Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 5

Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 5

What it takes to become 2018’s Top Gun

By Dennis Adler

Once again a very interesting pairing of guns, both polymer frames, one a DA/SA hammer-fired pistol with a safety/decocker, the other a DAO striker-fired design with an integral trigger safety. Both blowback action pistols are almost 100 percent accurately matched to their centerfire counterparts. Only one has a solid chance of becoming this year’s Top Gun.

This pairing is another ideal match, two polymer frame semi-autos, the Umarex Heckler & Koch USP and Umarex Glock 17, and while they both take different approaches to the same end, one is vastly superior, both as a centerfire pistol and as a CO2 model. But superiority, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder!

Both blowback action designs have slides that lock back on an empty magazine but the Umarex HK USP and Umarex Glock 17 take two very different approaches to their internal designs, the USP follows the centerfire pistol as closely as possible with a short-recoil, locked-breech, tilting barrel design like the actual 9mm model, while the G17 employs a closed system that is designed to optimize CO2 by using a shorter blowback stroke while increasing velocity.

We begin with the H&K USP, a centerfire pistol design that has been in use since 1993 but only this year has become available as a blowback action CO2 model. Waiting a quarter of a century for a gun to be developed into a CO2 model is not unusual (the Mauser Model 712 Broomhandle was developed in 1932, so we waited more than 80 years for that one). Over the decades since WWII, Heckler & Koch has not introduced as many pistols as some of their competitors, but when they do, the design and design variants generally stay around for a long time. H&K moves at its own pace, seldom influenced by trends, but also has a penchant for surprising the firearms world with innovative designs, and that is why the USP makes a good match for the Glock 17. To Gaston Glock’s chagrin, the Glock 17 was not the first polymer-framed semiautomatic pistol; the first was developed in 1970 by Heckler & Koch, the VP70.

Whether you are right or left-handed, the ambidextrous magazine release behind the triggerguard works. It is not two separate levers like the Walther; HK uses a single paddle that bridges the back of the triggerguard. The design is more comfortable than the Walther and it’s actually easier to drop an empty magazine with the trigger finger than the thumb.

Since 1949 H&K has only introduced around 10 model platforms; the P7, P8, and P9 series, the HK series, P30 and P2000 series, SP series, USP series, and VP series. The original VP model was continued until 1984 and the VP designation resurrected in mid-2014 for the new VP9 and VP series. The USP is regarded as one of Heckler & Koch’s most significant models, having been designed for the U.S. Army SOCOM project (United States Special Operation Command) in 1989. To rationalize developmental costs the new semi-auto had to be suitable to both military, law enforcement and civilian markets, and thus the USP “Universal Self-Loading Pistol” was introduced to the civilian market in 1993 and is still in production.

This is a .45 ACP HK USP model and you can clearly see that the CO2 pistol hasn’t missed a thing in the details of design, including the massive slide release/disassembly lever and the thumb safety/decocker.

The overall design of the centerfire USP has been duplicated in the blowback action CO2 model, including the Browning-based, short-recoil, locked breech design with tilting barrel. The CO2 model also uses a USP style dual wound recoil spring system. The Heckler & Koch branded USP blowback action model is built as close to the centerfire pistol’s specifications as possible for a CO2 powered BB gun. This makes it a very substantial training substitute, as well as a sturdy, hand-filling, and hefty blowback action air pistol.

The cartridge firing HK USP model is manufactured in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. The centerfire models weigh an average of 28 ounces (without magazine), and have an overall length of 7.68 inches, width of 1.26 inches and barrel length of 4.25 inches. Interestingly the centerfire pistols use injection molded magazines while the air pistol has a heavy duty all-metal design, and this accounts for most of the weight differential. The actual USP magazines weigh a modest 1.87 ounces (empty) while the CO2 model adds 12.5 ounces making the overall pistol weight of the USP 34.2 ounces (empty) compared to the centerfire model’s average carry weight of 29 ounces (in 9mm).

When the slide is locked back (or when the gun is fired), the barrel lug disengages from the slide and tilts down like an actual short-recoil, locked breech design, and the front of the barrel tilts up (as shown). This is as close to actual centerfire operation as a CO2 pistol gets. It is not unique to the HK but not seen on that many blowback action air pistols.

