Posts Tagged ‘AirForce Airguns’

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.

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.

Common PCP leaks and some common fixes

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

I’m still in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, as I write this, so please excuse the brevity of the report. A while ago, I wrote down this idea as a possible report topic. Those who haven’t yet come over to PCPs often wonder how reliable they are, and those who already have the guns sometimes encounter things that are common problems but new to them. Let’s talk about that today.

WARNING: The procedures I am about to describe are for those who know what they are doing. In every case, there are proper safety steps to be taken so accidents don’t happen. I cannot possibly describe all of those steps, so the following procedures are presented only for your education — not to train you as an airgunsmith. Safety with pressurized air and airguns should always be the No. 1 concern.

I can’t fill this airgun!
Boy, have I ever heard this one! It can come to you in a variety of ways, such as, “This airgun is broken — how do I return it?” I used to get at least one of those calls every month while I was the technical director at AirForce Airguns. The first few times I heard it, I was worried; but I got so used to hearing it that I would start telling them the cure before the problem had been fully stated.

The guy would tell me that he couldn’t fill his old-style Condor tank. I asked him how he was trying to fill it — from a scuba tank or with a hand pump — and a lot of times that made the guy mad. He wanted to know why that mattered because he should be able to fill the gun from a scuba tank or from a hand pump. Right? When this call came in, I knew he was filling with a hand pump, and I also knew he was trying to fill an empty tank.

The answer to “can it be done” is both yes and no. Yes, you can fill this kind of tank from a hand pump if there’s already some air inside it, and no, you can’t fill the tank if you start with it empty. That would really anger some people until I explained that the air inlet valve on an old-style Condor tank is also the exhaust valve. It’s a door that swings both ways. If there’s no air inside the tank, the valve will not recognize the small puff of air from a hand pump and will escape, again.

The valve will not close because it also uses internal air pressure to help it close tight. If you fill the tank from a scuba tank, the incoming air is under so much pressure that it will fill the tank quickly, and the internal air pressure will help close the valve when the filling stops.

A hand pump cannot fill some pneumatic airguns (not just Condors) unless they already have some air pressure inside to hold the inlet valve closed. We would ship tanks out with what we called a maintenance air charge in them — just enough pressure to hold the valve shut. But if the guy received the gun and then proceeded to shoot all that air out, as some of them did, they then had a gun that could only be filled from a scuba tank. It’s not funny when it happens to you.

This phenomenon is not just confined to AirForce guns, either. Almost all of the powerful Korean airguns work in a similar way. But the Korean guns can accept a charge by simply cocking the bolt — sometimes. In that case, taking the pressure of the bolt off the valve allows it to close and seal completely.

The newer style of Condor (as well as all other AirForce sporting PCP rifles) has a Spin-Loc tank with a separate inlet valve and firing valve. I’m not certain, but I believe this has solved the problem I just discussed. If I had a tank and pump here with me, I would check it right now. I’ll look into it when I get home.

Now you know two things about PCP “leaks” that are both very common problems and often misunderstood. First, they aren’t really leaks. They’re part of the gun’s design. Second, some guns must first be cocked to be filled.

Before you go all — “They shouldn’t design them that way!” on me, remember, the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane leaks fuel until it flies fast enough to heat and expand the airplane’s skin. Only then do all the leaks stop. Sometimes, a product can have a quirk that isn’t a flaw — it’s just the way it works. The Sheridan Supergrade rifle is one that cannot be pumped up unless the bolt is cocked first.

Use a hammer!
I probably shouldn’t tell you guys this next one; because when some of you get a hammer in your hands, every problem looks like a nail. But in the world of pneumatics, there are times when a big rubber mallet is exactly the right tool to use. When is that time? When a pneumatic that has been performing well all along suddenly develops a fast leak. It’s probably due to a piece of dirt that’s gotten onto a soft seal and is allowing air to pass through. To get it off the seal, it sometimes works to tap the end of the valve with a soft hammer. It opens the valve, and the blast of air will probably blow the dirt past the seal.

When I built valves at AirForce, I tested each by pressurizing them in a fixture and tapping the valve stem with a rubber hammer. I had racks of 100 valves at a time, and I went through and did this to each one in turn. That process seated the valve and created a small ring of contact between the synthetic valve and its seat. Sometimes, the valve needed to be hit several times to seat it properly, but it always worked. And it also worked if a valve had a small piece of dirt anywhere in the seals.

