As it was with polymer when GLOCK introduced what has become one of the most successful and reliable handguns, polymer AR-15s have been met with skepticism — deservedly so in some cases. But if you look at an AR receiver, it’s really not a stressed part, so cost savings make sense because of polymer construction and the weight.
GLOCK got things right by designing around polymer from the start, but success has been mixed with polymer ARs because they were originally designed around aluminum. Simply replacing aluminum with polymer on a 1:1 basis doesn’t necessarily work; it often results in a lower that snaps in two at the transition between the receiver extension and the fire control group housing, which is why you see some polymer lower/buttstock units that are not only one piece but also beefed up in that vulnerable area.
Another option is to use a metal insert for strength and metal-on-metal contact. We see that, for example, on pistols like the HK USP that have a polymer frame and steel rails for the slide. Metal inserts are the solution American Tactical Import (ATI) chose for its Omni Hybrid polymer AR lowers, hence the “hybrid” moniker. “It’s a zinc alloy,” Joel Edwards, Purchasing Manager at ATI says of the metal insert. “It’s just at the rear and runs all the way up past the rear takedown pin holes. It’s there because that’s where polymer breaks. The rear lug has always been the weak point, and we figured out why that is and corrected that so that we don’t encounter that issue at all.”
Because of the added strength, the Omni Hybrid surpasses military pressure and weight-bearing testing. “[We] have a setup here at the shop and we’ve hung well over 250 pounds off of the buffer tube and had no breakage or stretching or deformation back there. Any other polymer [gun] is going to snap off,” explains Edwards. ATI even demonstrates the strength of the polymer lower by driving an 8,000-pound forklift over one without damaging it.
The polymer/zinc construction was so successful in lowers that ATI is also using the technology for its uppers where the reinforcing metal insert encompasses the barrel threads and extends down to form the takedown pin lug. With both a hybrid lower and upper in production, it was only natural for ATI to use the two together. The result is a line of American-made Omni MAXX Hybrid AR-15 rifles that shave several ounces off the weight while still having the strength of a forged lower all at an extremely reasonable price.
“I wanted us to push out a higher quality rifle,” Edwards says of the recently reviewed Omni MAXX Hybrid K-Match rifle. “[ATI has] been doing the basic optics-ready style for several years now and I thought we needed to diversify our line and the K-Match is a great variant.”
On the K-Match are features that you normally see on higher-priced rifles. For example, the six-position collapsible buttstock is a Rogers Super-Stoc that uses an innovative cam-lock system developed by Bill Rogers. It increases stock stability by eliminating the “looseness” you normally experience with that style of stock. There’s also a flared mag well and a 15-inch aluminum KeyMod handguard with full-length Picatinny top rail. But the feature Edwards is most proud of is the 18-inch stainless-steel barrel.
“The barrel that we’re using is a wonderful barrel that is easily capable of sub-MOA with good ammo,” says Edwards. It has a Wylde chamber and a 1:7 twist so you can use .223 Rem. or 5.56 NATO loads and heavier bullets to reach out a little farther or tackle game larger than predators. It’s also a lighter profile to help offset any imbalance caused by the lightweight polymer receiver resulting in an overall nimble and eminently pointable rifle.”
According to Edwards, there are no proprietary parts, and the entire unit is designed to take Mil-Spec parts so if there’s something that you need aftermarket it should fit. The only thing that you can’t change is the triggerguard because it’s molded as part of the lower. However, it’s big enough that even Andre the Giant could have finessed the trigger.
Other than the inserts, the only concessions to polymer in the Hybrid construction are around the pins. There’s a little extra polymer on both sides around the head of the rear take-down pin, causing the inability to simply push it out using only your finger —you have to use a cartridge or something similar. There’s also additional polymer on both sides of the fire-control pins where ATI threads in plug screws so the pins don’t “walk” out.
“It’s simply a backup to if the hammer springs are not perfectly in the notch on your fire control group pins,” explains Edwards. “It will keep the pins from walking left or right on it. It’s sort of a backup plan and adds a little more polymer for strength in that area as well.”
Other features remain basic for AR-15s: a low-profile gas block, ambidextrous sling-loop plate, dust cover and forward assist. The brass deflector is “honeycombed” instead of being solid polymer and the threaded barrel is topped with an A2 flash hider. One 30-round American Tactical polymer magazine is included.
Some early Omni Hybrid guns had issues with magazines fitting sloppy, not staying in or with the last shot hold-open not working. Edwards explains that some very early guns had oversize mag wells and that those problems are resolved. “You will not have the problem on any of the Summerville-marked Hybrid lowers. You might see it on some very early Rochester-marked ones,” says Edwards as he explains the company’s move from New York to South Carolina and that most of the oversize lowers have been replaced through ATI’s lifetime warranty program.
A separate problem was with an early group of Hybrid lowers produced in South Carolina where there was a batch of out-of-spec mag catches. “We’ve swapped most of those out and if someone is having a problem they can send the whole gun in and we can swap it out or we can send them the new catch and they can swap it out,” says Edwards.
I didn’t have any problems with the supplied magazine staying in nor with PMag or USGI magazines. There were no functioning problems on the range and the bolt locked back properly on an empty magazine every time. If this sample gun is representative, I’d say ATI indeed solved the magazine problem.
For accuracy testing, I topped the MAXX with a Meopta 4.5-14x44mm Meopro scope and used Federal Premium 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip and Hornady Superformance 53-grain V-Max loads. Average accuracy at 100 yards was 1.62 inches, which isn’t great, but one 0.45-inch five-shot group with the Hornady ammo tells me that the accuracy potential is there. The trigger is a single-stage unit and its 7.3-pound pull weight, while typical of rack-grade ARs and easily reduced with an inexpensive spring kit, didn’t help with shooting tight groups.
At 6 pounds, 5 ounces without magazine or scope, the Omni MAXX Hybrid is about 1⁄4 pound lighter than comparable aluminum receiver AR-15s. While the weight savings is minimal, the gun really feels and handles like it’s lighter. But as Edwards points out, people will be primarily interested in the MAXX because of the accuracy-for-dollar value. “If they’re looking, accuracy and quality and price is an issue for them then they need to look at our rifle,” says Edwards. “I think if somebody is trying to get into a more accurate rifle at a better price it’s a really good starting point for them and it’s a great all-around rifle. Realistically, its probably going to be lowest priced, most accurate AR-15 out there right now.”
As for the polymer, Edwards explains how ATI watched the growing pains of everybody else trying to make polymer uppers and lowers and learned from their failures. He also candidly admits that ATI learned from its own failures during the prototyping phase. “If people don’t buy [an Omni Hybrid], it’s because they’re still afraid of the whole polymer thing,” says Edwards. “They’re not going to skip over the Omni Hybrid and buy a different polymer gun, they’re probably going to go to a forged or billet gun.”
Even so, Edwards thinks shooters and hunters are warming to the idea of polymer ARs. It’s still going to take many decades to see if companies such as ATI have solved any long-term or heavy-use issues with polymer ARs, but for most shooters, hunters and ordinary-use range guns, the technology seems there and, in the Omni MAXX Hybrid, at a great price.