airgun design

The Colt Python BB revolver: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Colt Python
Colt Python from Umarex looks like the real deal!

Part 1

This report addresses:

• Loading BBs into the cartridges
• Loading CO2 into the gun
• Velocity in both single- and double-action
• Trigger-pull in single- and double-action
• Shot count per CO2 cylinder

Today, I’ll test the power of the Colt Python BB revolver from Umarex. Thanks to Umarex Director of Marketing Justin Biddle, I was able to begin testing this revolver for you before they hit the market here in the U.S. But they’re now in stock, and your dreams can finally be fulfilled.

Cartridges
As you know, this air pistol loads the BBs into individual cartridges — one BB per cartridge. Where a bullet would go in a regular firearm cartridge, there’s a rubber plug with a hole to accept 1 BB. You can’t put more than a single BB into each cartridge.

Colt Python BB revolver cartridges
Two loaded BB cartridges and a .357 Magnum round for comparison. The BB cartridges are slightly larger than the .357 Magnum cartridge; but as you can see, they’re very close.

The revolver comes with a spring-loaded speedloader that lets you load all 6 cartridges into the gun’s cylinder at the same time. It worked perfectly, but I found that loading each cartridge singly was just as convenient. Perhaps, if I had more than 6 cartridges, the speedloader would become handier. Of course, it’s possible to purchase additional cartridges for this revolver, though at the present time they must come in batches of 6 with a speedloader. Maybe when supplies catch up to demand, they’ll become available individually — we hope.

And, before anyone asks, no, you cannot use other BB-gun revolver cartridges in this revolver. They’ll function, but Pyramyd Air techs have determined that you’ll lose a lot of velocity.

Loading the CO2
As you learned in Part 1, the CO2 cartridge is loaded through a port in the bottom of the grip, rather than in the conventional way of one grip panel coming off. That allows the grip panels to remain tight on the gun — something many readers said they care about.

When I installed the first cartridge, I put a couple drops of Crosman Pellgunoil on the tip to ensure positive sealing. The cartridge sealed instantly, with just a quick hiss as I used the large Allen wrench that came with the gun to tighten the CO2 plug in the bottom of the grip.

Loading
As we learned when testing the Dan Wesson BB revolver, there’s a fast way to load the BB cartridges. Spread an even layer of BBs in the top of an empty pellet tin and load all 6 empty cartridges into the speedloader. Then press the tips of the cartridges down into the layer of BBs like you’re cutting cookie dough.

Colt Python BBs
A layer of BBs in a pellet tin lid makes multiple loading easy!

Colt Python speedloadewr
Push the speedloader with cartridges into the BBs, and every cartridge will be loaded at the same time.

The rubber plugs in the end of the cartridges are tough, and it takes some pressure to pop a BB past the lip. You feel it when it pops into place. After loading, check all your cartridges to ensure all the BBs have been properly seated.

Velocity
The revolver operates in both the single-action and double-action mode, so naturally I tested both. In single-action, the revolver shot Umarex Precision steel BBs at an average 394 f.p.s. The low was 381 f.p.s., and the high was 421 f.p.s.; so the spread was 40 f.p.s. I allowed about 10 seconds between each shot to offset the cooling effect of the CO2 gas.

In the double-action mode, the revolver averaged 400 f.p.s., with a low of 380 f.p.s. and a high of 410 f.p.s. The spread was 10 f.p.s. less, and the average was 6 f.p.s. faster, indicating the gun is more effective in the double-action mode.

Trigger-pull
Unfortunately for Umarex, the Colt Python is legendary for the smoothness and lightness of its action. Each one was tuned by human hands before leaving the factory, and there’s no way this CO2 revolver can equal that. You may liken it to a paint-by-numbers copy of the Mona Lisa — you can’t get there from here.

For an air pistol, however, the trigger-pull in single-action (when the hammer is manually cocked before the trigger is pulled) is crisp. It breaks at 5 lbs., 4 oz. In the double-action mode (just pull the trigger to fire the gun each time), it breaks at 9 lbs., 4 oz. which is very light for a revolver. As I mentioned in Part 1, the trigger does not stack (increase in pull pressure sharply near the end of the pull) like a real Colt trigger.

Shot count
Shooting indoors in a climate-controlled environment at 70˚F, I got 70 good shots from one CO2 cartridge before the velocity began to drop off dangerously. The final shot registered 287 f.p.s. through the chronograph, which is a good place to stop before you jam any BBs in the barrel.

