Early blowback action designs

Early blowback action designs

Umarex already had an eye on the future

By Dennis Adler

In the world of blowback action CO2 models we tend to look back at 2014 as a watershed year when Umarex introduced the Colt licensed 1911 Commander, what was then, and even to this day one of the best 1911 CO2 models. There were, however, a handful of other blowback action models that preceded the Commander by at least a year and from other manufacturers, (and here we are referencing models with self-contained CO2 BB magazines only). Blowback action models began with the Umarex and the Walther PPK/S some 20 years ago, and though the period from 2000 to 2014 is not memorable for noteworthy blowback action air pistols, looking back to 2010 Umarex actually introduced a few that have been overlooked by many, some because they were only available for a very short time. They nevertheless represent benchmarks in blowback action pistol evolution.  

Umarex had set its sights on building a blowback action Glock 17 long before the collaboration between the German airgun manufacturer and Austrian gunmaker had been established. In 2010 Umarex introduced the SA177, as close to a Glock air pistol as anyone dared go.

These guns are all long discontinued, but are still found on the secondary market, three in particular laid the groundwork for other blowback action models that would follow in the decade to come, including the Umarex Glock 17!

The SA177’s design was generally taken from the Third Gen G17, which would eventually become the basis for the first blowback action model produced in cooperation with Glock.

The first two appeared in 2010, the nondescript HPP, which had its design loosely based on the Sig Sauer P228 for size and styling, and the SA177 which, as you can see, laid the groundwork for Umarex to eventually build a Glock 17 model. This gun was developed six years prior to Umarex and Glock teaming up to build the first G17 blowback action model in 2017, though the design intent of the SA177 was clearly evident back in 2010. The internal operation was still based around a separate CO2 loaded into the grip frame, (by flipping open the backstrap), and a 19-shot stick magazine with a full size base pad to conceal the seating screw and give the gun a realistic appearance. There was a long road ahead for Umarex to travel until they arrived at Gaston Glock’s doorstep, but let’s take a quick look at what may well have set them on the path.

Facing off, the G17 and SA177 had a lot in common on the outside.

A decade ago it seemed that Glock’s unmistakable profile was in everyone’s sights as a CO2 model, everyone except Glock. The SA177 looked unmistakably like a Third Gen Glock 17 design only with a more elaborate accessory dustcover rail and slightly different forward slide contour. Although the obvious trigger toggle safety was for looks only, it was clearly a Glock design and there was little reason for Umarex to use this if they were not going for as many Glock styling cues as possible, right down to the grip contours and magazine release. The big deviation, and a good one, was the use of a rear fiber optic sight and a fiber optic front sight insert. The frame was polymer, the slide metal, and the overall length approximated that of a Glock 17, coming up just a little short at 7.25 inches. It was as close to a Glock copy as anyone dared get. 

Internally it was a contemporary DAO with the trigger having to cock the internal hammer/firing mechanism (i.e. it was not an actual striker-fired gun like a Glock), and that gave the SA177 a heavy trigger pull. This type of DAO action is still used today and remains a good choice for building entry-level air pistols, and even on some higher-priced ones. As an early blowback action model the retail price in 2010 was pretty reasonable at $62 (about $75 today) which would still put it in the low price range equivalent to the current non-blowback Umarex Glock 19 CO2 model.

Internally, the SA177 was old tech, a separate CO2 in the grip and a stick magazine, but for 2010, that was pretty much how blowback action air pistols were built. The SA177 was just a little smaller than the G17.

Umarex wasn’t the only one emulating the Glock design. If you look at Crosman CO2 pistols from 2007, they had a Glock 17 design only with a non-blowback action, the T4CS pellet model using an 8-shot rotary magazine. With a rifled steel barrel the Crosman was actually a higher-priced gun at $90.  

While I never had an SA177, you can find plenty of reviews of the gun on the internet. Reviewers looked at it as a Glock-based design, and that probably played well for Umarex when they began their relationship with the Austrian gunmaker, having already proven they could build the general design as a CO2 pistol. I wouldn’t call the SA177 a collectible, but it is one worth finding (in good working condition) if you don’t mind the comparatively antiquated workings compared to today’s Umarex Glock models.

Probably one of the better early blowback designs and a contemporary of the Umarex SA177 was the Umarex HPP. Also introduced in 2010, the HPP came in a foam lined plastic case (or at least the edition I got did) with a cutout for ammo (Umarex steel BBs with the then new dispenser tip which was a patent pending design).