The heaviest part of the centerfire pistol is the slide and while the CO2 model has the same milled contours, it is an alloy slide compared to the centerfire model’s forged steel slide. The sight designs are identical, a squared rear notch with white dots and white dot front. Both appear to be actual dovetailed pieces on the Umarex USP but they are either epoxied in place or the best molded-in sights so far. Either way, they do not adjust for windage. The CO2 BB magazine has a 16-round capacity so you have the equivalent of a 9mm with 1 round chambered and 15 rounds in the magazine; again ideal uniformity for a training gun. And the H&K CO2 pistol totally fieldstrips like its centerfire counterpart, its first guaranteed 10 points.

The great positive of the CO2 pistol is an authentic design that allows the gun to be completely field stripped. The dual recoil spring is easier to see here and also the hinged locking pin into which the back of the guide rod fits when the gun is reassembled. This part is different from the centerfire models, but is an interesting design for the air pistol.

The trigger pull on the centerfire guns averages around 5 pounds fired single action and a robust 12 pounds average double action, about the same as many double action revolvers. The CO2 model stacks up pretty close with an average SA trigger press of 5 pounds, 1.5 ounces and a DA pull of 11 pounds 8.0 ounces. Like 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP models, the DA pull is a long 0.68 inches but it is smooth and the hammer comes back quickly as you pull through. There is zero over travel, and of course, after the first round the gun fires single action unless it is de-cocked. SA take up is 0.25 inches and reset is 0.25 inches. Authenticity of design earns another 10 points.

The HK USP has a safety that also de-cocks the hammer. This is a safety design many prefer in military and law enforcement. It is a matter of choice and HK builds the USP without a decocker as well. The CO2 model makes use of this design to ensure safety and avoid the need for an additional manual safety like some air pistols are saddled with.

Knowing that the Umarex HK USP’s DA/SA trigger pull is within an ounce of the average trigger pull on the centerfire USP standard DA/SA models, the CO2 offers the best advantage for learning trigger control and again reinforces this airgun’s use as an understudy for the corresponding cartridge model. (It also fits all standard USP holsters and uses USP accessories and rail adaptors, making it 100 percent compatible).

HK USP self-contained CO2 BB magazines are very similar to the build of the Umarex S&W M&P40 and have a very heavy follower spring, and unfortunately, also like the M&P40 mags, there is no lock for the follower, which is just as small as the S&W’s. The only improvement is a slightly larger loading channel exposed when the follower is pulled all the way down. This is not an easy magazine to load.

The CO2 BB magazine is built solidly with a heavy follower spring. Unfortunately, the follower tab is very small and there is no follower lock, so loading BBs is a chore. This is the only negative feature of the entire CO2 model.

Using Umarex Precision .177 caliber steel BBs, the USP chronographed at an average velocity of 328 fps with a high of 333 fps, a low of 323 fps and a standard deviation of 3 fps for 10 shots. This is well within Umarex factory rated specs which list velocity up to 325 fps. During the initial USP test I had also run the gun with Hornady Black Diamond anodized steel BBs and picked up a few fps with a high of 338 fps and an average velocity for 10 rounds of 336 fps. Anyway you load it; the USP beats the usual 300 to 320 fps averages for blowback action CO2 pistols, another plus in the Performance & Accuracy category.

What about accuracy? Here again this pistol delivers on its looks, authentic handling, correct thumb safety/decocker (something I really like) and high velocity with good POA hits that pack in tight from 21 feet. The HK shoots low and this is a known fact in the design and the instruction book illustrates aiming at the middle of the target (red bullseye on top of the sights). The feel of the gun when you pull the trigger is impressive, the weight of the slide coming back imparts decent felt recoil for a CO2 pistol and the gun holds well on target. My best 10-shot group using Umarex steel BBs measured 1.375 inches (shot in two 5-shot groups) with the best 5-shots at 0.56 inches in the red.

All the right parts, all the right features and accuracy at 21 feet, too. I put the first five rounds low on the target but closely grouped, corrected POA, and punched the next five dead center at 0.56 inches.

The USP CO2 model in the combat configuration with fixed sights handles very much like the 9mm model it is based upon, with more tactile feel, shooting response, a medium-loud report, and predictable accuracy. This is the polymer frame, DA/SA version of a Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE 1911 for all the best features.