Evaluation
The Colt Python BB pistol is something several people have asked for over the years. It’s as nice as the S&W 586 pellet revolver, in many respects, but sells at less than half the price. The trigger is nice, and the way the cartridges load is realistic. The revolver hangs in the hand nicely. If there’s any benefit from not imitating the Python exactly, it has to be that the air pistol’s 38-oz. weight is lighter than the firearm’s 43.5 oz. in the same barrel length. That’s what you get when metals other than steel are used.

Accuracy testing comes next, and I see those adjustable sights give me the ability to really zero this handgun. Let’s hope they mean it!

.22-caliber Lightweight Disco Double: Part 7

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Disco Double new stock
The Lightweight Disco Double in its new stock looks striking!

This is a third look at the Disco Double shooting at 50 yards. All I’ve managed to do so far is demonstrate the Disco Double is very consistently mediocre with the best pellets — JSB Exact Jumbo RS domes. However, the last time I was out at the range with this rifle, I finally did what the builder, Lloyd Sikes, has been telling me to do all along. He said to tighten the 6 screws on the 2 barrel bands or hangers, and this time I followed his directions. Guess what? Four of the 6 screws were loose! Imagine that! I tightened them and knew the rifle would reward me for the effort.

It was no surprise when shot the best 10-shot group ever with the rifle. Ten RS pellets went into 1.195 inches at 50 yards. But I was 3 shots into a second group when the bolt handle broke off in my hand during cocking. That ended the day for this rifle.

Disco Double new stock 50 yard group 1
Ten shots went into 1.195 inches at 50 yards. This is the tightest group this rifle has fired to this point, and all I had to do was tighten a few screws.

Disco Double new stock bolt broken
The bolt handle broke off during cocking. This isn’t common, but it can happen.

As soon as I returned home, I emailed Lloyd, who put a new bolt and handle in the mail right away. I really wanted to finish the test before leaving for the Ohio airgun show (which is this Saturday), so I disassembled the rifle. I ran into a problem getting the old bolt out, but a call to Lloyd set me on the right path and soon the job was done.

The new parts arrived the following week, and I had them in the rifle inside an hour — though another call to Lloyd was necessary. He was most helpful, and I resolved my problem with a minimum of fuss. The rifle went back together, and I was ready to return to the range.

This time, I took the opportunity to mount a new UTG 6-24X56 scope scope in place of the UTG True Hunter 3-9X40 scope I took off. Naturally, the target image was much larger with this scope, which just made my job easier.

I tried several pellets that I’ve tried before, but once more this rifle demonstrated that it likes the JSB Exact Jumbo RS pellets the best. Since the rifle had been taken apart for the bolt repair (i.e., both barrel bands had been removed), I was back at the beginning on the first group. I had the front band about where it had been before (from the screw marks in the paint), and the first group of 10 went into 1.28 inches at 50 yards. That was marginally better than the 1.317-inch group I’d gotten during the previous full test, but not quite as good as the one group I shot just before the bolt broke (1.193 inches). All the screws were tight, so now it was time to move the front barrel band.

Disco Double new stock 50 yard group 2
After the barrel bands were reinstalled but before the front band was moved, I put 10 JSB RS pellets into this 1.28-inch group at 50 yards.

Harmonics
In case you don’t understand what moving the front barrel band has to do with accuracy, it comes down to harmonics. By changing the location of where the barrel is anchored, I changed how the barrel vibrates during the shot. I did a huge 11-part test of this effect a few years ago. You can read about it here.

I moved the front barrel band backwards about a half inch and tightened the 3 screws once more. Then, I fired another group of 10 shots. This time, 10 RS pellets went into 0.816 inches. That’s pretty telling, don’t you think? Of course, I have no way of knowing if I have the barrel band adjusted perfectly — all I know is that it’s better than it was before.

Disco Double new stock 50-yard group 3
After moving the front barrel band, I put 10 RS pellet into 0.816 inches at 50 yards.

A second 10-shot group went into 1.506 inches. Oops! Was that supposed to happen? Its difficult to say, but perhaps I wasn’t concentrating while shooting this group. I simply don’t know. Stuff happens to me, just like anyone else!

Disco Double new stock 50 yard group 4
The next 10 RS pellets made this 1.506-inch group.

So I shot a third 10-shot group. This one measures 0.961 inches between centers. That’s better.

Disco Double new stock 50 yard group 5
A final 10-shot group of RS pellets went into 0.961 inches.

The results
What I can tell you now is the that Disco Double is able to put 10 pellets into less than an inch at 50 yards under ideal conditions. I’ve shown you everything that’s happened, and I could go on and continue to test this rifle until I have it shooting its best. I probably will, in fact. But the lesson is what I’ve shown you today.

