On December 26th, 1994 a group of 4 terrorists seized control of Air France Flight 8969 at an Airport in Algiers, Algeria. As the hostage situation came to a head, the French government sent in its elite counter-terrorism unit, the GIGN. A squad of 30 GIGN operatives ran across the tarmac as automatic rifle fire ripped through the air around them, before breaching the aircraft's doors and rushing inside. The point-man, Captain Thierry Prungnaud already had his service pistol drawn when he entered and opened fire on the terrorists, instantly killing two and severely wounding a third. The GIGN’s assault on the Air France Flight 8969 resulted in the rescue of everyone still on board, and the deaths of all 4 hijackers. An interesting note about the Flight 8969 assault was the fact that when Captain Prungnaud opened fire on the hijackers, he wasn’t using a modern semiautomatic handgun, instead he was using a six-shot revolver, the Manurhin MR73 in .357 Magnum.
Considering the ever-growing abundance and reliability of semiautomatics, the idea of a modern military force using six-shooters as one of their primary sidearms may seem ridiculous. Despite the vast selection of auto-loading service pistols, the elite GIGN continue to use MR73 double-action revolvers to this day and will likely continue to use them well into the future.
The GIGN’s reliance on the MR73 is partly due to the unit’s principles and partly due to practicality. In terms of tradition, the GIGN have deep-seated beliefs in respect for human life and fire discipline, and so an MR73 revolver is issued to new recruits as a form of symbolism. In terms of functionality, the MR73 is incredibly rugged and dependable. To put this into perspective, GIGN operatives fire upwards of 150 rounds every day during target practice. The vast majority of common service pistols simply can’t handle this level of daily abuse, but the MR73’s extreme level of production quality allows these revolvers to withstand this punishing training regiment almost indefinitely. The MR73’s manufacturing process involves the highest level of metallurgical standards; the frame is made from ordnance-certified steel billet using high precision 5-axis CNC machines. The barrel is manufactured using a special cold hammer forging process, which increases the density of the metal by displacing the steel fibers, and thus increases the service life of the barrel.
These advanced engineering processes are impressive, but what makes the MR73 truly unique is the fact that all fitting, adjusting and polishing is done entirely by hand, with special attention given to the trigger pull weight and adjustment range. Prior to release, each revolver is test fired using ammunition with 30% more pressure than standard rounds. The result of this extensive manufacturing process is a revolver that many consider to be the Rolls Royce of wheel-guns. This combination of luxury and utility is clearly evident in the MR73’s trigger pull. When fired in double action, the trigger pull is strikingly smooth with consistent pressure and absolutely zero creep. Single action trigger pulls on the other hand can be adjusted to the user’s preference by turning a screw on the front of the grip.
The MR73 revolver is a rare example of extravagance mixed with sheer functionality. The amount of care, technical configuration and hand fitting that goes into each of these pistols speaks volumes about their quality, but the GIGN’s seamless record of accomplishment and vast success with the MR73 says even more. MR73 revolvers identical to the one that Captain Thierry Prungnaud used to rescue Air France Flight 8969 are available at EuroOptic. However, EuroOptic also has in stock MR73s designed for competition and target shooting, as well as the MR88, a newer stainless steel version of the MR78.