Kel-Tec PLR-16 5.56/.223 Pistol – Range Report

The Kel-Tec PLR-16 is the pistol version of their SU-16 rifle. It utilizes a long strong gas action with a rotating AR-15 type bolt, yet has no buffer tube in the back. This makes for a unique and effective small powerhouse that fits a lot of places that rifles don’t.

The bolt handle on the PLR-16 reciprocates like an AK-47, but it does have a last round holdopen. There is however no real bolt drop button, so you still have to pull back the cocking handle when you insert a new magazine.

The PLR-16 apparently has a 5.56 chamber, but it takes any .223 ammo as well.

The PLR-16 comes with a 10 round magazine but it is compatible with all standard AR-15 magazines. The ten rounder is however not backwards compatible to the AR-15 for some reason.

The rear sight is somewhat adjustable for windage, and the front sight can be adjust for height with an AR-15 tool. The sight radius is over 12 inches, so you have a lot more ability to shoot at distance than you do with a standard pistol.

Out of the box our test gun shot about 2 inches right and perfect height at 50 yards. This just under two inch group was about standard with open sights at 50 yards.

Fiocchi range ammo measured about 2400 fps. on our chronograph. This works out to 700 foot pounds with a 55 grain bullet, about 100 more than a .357 magnum.

If you are looking for superior performance from your short barreled rifle and this PLR-16, Hornady Superformace Varmint is a secret weapon of sorts in the .223. IT produced another 200 fps. in this pistol, and the ballistic coefficient of the 53 grain bullet retains more downrange energy as well.

The muzzle is threaded for a flash hider or suppressor with 1/2-28 TPI threads.

The safety is next to the trigger and of the cross bolt type. That rear pin is the take down pin.

This is as far as the PLR-16 takes down without tools. It isn’t the easiest gun to clean, but it doesn’t get very dirty either.

Kel-Tec sells a forend kit for the PLR-16, but beware you are not allowed to put a front handle on a pistol unless it is an SBR.

The trigger is pretty good on the PLR-16. It breaks very clean at under 7 lbs. with about 1/4 inch of takeup.

Kel-Tec CNC

It seems that the never ending demand for Kel-Tec guns isn’t ever actually going to end. The Cocoa, Florida company that was once known only for affordable, plain Jane pocket pistols has completely come of age. We were able to get our hands on one of the early Kel-Tec breakout products, the 5.56/.223 PLR-16 pistol, MSRP $665, and from a couple afternoons at the range it is clear why everyone seems to want a Kel-Tec. Never short on genius and guts the innovative line of quality Kel-Tec products are so different from everything else that they are beyond “game changers. ” They exist in their own world. At first this uniqueness was a challenge I’m sure. In the early days of the PLR-16 and it’s rifle version, the SU-16, I walked past them in gunshops and gunshows for many years with nary a second glance. They look funny, and they are, after all, plastic. But as an ever increasing army of Kel-Tec shooters will tell you, there are few flaws in any of these guns. Unfortunately, like most Kel-Tec guns right now, the PLR-16 is difficult to find for sale. But if you can find one, or if you can get yourself on the list to order, this is yet another superior product from Kel-Tec that simply has no equal.

The PLR-16 is a fairly simple gun. The bolt works like an AR-15, and there is a short gas tube running from the front of the barrel to the rotating bolt. The difference is that there is no rear buffer tube, so it is also kind of half AK-47. With all of the back and forth controversy of the “piston” AR-15 versus the traditional impingement design, you have to wonder, hey, why not just do it like Kel-Tec? We have now shot the PLR-16 with 55-79 grain 5.56 ammo from several manufacturers, and it has yet to fail. The gun weighs three and a half pounds empty, and the twist is 1 turn in 9 inches, so it can handle just about any 5.56/.223 ammo on the market. The magazine that comes with the PLR-16 is a 10 rounder, but it also is compatible with all AR-15 magazines for high capacity applications. The gun comes with serviceable rear notch and AR-15 style front open sights, and the integral molded plastic Picatinny rail along the top will hold any optic or red dot electronic sight.