The Benjamin Discovery is an inexpensive PCP that can put 10 pellets into less than one inch at 50 yards under ideal conditions. The Disco Double I am testing for you here has a lot of extra work done to it and is not as inexpensive as the basic Discovery. However, this is the air rifle I wanted. It’s small, it’s accurate, it has a wonderful trigger and this one gets a load of shots on a fill of just 2,000 psi. That’s everything I wanted in a PCP.

Best of all, this rifle weighs no more and is no larger than a standard Discovery. Despite the additional air capacity, I had to sacrifice nothing. That was the real reason I had this air rifle built. Lloyd Sikes has a wonderful thing going here. If you’re interested in what he can do for you, find him at Airgun Lab.

Why choke a barrel?

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

This blog was requested by blog reader Joe, who wanted to know if choked airgun barrels are more accurate, and why. A number of other readers seconded his request. So, we know there’s interest in the subject.

What is a choke?
A choked barrel is one in which there’s a reduction in the diameter of the bore near the muzzle. Someone likened it to the FX Smooth Twist barrel that’s rifled only at the end of the barrel, but it isn’t the same. The Smooth Twist barrel has a constriction — the rising of the rifled lands. But in a choked barrel, the entire bore gets smaller. I don’t know if the Smooth Twist barrel is also choked; but if it is, that’s a separate thing.

Most shooters know that shotguns are choked, and they understand why. A choke keeps the shot from spreading as quickly as it would without a choke. Shotguns have several specific kinds of chokes that make the pattern they project contain a certain shot density at a given distance from the muzzle. Hitting something at 25 yards with an improved cylinder choke is virtually the same as hitting it at 40 yards with a full choke. But that’s not what a choke does for a rifle barrel.

A choked rifle barrel squeezes the bullet or pellet slightly just before it leaves the muzzle. This is only an analogy, but it’s like pulling hard on a dog’s leash — it gets his attention and focuses him. In the case of the bullet and pellet, it stops any minute fluttering that may be happening inside the bore.

In my experience, it does work. Here’s what I know. First, the great barrel maker, Harry Pope, always choked his barrels. He first drilled the holes in the barrel blank undersized, then reamed the bore to get a choke of half a thousandth of an inch (0.0005-inches or 0.0127mm). His choke was an even taper down the full length of the barrel; and for the life of me, I can’t comprehend how he did it. Most barrel makers have a transition point where the bore tapers more or less abruptly from one size to the smaller size. This transition is very smooth, and the choke is seldom more than a thousandth of an inch, so it doesn’t disturb the bullet or pellet that much.

Pope’s barrels are legendary. One of them put ten lead bullets into 0.20 inches at 200 yards! And a great many of them will put 10 shots into a half inch at 200 yards, although Pope never guaranteed that level of accuracy.

But what about today’s barrels? Are they choked and does it help? Yes and yes are the answers. But not all barrels are choked — and even those that are choked may not be so intentionally.

Here’s a true story. When AirForce Airguns was switching over to Lothar Walther barrels in the early days, they tried barrels with and without chokes. Lothar Walther was capable of making barrels without chokes; but in their conversations with AirForce, they asked why they wanted unchoked barrels. After testing, AirForce decided it was well worth the additional cost to have all their barrels choked.

In the three years that I worked at AirForce, I tested every rifle that was returned to the company for inaccuracy. That must have been 20-30 rifles, in all. Every time one came in with such a complaint, the first thing I did was clean the barrel with J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound, and the next thing I did was shoot a group with the clean barrel. In all that time, I only had to shoot a single group with each barrel to produce a 5-shot group that ranged between 0.25 inches and 0.375 inches at 23 yards (which was the longest straight distance I had inside the old factory). Then, the rifle was packed with the target that I signed and dated and returned to the customer. Case closed.

Only once in three years did I find a barrel that I couldn’t get to shoot. It was an 18-inch .22-caliber Talon barrel that I’d cleaned several times. It just would not group better than 0.75 inches at 23 yards. It stumped me until I pushed a pellet through the bore with a cleaning rod, starting at the breech. There was no choke! Somehow, this barrel had slipped through the Lothar Walther manufacturing process without getting a choke, and it would not shoot.

