Should AR Owners Love the Hellion (or Hate It)?
January 30th, 2023
7 minute read
The Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup has an enviable lineage, being based on the HS Produkt VHS-2 developed for the Croatian military. With a proven track record in service around the world, the VHS-2 would serve as a solid foundation for the Hellion.
Developed in concert with the input of Springfield Armory’s engineers and product managers, the Hellion took the VHS-2 and adapted it specifically for the U.S. market. In addition to the obvious adaptation to semi-auto-only operation, the Hellion also incorporated changes such as the addition of an M-Lok forend, an interchangeable AR-pattern pistol grip, integrated flip-up iron sights and more.
The result is a truly unique bullpup available to U.S. shooters. And, as a bullpup design, the Hellion packs all the ballistic capability of a 5.56 NATO carbine cartridge in a surprisingly condensed footprint. Sitting under 30” of overall length and weighing just under 8 lbs., this is where a bullpup shows its strength. The capabilities included are impressive.
But, the bullpup design has some unique handling characteristics compared to a more traditional design. So, you might be wondering if the benefits are worth the costs. Let’s dive into comparing this bullpup against the more commonly seen AR-pattern rifle, and see where it lands. But first, let’s consider the details of the Hellion design.
These highlights serve as some of the focus points that Hellion brings that are above and beyond standard offerings in this market space. The Hellion is fully ambidextrous right out of the box, down to the reversible ejection system. This ejection port swap can be done without needing tools or extra parts, so a “field change” is quick and easy. Also, it features an ambi safety, mag release and bolt release, and a charging handle that can turn to either side for ease of operation.
Along with its extended Picatinny rail for optics along the top, the Hellion comes with high-quality, integrated flip-up iron sights that are spring-loaded in operation for quick deployment. When stowed, they are tucked away perfectly as to not allow for a snag point.
Finally, the Hellion boasts a tool-less, two-position gas block/regulator switch to allow for quick gas manipulation between suppressed and un-suppressed shooting modes.
The fact that the Hellion offers the ballistic capability of a 16” standard carbine AR-15 without the comparable overall length drove me in the direction of creating a compact build that has capabilities out to extended engagement distances. This pointed me in the direction of a Low Power Variable Optic (LPVO).
This sector of optics above all others has made major strides in the last several years, expanding from the original common offering of a 1-4X magnification range to most companies having offerings in the 8X range — and even some with 10X capabilities. For me, the new EOTech Vudu 1-10X was a clear choice for the Hellion, featuring a rugged 34mm tube and a first focal plane (FFP) design.
With the ability to jump up to 10X magnification in the Vudu, I opted for a 1X red dot option in the new EOTech EFLX. I set it up on a 45-degree mount for closer engagements. American Defense Manufacturing (ADM) is an industry leader in premier mounts and legitimately has an offering for nearly every optic on the market. The ADM RECON mount was used for the Vudu along with their 45-degree EFLX mount for the EFLX dot, both with their patented quick disconnect (QD) levers.
The Hellion comes standard with a BCM AR-pattern pistol grip, so it made sense to add the BCM forward grip as well for additional control. The forend of the Hellion boasts multiple M-Lok sections for accessorizing options. After adding the forward grip, the next addition was the new Cloud Defensive REIN 2.0 weaponlight, which sits perfectly nested against the platform with their in-line M-Lok Torrent mount. This tight fit still allows the clearance needed to add a suppressor to the Hellion if desired.
It’s worth noting that each of these additions for the modern rifle is the same one that would be used on an AR-15. The mechanical interfaces are identical, so any potential owner could utilize their optics, lights and other M-Lok/Picatinny accessories seamlessly between their AR-15 and the Hellion.
You will recognize a common theme coming from time spent with this rifle; while you initially might not think so, I believe that the familiarity most shooters have with an AR lends itself well to the use of the Hellion.
Yes, at first glance, a bullpup platform appears significantly different than an AR. But once a discerning shooter dives into the capabilities, it’s apparent that much of what they know and love with the AR is directly applicable to the Hellion.
Magazine compatibility is of extreme importance to most shooters. The ability to utilize similar magazines across multiple firearms means fewer overall magazines to purchase and less chance of misuse in a non-compatible interface. A similar magazine also means similar support equipment (obviously ammo), but also magazine storage and chest rig compatibility.
As noted earlier, the Hellion comes standard with the BCM pistol grip. This helps the AR owner feel right at home from a comfort standpoint. While the safety selector has a different feel, the location and operation still has a familiarity to it.
The final piece that is unique to the Hellion from a bullpup perspective is that it boasts a multi-position adjustable stock which is, to my knowledge, the only one in its class like this, This capability is an obvious AR similarity and an overall positive for the system to be able to adjust to a broad range of user sizes to aid in shooting comfort.
Where They’re Different
From the standpoint of user interface, I want to walk through the differences between the Hellion and the AR-15 as I encountered them during normal use.
The most obvious difference an AR-15 owner will feel when operating the Hellion is charging the firearm. While the charging handle located under the Picatinny rail is ergonomically comfortable and conveniently ambidextrous, it is notably different than what your AR muscle memory tells you that you should be doing when charging the firearm.
Secondly, while firing and manipulating the firearm, the location of the center of gravity of the firearm is farther back due to the fact that the action and magazine are located behind the pistol grip. This actually benefits the Hellion in the aspect of reduced felt recoil.
Finally, and maybe most predominantly, reloads are much different. We get back to the AR owner’s muscle memory and the natural inclination to drop the mag with your trigger finger. The Hellion is set up with a “grip and rip” type of magazine release that has a button that is pushed toward the magazine when gripped to remove the empty mag. This is not an uncommon set up for firearms, but just much different than an AR-15 and certainly a point of learning when running the Hellion.
I believe the Hellion is a gateway platform for AR-15 owners to branch out into different firearm systems. There are enough similarities to allow for very minimal growing pains to become proficient, but also enough differences to allow for learning — something all shooters should be excited to do. And, the design’s compact size for its performance makes it a suitable addition to any AR-15 owner’s collection.
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