2019 Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 5
M9A3 – A Better Beretta
By Dennis Adler
The Beretta M9A3, like the Glock 19X, was unsuccessful in the U.S. Army Modular Handgun System (MHS) trials; only the Beretta was never even given the chance to compete, being ruled out as too similar to the Beretta M9A1 model that was being phased out (i.e. the reason for the MHS trails). Beretta’s valiant effort to retain its government contract resulted in a very good handgun design but only met 86 percent of the Request for Proposals (RFP) outlined in the MHS program. The M9A3 is the most advanced version of the storied Beretta 92 Series semi-autos, and was actually developed for the U.S. military before the MHS program began. Significant changes were made to the Beretta design with a new dovetailed front and combat style white dot rear sight, a MIL-STD 1913 Picatinny rail upgraded for easier mounting and removal of accessories, a new grip frame with Vertec-style thin grips and a flat mainspring housing similar to the Colt Model 1911 M45 CQBP that was being used by elite U.S. Marine Corp units at the time. The new design for the Beretta was intended to make the overall grip smaller and more suitable for a grater number of end users. A flared magazine well, increased magazine capacity to 17 rounds (9mm), larger magazine release button, and larger manual ambidextrous thumb safeties completed the upgrades, which were packaged in a new military FDE finish reminiscent of the M45 CQBP. After all the effort, Beretta didn’t make the cut, but they did make a better gun.
The failure of the M9A3 in the MHS made the new design perfect for the civilian market, just like the Glock 19X. And just like the Glock, the M9A3 was an ideal candidate for a high quality blowback action CO2 model, which Umarex already had with the 92A1. As a CO2 model for 2019, the M9A3 is a new lease on life for one of the most successful but aging Umarex Beretta air pistols.
More than an upgrade
As a civilian gun, the 9mm M9A3 is in all respects a better, stronger, latter generation Model 92FS. Translating everything Beretta designed into the improved 9mm semi-auto to a CO2-powered blowback action air pistol amounted to much more than a different color frame and slide. You can’t call the M9A3 a clean sheet of paper design, its more like the same sheet with a lot of lines erased and redrawn.
The CO2 model incorporates the key design changes made to the 9mm for the U.S. Army MHS trials. While internally, the new CO2 model is almost the same, there are some minor differences. Most notably is the feel of the trigger, which is slightly heavier when the gun is fired double action for the first shot. Single action pull is about the same, perhaps even a smoother and a hair lighter.
The barrel design for the new pistol is not only different with the threaded barrel extension, the internal .177 caliber barrel length is also changed and the barrel breech revised to provide improved feeding from the magazine. The M9A3 magazines are the same with the exception of the FDE finish, and they are interchangeable with 92A1 mags.
The boldest change to the CO2 model, aside from its FDE finish, is the redesigned M9A3 frame, which is not cast alloy like the 92A1, but rather a remarkably finished polymer frame that has the look of the M9A3 9mm model’s Cerakote finished aluminum-alloy frame. This is the most metal-like polymer frame you will ever see on an air pistol.
There are other obvious changes in the Beretta’s design, but none more important than the flat backstrap, which changes the way you hold and point the M9A3 compared to the 92A1. The flat backstrap grip contour, which is slightly more vertical than a 1911, changes the position of the gun in the palm of the hand, leveling it more in line with the wrist in a natural pointing position. This is all 1911 inspired and you can debate the difference between the original 1911 flat mainspring housing and the 1911A1’s raised or arched mainspring housing all you want, but the when you look at the Colt Rail Gun version of the 1911 that was built for the Marines as a CQBP, and when you look at the vast majority of 1911 competition pistols, they have the old Model 1911 flat mainspring housing. The change in the Beretta’s grip contour reflects that preference.
The new Vertec-style thin grips on the M9A3 are a completely different design than the 92A1, with checkering in two recessed panels, one that falls under the base of the trigger finger, and the other that falls into the palm of the hand. The depth of the grip frame is decreased from 2.125 inches at the widest point of the backstrap arch on the 92A1, to 1.875 inches on the vertical angle of the M9A3. This allows the hand to wrap further around the grips.
On the 9mm models, the large ambidextrous thumb safety again has an over center position and a more upward rake to the levers. This was changed to prevent accidentally setting the safety when racking the slide with force against the safety levers. They are easy to grab hold of because of their size and mounting position on the slide. This is not reflected in the CO2 model in regards to safety angle. The M9A3 also does not have the safety/decocker feature of the 92A1 CO2 pistol, and is a straight FIRE/SAFE design. I think this would be the only negative feature of the new pistol, and the lighter tensioning of the safety lever itself, compared to the 92A1.
This is also a lighter gun. On my scale the 92A1 with magazine weighs 38.0 ounces empty. The M9A3 with its lighter polymer frame, versus an alloy frame (which is used on the 9mm M9A3 models as well as the 92A1 CO2 version) weighs in at 31 ounces empty (which is actually closer to the 9mm pistol’s weight of 33.4 ounces). The only feature of this new gun that is going to cost it a point for Authenticity is also the air pistol’s coolest feature, the select-fire mechanism that switches the gun from semi-auto to full auto, a feature not found on the 9mm guns. But, since the M9A3 is fully field-strippable, it will get a point back to even out the score.
