clips dropped in like they were supposed to, and ignition was fine. Ejection was a little stiffer than with brass cases, but still “weak thumb manageable”. I fired five and popped the clip out to inspect the remaining live round. The bullet had backed out a few thousandths, but not enough to affect function within six rounds.

Author fired 460 rounds through the AL 9.0 including 100 rounds of the Armscor 115 grain FMJ they were good enough to supply. The ammo and the revolver from Armscor were both 100% reliable.

I fired the box of Blazer fast from close and medium ranges and the gun shot predictably well. I fired a few cylinders of old Winchester Silvertip 115 ‘s and some Federal American Eagle ball at 50-yard steel silhouettes and then plate racks from 15 yards. If I held hard, the AL 9.0 performed exceptionally: 110 rounds fired; Total round count 460; No malfunctions noted.

Taking stock

My gripes with this gun are few. One is subjective and applies to many revolvers- that’s the sights. These sights are not bad, it’s nice that they’re adjustable so one can zero with a chosen bullet weight. I wish the notch on the rear was deeper and gave away a little more daylight on the sides.  I’m a fan of Trijicon’s HD XR sights for auto pistols- with the U notch rear and thinner front post. The sight picture provided is much easier (at least for my old eyes) to use effectively and it wouldn’t be hard to incorporate such sights on revolvers.

This view highlights the tall front sight, the barrel’s underlug, and the thick top strap of the AL 9.0.

My other complaint is one shared by the S&W 547, and that is the heavy double action trigger. It’s heavy to the point that it encourages one to thumb cock it for long or precise shots. This revolver would be more user friendly if Alfa Proj could lighten the d/a trigger pull somewhat, while maintaining 100% reliability. Hopefully, it’ll be offered with a finish that is more resistant to the elements in the future, too.

Most of author’s 3’ K frame holsters worked well with the AL 9.0- like this old DeSantis Speed Scabbard. The grips on the Al 9.0 were well designed for comfort and recoil control.

Those few negatives aside, the AL 9.0 brings a lot to the table. It’s built strong enough to handle a steady diet of 9mm ammunition and the steel gun’s weight keeps recoil manageable. It’s accurate and runs smoothly and reliably. It’s hard to beat a 3” barreled K frame sized revolver as an “all around gun” choice and the 9mm might just be the best caliber for the size.  When I picked it up from my FFL, they had a used S&W Model 13 3” .357 under the glass. They were asking $1399.00 for it. The AL 9.0 retails for half that at $699.00 and likely can be found for less. I really like this revolver. It’s a lot of gun for the money and it’s worth a serious look.

Author: Kevin McPherson

Kevin McPherson began his career as a police officer in New Mexico in 1987. He served for 23 ½ years, the last 19 ½ with the New Mexico State Police. There he worked in the uniform bureau and narcotics enforcement section and did two tours in the NMSP Training Bureau, retiring as a Sergeant in 2011. Kevin ran the firearms program and was the chief armorer for NMSP for 13 years. He served as a member of the NMSP Tactical Team (SWAT) for 10 years, eventually becoming the counter sniper team leader. He was commander of the NMSP Pistol Team and competed with a revolver throughout his career. He is a master firearms instructor through NMDPS and continues to instruct in retirement. He has had several articles published in American Cop Magazine, SWAT Magazine, and the NRA Law Enforcement Quarterly. He started his career carrying a revolver and has always been partial to them.

25 thoughts on “Rock Island Armory’s AL 9.0 Revolver”

  1. Kevin, thanks for dealing with New Mexico’s summer heat to do this write-up. I never had much of an issue with bullets backing out in .45 ACP revolvers, but I will have to do some testing of this phenomenon in my Ruger Blackhawk (convertible 357/9mm). It is the reason revolver cartridges have a roll crimp on the bullet, especially ones that generate a lot of recoil, to hold things in place.

    The 9m/m makes a lot of sense in revolvers. It’s power is easily between a .38 Special +P and a .357 Magnum, but it being a much shorter case utilizing moon clips, reloading is fast, and carrying spare ammo is much more easily done.

    Now to get Charter Arms to send you one (or more) of their 9m/m revolvers for evaluation.

    The more the 9m/m is seen being used in revolvers, perhaps the ammo manufacturers will take notice and make that taper crimp a bit more snug. ( that was a less than subtle hint ).

    1. Maybe a special SAAMI spec for 9mm revolver ammo, that incorporates the crimp? 9mm REV? I presume a strong roll crimp could really spike case pressure?

      Maybe Ed could advise if the older, 9mm Auto Rimmed made by Federal had a roll crimp, and if so, whether or not that required a change in loading recipes.

    2. You’re welcome, Mr. Bond! My experience has been similar to yours with .45 ACP revolvers. I have shot some snotty +P .45 stuff, but it’s all been through N frame 625’s. I think the weight of the gun has a lot to do with it. Mike had some issues with his 9mm LCR, the AL 9.0 only displayed it with a few types of ammo. I wouldn’t think that Blackhawk would be too problematic just based on its mass.

