The first thing everyone I know asked when FN's new 509 pistol was introduced was "why a number?" FN's pistols have previously traveled under letter codes like FNS and FNX; why the switch to something more along the lines of "Porsche 911" or "Boeing 787"?
Obviously, there have been plenty of three-digit numbers applied to guns in the past: think H&R 999 or Remington 788 or Savage 340.
So where did the 509 come from? FN rep Kristina DeMilt says it was all marketing. Three digits sell well, numbers starting with 5 sell well and odd numbers sell well. So, 509.
Remembering was easier when it was just "Winchester Model 94," but now we see evolutions like Beretta's, where you start out with Silver Snipe and go to 686 and then to Xtrema and then A350 Xtrema. The importance of a name, I suppose, is not how convenient it is for those of us who already own guns, but how much it attracts those who don't.
Numbers are great when it's something like "1903 Springfield," less so when they get complicated, as with Smith & Wesson's second generation autoloaders. Numbers proliferated with those to the point S&W issued a circular slide rule to help dealers ID them.
So, for better or worse, it's 509, which coincidentally is the area code for Walla Walla, Wash. What makes a 509?
The short answer is that it is essentially an FNS, modified for competition in the Army's Modular Handgun Program. That effort produced a winner that was not the 509, but rather the SIG P320. FN has, quite understandably, decided to make a version of its contender available to the shooting public, and it is a worthy addition to the very crowded market of plastic-framed, striker-fired pistols.
The new M17 service pistol will have what many regard as an unnecessary thumb safety lever, but FN has clearly decided there's no reason for that in the commercial market. It's been more than 30 years since the Glock 17 arrived without a thumb safety, and a market that was once quite skeptical has accepted the slick-sided pistol.
The usual trigger safety is in this case a pivoting lower half of the trigger blade. This replaces the Glock-style central lever, and I regard it as a big improvement. More manufacturers would use it if police solicitations didn't often contain specific language mandating a central lever.
If you were to put your finger on the very top of the trigger and attempt to pull it, its movement would be blocked by the upper end of the lower half butting up against the frame. This helps prevent the pistol firing if dropped on its back.
There's a striker block on the right underside of the slide that keeps the striker from moving forward unless the trigger is pulled. This helps prevent firing if the pistol is dropped on its muzzle.
A drop safety prevents the sear from moving down out of engagement with the striker unless the trigger is pulled. A disconnector is actuated when the disconnect cam is pushed out of alignment with the sear. This prevents the pistol from firing out of battery.
Finally, there's a loaded chamber indicator, as required by several state laws. This is a red line exposed under the rear of the pivoting extractor when a cartridge is chambered. The protruding front of the extractor lets you feel that the pistol is loaded in darkness.
The instruction manual illustrates a bilateral thumb safety that FN plans to offer at some future date for those who still cling to that idea. What FN apparently has no plans to do is to offer the 509 with a magazine disconnect safety, providing California citizens yet another reason to leave.
The pistol's proportions immediately reminded me of the long-defunct Astra A-100, which was a Spanish version of the SIG P229. That pistol of course, was a lot heavier and bulkier, but the ratio between length and height is similar.
The grip is relatively slim and 1911-like, and is textured within an inch of its life, with molded-in knurling front and back, truncated pyramids on the sides and a surface Guns & Ammo writer Pat Sweeney calls "skate tape" on the thumbrest areas.
Unless you are playing at the very bottom of the market, you can't fail to offer some mechanism for accommodating different hand sizes, and FN does that with interchangeable backstraps that it calls small, medium and large, but that the rest of us will characterize as flat, arched and beavertail.
Civilian versions will come with the arched and flat backstraps, while pistols sold to law enforcement will come with all three. If you have huge paws, but don't carry a badge, the beavertail style is available at extra cost.
The backstraps are affixed to the frame with a very small roll pin that is driven out to switch them. Some manufacturers have made this process easier, but in reality, how often do you really change backstraps?
The lower end of the backstrap has a hole for installing a lanyard if you want to go high-speed, low-drag.
Both slide stop and magazine catch are bilateral. The slide stop seemed to work as easily from either side; this in contrast to competitor pistols where the right side requires much more pressure.
The magazine catch has an operational button on either side, a big improvement over pistols that have a reversible catch. Often, the "easily" in "easily reversible" is open to debate. Here you can use thumb or index finger interchangeably, and the buttons are right where you'd expect them.
The stop is a punched-out, semi-cylinder on the front face of the magazine, and there's a similar stop on the top right that prevents you from jamming the mag in too far.
