First Look: Umarex Beretta M9A3 Part 2
The civilian market wins when the military takes a pass
By Dennis Adler
Glock tried to win the MHS trials with an upgraded G19, the G19X, Beretta had upgraded the M9A1 to the M9A3 before the trials began and was out of the competition almost before it started. The M9A3, as a civilian gun, is in all aspects 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 is actually more than different colors, it is, for the most part, a new gun that looks a lot like the old one, but is much more. The closest example to this kind of design change is the Walther PPS and PPS M2. The 9mm guns have their CO2 counterparts as well, and as I pointed out in reviewing the PPS M2 in Airgun Experience, the gun may have been the same platform but a totally different gun in most respects. This is true of the 92A1 vs. the new M9A3 CO2 models.
You can’t call the 9mm M9A3 or the CO2 version a clean sheet of paper design, more like the same sheet with a lot of lines erased and redrawn. For the CO2 model, incorporating the key design changes were the most important part of recasting the Beretta in its new images. Internally, the two CO2 models are almost entirely the same, however, there are some minor differences and you can feel this in trigger pull, which is slightly heavier in the new model, fired double action for the first shot. Single action pull is almost the same, perhaps a bit smoother and a hair lighter on the M9A3. We’ll get into the trigger pull weights in the Part 3 shooting comparison.
The barrel design for the new pistol is not only different with the faux 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 magazines are the same with the exception of the FDE finish for M9A3 mags. And they are interchangeable so until extra FDE magazines are available, the M9A3 can run on the black 92A1 CO2 BB magazines.
There is one other internal/external change of note, all of the firing apparatus mounted into the cast alloy frame of the 92A1 CO2 model is now housed in an impressively-built 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. But tap it and the sound is not the same as the 92A1’s alloy frame.
The small but important details
There are obvious changes in the Beretta’s design, but none more important than the redesigned 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 arched mainspring housing, and everyone does since it has as much to do with balance in the hand and trigger designs as how it points, but 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 original flat mainspring housing. The change in the Beretta’s grip contour reflects that preference. There is also a new, more aggressive backstrap checkering in place of the 92A1’s vertical grooves.
Does this make much difference in a blowback action CO2 pistol that will be shot at an average of 21 feet from the target? Probably not to the majority of shooters, but the fact that the new Umarex Beretta model copies this change in exacting detail speaks volumes about getting the air pistol as close to the 9mm upgrades as possible.
Change the grip contour and you change the grips. 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. In my instance, with the 92A1, the base of my shooting hand thumb just touches the tip of my middle finger as it wraps around the grips. With the M9A3 it overlaps the finger by a quarter of an inch. Again, with a CO2 pistol it probably isn’t going to make a great difference but with a 9mm you would have more solid purchase. The other intended advantage is that the smaller grip depth accommodates a greater number of end user hand sizes. For the 9mm model Beretta developed a grip sleeve to increase grip size for shooters with larger hands.
The large ambidextrous thumb safety for the 9mm pistols 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 new pistol 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 select fire mechanism unique to the Beretta CO2 models is the same on both pistols as are the triggers, at least in appearances. Where these two guns really go their separate ways is with the design of the sights and the MIL-STD 1913 Picatinny rail. First, the rail on the new model has three slots rather than two, which was preferred by the military to facilitate faster mounting and removal of accessories in the field and allow light/laser units to sit further back on the rail. And this works in combination with the squared off forward triggerguard contour. Secondly, the M9A3 CO2 model has the same dovetailed white dot front sight, which is designed to be removable. The air pistol’s slide has an actual dovetail cut and the front sight is retained by a set screw. Since the test gun is one of only two samples currently available, I wasn’t inclined to try and remove anything, but that is how it appears. The rear sight is a totally new design from the 92A1, with a vertical front, that on the centerfire guns would be sturdy enough the use against a flat surface to rack the slide if the operator was in some way injured or in a situation where the offhand could not be used. The white dots are also larger and easier to pick up than the older design.
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.
In the Part 3 conclusion, all of this will be put to the test.