      You nailed it on the 9mm in revolvers, they do make sense!

      We would love to hear back from Charter Arms on that…

      Hopefully manufacturers will look at tightening up taper crimp specs a bit. It seems like it would help prevent bullets setting back in cases from being chambered repeatedly (in bottom feeders), too. Thanks for your wisdom, Sir!

  2. Military and law enforcement 9mm rounds have jacketed bullets cemented into the case with an asphaltic-varnish material known in the trade as Black Lucas. This increases bullet pull to improve ballistic uniformity, positively waterproofs the ammo when combined with a primer sealant such as Glidden Purple Indicator and also prevents bullets either from telescoping back into the case during the semi-auto feed cycle, or bullets creeping forward from inertial dislodgement when fired in revolvers. In handloads the exposed bullet diameter ahead of the case should provide an interference fit in the cylinder throats to prevent creep. The bullet profile should also enable normal factory OAL and not require deep seating of bullets to chamber. Expander plug should be 0.002″ less than bullet diameter with case mouths being flared no more than necessary to hand start the bullet without shaving lead. I load .357 lead bullets in my S&W 940 revolvers. Accurate 35-123H and 35-145H are my designs. The crimp groove is not used in 9mm other than as a visual reference for correct seating depth.

    1. Thats a very good point about the Black Lucas applied to Military/LE rounds, Mr. Harris. I suspect that it is generally not applied on bulk fmj ammo intended for commercial use as a cost saving measure. Excellent info you offer on handloads and bravo on your mold designs, too- respect the flat point! I’m curious if you experienced any bullet creep in your 940 with commercial ammo and jacketed bullets? Thanks for your comments, Sir.

  3. Both of my 940 S&W revolvers shoot to the sights with 147-grain 9mm or 146-grain LRN .38 S&W. Chambers were modified to enable using 9mn with clips, .38 S&W or 9mm Federal without clips. Same reamer we used at Ruger to modify leftover French order Service Six revolvers to .380 Mk2 for India order.

    CCI Blazer does not have bullet sealant. I will not buy 9mm factory ammo without it. Winchester Ranger, Speer Gold Dot, Federal HST all have it.

  4. I had read somewhere recently about modifying 940 chambers to accept .38 S&W cartridges. That and having a few boxes of 9mm Federal brass stashed would make for a pretty versatile J frame! I’m fooling around with the concept now but starting with a gun chambered for the revolver round. More to come on that…
    It’s good that high end defensive 9mm rounds are using sealant. I had noticed that on Gold Dot Revolver bullets too after pulling some for a venture a while back. Thank you again for the info, Sir.

  5. Dave Manson makes the reamer, identified as .380 Rook Harris Rev. 11/17. It’s common use is to convert antique British rook rifles to use a commonly available smokeless cartridge of low pressure which is safe to fire in tiny wrought iron black powder actions. Factory 146 LRN gives about 800 fps from a 20 – inch rifle and it’s report is similar to standard velocity .22 LR. Just the thing for dispatching garden varmints without disturbing the neighbors.

  6. 9mm is the most evolved of handgun cartridges. Their HP bullets have been engineered over the last 30 years to work in micro 9’s and holster pistols. If you buy service grade ammo from any of the major manufacturers you will have good expansion and penetration when fired in this 3” revolver (adding in the cylinder length it’s more like a 4.25”). Additionally the high bullet pulls (a test to see how much force is required to pull the bullet) on Service grade ammo will eliminate bullet telescoping out of their cases. Throw in quick reloads, you have a very good system.

    1. I completely agree, Brett. The 9mm is the first pistol cartridge to benefit from bullet technology and the bullets these days are really good. My experience too, the extra free bore of the long cylinder outweighs the barrel cylinder gap and you get more performance in similar barrel lengths from revolvers. A very good system indeed!

    2. Brett, I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that bullet pull is “eliminated” in the better service loads. Reduced maybe, but not eliminated. We noticed significant creep when we tested the 147 grain HST in the little Ruger LCR. That’s probably a worst-case scenario (heavy bullet, light gun), but it still gives me pause. I’d want to do some testing with a given combination before I relied on it. I do think that you and Kevin are right about the terminal ballistics—-the 9mm does well out of a revolver, despite the B/C gap, and does a better job than .38 caliber ammo.

  7. I hear Alfa Proj revolvers are popular with civilians in Europe. They’re cheaper than competing alternatives, but still of good quality.

  8. First, as always, great article and keep up the good work. The revolver guy staff is really the A-team.

    The 9mm revolver is a good idea for a lot of reasons, at least “on paper”, and I’d like to have one or sixteen myself. However, it does look like the little things, like using clips or the bullets coming out of the cases under recoil, sort of chip away at the best qualities of a revolver, which are: 1) you can teach ANYONE to safely use a revolver in a very short amount of time and 2) revolvers almost never ever malfunction.