Model: Umarex HK USP

Authenticity 1 to 10:  10 (matched to centerfire model)

Ingenuity of the design 1 to 10: 10 (fully accurate short-recoil, locked-breech, tilting barrel design)

Ease of use 1 to 10: 9 (magazines are hard to load)

Field stripping capability 1 to 10: 10 (fieldstrips like the centerfire pistol)

Performance & Accuracy 1 to 10: 10 (best 5-shot group at 0.56 inches)

Total Points: 49

The new Umarex Glock 17 is almost a 100 percent physical match, but Glock made one alteration that immediately brings the gun into question to the trained eye, the subtle but obvious lack of the 9x19mm marking after AUSTRIA. On the other hand look at the attention to detail in the grip finger grooves and checkering, the rough pattern on the grip panels, correct slide release, accurate barrel to slide interface, and the Tenifer-like finish to the Glock slide.

Just as the Glock 17 was designed with (then) unique features for a semi-auto pistol, the Umarex Glock 17 is built a little differently than the rest of the blowback action CO2 models being compared. The Umarex uses an internally closed design with an interlocking drop free magazine and much shorter recoil stroke than the H&K USP, Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE and CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow models.

The Umarex Glock 17 uses a shorter recoil stroke and the slide does not come back as far. This is evidenced by the back third of the barrel lug still showing and the magazine locking mechanism extending to the back of the barrel. This is illustrated by the loaded CO2 model (left) and with the magazine removed (right). When the magazine is inserted, the locking bar (shown at right with the slide locked open), fits into an opening at the top of the magazine.

This design serves one noteworthy purpose, higher velocity. With Umarex Precision .177 caliber steel BBs the Glock 17 hits an impressive average velocity of 376 fps, a high of 395 fps, a low of 366 fps and a standard deviation for 10 shots of 10 fps, making it the fastest shooting CO2 model in the comparison. But, the cost is field stripping capability. The Glock 17 cannot be taken apart. No matter how good this gun is, and it is very good, it cannot earn more than 40 total points against its blowback action competitors. This is where the points system can sometimes be unfair. Glock enthusiasts, however, should not despair; the G17 still has a lot more to offer even if it can’t win the Replica Air Pistol of the Year crown.

Any questions about authenticity in design can be dismissed when comparing the Third Model G17 (top) with the Umarex Glock 17. The minor differences are very hard to tell at a glance. If ever there was an air pistol that owners need to be reminded about carelessly brandishing in public, this would be it.

The Glock 17 is 100 percent accurate in its exterior design, which makes it suitable for all Glock 17 holsters. This opens up the door for additional training with different level retention locking holsters as well as all Glock GTL light and light laser accessories and other rail mounted lights and laser units. The Umarex G17 is based on the Third Model Glock design (still manufactured) and matches the 9mm pistol in length of 8.03 inches, barrel length of 4.49 inches (external, internal smoothbore barrel is 4.25 inches), overall height of 5.47 inches, slide width of 1.0 inches, and slightly outweighs the 9mm pistol by 2.13 ounces at 27.0 ounces even. The self-contained CO2 BB magazine has a capacity of 18 rounds, which measures up to the Glock 17 with 17 rounds in the magazine and one round chambered. This is also one of the easier to load magazine designs with a Glock embossed base pad that slides forward to expose the seating screw for the CO2 channel. The small follower locks down and BBs are easily fed right into the firing port.

The G17 CO2 model has a slide that locks back on an empty magazine, functional slide release, and a full-size self-contained CO2 BB magazine with the GLOCK emblem on the base pad. Where the new G17 disappoints is in not being designed for field stripping. It does make up for it by delivering higher velocities.

There are a couple of minor compromises in the design that the other blowback action pistols did not have to deal with, notably the need for a manual safety since the G17 actually has none with its Safe Action trigger system. Umarex and Glock deviated here by not using a functional (firing system locking) Glock Safe Action trigger, even though it looks like they did. If you try to pull the trigger from the side without engaging the blade safety, the CO2 model will still fire. To compensate, Umarex has added a sliding manual safety as unobtrusively as possible on the underside of the dustcover, where the serial number plate usually resides. It is a cleaver workaround and the blade safety does move when you pull the trigger; it’s just not connected to any internal safety mechanism like the 9mm model.

Umarex and Glock avoided the white letter pitfalls by keeping the right side of the slide clean. All of the verbiage is discretely placed on the underside of the dustcover along with the sliding manual safety. In profile, you can clearly see the trigger’s cantilevered blade safety which moves with the trigger but does not actually function as a safety mechanism on the CO2 model. The design gets points for looks, but naught for function.

