Radical Firearms is a relative newcomer to the AR-15 world. I first heard about them when they brought some of their work to SHOT Show in 2016 or so, but they’ve been around for about five years now.
In that half-decade, they’ve expanded rapidly and carved out a niche for themselves as one of the best budget manufacturers in the business.
How did they do that?
They decided to start making as many parts as they could in-house.
This afforded them the opportunity to exercise a high degree of control over their manufacturing, while also allowing them to cut out a lot of the middleman markup that gets slapped on rifles by “manufacturers” that just assemble guns from third-party parts, rather than making everything in-house.
And make no mistake, they are a manufacturer. They make every part of the rifles they sell, other than barrels, pins/springs, and LPKS. Their site also says they don’t make BCGs but I think that info is a bit out of date as I’ve seen a number of Radical Firearms branded BCGs out there.
They are also an American manufacturer, which I know is important to a lot of folks, and best of all they prefer to hire vets and LE personnel when they can, like many in the firearms industry.
Why I Bought The Radical Firearms Upper
This all leads me to this review and why I bought a Radical Firearms upper of my very own.
Now, like I said, Radical and PS buried the hatchet over the misunderstanding and everyone moved on. But it left a terrible taste in people’s mouth. I know the smell of PR spin when it passes my nostrils, and this felt a little…off.
So I decided to see for myself, and I didn’t want to contact Radical about getting a T&E upper in to check out.
I wanted a regular standard upper off the warehouse shelf, just like the one you would get if you ordered one.
I searched around and found one at Optics Planet and snapped it up during last year’s Black Friday sale.
I did this for two reasons.
I wanted to be as unbiased as possible, and avoid getting a T&E/review upper that might get looked over a little more on the way out the door. Not that I don’t trust the folks at Radical Firearms, just don’t trust anybody when they’re offering cheap prices.
I needed another upper, and I’m at that age now where I have to buy Christmas presents for every-freaking-body in the world, so money is tight around our house all year long. Cheap is good.
So is Radical Firearms another in a long line of fly-by-night machine shops turning out AR parts with sloppy standards and poor practices?
Or are they something else? Maybe even a sorely needed quality, American manufacturer offering good rifles at great prices?
We wanted to know, and sure to find out.
The Upper Itself
The upper we got had a 15” MLOK rail, and A2 flash hider, and not much else going for it. I like the shape of the handguard, it has a sort of quasi-rounded thing going on with a flattish bottom.
Machining is totally adequate. I noticed no rough edges, file marks, burrs, or other machining imperfections.
Everything is totally in spec and I had no problems fitting the upper to a variety of lowers, including two Aero lowers, a Spikes lower, and an Anderson lower.
Testing the Radical Firearms Upper
Now, the upper I received was sans BCG and charging handle, so I added my own until I could get a Radical Firearms BCG, which we’ll talk about it a minute.
For now, threw in a spare Aero Precision BCG and a generic charging handle that came from somewhere.
Then, throw BCM Gunfighter handles on all my guns, so this one probably came off a complete upper or something.
With that, I inspected the upper, daubed a little Dykem layout/machining fluid on the screws holding the handguard in place so I could see if they were turning or working themselves out under recoil, lubed everything that needed lubing, slapped the upper on an Aero complete lower, and hit the range.
I packed a little over 250 rounds on that first outing, a mix of Federal American Eagle, range-quality handloads, and a box of Federal Gold Medal, all with 77gr bullets to take maximum advantage of the 1:7 twist barrel.
I also slapped a Bushnell TRS red dot, my personal favorite cheapo optic, on top of the upper’s full-length rail. I chose this because I figure most people who buy these aren’t going to be putting something super expensive like the absolutely amazing Aimpoint PRO on top of it.
And again, there’s nothing wrong with a budget rifle, as long as it works. If you aren’t a precision shooter, the difference between a sub-1” group and a 2.5” group isn’t a big deal, but you will pay through the nose for the former and can throw together a rifle that’ll do the latter for about $600.
I zeroed this setup in at 25 yards, and then stepped over to the 100, 200, and 400 yard stretches to see what it could really do.
Again, this is with a mix of ammo, and honestly, I didn’t expect much out of the upper. At $190, if I could hit pie plates at 100 yards, I’d have gone home happy. I set out to build a beater gun after all.
But holy Kahuna did I underestimate this upper.
I was hitting 6” steel plates at 100 yards with absolutely boring regularity, the staccato pingpingping of rapid-fire impacts setting the plate swinging on the chains.
At fifty yards, I was left with one ragged dime-sized hole.
Reaching out to 400 yards, I was able to fairly easily smack a steel pig silhouette target, though I was pushing myself more than the rifle, and I’ll take credit for any misses.
Punching paper with the Gold Medal ammo was equally surprising. I swapped in a Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6x scope and after a quick bore sight and about a third of a mag to really dial the scope in, I was getting easy 2 MOA groups at 100 and 200 yards, and a best group of 1.8 inches (measured center to center with calipers) at 100 yards.