Unintentional chokes
So far, I’ve been talking about chokes that are intentionally put into the barrels, but there are the unintentional kind, as well. Certain spring rifles such as the HW 80 and older versions of the Beeman R1 used to come with sights. The barrels of those rifles had dovetail grooves for the front sight swaged into the front of the barrel. When the swage upset the outside of the barrel to make these grooves, the metal inside the bore was distorted just a little at the same time. If you push a pellet through these barrels, you’ll feel it pause when it gets to where the dovetails begin. This isn’t a real choke, but it does feel like one when you test for it this way. Shooters have referred to these as choked barrels for decades.

swaged dovetaiul grooves
You’re looking at the end of the dovetail grooves (those small v-shaped nicks on both sides of the top of the barrel) that were swaged into this R1 barrel to attach the front sight. When this is done, the force of the swaging process upsets metal inside the bore, making it feel like a choke — but it really isn’t.

Spring guns probably don’t need to be choked. When they fire the intense blast of air they generate, it irons the pellet’s skirt out into the bore. As long as the barrel remains uniform throughout its length (and not all barrels do), the pellet is fit to the bore by this action. But a pneumatic or a gas gun releases its compressed air or gas more gradually and doesn’t distort the pellet. So, a choked barrel is the way to make all pellets uniform before they leave the muzzle of these airguns.

How are barrels choked?
Years ago, chokes were put into barrels with reamers just before they were rifled. In other words, the choke was cut directly into the metal of the bore. But with the advent of button- and broach-rifling, it’s easier to rifle the barrel first and then squeeze it down afterwards.

I read with interest where one of our readers was advising someone that a barrel had to be annealed before choking it by the squeezing method, and then hardened afterward. Actually, air rifle and rimfire barrels are made from dead soft steel, or steel that is nearly dead soft. They are not hardened in any way and can be distorted very easily. You could choke a barrel by tapping the outside with a ball peen hammer — though it won’t be uniform, and I certainly don’t recommend trying it.

Chokes can be rolled into barrels with hardened steel rollers set in fixtures that apply force gradually. Someone asked if a tubing cutter would work for this, and I have the answer. No, it won’t work. It will crimp the barrel, but it’s too sloppy and difficult to control a hand tool like a tubing cutter. I know this because I had Dennis Quackenbush convert a tubing cutter for me several years ago, and I attempted to choke barrels this way. But a precision jig that applies equal force to precision rollers that are similar to the function of  a tubing cutter is certainly one good way to choke a rifle barrel.

Another way is to run the barrel straight into a tapered die and swage in the choke — similar to resizing a cartridge during reloading, only a lot more force is required. To do it that way requires that the outside of the barrel be held to very close tolerances, so it’s less desirable than the tapered roller method.

A third way to choke a barrel is to squeeze it together from the outside, using a die made in two pieces. The pieces come together, compressing the barrel between them. Like the other method that uses a die, this method also requires a barrel of a given outside diameter.

If you hammer-forge the barrel (cold-forming the barrel around a hardened mandrel that has the rifling pattern in reverse), the choking can be done when the mandrel is made. Simply make the mandrel with a taper, and the barrel that’s ironed around it will also be tapered.

Companies select the method of choking that suits their barrel manufacturing methods. In other words, if they make hammer-forged barrels, that’s the most convenient time to put in the choke. But if they sell only one choked barrel for every thousand barrels they make, rolling in the choke probably makes more sense.

Quick and dirty
Here are some facts from this report.

1. Choked barrels do seem to shoot more accurately — all other things being equal (meaning the barrels are of equally high quality).

2. Not all rifled barrels are choked.

3. Spring gun barrels may have chokes that are unintentional.

4. There are several different ways of choking a barrel.

5. Companies select the most cost-effective way to choke the barrels they make.

Summary
While you may feel compelled right now to run out and find a way to choke every rifled barrel you own, remember this — it may not be necessary. Some barrels that are not choked do just fine the way they are.

However, having written this report, I find that I am now thinking about choking the barrel on my BSA Meteor to see if that helps with the mediocre accuracy.

Airgun trainer for spy weapon

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

You’ve all heard of airguns that are used as military trainers. We know about the aerial gunnery trainers from WWII and more recently the Daisy Quick Kill BB guns used in Vietnam, but airguns have been out of the military eye for several decades. Or at least that’s what everyone thought.

Last week, I learned that Crosman has developed an airgun trainer for the recently declassified implant gun that was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the late ’90s. The military declassified the “arm rifle” after it was shown on the evening news last year. Some of you may have seen it on the special Fox News report just last week, when the Pentagon officially declassified it.

What they’ve done is replace a major portion of the radius bone in a man’s forearm with a breech and rifled barrel. The barrel extends through the index finger of the subject’s hand, though it]s not visible or even noticeable to anyone. When the subject is thus “armed” (a term that has a renewed meaning), he simply points his index finger and commands the gun to fire a caseless cartridge. The body’s own electrical impulses are sufficient to fire the cartridge. A .30-caliber bullet exits out the tip of the finger, going to wherever the shooter pointed.