Kel-Tec sells a front handguard assembly for the PLR-16, and it has a bottom rail, but keep in mind that this is a pistol, and you are not legally allowed to add a front grip to a pistol without registering it as an SBR, or Short Barreled Rifle. The point of balance is just behind the front of the magazine well on the PLR-16, so bracing it with your other hand at the front of well is comfortable and natural. Recoil is extremely light, with virtually no muzzle flip at all, but because of the short barrel, the gun is loud. The standard rifle velocity for a 5.56/.223 round is 3240 fps. with a 55 grain bullet. The PLR-16, with its 9.2 inch barrel is listed as having to settle for 2600 fps., and we measured Fiocchi range rounds on the chronograph at about 2400 fps. A lot of powder burns outside of the barrel, and that makes a big boom.

You also take a big hit on muzzle energy using the 5.56/.223 round in a pistol. Velocity is squared in the formula for muzzle energy, so any loss in velocity takes a heavy toll on calculated foot pounds. For the PLR-16, it works out to 700 foot pounds of energy in our measured tests, versus 1282 foot pounds from the same round in a full length rifle. Compare that to just over 600 foot pounds for at .357 Magnum, and 970 foot pounds in a .44 Magnum. The PLR-16 falls in between them, but remember, it has no recoil, and it’ll take a 30 round AR-15 magazine. This adds up to a lot of very versatile firepower in a very small package, able to be handled by even the smallest shooter. We were able to get the 2600 fps. from Hornady Superformance, so if you want the most out of your PLR-16 (and also 16″ M4s), you should know that the powder blending technology in Superformance is specifically suited in the .223 for the most burn in short barreled tactical weapons.

The biggest shocker with the PLR-16 was the accuracy. The open sights on the gun give you a sight radius of just over twelve inches. That makes it easier than a carry pistol to shoot at distance, so we elected to conduct accuracy tests at fifty yards instead of ten like we would with a regular pistol. The PLR-16 repeatedly put five round groups into under 2 inches at this distance, and three round groups were generally in the inch range. With a fine optic the PLR-16 could very well be a close to MOA pistol, and for general personal protection and hunting situations it is well within acceptable range, and a heck of a little weapon. We didn’t think to test the accuracy with the Superformance Varmint, and hindsight being 20/20, we’ll have to get back out with it for a future installment. Generally the Hornady ammo outshoots everything else, and the Superformance Varmint even does it with more velocity on top.

That brings us to the grand question of what is this neat little gun for? For a lot of us, we don’t need a reason to buy a unique firearm that we will shoot several times a year, but the PLR-16 is a lot more than a nerd gun. At 18 inches in overall length, and under four pounds, you can fit the PLR-16 in a lot of places that you can’t fit a rifle, but yet you retain the advantages of close to rifle sized firepower, and close to rifle accuracy, even with open sights. It fits perfectly in the front flap of a large suitecase, and though you can’t fly with it like that, I’ve already used the PLR-16 as a take along “just in case” gun on a weekend jaunt into Key West. Discreet, light, firepower is a clear advantage to the PLR-16, and that is why, like many of the Kel-Tecs, it is in a class by itself. As a ranch gun, a truck gun, and just about any other type of utility role, the PLR-16 is going to give you more performance than pretty much any pistol, and many rifles, in a small and durable package.

The only downside to the PLR-16 we could find was that it doesn’t have a bolt drop button. The last round holdopen works great, but its purpose is defeated because you have to pull the bolt back when you slam a new magazine, kind of like an M1A/M14. Because the bolt handle is on the right side, it forces you to remove your trigger hand to drop the bolt. It is a shame because the holdopen is connected to a plate at the bottom of the magwell, so a lever could be integrated without a lot of work. Kel-Tec makes a replacement bolt handle for the PLR-16 to deflect the rounds more forward, but it is still on the right side. The trigger is actually pretty good on the PLR-16, breaking just under 7 pounds. It could be lighter, but there is almost no creep after the initial takeup and stop. Not much for complaints, but there is little else to complain about.

