For some reason, every time my brain conjures up this Belgian-made autoloader, it paints a sobering image of a child-soldier of 10 or 11, bearing an oversized FN FAL service rifle, bipod folded beneath the long gun's barrel, a foot-long knife-bayonet affixed to the business end of this 7.62mm gun.

Don't ask me why-I just flash to past and current African civil and brush wars-and kids.

Fabrique Nationale of Belgium makes great firearms-so don't let my fixation become yours.

Sorry, FN for the caricature.

As the AK-47 is to the Soviet arsenal (and allies), the FN FAL is to the West and its allies.

The Fusil Automatique Leger, FAL or French for light automatic rifle was first chambered for a German round, the 7.92x33mm Kurz. In the 1950s, with pressure from fledgling NATO (the North American Treaty Organization), FN re-chambered its FAL to the now-common 7.62x51mm NATO. And a legend was born.

Dieudonne Saive and Ernest Vervier designed this gun manufactured by Fabrique Nationale. The FN FAL was born in 1953; variations can be found in armories spanning the globe. Versions have been adopted by Israel, South Africa, West Germany, Australia, Turkey and Brazil, but the FAL is no longer in production, with the exception of Brazilian IMBEL and semiautomatic American versions for the shooting sports.

FN FAL is a gas-operated, select-fire gun built in light and heavy barrels (the latter uses a bipod). It is a reliable and sound battle rifle that has been known to be affected by dust and dirt.

Recoil is negligible, unless fired in full auto, and it feeds 20- or 30-round mags. This rifle can shoot 650 rounds per minute or better. Length varies from a folding stock version (28.9 inches) to full-length standard, 43.3 inches, and barrel length varies from 17 inches to the standard, 21-inches.

A gas regulator allows rifle grenades to be fired from the FN FAL, and the rifle sports a long flash suppressor that helps cut down muzzle flash. Depending on the age and version of this weapon, the FAL may have wood, plastic or metal furniture and most guns have sling swivels and bayonet lugs.

The FN FAL is an old workhorse that should be around a long time.

The FN FAL rifle is mated to a pair of bayonets: a 7 3/4-inch, single-edge knife blade pig sticker with wood, metal or plastic grips and muzzle ring, and a socket bayonet with a metal, tubular handle that fits over the gun's flash suppressor with a double-edged, 6.3-inch blade. The FN FAL knife bayonet has a vertical (top) cutting surface (mounted); the socket bayonet has a horizontal cutting surface. A ton of FN FAL bayonets were exported, so it should not be hard to locate a good one.