All commands to fire the rifle are linked to the subject’s brain, so all he needs to do is think and the gun fires. The caseless cartridges feed semiautomatically through a tandem tube embedded in the subject’s forearm, and 3 rounds are available before a reload is required. The subject has a port in his forearm through which fresh magazines are inserted, though partial reloads are not yet possible. All 3 rounds must be fired before he can reload.

There are no sights, yet; because of human binocular vision, a shooter can be trained quickly to acquire and destroy a target. Within the first week of training the subjects are hitting 6-inch targets at 50 yards on the first shot. And that was before the advent of the new trainer. The training program should now speed up considerably, plus the possibility for more refresher training means higher proficiency levels will be maintained.

A rumor has spread that the subjects all have reticles etched into the lens of their eyeballs. There are no details about this or even confirmation that it’s true.

I’ve used the masculine pronoun in this report intentionally, for all subjects thus armed (a number that’s classified) are men. When signing up for the program, they must sign a release of liability, for their arm bone can never be replaced. Once implanted, the gun must remain until the subject dies. According to the Fox story, the subjects receive hazardous duty pay of up to 30 percent and, best of all, they’re excused from paying federal income taxes for the remainder of their lives. Of course, given the kinds of jobs the subjects are asked to do, lifetimes may be abbreviated.

The gun was designed for covert operations such as assassinations, security operations and those times when it’s impossible to carry a firearm into the area of interest. The “barrel” that replaces the arm bone is made from a composite of synthetic and ceramic that is constructed at the molecular level on a very specialized 3-D printer. Each shooter receives an implant that’s custom-fitted to his body. The index finger of the shooter is covered by a realistic soft flesh-like cap that blends with the natural skin. As a result, the gun is undetectable by any electronic means and without direct examination by a jeweler’s loupe. The fingertip can be shot off or simply removed, if there’s time.

The arm is actually strengthened by the installation of this weapon. It is not known if there is any pain associated with its use.

Naturally, the flexibility of the index finger is lost, so the subject must be trained to mask this fact by clever posturing. In the beginning it is said there were difficulties, such as losing the ability to scratch certain spots on the body, and the extreme necessity for the mind to be trained not to shoot inadvertently — like when shaking hands. There were some accidents before the importance of this was realized — which is where the Crosman training adapter comes in. Now, for the first time in over 15 years, it’s possible for those with the gun implant to train without firing live ammunition.

Crosman hasn’t released any technical details but I’ve been able to learn that the trainer operates pneumatically, and the number of rounds carried is greatly increased. My guess would be that a pneumatic tube is inserted where the cartridge magazine would go, and that the pellet magazine and firing mechanism are somehow included in this insert. Therefore, I’ve deduced that the caliber of the implant trainer remains at .30. My guess is the air supply stays outside the arm, which is no problem for a trainer.

This isn’t Crosman’s first rodeo in the black world (slang for the super-secret world of espionage). During WWII, they supplied the OSS with thousands of model 101 pneumatic rifles and one million .22-caliber round lead balls. The cover story for that sale was that they were given to the chiefs of remote Asian tribes to win their loyalty, though rumors of covert assassinations have always surrounded them.

Just when you thought airguns were for fun, something serious like this comes along! And the California school ruling that a person can’t make a gun with the fingers of their hands now makes complete sense.

The Colt Python BB revolver: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Friends, I am so jammed up with work that it isn’t funny. I’ve never been so busy in my life. I’m trying to do everything for everybody, and it’s pulling me in all directions.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I’m telling you so you’ll understand the next set of notes.

There’s going to be an airgun show here in Texas on September 6. It will be about 20 miles outside Ft. Worth at a gun club that has asked me to put on an airgun show for them. Their members all own airguns and want a place to sell them. I believe both airguns and firearms will be permitted at this show, which will be a first for any airgun show.

This s a private club that runs 6 gun shows a year, but they have no concept of what an airgun show will be like. I do. They’ll pull in visitors and dealers from thousands of miles away, instead of a 50-mile radius. I already have several commitments.

Pyramyd Air will sponsor the show. Jim Chapman has said he’ll come and be on the big bore range along with Eric Henderson. That’s the two most prominent big bore airgun hunters in the world at the same place and time demonstrating big bores to all who want to learn. Big bore maker Dennis Quackenbush will also have a table at this show. And, no, I don’t know what he will have for sale.

AirForce Airguns said they will have a table, and the “American Airgunner” TV show has said they’ll film the show.