A lot of times you will see in the comments on discussion forums “I would never pay (n) dollars for a Kel-Tec.” It is a shame that on the internet you can be anything you want to be, yet so many people choose to be complete idiots. Be careful of taking advice from anonymous posters on internet forums. Many of them just lie to stir up trouble. The early Kel-Tec pistols weren’t the most reliable guns in the world, but it has been a decade since all of these problems were cured in the small pistols, and none of the larger and long guns have never had any problems. The PLR-16 and the other higher priced Kel-Tecs are completely reliable with normal use and they are a great buy for the money, if you can even find one. Will a Kel-Tec take the abuse of a good quality AR? No, probably not. They are after all mostly fiberglass filled and reinforced plastic. If you plan to put 10,000 rounds a year through your gun, you probably should not consider the PLR-16 a candidate for your main gun. But if you want a great little gun for accurate plinking and a ton of self defense firepower in a small and reliable package, the PLR-16 is a great choice. Fitted with a zeroed red dot sight, it is my new take along gun, and if you get one it will be yours as well. The PLR-16 is a unique gun with a lot of purpose.

{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Xnav69 July 24, 2016, 1:32 am

    Plastic trigger broke, nowwhat

  • tripwire December 2, 2015, 6:11 pm

    Where’d everybody go? Last message Sept 2014. If ya haven’t given up on wanting plr16 Bud’s has some. Least they did on thanksgiving when I ordered mine. Looking forward to the noisy thing.happy holidays!

  • loupgarous September 2, 2014, 6:37 pm

    All the folks asking why Kel-Tec doesn’t gear up and punch this model (and the rest of their line) out like movie tickets… it’s called “capital.” Tooling costs money (and if you doubt it, try pricing out custom machine tools, then double or triple the price for stuff that can hold up under mass production conditions) Hiring more people costs money, and with Federally-enhanced health insurance, it’ll only cost more.

    And with Operation Choke Point, there are only so many banks willing to take a chance on not having FDIC send a team of auditors through their offices for the crime of lending to a gun factory. Welcome to Hope, Change and Tyranny.

    Hitting the “sweet spot” where you get your investment back on plant and payroll expenses is a tricky thing which causes a lot of companies who used to make great guns to go under. Kel-Tec is obviously aware of that and content with the revenue they make with their current product line and the production plant that they have. And it’s possible with the Man Who Would Be King in office that they simply can’t GET the financing to tool up the way you want them too.

    Kindly remember that in November. Don’t vote for a Democrat.

  • Butch Czarnecki August 11, 2014, 3:48 pm

    Gunbroker has a dozen listed for sale and the prices have been reduced.
    You can also remove the rear pin and insert a sling swivel to accommodate
    a single web sling for one handed operation.

  • Tina January 6, 2013, 5:52 pm

    Can someone clarify something for me please

    Ive had a PLR-16 for a few years and it was registered to me when i purchased it new , But with Keltecs Forend on it I would have to get a “$25 stamp” and Re-Register it as a “AOW” or “SBR” is what im understanding

    I went to the BATFE site and the form i found says to Send in $200 … Thats a HUGE difference in cost

    Am i looking at the wrong form ? Please advise

    Thanks in advance

    • Administrator January 6, 2013, 6:13 pm

      An AOW stamp is $5.

      • Tina January 6, 2013, 6:31 pm

        Thanks Admisistor , Is the AOW Stamp a “Form” or what , ive been on the BATFE site and I cant locate a AOW stamp … Can you direct me to the correct site ? sorry to be such a pain 🙂

        • Administrator January 6, 2013, 7:01 pm

          Dont know see if you can find a local class 3 dealer. If you aren’t going to put a shoulder start on it is a complete waste of time.

  • tom reynolds December 16, 2012, 12:12 pm

    i have a kel-tec pmr30 nib interested in making a trade.1860 henry, #3 new model russian top break,extra nice savage lever action mod.99 in.243cal.,quality night or thermal vision.i have varied interests,whatever deal/deals works.thanks! i will be gone wednesday,dec.19 thru dec.28. merry christmas!

  • Terry In Dallas Tx December 8, 2012, 7:11 pm


  • Kristopher December 1, 2012, 3:42 pm

    Mine functioned flawlessly but I sold it because it was not only loud, it was deafening. I always use hearing protection when I go to the range but for hunting or protection who carries their ear muffs? I shot one round without protection just to see and it was a mistake. As just a range gun, the ammo is too expensive for me to justify. Just my 2 cents.

  • Wade November 5, 2012, 6:30 am

    I got the stamp from the ATF and SBR’d mine. It is a “fun” gun as a pistol, but when you add the stock, it takes it to another dimension! I love my PLR/SBR!