The one gun I do have and have had since 2010, is the Umarex HPP which uses an internal system not too far removed from the SA177 but with a much lighter trigger pull. It resembles the famous Sig Sauer P228, a compact version of the P226. The HPP is an interesting build when compared to some of the first Sig Sauer branded CO2 models like the P250, P226 and P320. The HPP has the ejection port molded into the slide exactly the same as the early Sig Air models. Unlike the short-lived SA177, the HPP had a little longer production life lasting into 2016 (the SA177 was only manufactured from 2010 to 2012), and the HPP had a higher retail price of $79 because this was an all metal, blowback action model.

The gun’s construction ended up being either ahead of its time for 2010 or Sig was a little behind the times five years later with its P250, P226 and advanced P320 ASP models, which took the same cost cutting approach by molding the ejection port in with the slide. (Shown with the Sig P320 ASP)
The HPP was a hefty blowback action weighing 29 ounces with an all metal frame and slide. A well built BB model, its design was based on the very popular Sig Sauer P228.
Not exactly a Sig knockoff, like the SA177 wasn’t exactly a G17 knockoff, the size and general proportions were very similar, actually a bit more advanced since the air pistol was also fitted with a dustcover accessory rail. The Sig P228 incorporated the same decocking lever as the larger P226 then favored by the U.S. Navy Seals. The P228 also became the standard issue sidearm of NCIS.

With its Sig-like styling this Umarex had more eye-appeal than the Glockelganger, even though it was a basic black pistol sized like a then contemporary double stack magazine 9mm Compact. At a hefty 29 ounces (empty) it felt like a real gun when you picked it up. The sights were practical, a U-notch rear facing a white dot front, and while not copying the Sig Sauer P228 in all details, (the P228 had a P226-type decocker), the slide release and manual safety were pretty matter-of-fact in their design and placement, with the latter positioned for easy release with the support hand thumb on the draw when using a two-handed hold.

The hammer could not be cocked because the HPP used a DAO trigger, but it was lighter than the SA177’s. The layout of the slide release and manual safety worked well for right-handed shooters especially if they practiced shooting with a two handed hold. The sliding safety could be efficiently released during presentation of the pistol with the support hand thumb.

The HPP had a good build quality and matte black finish, excellent grooved plastic grip panels that were separate pieces (the screws were molded-in) and the panels permanently affixed to the grip frame. The magazine release easily dropped the stick magazine for quick reloading with a spare, and like the SA177, the magazine was easy to load with a locking follower and large, round loading port. This design is still used today by Umarex on guns with stick mags (like the Walter CP99 Compact). The mag for the SA11 was cast metal, the HPP molded plastic, but it wasn’t flimsy as you might expect, and it had a heavy follower spring. The HPP would be a good older CO2 model to track down and purchase if in good working order. The guns were capable of 400 fps or better.

The HPP used a 15 shot stick magazine with an oversized base pad to conceal the internal CO2 seating screw. The molded plastic magazine used a locking follower (shown locked down) and a large loading port for BBs. It was a great design that is still used today.

The third early model was another short-lived blowback action from Umarex sold as the 9XP from 2014 to 2015. It looked like a crossover low-priced BB variation of the Walther PPQ and Glock 17. The first PPQ CO2 model was introduced by Umarex in 2011 as a pellet-firing pistol using an 8-shot rotary magazine like earlier Umarex designs such as the Beretta 92FS. 

Coming along in 2014 around the same time as the debut of the Umarex Colt Commander blowback action model with self-contained CO2 BB magazine, the short-lived 9XP (only produced for one year) looked like a crossover between a Walther PPQ and a Glock 17.
There is a lot of similarity between the 9XP and Umarex Walther PPQ CO2 model but with the Glock style trigger and slide release, and a magazine release mounted on the frame, instead of inside the triggerguard like the Walther. Ironically, the later PPQ M2 (centerfire and CO2 model) would change to this same magazine release and trigger design seen on the 9XP air pistol!

The big advances that came with guns like the Umarex Colt Commander, was not blowback action but the use of a self-contained CO2 BB magazine for greater realism in handling and reloading. Blowback action models like the HPP and SA177 were impressing airgun enthusiasts long before then.  

2 thoughts on “Early blowback action designs

  1. “The PPQ CO2 model was introduced by Umarex in 2011 as a pellet-firing model using an 8×8 rotary stick magazine, ”

    I think I missed something here. Please clarify that statement.

    The only Umarex PPQ CO2 model I am aware of and have in my collection is the non-blowback pellet model that uses the 8 shot alloy metal magazine which is inserted in the top of the pistol.

    Was there an earlier model PPQ that preceded the one I have?


    • No, you didn’t miss anything it was an error, the PPQ was as you say an 8 shot pellet pistol using a rotary magazine and firing system dating back to models like the Umarex Beretta 92FS and earlier Walther CP88. This has been corrected in the article as well.

      Thanks,

      Dennis


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