I’ll try to pull in as many major airgun dealers as possible from around the country. But here’s the deal. These guys (the people running the show) have no concept of how big this could get. They haven’t met with me yet to give me names of contacts, table fees, etc. Until I know that, nothing is decided. I’ll keep you informed. Please don’t ask until I tell you — right now, you now know as much as I do.

I’m traveling next week to attend the “Flag City Toys That Shoot” airgun show in Findlay, Ohio. I’ll also stop by Pyramyd Air to return some guns I’ve tested over the past year. I have one other stop to make on the East Coast. That will keep me on the road for over a week, and I need blog reports that I can write quickly without resorting to test results.

What I need are topics I can write while I’m on the road. I have such topics — the choking of a barrel, more on airsoft tuning, safety of CO2 guns, etc. I’m saving those reports for the road. I also have one guest blog from reader RifledDNA that I’m saving for that time.

That’s a quick update on my life and what’s happening. Now, let’s get on with today’s report.

Colt Python
The Colt Python from Umarex is a realistic-looking BB revolver.

Umarex is bringing a realistic Colt Python to market. It’s a BB gun (shoots steel BBs, not plastic 6mm airsoft BBs) that uses realistic-looking shells to hold each of the 6 BBs it fires. When you load it, it loads with cartridges, just like a normal .357 Magnum Python.

When I saw this revolver at the 2014 SHOT Show, I told Justin Biddle, the Umarex USA marketing director, they’re going to sell a boatload of these. I remember the wide acceptance of the Dan Wesson BB revolver when I tested it. This Python is the same thing. It looks real, feels real and customers are going to reward the effort by buying it. I just hope it turns out to be as accurate as the Dan Wesson!

When I opened the box, it revealed all that comes with the revolver, plus an undisclosed but entirely realistic bit of future information. As you can see in the picture below, the revolver comes with a speedloader and 6 (count ‘em) shells that hold one BB each. An astute observer will also note the styrofoam in the box is cut for 4-inch and 2.75-inch barrels, so I think that’s the plan. This revolver that I’m testing has a 6-inch tube.

Colt Python in box
This is what comes in the box. Note the cutouts for the front sights of shorter barrels.

Each cartridge holds a single BB, so this gun is a true 6-shot revolver. I say that because shooters familiar with airsoft revolvers, which this one appears to descend from, usually load 4 plastic BBs into each shell, for a total of 24 shots per loading.

The speedloader assists in loading the 6 cartridges into the revolver’s cylinder. But it can also help you load the cartridges with BBs I showed how to do that in a report on the Dan Wesson revolver. It should work the same for this Python.

Colt Python speedloader
The Python comes with a speedloader that helps load the 6 cartridges into the cylinder. It also helps load the BBs into each cartridge.

What’s so nice about this revolver, besides the great feel of the Python that it captures perfectly, is the way it operates the same as the firearm. The cylinder swings out to the left for loading, just like the .357 does. It’s both single- and double-action, and the trigger-pull is lighter than the firearm in double-action but much heavier in single-action. I’m thinking this one will probably go as high as 5 lbs. in single-action. I’ll weigh both pulls in the velocity test.

Colt Python cylinder out
The cylinder pops out to the left, just like a Python firearm cylinder.

The gun weighs 39 ounces, which is several ounces less than a firearm Python with a 6-inch barrel (44 oz.). But it’s definitely muzzle heavy, just like the firearm.

The one major departure from the firearm is the inclusion of a manual safety, located behind the hammer. Push it in to lock the action. Pull it out, and the gun operates normally. It’s very difficult to see, so it doesn’t hurt the look of the revolver one bit.

Colt Python manual safety
The manual safety (shown in the “on” position) is unobtrusive. Pull it back to take it off.

The sights are adjustable in both directions, as you can see in the photo above. I’ll report on how well they work in the accuracy test.

The CO2 cartridge is housed inside the grip, but you don’t access it in the normal way. The “normal” way would be to pop off one of the rubberized grip panels, exposing a place for the cartridge and some sort of mechanism to tighten it during piercing. Instead, this one uses a large, plastic threaded plug that screws in with a large Allen wrench supplied with the gun. It’s easier to operate, plus it keeps the grip panels from loosening during use…as they always do with the other arrangement.

Colt Python CO2 access
The CO2 cartridge drops into this hole and is tightened by this threaded plug.

All things considered, and with the revolver in hand, this BB gun is everything I’d hoped it would be. All that remains is to test it.

The AirForce top hat

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

This report was requested by blog reader Rob 8T2 and seconded by a number of others. I reported on the spring piston forward spring guide that’s known as a top hat, and he wondered if I was also going to talk about the AirForce top hat. Though they share the same name, the two items aren’t connected in any way. One is a spring guide, and the other is an adjustable valve stem for a pneumatic valve. The adjustable valve stem draws its name because, like the forward spring guide, it also looks like a gentleman’s top hat in profile.