When customers would call with a gun that leaked and I determined the leak was a fast one that had popped up all of a sudden, I told them to try this procedure before sending the tank back for repairs. It fixed probably over 75 percent of all such leaks.

But this isn’t magic. If your gun has been a slow leaker the whole time you’ve owned it, this isn’t going to change a thing. It’s just for those all-of-a-sudden leaks that crop up sometimes. It will work for all guns, but most of them don’t allow direct access to the valve head like the AirForce tanks do. For those, you can do the next best thing — dry-fire the gun several times. That usually fixes the problem unless you’re timid about it. I sometimes had to get a timid owner to dry-fire his gun by telling him to fill it full and then dry-fire it 20 times in rapid succession. All that was doing is getting him to dry-fire the gun repeatedly without pausing to see if it was fixed yet. When there’s a piece of grit on a seal, it takes a lot of air flowing past to dislodge it, and a couple tries are often not enough. Twenty shots is probably overkill in all situations, but it saved me time from having to explain in detail just what the guy was doing — as I have now done for you!

You now know a genuine airgunsmith procedure! It isn’t as fascinating as it sounded, is it?

Listen
Okay, let’s go back to 1960, when cars had points and copper spark plug wires with (sometimes) poor insulation. Mechanics had a genuine stethoscope in their toolboxes. Or if they were shade-tree mechanics, like me, they had a 4-foot length of small rubber hose. We would put one end of the tube to our ear (the ear that worked best) and move the other end around the engine compartment while the motor was idling. You could quickly zero in on an arcing sparkplug wire or an exhaust manifold leak. It also works for precharged airguns!

You don’t need a hose because the barrel is the pipe that transmits the sound. Cock the gun but don’t load it. The sound you’re listening for is an air leak at the exhaust valve. But here’s an important safety tip — never put your ear directly over the muzzle and never do this if the gun is loaded! Listen from the side of the muzzle; so if the gun were to fire, the air would blast past your ear instead of into it! You can use a piece of paper to direct the sound, if needed. That keeps you safe and still lets you hear the smallest sounds.

I’ve found a number of valve leaks this way. This is just a diagnostic tool — it doesn’t do anything to fix the valve.

If your ears aren’t that good, or if you just don’t want to do it this way, you can also put a few drops of soapy water down the muzzle of a cocked gun. Bubble-blowing solution that you can buy at a dollar store works perfectly for this! If any air is escaping the valve, there will be bubbles at the muzzle. I always had a small bottle of bubble-blowing solution next to me when I worked on guns at AirForce. Of course, you have to clean the barrel and wipe it with an oily patch after doing this.

These little procedures have proven very valuable over the course of time. If the situation is right, they’ll fix the problem more often than not. While they seem simple to the point of being somewhat ridiculous, they do work.

AirForce EscapeUL: Part 3

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

AirForce Escape: Part 1
AirForce Escape: Part 2
AirForce Escape: Part 3
AirForce EscapeUL: Part 1
AirForce EscapeUL: Part 2

EscapeUL
The AirForce EscapeUL is a lightweight PCP with the Escape powerplant. Everything has been modified to save weight.

I’m still in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, filming segments for this year’s American Airgunner TV show, so today’s report will be short. After I reported the 50-yard accuracy test for the EscapeUL, blog reader Gunfun1 asked me if I had remembered to coat the pellets with Slip 2000 oil that Ton Jones likes. I had to admit that I’d forgotten, so I promised him I would. Last Friday, I went to the range and shot the EscapeUL with just the 2 best pellets — the 43.2-grain Eun Jin pointed pellet that develops the maximum power in the rifle, and the Predator Polymag pellet that was the most accurate on lower power.

Predator Polymag
The first pellet I shot was the Predator Polymag. I did that because the rifle was still set on the same power setting I used in the last test. If you recall, I shot 2 groups of Polymags that time. One was 5 pellets in 0.622 inches at 50 yards. I thought that was phenomenal! The second group of 5 opened up to 1.298 inches, but I shot it in a continuous wind. I just waited for quieter moments, but the wind was always blowing for that group.