  • Dave November 2, 2012, 4:36 pm

    I really like my PLR16, the only thing I did to make it function perfectly with 30rnd mags was to install Non Tilt followers in the mags, made all the difference.
    I like that the pistol, 4- 30round mags and 500 rounds of ammo fit easily into a briefcase, what a travel gun!!
    I cannot count how many times I have been offered nice AR rifles for it, the newest colts etc…

  • Evan Friend October 31, 2012, 1:27 pm

    My friend had the rifle version of this, and it was an utter piece of crap. I’ve never had to pry so many casings out of a chamber. Not particularly fun to shoot either. And when is this .223 craze going to die out? It’s such an awful caliber.

  • Glen October 23, 2012, 8:05 pm

    I picked mine up used in a local pawn shop several years ago for $300. It’s loud and eats all the ammo I’ve fed through it. I use standard AR Mags without any FTF or other issues. Installed a streamlight combo and keep it close by for night prowlers as we live in the country. I also have a PF-9 that I CC somewhat regular.

  • J. Avery October 17, 2012, 1:14 am

    I have the KelTec PLR-22, the magazine that came with the gun was a total POS. I contacted KelTec about it, boy they were helpful….not, they refused to replace the clip had to purchase a different one after KelTec was so nice about all this. The gun unfortunately is just okay, I think this article is a little skewed. If you want a ninja mall gun calibered in .223/5.56 this is your gun. If you want a “real” gun buy an AR-15 for a couple hundred more, that is what I did.

  • Donnie October 16, 2012, 8:37 pm

    Picked my PLR16 through Guns America at “Middle of Nowhere” about 2 years ago. Great service at a fair price! Everyone that has had an opportunity to shoot it, loves the weapon and can’t stop grinning. It is loud, however, the Levange Linear Suppressor gets the “loud” out in front of the muzzle for a more tolerable shooting experience. Definetly get the forend kit, it will save you from some right serious burns. I run 100’s of rounds, cheap stuff and the good stuff, through the weapon at each outing without fail. It is well worth the effort to get out and find one for your gun collection.

  • Pops45 October 16, 2012, 7:01 pm

    Whine? BS. I have gone to every local shop in 50 miles. I am good friends with the owners of a gunshop close by. They ALL tell me the same thing, they are having a hell of a time getting them from their distributors. I am only talking the KSG, RFB and PMR-30. I can find them on auction sites, I just think it’s stupid to pay double or triple retail for a current production gun. One of the shops I go to got one, only one KSG in, they stuck it on an auction site and it sold for $1995 within 15 minutes. The last PMR-30 out of 3 recieved sold for $699. This from a gunshop who can bring in quite a few SCAR-16s and 17s, Kriss Carbines , MSAR bullpups, Steyr AUGS, LWRC REPR’s and such. You get on a list for those, 1-3 weeks it’s in the shop. I have a pretty decent collection of hard to find firearms, so I do more looking than “whining”. Pretty rude comment, echoing the attitude I got from KelTec. All I am saying is how much money they are losing by not meeting the demand for their firearms– which I do find pretty innovative and cool.

  • Steve October 16, 2012, 6:27 pm

    Sorry, I meant to say I think you’ll find that availability increases AND prices drop.

  • Steve October 16, 2012, 6:19 pm

    I have to agree that you just need to put a little effort into finding what you want. Right now I wouldn’t even think about buying any type of gun because of the hysteria about the election. Remember what is was like back in ’08? You couldn’t find a gun anywhere at decent price because Obama was going to take away all of our guns. Same for ammunition, everyone was stocking up. When the prices finally came back down I was able to increase my collection by 4; one being the PLR-22 which is a blast to shoot (very cheaply). Has anyone had their guns taken away in the last 4 years? In fact up until this whole election BS started weren’t prices and availability pretty good? If you use your head you’ll see that the only people that profit is the sellers by hyping the same old line that your guns are going to confiscated or registered or something along that line. Do yourself a favor and wait until spring. I think you’ll find that availability AND prices drop.

  • F McCarty October 16, 2012, 4:14 am

    I’m like all people that want what they want when they want it.somebody please find out where to find any of keltecs mystery guns PMR 30, SUB2000, KSG,PLR16/22. Where are they at reasonable Keltec Prices.