AirForce Airguns old top hat
The sliding breech cover has been pushed forward, cocking the striker and revealing the breech for loading. This is the original valve from a first-generation AirForce Talon without a power adjustment wheel.

To understand the AirForce top hat, we have to go back in time to before AirForce Airguns air rifles had power adjustment wheels on the left side. In January 2000, I reported on the new AirForce Talon, the first air rifle to be offered to the U.S. market by the new AirForce company. But I’d already owned the rifle I tested for two years. I bought it from the UK company, GunPower, in 1998, when it was configured differently and sold as their Stealth rifle. In late 1999, AirForce Airguns sent the parts to reconfigure my rifle to their new Talon specification, with an 18-inch .22-caliber barrel.

By that time, I already had many hours of testing and shooting on the rifle in its original Stealth configuration with its 12-inch barrel. It was during that time, by talking to AirForce owner and creator John McCaslin, that I learned how to adjust the top hat of my rifle to change the power.

You may find it amazing to learn that I could adjust that rifle to fire from 65 f.p.s. all the way up to 950 f.p.s. with 14.5-grain Eley Wasps. In truth, any velocity below about 400 f.p.s. was just a parlor trick. The rifle could do it, but all consistency was lost. From 400 to 950, though, it was fairly consistent.

How the top hat power adjustment worked
Power was adjusted by screwing in the top hat to shorten the valve stroke and the valve dwell time (the time the valve stayed open). The valve stroke became shorter because the wide flange at the base of the top hat contacted the top of the valve body and stopped moving. Then, the valve return spring started pushing the valve stem closed again, aided by the high-pressure air inside the reservoir.

Conversely, a longer valve stroke meant more dwell time and more air flowing out. At some point, however, the pellet left the 18-inch barrel, and the longer valve stroke stopped having any additional influence. Once the pellet’s out of the barrel, no amount of additional air can push it any faster.

To loosen the top hat for adjustment, unscrew a tiny 0.050″ Allen screw in the large knurled bottom flange of the hat, allowing it to turn on its threads. Once the desired clearance was reached, the small screw was tightened again. This screw caused problems because enthusiastic owners were over-tightening it, causing it to put dents in the hollow valve stem it contacted. In later years, AirForce started putting two screws in this flange to increase the locking pressure and hopefully reduce the damage to the valve stem.

The o-ring secret
Adjusting the top hat was a chore. One day, airgunsmith Tim McMurray told me about an easier, more convenient way. He said to slip a rubber o-ring around the top hat flange, so it rode in the space beneath the flange. It very effectively limited the amount of valve stem travel. Once I found out how good it was, I left it in place all the time. I wasn’t interested in sheer velocity. I wanted good accuracy at a reasonable level of power. Nothing has changed in 14 years, has it?

AirForce Airguns Talon SS top hat
The closed breech of this very early Talon shows where the o-ring goes.

AirForce Airguns Talon SS breech open
Here you see the breech open for loading.

Talon SS puts an end to top hat adjustment
In November 2000, I wrote about the new Talon SS, which was the first AirForce rifle to have a power adjuster on the left side of the gun. My own SS was a pre-production prototype that didn’t have the power scale engraved on the side of the rifle; but after 14 years of continuous use, it’s still working fine and the air tank has never leaked.

AirForce Airguns Talon SS power adjuster
All AirForce sporting PCPs now have this power adjustment wheel.

The Talon was also updated with the power adjustment wheel at the same time. Now all AirForce sporting PCPs have power wheels and the top hats no longer need adjustment.

John thought that the power-adjustment mechanism would put an end to the fiddly top-hat adjustment, but it didn’t! By the time the power adjuster came on the market, there was a lot of interest in AirForce Airguns…and the internet was abuzz with homebrew ideas of how they should be set up and operated. People did use the new adjustment, but they also continued adjusting their top hats. Top hats continue to be adjusted and discussed right down to today!

The truth about the top hat
The truth is that the top hat is still a very influential part of the AirForce system. It does have tremendous impact on the rifle’s operation, though not always in the ways you read on the internet. Now that the rifles have the power adjustment wheel, the top hat has become more of a starting point or a setting that gives each rifle a potential range of power. The power adjustment wheel is what fine-tunes that range. The top hat is a set-and-forget kind of adjustment, only people are not leaving it alone.