Oiling the pellets
I put several drops of the Slip 2000 lube on the foam that JSB packs in the tops of their tins. Predator Polymags are made by JSB, so they always have this foam. Then, I put some pellets on the foam and rolled them around until they were moist to the touch.

The first target I shot looked like it was going to beat my earlier best group; but after 3 shots, the rifle threw the next shot to another location, opening the group much larger. Okay, I thought, maybe I didn’t get the fill pressure just right. I continued shooting until there were 6 shots on this target. The entire group measures 1.545 inches between centers. That isn’t bad; but in light of what I did before with unoiled pellets, I wasn’t happy with it.

EscapeUL with Predator Polymag pellets
Six oiled Predator Polymag pellets made this 1.545-inch group. The first 3 shots were at the upper left.

This group suggested to me that the EscapeUL doesn’t like oiled pellets. It seemed like once the bore was oily, accuracy went south. Of course, I couldn’t let it ride without testing it once more. This time, the pellets were oiled in the same way, but the bore was already oily. I mention that because the next group of 5 wasn’t nearly as good as the first. Five Predator Polymags went into 2.634 inches! And that was what I expected would happen. When I saw the pellets in the previous group opening up, it was something I have seen before. Oiled pellets often do this, in my experience.

EscapeUL-predator-group-2
Five more oiled Predator Polymag pellets made this 2.634-inch group. From what I’ve seen, this is pretty common with oiled pellets, though sometimes they’ll shoot better than they do when dry.

The wind was starting to pick up, so I switched from Polymags to Eun Jins. This time, I ran the power up as high as it would go and filled the reservoir to 3,000 psi. The last time, I shot 5 dry Eun Jin pellets into a group that measured 1.866 inches at 50 yards. That set the bar for the oiled pellets.

And the challenge was met! I got an almost-identical 1.862-inch, 5-shot group with the oiled Eun Jins. The measurement error is larger than the difference between these 2 groups!

EscapeUL-Eun-Jin-group
Five oiled heavy Eun Jin pointed pellets went into 1.862 inches at 50 yards. That’s so close to what they did when dry that it’s too close to call.

Sometimes, you win…and other times not
I know this isn’t a huge test with lots of controls and numerous targets. But I didn’t think oiling the pellets was actually going to help. From what I see here, it didn’t. It’s just one extra step for little or no return. I certainly would not oil the Predators, again!

The one advantage I see with oiling is that it makes the pellets load easier. At least it does for the Predators. The Eun Jins load very hard no matter what you do. I had to use the flat side of the screwdriver blade on my pocket knife to get them into the breech — even after oiling!

I doubt I’ll oil pellets for this rifle again.

AirForce EscapeUL: Part 2

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

AirForce Escape: Part 1
AirForce Escape: Part 2
AirForce Escape: Part 3
AirForce EscapeUL Part 1

EscapeUL
The AirForce EscapeUL is a lightweight PCP with the Escape powerplant. Everything has been modified to save weight.

Today, we’ll look at the accuracy of the new .25-caliber AirForce EscapeUL. This is the ultra-lightweight version of the Escape rifle and has most of the Escape’s power but is more than a pound lighter. The Escape is already lightweight, but at just 4.25 lbs., the EscapeUL is a real featherweight.

The day I chose to test this rifle was very cold, with a threatening breeze that soon picked up to a 20 m.p.h. wind. I did all of my shooting between puffs and gusts.

EscapeUL Tom at bench
It was a cold day that grew windier the longer I shot. But the EscapeUL did itself proud!

Full power
Because this rifle is so potentially powerful, I decided to test it all-out with the first 2 pellets. The power adjuster was run up as high as it would go and the tank was filled to 3,000 psi. The first pellet I tested was the heavyweight 43.2-grain Eun Jin pointed pellet. As you’ll recall from my tests of the Escape, I’m shooting 5-shot groups instead of 10-shot groups because the velocity decreases with every shot. At 50 yards, I can keep 5 shots in a good group, but trying to do that for 10 in a row opens things up. There are still 10 good shots on a fill, but you have to change your aim point to use all of them.

The first group measured 1.866 inches between centers. That’s with a pellet that produces from 70 to 80 percent of the power of a .22 long rifle bullet, so it’s plenty potent. The Eun Jin pellets are not the most accurate in these rifles; but for power on target, they’re pretty hard to beat.

