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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.