Unlike many earlier handgun designs, and I hold up the Colt Model 1911 as the preeminent example, a Glock 17 (or any factory-built Glock) is not a work of art it, is a work of purpose, squared off, flat sided, unimaginative beyond anything more than it need be to do its job. But as a purpose-built handgun for military and law enforcement, as a civilian handgun that is practical, almost indestructible, and easy to shoot, it is almost unassailable. That is carried forward into the Umarex Glock 17.

In addition to the Tenifer-like finish on the slide, Glock front and rear sights are also used on the CO2 model. This is another feature that bodes well for the Umarex to be utilized as an understudy for centerfire models.

As for its performance, this too, is better than many of its competitors. Firing from a Weaver stance, using a two-handed hold and the sights held solidly at 6 o’clock, 10 rounds hit at 0.84 inches with five shots clustered into 0.56 inches. There were no appreciable windage or elevation issues beyond my own movement; the gun was right on target. For an air pistol with fixed sights this is commendable.

The 21 foot test delivered a best 10 rounds at 0.84 inches with five shots clustered into 0.56 inches. Shots were aimed at the bottom of the large red bullseye (6 o’clock hold) and the gun consistently groups under an inch. The Glock 17 CO2 model has everything going for it.

My best overall 10-round group measured 0.84 inches with five shots clustered into 0.56 inches. This is dime-size accuracy. As a CO2 blowback action pistol it is not everything may you want, but as a Glock it is everything that a Glock need be.

Model: Umarex Glock 17

Authenticity 1 to 10:  10 (matched to centerfire model)

Ingenuity of the design 1 to 10: 10 (exceptional fit, authentic Tenifer-style finish)

Ease of use 1 to 10: 10 (magazines are easy to load)

Field stripping capability 1 to 10: 0 (cannot be field stripped)

Performance & Accuracy 1 to 10: 10 (best 5-shot group at 0.56 inches)

Total Points: 40

We now have two guns tied at 49 points each. Saturday it is Sig vs. Sig, as the X-Five ASP tackles the M17 ASP for Top Gun honors.

7 thoughts on “Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 5


    • Chuck
      The Fieldstripping Capability category really sorts out several of the guns; authenticity is a driving force behind blowback action pistols. If the Glock 17 would have field stripped and maintained its higher velocity and accuracy, it would have been a 50 point gun. The categories were established to lead to elimination of any pistol that cannot be as close to the model it is based upon as possible. That, however, does not mean a second, third, or even fourth place gun isn’t good, just not the best. The two final Sigs will be telling, but not the definative conclusion, there will be a runoff to reach the winner with two 49 point guns already in the competition.


  1. It looks like the Glock uses enclosed feeder lips like the PPS which to me means it will be a long term pistol whereas the USP has lips like the 1911 which will be subject to wear and tear and will need frequent replacement if the pistol is used frequently.


    • Derek:

      The Glock mag is similar in design to the type Umarex uses for the Beretta Model 84 and new HK VP9, among others, and is a different design than the 1911’s and most self-contained CO2 BB magazines, which are one-piece mags like centerfire pistols use, while those with the enclosed feeder lips are two-piece with cast alloy and metal parts. I don’t know that one is sturdier than another, but the two-piece mag is often used with lower-priced guns. Even so, I honestly have never experienced the number of problems you are having with self-contained CO2 BB mags. Perhaps it is because I don’t shoot the same gun and magazine as much as you. I have others to test and move on to, though my personal guns get shot a lot for follow up articles and comparisons, and again have not experienced these issues. Now I have broken a few magazines, but not had one fail from worn parts. I would ask other readers if they have encountered similar problems and to please comment back.

      Dennis



    • The new (very new) Umarex Glock 17 blowback action model in this article is not listed for sale yet. It should be very shortly after the first of the year. It is a brand new gun. As soon as it is listed on the Pyramyd Air website I will double back into the articles and add the link to the sales page like the HK USP has. For now all I can say is wait and when it is available get one. It may not be the best new air pistol of the year but it is a really good one!


  2. The 1911 and now the USP magazines are hard to load because of the strength of the spring which pushes the BBs up against the plastic lips which are then hit by the follower as the magazine empties. Some people advocate shortening the spring by an inch and never loading more than 7-8 BBs.


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