There's a fairly substantial polymer basepad, which slides off easily for cleaning or spring replacement. Half-moon shaped cutouts in the grip checkering let you get a grip on it in the unlikely event you need to.
The standard magazine holds 17 rounds, while the brethren who suffer under Pharaoh and can buy the 509 at all can get it with a 10-round magazine.
For whatever reason, the magazine catch has more travel left to right than right to left, though that interesting tidbit seems to have no effect whatever on function. Magazines are ejected forcefully.
Precocking, or lack thereof, is a big topic these days when it's important for manufacturers to draw distinctions among the horde of striker-fired pistols on the market. The 509 is precocked, and trigger travel is about 3/8". Reset comes in about 5/8" of slide travel.
The Melonite-treated slide has grasping grooves front and rear, and is lightly beveled on either side at the front. This is common among manufacturers who tout it as helping you reholster, but mainly it keeps the slide from looking like a blocky old Glock. There's a decorative ridge running along the top of the slide that also helps give it a lighter look.
One place Glock was not copied, thank heaven, was the trigger guard, which does nicely without the recurved front surface. There's plenty of room for a gloved trigger finger.
The trigger guard is slightly upswept at the rear to let you take a higher grip on the pistol.
There's a four-slotted accessory rail on the dust cover that lets you mount lights, lasers or other accessories. The serial number plate is found in a window inside it.
The sights are dovetailed into the extreme ends of the slide, yielding a 5¾-inch sight radius. The rear sight has a slight forward angle that allows you to catch it on a firm surface like a boot heel if you need to do a one-handed emergency recock. The number of us who will ever have to perform that maneuver is, I suspect, vanishingly small, but if it doesn't cost anything, why not?
The sights supplied with civilian 509s are luminescent. You activate them by shining a flashlight on them, and they then glow softly for an indeterminate interval.
Law enforcement agencies can order the 509 with actual night sights, a fact that will greatly annoy some consumers. If you can't scare up a set of aftermarket tritium sights, you're just not looking hard enough.
Disassembly is easy, but requires pulling the trigger, a procedure that has caused some exciting moments in police locker rooms. Many manufacturers proudly note that their pistols don't require it.
Start by removing the magazine and retracting the slide to clear the chamber. Use the slide stop to lock the slide rearward. The front grasping grooves come in handy here.
Rotate the takedown lever about 100o downward until it stops against the frame. Then, while retaining control, depress the slide stop and allow the slide to move forward to its rest position. Grasp the front of the pistol to keep slide and frame in alignment.
Point the muzzle in a safe direction and pull the trigger. Then pull the slide forward and off the frame. The first time you do it, it seems to require three hands, but with practice, it's a snap.
Slide disassembly is easy, since the dual springs are captive, with a round-section spring riding inside a larger square-section spring.
The blackened stainless steel barrel has conventional rifling and a recessed crown. The locking block (rendered Unlock Block in the manual) is also stainless steel and is secured in the frame by a crosspin above the front of the trigger guard.
A U-shaped steel piece is molded into the frame in front of the block, presumably to prevent battering by the slide.
Reassembly is in reverse order.
I fired the 509 between segments of the Gallery of Guns TV show with Remington and SIG ammo, mainly shooting on steel. There were no failures of any kind, though I will note that the magazine spring was very stiff. A mag loader will be a welcome accessory for long range sessions.
My first shot was an X, and the 509 was pretty well sighted in, not always a common thing these days. A couple taps of right windage would have had it centered up perfectly. I didn't attempt to bench test it, but groups in the 3- to 4-inch range at 25 yards were attainable.
Everyone who handled the 509 liked its 1911ish grip feel and most thought the trigger one of the better striker-fired units seen here lately, though some didn't care for the long first stage takeup.
The sight dots are quite large and really stand out. The front blade is a tight fit in the rear notch, letting you draw a fine bead on bullseye targets.
The market is stuffed to overflowing with striker-fired autoloaders these days. They all work pretty much the same, so determining which one to buy really comes down to some pretty fine ergonomic factors and price.
The 509 is priced right about in the middle of the pack; some might quibble that it comes in a soft nylon case in a cardboard box when competitors are shipping in molded plastic cases, but it does come with two magazines and a spare backstrap.
As for the ergonomics, only you can judge that. My advice is if you're looking in this category, find ways actually to shoot all the contenders: a commercial range where you can rent pistols is a great place to try several.
The FN 509 should, I would say, definitely be part of your survey.