EscapeUL 50-yard Eun Jin pointer target
Five heavy Eun Jin pointed pellets went into 1.866 inches at 50 yards on max power.

Next, I refilled the rifle and tried the same thing with the 35.8-grain Eun Jin dome. This time the group opened to 2.506 inches between centers. In light of the heavier pointed pellet’s accuracy, I don’t think I would use this pellet in this rifle.

EscapeUL 50-yard Eun Jin domed target
Five Eun Jin domes made this 2.506-inch group at 50 yards. This is not the pellet for this rifle — at least not on full power.

Experience comes in handy
I’ve said many times that a shooter can adjust these AirForce rifles so much that you’ll never be able to test everything; but, fortunately, there’s a better way if you have some experience to go on. And I did have some experience because I’d already tested the Escape rifle. While it does have 6 inches less barrel and a thinner barrel to boot, the rest of the EscapeUL is pretty much the same as the Escape. I felt that if I went in the direction that gave some success with the Escape, it might work with this rifle, as well.

JSB Exact King
I knew that the Lothar Walther barrels in AirForce rifles like JSB pellets, and in .25 caliber the JSB Exact King pellet is a real performer. When I tested the TalonP pistol, the King was one of the best pellets, and you know the Escape rifles are all based on the TalonP platform.

I also knew that I should reduce both the starting air pressure in the tank and the power setting to do well with the King. But I wanted to see if it could handle the full 3,000 psi; so, the tank was filled to the max, but the power setting was dialed back to setting 8. I started shooting and was so successful that I kept right on after the fifth shot. Eight shots went into 1.61 inches at 50 yards. I would have shot another 2 shots but this time the air pressure had dropped to 2,000 psi on the built-in gauge, and I thought the next shot might go somewhere else.

EscapeUL 50-yard JSB King target 1
Eight JSB King pellets went into this 1.61-inch group at 50 yards. They were going so well I couldn’t stop shooting!

Next, I tried the Kings with the same power setting (8) and a starting air pressure of 2,600 psi. I shot just 5 pellets that went into 1.209 inches at 50 yards. That was definitely the best the rifle had done to this point, but I’d seen even better accuracy from the Escape, so I decided to shoot these pellets again.

EscapeUL 50-yard JSB King target 2
When the fill pressure was stopped at 2,600 psi and the power setting was on 8, five JSB Kings went into 1.209 inches.

A second group of Kings with the same fill pressure and power settings produced a 1.526-inch group. That was still good, but I felt the rifle could do even better. It was time to switch pellets.

EscapeUL 50-yard JSB King target 3
Five more JSB Kings on power setting 6 with a 2,600 psi fill made this 1.526-inch group.

Predator Polymags
Ton Jones has done more testing than I with these rifles, and he likes the Predator Polymag pellet the best. Even when he knows the Eun Jin pointed pellet produces more energy, he trusts the Predator Polymag to go where he shoots. That was the next pellet for me. I filled the tank to just 2,500 psi and set the power at 6.

I expected a good group, but I wasn’t prepared for how good! Five Polymags went into 0.622 inches at 50 yards. Despite the cold (20 degrees F) and the winds that were gusting to 20 m.p.h., this hollowpoint pellet was drilling them in!

EscapeUL 50-yard Predator Polymag target 1
Predator Polymag pellets are definitely the ones for this rifle. Five went into 0.622 inches at 50 yards.

Predator calls their Polymag a pointed pellet, but I call it a hollowpoint. The point is just a plastic tip that’s glued in place. The pellet acts like a hollowpoint on game, so I call it one regardless of the plastic tip. Just a little quirk of mine, I guess.

That first group was stunning. By now, the wind was blowing all the time, and my day with air rifles had ended. I did shoot a final group of Polymags in the wind, waiting out the gusts and shooting when the wind was down to about 5-10 m.p.h. The same setting and fill pressure was used. This time, 5 pellets landed in 1.298 inches at 50 yards, and I can truthfully say it was the wind’s fault. However, this group is still the third best of the day, which says a lot for the Predators in a reasonable wind. I think Ton is right — this is the best pellet for the Escape rifles, but you have to lower the power and fill pressure.

