The Ultra-Reliable air rifle
by B.B. Pelletier
Pyramyd Air Garage Sale!
Don't forget, all of you who live within striking distance of Bedford Heights (Cleveland), Ohio, that this Saturday and Sunday is the Pyramyd Air garage sale! It's everything you could ever imagine would be possible in a huge airgun dealership! Stuff has been discovered in out-of-the-way places, there are returned guns to pick through, scratch 'n' dents to ponder and all with the convenience of credit-card shopping and shipping for those flying in. If you've ever wanted to pick through a pile of airguns, this is your chance!
Ultra-Reliable air rifle
In the past two days, I have received two comments that have pushed me into today's subject. The first was from a reader who wanted an R7 but wondered if the power could be tweaked up just a bit. My response was that the R7 isn't easy to boost, but it's probably possible. Then I told him that if the power could be boosted to 800 f.p.s. in .177, the resulting gun would probably no longer be the R7 he loved. It would certainly be harder to cock, and the recoil and possibly even vibration that would result from such a fire-breathing modification would probably spoil the shooting experience for him.
The second comment came from The Trout Underground, and I'll quote it for you here.
"Are problems inevitable with rifles in this [Air Venturi Avenger 1100-Ed.] power and price range? I already had to send my Gamo CFX back once for a mainspring repair, and only got 300-400 rounds through it before it failed again. An online buddy's Panther seems to be losing power.
"Do you need to spend TX200 money to get a powerful springer that holds up to regular use? I know cheap guns can last - my bargain basement Daisy 953 eats tin after tin of pellets with nary a problem - but is it too much to ask the same from springers?"
That question really hit home because I've asked it several times myself. The "Best guns for under X dollars" blogs were spawned by such thinking, and if you happen to notice that Tom's Picks are limited to only a VERY FEW guns on Pyramyd's website, you'll appreciate how much this affects me. (Tom's Picks is a work in progress, as some of my favorite guns haven't been added to the list, yet.)
But I have an idea - or maybe it's just a notion. I can't go to airgun manufacturers (other than Crosman) and find anyone who will listen to me on this subject. What the airgun community needs is a nice, reliable air rifle that will last for years past the short warranty period. Most airgun manufacturers don't think that way. For starters, most of them don't have anyone on their staff who actually USES airguns, so it's very difficult to talk to them. Most manufacturers have removed themselves from the user and go about marketing based on the buying trends they see. If someone makes a successful airgun, there will soon be copies from other companies.
When a large airgun manufacturer decides to introduce a new air rifle, the process usually goes like this:
First the marketing department notices that they have an open spot in their catalog - maybe for a .177 powerhouse spring rifle. They present that to management, and they decide to see what can be done.
They quickly discover that Gamo, Benjamin, RWS Diana and Webley all have such a rifle. So, they look at the specs and price. From that moment on, no thought will be given to anything besides the features all other companies are offering (velocity, scopes, etc.) and price. This circular logic soon leads them to China or Turkey, where it's possible to buy anything for very little money.
Now, jump over to the Chinese airgun maker's perspective. Here come the Americans, whose dollar is suffering everywhere. They're asking you to build a powerful .177 rifle with their name on the side. You both know that you already produce the "Gamma 5" for Germany, but the Americans say they must pay 30 percent less for theirs. You decide to replace some parts with some that are less expensive to make, eliminate some finishing processes such as tumbling the trigger parts before hardening and the Americans will have to take the guns with the "as blued" finish instead of the polished metal finish the Germans get. You can sell them a rifle that looks a lot like the "Gamma 5," known to the world as the Imperiator from Rast und Gasser, the Bavarian airgun maker.
The American marketing department develops a color lithographed box that's 30 percent thinner than their other boxes, so Dick's Sporting Goods and Wal-Mart can stock more of them in the same shelf space. One week after the new model hits the market, a wiseguy in southern California has decoded the whole deal for the internet, and there are new websites springing up to solve the "problems" the American Imperiator copy is starting to exhibit.
One month later, when initial sales don't take off as planned, the marketing department slaps on a 4x30 scope they couldn't sell any other way and calls the package a promotional combo.
The OTHER way!
Or, you could do the whole thing differently. Lock the marketing people out of the conference room as you design the gun. Put in design features your customers say they want, but do so with an eye toward keeping the gun affordable.
It's a spring gun. Since you're designing it from the ground up, you can make it easier to maintain. Put the mainspring under less preload and buy a quality spring wire that'll give at least 10K shots before failing. Build a piston that fits the bore of the compression chamber and put on a quality seal that self-lubricates. Use a spring guide that closely fits both the piston rod and the mainspring.
Everybody loves a Rekord trigger, but you cannot afford the extra hundred dollars that it adds to the price of a gun. You design a less expensive trigger that still has a safety, some adjustability and maybe some special features the competition doesn't have--like an adjustable trigger stop. You know, Crosman put a trigger like that into their 160 rifle back in the 1960s, and you can get one now in a QB78 that sells for under a hundred dollars.
Be sure to put a mechanical scope stop on the gun. And make the high-wear parts like the barrel pivot bolt replaceable. Any bearings used to make the barrel operate smoothly have to be replaceable.
So, you design such a gun and it's made right here in the U.S.A. It ends up with a retail price of $239, a price that causes the marketing department to wince. The rifle shoots 7.9-grain Crosman Premiers at only 850 f.p.s., but the hammer-forged barrel you're buying from Remington makes the rifle capable of shooting 3/8" five-shot groups at 40 yards. The cocking effort is 26 lbs., and there's no vibration. There was some during testing, but you played with the spring diameter and the mainspring guide and got it all out.
Here's the big question. Will this gun, that every knowledgeable airgunner will love, sell well enough to keep your company in business, or would you have been wiser to buy that cheaper Chinese copy of a Chinese design sold worldwide as a German design? That gun was advertised as developing 1,200 f.p.s., and it could almost do it with a new 3-grain plastic pellet the Chinese were willing to put your company name on. That rifle would only group three-quarters of an inch at 25 feet with a few pellets, and not always then, but the graphics on the lithographed box sold tens of thousands of guns to the big box stores. The fact that the model has very high returns and requires a complete overhaul by one of several airgunsmiths before it can shoot well, isn't really anyone's concern. The truckloads that were shipped in the first quarter of the year made the sales plan, and that was the goal.
Both approaches to making airguns are real, and both are followed today to a certain extent. The question is this: If YOU were in that design meeting, what would YOU say the Ultra-Reliable air rifle should have? Could such a gun even be built today, given how the market works?
What do you think?
I'd like to turn this discussion into an open letter to the world's airgun manufacturers, most of whom have somebody on staff reading this blog every day. It's not enough to just "blue sky" your ideal airgun. They do that on all the forums and nobody cares. Your job is to design a modern air rifle that is reliable, usable and attractive enough to command the price it's going to have to cost if it's built your way.
Whaddaya say? Can the readers of this blog design a practical air rifle that has a chance of surviving in today's market? In other words, can guns like the HW50 and the FWB 124 still be made?