The last noteworthy change in both the 9mm and CO2 models is the oversized magazine release. For the centerfire models this was done to make it easier to use wearing tactical gloves. For the CO2 model the raised, squared off, checkered magazine release is just a lot easier to work than the 92A1’s small, recessed round release button. Better is better in any caliber.
The Umarex Beretta M9A3 has a new barrel breech. This is more than just the interface of the barrel breech with the CO2 firing mechanism, it is a newer design. From a purely functional standpoint, the 92A1 CO2 delivery system has an air valve that moves forward and a lug on the underside that chambers the next BB in the magazine as the air valve moves into the back of the barrel breech. The face of the opening of the air valve sits flush with the barrel breech. When the gun is fired the slide retracts and the air valve snaps back into the firing mechanism under the slide, and then extends forward again as the slide closes. This is something you can see by simply looking down on the top of the slide and pulling it back an inch. The air valve will snap back. When the M9A3 is fired the air valve does not snap back, it just moves back in unison with the slide. The air valve on the M9A3 is always extended, and the top has a locking lug that fits into a corresponding notch in the top of the barrel breech. The same bottom lug from the 92A1 still chambers the BB when the slide closes, but with the 93A1, the barrel breech and air valve nozzle are locked together at top and bottom. This likely contributes to the new model’s higher average velocity.
One last point, the underside of the barrel lug and the guide rod and the recoil spring are also different than those on the 92A1, as is part of the firing mechanism in the frame. This is not a simple upgrade to an existing gun, the M9A3 is a diferent design on the inside as well as outside and clearly qualifies as a new gun for 2019.
Handling and downrange accuracy
The first thing you notice is a change in the resistance when racking the slide on the M9A3. It feels heavier than the 92A1 despite what appears to be a lighter wound recoil spring around the guide rod. This, of course, only matters when you rack the slide to chamber the first BB or when clearing the gun before field stripping or putting it away.
Double action pull averages 8 pounds, 11.5 ounces. This is equivalent to the 92A1 trigger. Single action pull is 4 pounds, 3.4 ounces with almost zero stacking, a short, smooth pull through and crisp break. This is much lighter and smoother than the 92A1 which has stacking throughout the pull and a stiff break as the hammer drops. Length of travel on the 92A1 fired double action is 1.18 inches, and the same on the M9A3 trigger. Take up fired single action is 0.625 inches on the 92A1 but only 0.5 inches on the M9A3. So, the triggers are not exactly the same and the overall advantage goes to the new Beretta model.
To test velocity I used Umarex Precision steel BBs and chronographed 10 consecutive shots with a fresh CO2 cartridge to get an average for maximum velocity. The M9A3 packaging, which is a very nice cardboard box for storage, lists velocity at 330 fps, which is 20 fps faster than the factory specs for the 92A1. The M9A3 clocked an as advertised 330 fps average with a high of 353 fps and a low of 321 fps for 10 rounds.
With a different trigger pull, different sights, different recoil, and higher average velocity, you’re going to expect different accuracy, too. The gun shoots low (wow, what a surprise!), so you have to hold over almost dead center for windage and 2-inches above desired POI. This got me a new test target that put 10 shots into 0.93 inches with a best 5-round group, all overlapping, just right of the bullseye at 0.437 inches. I ran one last test using a 10 meter target, a POA at the top of the 7-ring and put 10 rounds into 0.875 inches with one in the bullseye and the rest in the 8, 9 and 10 rings with a best 5-shots again at 0.437 inches knocking a section of the target open over the 8 ring from 1 o’clock to 3 o’clock.
With slight POA correction, the M9A3 pounds shots into the target under an inch, with a good 330 fps plus average velocity, a very light, predictable trigger, excellent sights, ambidextrous safeties, and easy to load CO2 BB magazines. This is your first 50 point gun.
Model: Umarex Beretta M9A3
Authenticity 1 to 10: 9 (Excellent except for full auto feature not used on the 9mm)
Ingenuity of the design 1 to 10: 10 (Superior fit and finish and use of polymer frame)
Ease of use 1 to 10: 10 (Easy to load BBs and CO2)
Performance 1 to 10: 10 (Higher average velocity than 92A1)
Accuracy 1 to 10: 10 (Shoots tight groups with 2-inch hold over, best group 0.437 inches)
Bonus points: 1 (Can be filed stripped)
Total Points: 50
How to win 2019’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year
On December 24th, one lucky reader will win 2019’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year to commemorate the 500th Airgun Experience article. To enter, all you have to do is be signed up to post comments on Pyramyd Air’s website and read this year’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year articles leading up to the announcement on December 24th.
The rules are simple; you need to post your choice for Top Gun by midnight Monday, December 23rd and answer one question about each of the nine guns from the Replica Airgun of the Year articles published between December 5th and December 21st. The nine questions will only be available at the end of the December 21st article, and you will have had to read the articles on each gun to find the answers. Because there will be several guns reaching 50 points, there will be a tie-breaker decision on December 24th. You will have to make that decision, too, and the first person to post the correct answers to all nine questions and name this year’s winner by midnight December 23rd wins the Replica Air Pistol of Year on Christmas Eve.
Good Luck to everyone!