EscapeUL 50-yard Predator Polymag target 1
Although this group is larger, it was shot in the wind. Five Predator Polymags went into 1.298 inches at 50 yards.

More to do
As with the Escape rifle, I’m not done with the test just yet. I need to get the velocity figures for the best pellets, power settings and fill pressures so we have some idea what this rifle can reasonably do in the field. Before I do that, I want to try the EscapeSS first.

Summary so far
Most shooters will look at the Escape’s raw power and choose it over the EscapeUL on that basis, alone. But I look at the light weight, compact size and the stunning accuracy of the EscapeUL and think it would be my pick, so far. From the standpoint of muzzle report and recoil, there’s very little difference in these 2 rifles. Both are loud and both kick like a rimfire rifle — perhaps even more. But there’s still one more rifle to test.

AirForce EscapeUL: Part 1

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

AirForce Escape: Part 1
AirForce Escape: Part 2
AirForce Escape: Part 3

I’m testing 3 AirForce guns together — the Escape, the EscapeUL and the EscapeSS. All 3 are based on the same powerplant that is derived from the TalonP pistol. That’s why I am grouping them together like this. But each rifle has its own unique characteristics, too. And this is our look at the EscapeUL, which is the ultralight version of the rifle. It’s the lightest of the 3 air rifles and comes in either .22 or .25 caliber. I’m testing a .25.

Escape Escape SS Escape Ultralight
Escape on top, then Escape SS and finally Escape Ultralight on the bottom.

As you will remember, the Escape is a collaboration between AirForce Airguns and Ton Jones, the star of television’s Auction Hunters. Ton had the requirement for a survival airgun and came up with the idea of putting a longer barrel on the TalonP pistol action, and AirForce did the engineering and development that turned it into a production rifle.

What does survival mean?
Survival is a word that’s charged with emotion, so the definition depends on the person who is using it. For many people, the term connotes a human wave attack with bullets and missiles flying everywhere — a last stand at the Alamo. But is that what survival really means? If you’re in the Alamo at that moment, I guess you would agree with that definition, but most of us will thankfully never be in that situation. But every year, millions of people are thrust into real survival situations.

Hurricane Sandy, a force 5 tornado, a blizzard that won’t stop or just having your truck break down 20 miles off Old Lincoln Highway outside Ely, Nevada, in the late summertime can all qualify as survival situations. Maybe all you have to do is hold out for 2 days before someone comes looking for you. You were exploring an old ghost town, and now they want to add you to the town rolls!

You don’t need a track-mounted machine gun or a Patriot missile launcher, but it sure would be nice to know you could defend yourself if a wild dog showed up! Or, if you had some way of popping one of those elusive prairie chickens that run along the ground and seem to stay just outside throwing distance. So, in your truck, along with the extra water, gasoline, MREs and sleeping bag (with cot, for this is the desert) you have a small canvas bag. Inside is a scoped EscapeUL, a hand pump and a tin of pellets. The rifle has been sighted-in, but you check it with one shot at an MRE wrapper stuck on a creosote bush 40 yards away — just to be sure. Then lay the rifle on top of the bag on the ground and put 10 pump strokes back in — 7 to get the air line up to pressure and 3 for the shot you just fired — and everything is good to go. The bag weighs 12 lbs., total, and has straps for shoulder carry. That’s what we mean by a survival airgun.

We took a good look at the Escape rifle for both power and accuracy and found that it can be plenty accurate when you use the right combination of pellets and pressures. Ton has pronounced it good to go, and his logo is on every Escape made.

The EscapeUL, however, is an AirForce idea. Ton knows about it and did test it, but it doesn’t bear his logo. It has slightly different features for a person with slightly different needs.

The EscapeUL is designed to remove all unnecessary weight from the rifle, while retaining as much of the power as possible. It has an 18-inch barrel instead of the Escape’s 24-inch barrel, so some velocity is lost. We’ll see how much in a moment.

The barrel isn’t just shorter, it is also thinner. Instead of a nominal 16mm diameter for the Escape barrel, the UL barrel is just 12mm. That diameter is only nominal. Some comes off when the barrel is ground before bluing. The barrel on my test rifle measures 0.477 inches across, which translates to 12.1158mm.

The net weight of the EscapeUL is 4.25 lbs., making it several pounds less than most precharged rifles and even less than some of the lightest ones.