Some valve stems are very thin, such as those found on the Hi-Flo valves. When the screws are over-tightened on these valves, they dimple all too easily. That’s one reason I advise owners not to adjust their top hats.

Top hats are set at the factory with feeler gauges. I’ve told several people I once discovered that an American quarter coin was exactly the right thickness to set the top hat for a Condor Hi-Flo valve. I’ve actually done that more than once. A difference of one or two thousandths of an inch from the factory spec usually isn’t critical. But when the difference grows larger than that, it does start to become critical. It depends on which rifle you’re talking about to determine if the difference is critical.

For the record, I left AirForce Airguns in 2005, and a lot of things have changed since then. I’m not qualified to give out factory specs on anything they make today. I don’t adjust my top hats at all. I use the power adjuster 100 percent of the time when I adjust, and most of the time I leave each gun set at the position that gives me the greatest accuracy.

You wanted to know about the AirForce top hat — there you go.

Building the $100 precharged pneumatic air rifle: Part 5

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

$100 PCP
The PCP is built on a Crosman 2100B chassis.

I bet that when some people heard about this experiment, they laughed it off. Perhaps that will change now that we have looked at this novel idea 5 different times. I’m learning so much from this series that it’s going to affect my writing for years to come.

I was surprised — again!
Somebody — I don’t remember who — asked me to test the $100 PCP with round lead balls — I guess because the steel BB test turned out so well. So I did. I shot it at 10 meters with .177-caliber Gamo round lead balls. Since I shot with open sights, I didn’t get to see the group after confirming that the first shot hit the paper. Imagine my surprise to see all 10 shots clustered tightly in 0.561 inches!

$100 PCP 10 meters round ball
This tight group really surprised me! Ten .177 Gamo lead balls went into 0.561 inches at 10 meters.

That got me thinking — a lot! I’ve been doing this experiment so slow that I forget what I’ve done before.

What I thought I would do today was complete this report with a test of the rifle scoped at 25 yards. However, when I mounted the scope, it was very far off line, as in angled to the barrel. Either the grooves on the receiver are off or the scope mount I chose wasn’t grabbing the base correctly.

After missing the target twice at 25 yards, I pulled the scope off the rifle and decided to shoot another test with open sights. I used different pellets than I used in Part 4 so we get to see some different results.

Crosman Premier heavy
The first pellet I tried was the 10.5-grain Crosman Premier heavy. In .177, Premiers come in both lite and heavy, and this is the first time I’ve tested this rifle with the heavy. I would love to tell you these pellets went into a small group, but the truth is that they scattered in a 2.352-inch pattern.

$100 PCP 25 yards Crosman Premier heavy
Not particularly encouraging, 10 Premier heavies made this 2.352-inch group at 25 yards.

H&N Baracuda Match
Next, I tried 10 H&N Baracuda Match pellets. They made a better group than the Premier heavies, but it still wasn’t worth talking about. Ten pellets went into 2.051 inches at 25 yards.

$100 PCP 25 yards HN Baracuda Match
Ten H&N Baracuda Match pellets went into 2.051-inches at 25 yards. Still no cigar.

After looking at the second group, I noticed that it looked like the first group, only a little smaller. Because I always look through the spotting scope after the first shot of every group to make sure I’m on paper, I knew that the first shots of both groups were high and right. It seemed to me that the shots might be spreading out to the left as the pressure in the reservoir dropped; so on group 3, I took a photo after the first 5 shots had been fired.

RWS Superdome
Finally I tried RWS Superdomes. Including the lead balls I shot at 10 meters, this was the fourth projectile in this test and the seventh diabolo pellet tested at 25 yards in this rifle. The other 3 pellets were documented in part 4.

$100 PCP 25 yards 5 RWS Superdomes
Five RWS Superdomes made this 5-shot group at 25 yards. Would the next 5 shots spread to the left?

Ten Superdomes went into 1.528 inches at 25 yards. That was the best group in this test with pellets, but only the third best pellet of the seven that were tested at 25 yards.

As it turned out, the next 5 shots didn’t open the group that much more. So, another theory bit the dust.

$100 PCP 25 yards RWS Superdomes
Ten RWS Superdomes made this 1.528-inch group at 25 yards. It’s only a little larger than the first 5 shots, shown above.

Evaluation
The $100 PCP is very accurate at close range, but not as good as the distance increases. Of course, you must remember that the barrel is taped to the reservoir with Gorilla tape, so there’s a lack of precision in the build.

It would still be interesting to see how this rifle behaves when scoped, but I’ll have to find mounts that permit mounting a scope to the integral rail. At this point, I think the $100 PCP is a proven concept. I would really like to see this rifle in production.

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