  • John October 16, 2012, 12:03 am

    You guys whine too much and don’t look enough. I own almost everything that keltec makes with the exception of the ksg and rfb. I picked up the pmr30 for $399 from my local dealer just by walking through the door. Go visit your local dealers regularly and make friends. Make sure they have your number and the kind of things you are interested in. Then again I am in Florida just like Ron, maybe us Florida boys are willing to do a little leg work to get what we want.

  • Don October 15, 2012, 10:21 pm

    I paid a premium for mine when Obama got in office and everybody else was trying to get one. I love mine but do not to get to shoot it as often as I would like. Too many other guns to shot. The trigger definitely needs help. How do you split the trigger group?

    • Jon October 16, 2012, 12:29 am

      If the WHINERS spent as much time looking as they do complaining they might find what they’re looking for…my buddy decided he wanted a sub 2000 and went to the local sporting goods store and was told they didn’t have one in stock but he could get on the list for one,which he did, and within a few weeks he had one. We live in a small town in northern Idaho (Moscow) so I don’t think the store is that well connected like some of the mega stores. I have a PLR-16 and so does another buddy, all bought locally, after a short wait…and without the inflated prices you see all the time…the same guy is on the list for a KSG so we’ll see how that works out.

      • John October 17, 2012, 3:05 pm

        Whiners? I do not give two hoots about Kel-Tec.I don’t line up for new cell phones,movies, or restaurants.Life is to short and my time is valuable.Provide a product I want and then produce it.I may then buy it.I do not jump through hoops for any company.

  • ron ingram October 15, 2012, 9:11 pm

    Back in April 2012 I first read about the PLR-16 and wanted one badly. I saved up 800.00 dollars, got out the phonebook and spent about 2 hrs. calling around to dealers and pawn shops in Florida. I found one in Eustis Fl. at Rocky’s Pawn Shop, brand new in a box for 520.00 dollars. Also bought 10 bxs of Winchester white bx. ammo.
    My point is, that pissin’ and moaning that you can’t find one don’t cut it. Do a little work and be rewarded. I love my PLR, it makes my nipples hard.
    I have also found two KSG’s for sale but don’t have the money just yet, and no I won’t tell you where they are.

  • trailhunter October 15, 2012, 6:03 pm

    Picked up one of these when they first came out. Mine was a jam-omatic out of the box. However after polishing the bolt and spliting the trigger group to smooth out stuff it has become quite a reliable pistol. Accuracy is amazing when a 3×9 scope was mounted. Not afraid to take a 150yd shot at a Coyote off the hood of my truck. Eats everything I feed it.

  • Jim October 15, 2012, 3:52 pm

    I had one of these. I bought it brand new a few years ago with all of the accessories, and I can honestly say it was a terrible weapon! The build construction was horrible, the accuracy was mediocre, and I have never had anything (and I’ve had some junk) that would jam as frequently as this.

    I tried numerous mag and ammo combos, and could just never get the weapon to cycle well. 33 rounds is the most I ever got through it before a jam. Most of the time it was more like 7.

    Probably the coolest looking gun ever made once you have the accessories on it, but I got rid of mine for $250 less than I paid for it so it would no longer be around to irritate me.

    Maybe I just got a bad one. Who knows? I would definitely never recommend this particular weapon to anyone for anything other than it’s “cool factor”.

  • MLengyel October 15, 2012, 1:49 pm

    OK, I just have a basic question: can you put a fore-grip on the .223 “pistol,” without having to classify it a Short-Barreled Rifle? The federal regulations around firearms are too onerous for the average person to understand. I mean, I don’t even know where to find them. The ATF certainly doesn’t help you with that so can someone explain to me the legality involved with attaching a fore-grip to one of the .223 “pistols.” What do I need to apply for (some kind of stamp, who do I contact for that, how much is it, how long does it take to get it, do I have to wait to have that stamp before I purchase the firearm and afix the fire-grip to it?) to make sure I am in compliance with our laws? If you know the answer, please help me. If you don’t – don’t confuse people by posting half-truths. This issue has frustrated me for a couple of months and i’d really like some help.