EscapeUL barrel thickness
The EscapeUL barrel (bottom) is thinner than the Escape barrel, saving weight.

Of course, we all want to know what a thinner barrel means as far as accuracy goes. That test will be next. But now, let’s take a look at power.

The EscapeUL shares the same 213cc Spin-Loc air reservoir as the Escape and TalonP pistol, so the number of shots per fill is going to be about the same. Physics being what they are, we already know what to expect. The powerplant is also the same. The same valve in the tank and same striker weight and spring tension will give similar performance. It’s the 18-inch barrel that makes the difference.

With the heaviest .25-caliber pellet, which is the Eun Jin pointed pellet that weighs 43.2 grains, the maximum velocity in the 18-inch barrel is about 910 f.p.s. The 24-inch Escape barrel gave a maximum of 1010 f.p.s. with the same pellet, so the UL barrel loses about 100 f.p.s. In term of muzzle energy, that’s 79.46 foot-pounds on the first shot, compared to the 97.88 foot-pounds for the Escape.

As with the Escape, the velocity drops with each succeeding shot. By shot 5, the velocity will be down to 855 f.p.s. That carries an energy of 70.14 foot-pounds.

In .22 caliber, the energies are all lower because the pellets are lighter. With a 28.4-grain Eun Jin dome the maximum velocity is 980 f.p.s. on the first shot. That’s 60.58 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. By shot 5, the pellet leaves the muzzle at 900 f.p.s. and generates 51.09 foot-pounds.

You can discuss their performance in several different ways; but to my way of thinking, the Escape rifles are best in .25 caliber. I’m glad that’s the way I will be testing this one.

EscapeUL
The AirForce EscapeUL is a lightweight PCP with the Escape powerplant. The shorter slender barrel reduces the weight.

The trigger, adjustable stock, automatic safety and scope mounts are identical to those found on the Escape. It’s plenty for a scope, scope level, tactical flashlight and laser. There’s even enough for a coffee grinder, if you can find one that will fit!

Some thoughts
I’ve already been asked if the Escape rifles will run on CO2. They should, but it will need to be tested to say for sure. Since they were not designed to operate on CO2, I’ll have to find a way of filling the reservoir. No CO2 coupling I know of will mate with an air coupling, so it may take me some time to work it out.

I’ve also been asked on the back channel how quiet these airguns can be. Quite frankly, I don’t know. Given all the technology in the world, they can probably be made quieter than a Marauder; but once I answer that, the next question will be if all that technology can be reduced in size to fit in a pocket! We criticize the U.S. Air Force for asking that everything be made from unobtainium (strongest metal known whose forms weigh nothing and add lift to airframes), yet we do the same thing when it comes to powerful airguns. “Great,” we say, “but can they also be quiet and get lots of shots, too?”

There’s survival and then there’s daydreaming. We’re talking survival here.

AirForce Escape: Part 3

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

Part 1
Part 2

AirForce Escape rifle
The AirForce Airguns Escape precharged pneumatic air rifle is a powerful new survival rifle in both .22 and .25 calibers.

Last time we looked at the accuracy of the AirForce Escape at 50 yards. I shot the rifle on low pressure and a low power setting on that day to see what it could do. You may remember that at 50 yards, I got a best 5-shot group with JSB Exact King pellets that measured 0.594 inches between centers. That’s great for a .25-caliber PCP, but I know it left some of you wondering what the rifle can do at its maximum power. Today, we’ll look at that.

The heaviest .25-caliber pellet I have is the Eun Jin pointed pellet, which weighs 43.2 grains. So, it’s a little heavier than the standard bullet of a .22 Long Rifle cartridge. We know from testing that this pellet leaves the muzzle at up to 1010 f.p.s., generating 97.88 foot-pounds of energy.

I also had some Eun Jin domed pellets to test. At 35.8 grains, they’re lighter than the pointed pellet but might be accurate enough to make a difference. As long as I’m testing, I thought why not test them, too?

AirForce Escape rifle Eun Jin pointed and domed pellets
These are the 2 pellets used in today’s accuracy test. The pointed pellet weighs 43.2 grains, and the dome weighs 35.8 grains.