    1. Thank you very much, BC. You definitely have to do your homework on the front end with one to approach the reliability of a conventional revolver. Making sure the ammo you’re feeding one works right is pretty important. However, shooting moon clipped ammo does eliminate the possibility of having a “brass under the star” stoppage, which can be catastrophic if someone’s shooting back. Agreed, there are more things to manage than with a 4″ Model 10.

  9. That’s good to hear, Axel, and I can see why. I was very impressed with the overall form, fit, and function of this revolver. It’s rock solid and reliable. The folks at Alfa Proj are doing it right. They build a revolver you can trust.

  10. It seems that 9mm revolvers would be a natural draw for auto-philes who might be revolver-curious but don’t want to stock ammo in a new caliber. With the long-ago demise of the S&W 547, this appears to be the only 6-shot 9mm revolver in town, unless you count the Ruger Blackhawk .357/9mm convertible. I’d like to see more of them. When I take over the world . . .

    1. Old 1811 when you do take over, can you start by making .38 Special cheaper and more available? You are correct that pickings are slim for 6 shot 9mm d/a revolvers-I’d like to see more of them, too. The cost and availability of 9mm ammo alone is enough of a reason to own one right now. I think .357 Magnum is still the hardest handgun caliber to find in the gun stores around here.

      1. When 1811 takes over, ammo will fall from trees like leaves. All we’ll have to do is run around with a rake and a bucket to feed our wheelguns. He’ll do away with the lock, too. He gets my vote.

  11. Thanks for a thorough review of this 9mm pistol. What’s not to like about shooting 9mm vs. 38 SP & 357, consider ammo cost these days?

    I was almost sold on purchasing this pistol until it came to the sights. I shoot primarily indoors, and I need a good set sights. I have no use for pistols that I can’t shoot accurately.

    They need to retrofit this pistol with a wider notch in the rear sight and a replaceable front sight that can be swapped out with a fiber optic version. I struggled to find a pinned fiber optic front sight for my Ruger GP100 Stainless 357 Mag 3″ revolver (finally found one). There are much better options for mounting a front sight instead of the old-school pinned method.

    Sometimes I think that revolver manufacturers are stuck on how it has always been and are not looking at how it should/can be. A RevolverGuy Christmas Wish List was exceptional.

    Truth be told I would love to see a version that can mount one of the newer micro red dot on the pistol. I have to ask myself if the design engineers at revolver manufacturers can’t look forward.

    1. You’re spot on about the ammo costs, Carlos. It’s a big deal!

      The AL 9.0 sights work great if you have 25-year-old eyes and you shoot in broad daylight outdoors.

      I hope Alfa Proj reads your comment and heeds it on the rear notch and easily replaceable front. Actually, I hope revolver makers in general read all your comments! I changed out a factory front sight on an S&W 625 JM for a fiber optic one the other day. The DX system Smith uses on that gun makes it very easy to change out a front sight without any tools or drilling. What a concept, huh?

      It does seem like the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset applies more to revolver sights than almost anything else on the planet! There is lots of room for improvement there. I am having a hard time these days with seeing even really good iron sights in indoor ranges. I’ve been shooting red dots on some semi autos; they make a huge difference. I would love to see that technology more easily applied to revolvers as well. You make really good points, Sir. Thank you!

      1. It’s kinda funny. Part of me wants them to go back and make them the way they used to. Another part wants them to be innovative. Can we have both? A no-lock Classic, and a modern upgrade?

  12. I purchased an ALFA AL 9.0 earlier this summer. I have fired about 300 rounds of 115 grain FMJ Winchester white box. I have fired 50 rounds of Gold Dot +P rounds. All fired extraction was easy.
    I disassembled the gun and reassembly went OK except for the coil trigger return spring.
    Overall nice gun for the price.

    1. Thank you for the input, RLF. Your experience sounds similar to mine- I was very impressed with the fit and function of this gun. 100% reliability with everything I ran through it and the price is right: it’s a solid gun. I was tempted to take my sample version down, but I didn’t want to send Armscor a Ziplock bag full of parts if I got jammed up! I’m glad reassembly was straight forward for you.

  13. And it’s polished blue. Amazing. Bless them for valuing tradition. Excellent review. I’m interested.

  14. Thank you, Brent. Alfa Proj does do a good job with their bluing; I have seen a few rimfires in my LGS and they look as good as the one I tested. You bring up a good point on tradition. You get accustomed to seeing space age finishes on guns these days and I didn’t fully appreciate the classic finish. Keeping a silicone cloth in your kit goes a long way towards preserving that finish in the field. I’m still hoping that Armscor will offer it with choices of finish, too. A variant with a Cerakote finish or hard chrome plating alongside the classic blued version would be welcomed, I think. Your interest in this gun is justified.

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