  • Pops45 October 15, 2012, 12:28 pm

    I have asked KelTec directly about why it’s so hard to get their products. Twice, over 2 years. They replied promptly, which is nice, but it seemed like they felt frustrated in that reply, as they are cranking out as much as they can, working long hard hours. My point is I personally know many,many people who really wanted to get a KSG, or a PMR, or an RFB but never had the chance, unless they bought one for well over retail on an auction site. Every gun store I go to has a real hard time getting them in. There is such a strong demand for their product, they really really need to understand they are literaly losing millions in untapped revenue by not increasing production. And like one person mentioned, you create the hype on a new product, and set a production date, stick to it. They may “think” they are making good money on their production, but in every blog, website, magazine, gun shop etc, all I hear is their guns are next to impossible to get. Even the bigger distributors laugh when a smaller gun shop asks to get a KelTec. Maybe if more people email KelTec they will stop handing out attitude and excuses, and finally get a better business model.. Their products are awesome, if you can get them.

  • Dave October 15, 2012, 12:10 pm

    Great article! I had a SU-16b that I bought for a camping/ranch gun. It was a beauty, and I just sold it because I found an PLR-16 (used) for a steal! The PLR-16 is a great utility weapon and I think I’m all set now. I completely agree that it won’t replace your AR, but it does compliment very, very well.

    I’ve heard all the negative comments about Kel-Tec and other weapons manufactures. I loved this comment from your article: “It is a shame that on the internet you can be anything you want to be, yet so many people choose to be complete idiots.” Oh how true.

    However, if you’d stop spreading the good word about Kel-Tec, then maybe some of the folks who are complaining about finding one would be able to obtain one for their collection! 🙂

    Great article!

  • Robin October 15, 2012, 11:26 am

    We haven here in wa state

  • Stephen October 15, 2012, 10:52 am

    I agree that Kel-Tec should produce more products period. I live in Alaska and we haven’t seen a KSG or any of the newer product lines and I go to every show possible.
    By making only a few hundred products of each product at a time they keep our intrest up and their initial prices are lower than other competitors but we are frustrated that the supply never meets the demand.
    The phone lines I’ve called (repeatedly) have more smoke than a KSG.
    Having to get on a list and not getting your product (unless you want to pay triple the cost) just plain frustrating and will drive customers away.

  • Nesaray October 15, 2012, 7:58 am

    Pensais que con esa diana estabiliza el centro de gravedad del disparo?, es preciosa

  • John October 15, 2012, 7:45 am

    Likewise.Innovation is useless if you cannot get products out the door.I gave up even looking for a PMR30.Was initially intrigued, but I find my interest waning.You have to strike while the iron (and initial interest) is hot.

  • Michael October 15, 2012, 4:43 am

    WHY show ANY of Kel-Tec new guns ; the average person can’t get one !
    The shotgun and the 22 mag.pistol are nice but the company WON’T make enough to keep the price reasonable or available ! All Kel-Tec is doing is making their dealers alot of money with supply never trying to catch up with demand .I’d love to own both the shotgun and the .22 mag pistol but I don’t see it ever happening ,so why look at anything else from the company .
    Show us guns that are attainable from company’s that want the average gun owner’s business!!

    • Revolverdude October 15, 2012, 9:17 am

      You must be a liberal Democrat. It just takes some effort to find them but they are there. Go outside and look around at a gun show.

      • Administrator October 15, 2012, 9:21 am

        Yes, these guns you can actually find. But don’t forget a lot of people live in city environments with no real gunshops so the Davidson’s basement guys are all they have, and they can’t get these guns.

        • BushidoBiker October 16, 2012, 9:47 am

          I agree with Michael. I have been to one of the biggest and best gun shows in Dallas several times looking for a PMR-30 and never saw one.

  • Daniel October 15, 2012, 3:31 am

    Nice article, however you confuse SBR (short barreled rifle) with AOW, (any other weapon) this is a $25 stamp from BATFE.

    • Mike October 15, 2012, 9:16 am

      If you put a vertical foregrip on a pistol it is then an SBR, as stated in the artical, and should be registered as such. You can however use a angled foregrip, such as the Magpul AFG2, and it is perfectly legal…and works really good btw

      • Don October 15, 2012, 10:17 am

        Actually if you put a buttstock on it than it is a SBR (Short Barreled Rifle) as the barrel is less than 16 inches long. The fore grip makes it an AOW (Any Other Weapon) as it is no longer classified as a handgun being made to shoot with more than one hand. Daniel is correct as research will tell you. Loved the article. Thank you.

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