The wind had just started to pick up at the range. I had finished testing the Benjamin Marauder with synthetic stock and shifted to the Escape because I felt the power of the gun and weight of the pellet wouldn’t be affected by this wind nearly as much as a smaller pellet moving at lower speed.

Max power
The first thing I tried was the heavy Eun Jin pellet on max power and with a max power setting on the gun. The first 2 pellets went through the same holes at 50 yards, and I thought I was on to something. Then, shots 3 and 4 moved 2 inches to the right but also landed in a single hole. Shot 5 then landed an inch to the left of the first 2 shots, giving me a 5-shot group that measures 2.478 inches across the widest centers. While that is adequate accuracy for larger animals at 50 yards, it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be.

AirForce Escape rifle Eun Jin pointed pellet group 1
Five Eun Jin pointed pellets on maximum power with a 3,000 psi fill at 50 yards. The group measures 2.478 inches between centers, but look how they landed. The first two are left of the pellet, the next 2 are to the right of the dime (in the same hole) and pellet 5 is all the way over to the left.

I remembered that there are 10 good shots on a fill of the Escape’s small 213cc reservoir, so I shot the next 5 pellets at a different target. The scope wasn’t adjusted. The reservoir pressure at the start of this string was about 2,600 psi. This time ,all 5 went into 1.622 inches. That’s a significant improvement. According to the velocity test data, these shots ranged between about 71 and 82 foot-pounds.

AirForce Escape rifle Eun Jin pointed pellet group 2
By starting with less reservoir pressure, the group tightened significantly. These 5 shots went into 1.622 inches between centers at 50 yards.

I was satisfied with the results of this heaviest pellet, but I’ve never gotten the best accuracy with pointed pellets. I felt I might be at the limit of this pellet’s performance. Time was passing and the wind was building, so I moved on.

The lighter domed pellet remained to be tested. On max power with a 3,000 psi fill, I got several open 5-shot groups that all hovered around 2 inches. While that’s okay, it isn’t what I wanted. Then, I shot a couple groups with the power set to max and the starting air pressure set at 2,600 psi. The only reason I did it that way was because of the results of the heavier pointed pellet I’d just tested. And that’s where the magic happened!

The first 5-shot group on this setting (power set on max, starting fill pressure at 2,600 psi and shooting the 35.8-grain domed Eun Jin) measures 1.177 inches. Four of those shots are in 0.555 inches! That’s fantastic! I don’t have the velocity data for this pellet on that setting, but I’ll venture a guess it’s producing around 60-70 foot-pounds.

AirForce Escape rifle Eun Jin domed pellet group 1
Now, we’re cooking! Five Eun Jin domes went into 1.177 inches at 50 yards, with 4 of them making a 0.555-inch group! This is fantastic, but can I do it again?

Like you, I wondered if this single group was just a fluke, so I filled the reservoir to 2,600 psi, again, and shot a second group. This time, I put 5 into 1.089 inches. Three of those pellets are in 0.214 inches. If you overlay those 3 pellets on top of the other group, they all go to the same place!

Air Force Escape rifle Eun Jin domed pellet group 2
Here’s the miracle I was talking about. Same starting air pressure, and 5 pellets went into 1.089 inches. Three of them are in 0.214 inches and in the same place as the 4 pellets from the last group. This is significant!

What I’m saying is that somewhere around this power setting and fill pressure, there’s a super sweet spot the Escape loves with this domed pellet. By spending more time refining the fill pressure and by adjusting the sights for this combination, the Escape will become a tackdriver. It doesn’t get a lot of shots like this, but remember — this is a survival rifle. You want one shot — one kill. I think this gives that to you!

I could continue to refine my pressure settings with this pellet, but I don’t think I have to. I’ve now shown you 2 different ways the AirForce Escape can make very small groups at 50 yards. If you’re looking for a powerful air rifle to do some serious hunting, you should consider this one. I think Ton Jones and John McCaslin both have reason to be proud of their creation.

What’s next?
I was prepared to exchange barrels at this point and try the .22-caliber Escape, but I think I’ll let that slide for now. If I’m any judge, most buyers are going to get the .25-caliber Escape. Once they see these results, I expect they’ll do similar tests. Therefore, I plan to switch over to the EscapeUL next. That’s the ultralight rifle that has an 18-inch barrel. I’ll give you a combined introduction and velocity/power report, followed by a range test like this.

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