I noticed no keyholing or other weirdness, and I shot the full 250 or so rounds without a single issue (this was with beat up PMAGS and one steel GI mag).
Now, is any of that matching accuracy? No, of course not. I have AR’s that’ll punch ¾ MOA groups all day.
But those rifles have an extra digit on their price tag. Nowhere do I see Radical Firearms claiming to make the most accurate guns in the world for $600. I see them saying they make guns that work for $600, and their upper certainly reflects that.
Since November, I’ve put about a thousand rounds through this upper, cleaned it once, lubed it three or four times, and I’ve experienced precisely two malfunctions, both from the same mag.
That mag also had problems feeding in a $2,500 rifle where it actually causes a double feed (and some swearing).
Overall, I was very impressed with the Radical Upper I received.
The rumors and the gossip and the snide remarks are all just hot air. I think Radical Firearms is a good company that makes great products, and they are definitely a manufacturer to keep your eye on.
When I was researching them beforehand, I saw a lot of comments from others about the low quality of their products, and machining issues, and “Chinesium” and on and on and on.
But I noticed that these were always comments from people who had a “friend” who owned one. Or somebody was quoting somebody that overheard somebody that…was full of it.
I haven’t seen very many complaints ( none, really) from people who own Radical Firearms products, and I can say, since I purchased this thing with my own money, that I also have no complaints about the upper I bought and tested for this review, and others are saying the same.
Will it knock the wings off a fly at a thousand yards? Not unless you get very lucky, but not every rifle needs to be that accurate.
For me, for this rifle, I wanted something I could abuse and knock around, and still count on it to hit what I was aiming at inside 400 yards or so. And this does that.
If you’re looking for a reliable beater gun, an entry-level upper for a new build project, or even something that’s competition-ready on a tight budget, I can’t think of a better value for your dollar than these uppers.
And they’re available in everything from 7.62×39 to the hot new .224 Valkyrie, so you can get one for every occasion.
I’m happy with this purchase, and anyone who complains about a $200 upper that goes bang every time and puts rounds on target is probably just looking for something to complain about.
What do you think of the Radical Firearms upper? Would you put one on your gun?
So you’re ready to build your own AR-15 upper but aren’t sure of the upper receiver?
We’ve got you covered with our personal go-to mil-spec receiver and also a couple of unique options that will turn heads.
If you haven’t read my AR-15 Guide that goes over all the components of an AR, I’d suggest starting there first. Otherwise, I’ll suppose that you’re well-versed in everything AR and ready to just see what’s the best upper receiver.
*Updated 2018*: More lightweight uppers.
Here’s a sneak peek of our best uppers list if you can’t wait:
I’ve built almost a dozen AR-15 uppers for myself and friends and have almost exclusively gone with Aero Precision. They got their start manufacturing for the aerospace industry (name checks out) and moved into AR-15 parts. Now they are really gunning with complete AR-15’s and even barrels too.
Upper Receiver Forge Marks
You might have heard about forge marks, which are above the forward assist. This just designates which metal forging company created the upper blank. The end company (such as Aero) is the one that actually machines the upper.
So the forge mark by itself means nothing since the quality really comes from the final company (and there are differences). As far as I know, Aero uses several forges but mostly the “broken A” which comes from Anchor Harvey Aluminum.
The gold standard ($80) in my mind that lets you choose your own forward assist and port door. Comes with M4 feedramps, laser engraved T-marks for the rails, and also available in several colors for a little bit more.
I’ve had no problems with any of my builds and if you do any searches you’ll see that it’s almost exclusively positive comments. Remember to finish out your stripped upper with an upper parts kit ($17)
No need to scrape anything when installing…or go nuts on the port door.
3. Blemished Aero Uppers
And if you’re balling on a budget, you can get a “blemished” version (~25% off) of the stripped or assembled upper (depending on their stock). “Blemished” just means there’s some cosmetic abnormalities that will not affect actual function.
The last two builds I’ve done have been with Aero blem uppers and I had to really look to find the cosmetic problem. And of course they’ve all worked fine.
Here’s the latest one…looks like there’s a scuff & a dimple. I put more scuffs on mine during a match! If you want to save a couple bucks I’d go this route.
Bad thing is that they are usually snatched up as soon as they become available.
Probably as light as you can go…and geared towards turning heads at rifle competitions (not home-defense). If you’re in a dusty environment I’d keep it covered…but otherwise initial reports say that the large cuts don’t affect function even with tons of rounds downrange.
I have one on the way for my new competition gun so I’ll report back soon.
Now that you’ve seen our suggestions for the best AR-15 upper receiver (both stripped and assembled), you’re one step closer to your build. Check out the rest of our AR- 15 Guides to continue your parts selection and overall education. And if you’re ready to build…here’s our AR-15 Upper Assembly Visual Guide.