Retrospect Series Part 7 – M&P 45
The classic S&W pellet model
By Dennis Adler
In the 1970s, Smith & Wesson developed its own Air Gun Division (Sig Sauer wasn’t the first), and began manufacturing air rifles and a series of target pistols based on its own .22 caliber Model 41 semi-auto. Smith & Wesson’s venture into airguns was not entirely successful, and in 1980 the Air Gun Division was sold to Daisy, which renamed the S&W Models 78G and 79G (S&W’s CO2 versions of the Model 41) the Daisy Power Line 41, giving a tip of the hat to the original S&W .22 target pistol. The single shot .22 caliber pellet model remained in the Daisy line until 1984. The S&W models have since become something of a collectible air pistol.
Over the years Daisy has been famous for manufacturing airguns based on familiar cartridge-firing handguns built by American armsmakers, S&W among them but not in name. The Smith & Wesson name eventually went to Umarex, which began building airguns for S&W in 1999 with the highly successful Models 586 and 686 revolvers. The marriage of Umarex and S&W has lasted more than 20 years and there is no end in sight to their collaboration.
When it comes to current models the standout has been the S&W M&P 40 blowback action BB model introduced in 2016, a CO2 pistol that has been hailed as one of the best training guns on the market and has, in fact, been used by some law enforcement agencies carrying the 9mm and .40 S&W models as a stand-in for specific training exercises. The air pistol and its self-contained CO2 BB magazines are interchangeable with the centerfire gun and mags and fit the same duty gear. The M&P 40 may be the current pinnacle of the Umarex and S&W collaboration in terms of authenticity of design and handing, but for airgun enthusiasts Umarex and S&W had another hit back in 2011, the M&P 45.
Like the Umarex Walther CP99, the external design of the M&P 45 is based on a striker-fired pistol (the airguns use a small internal hammer to accomplish this), whereas similar pellet-firing models, like the earlier Walther CP88 and later H&K P30 are copied from hammer-fired guns (though internally all of the CO2 models share a similar design utilizing a rotary pellet magazine). It has always been a matter of personal preference whether one prefers to have a hammer on a semi-auto or a hammerless design (now more commonly a striker-fired design) but the choice is a very old one; hammerless semi-autos go all the way back to the early 1900s. The only difference now is in how the guns are built; the theories remain the same, and this is pretty much true for the air pistol versions.
When the Umarex S&W M&P 45 was introduced in 2011 it was a well matched air pistol to the Smith & Wesson M&P .45 ACP centerfire models that had been in production since 2007 when the M&P won Handgun of the Year, giving the new S&W a first-class beginning. The same can almost be said for the CO2 model. Like nearly all semi-auto-style Umarex pellet models built for various brand name gun manufacturers – S&W, Colt, Heckler & Koch, Walther, etc. – the majority are still being produced today, and the M&P 45 remains a popular and more affordable choice. The interesting thing about older designs that are still manufactured today is how they marketed. For example, the Umarex H&K P30 comes in a hard plastic case and retails for $249.99 (average selling price is $209.99), while the M&P 45 was built for the entry-level market, priced at $80 (and selling for around $65) and comes in a blister pack for sales rack display. Yet, both have rifled steel barrels, use the same cast alloy 8-shot pellet magazines (the same used all the way back to the CP88, CP99, etc.), have windage adjustable white dot sights; the M&P using a quite distinctive orange rather than white.
So how do you get such a significant price difference? The answer, in part, is “plastics.” The M&P 45 uses a molded synthetic frame as would be expected, but also uses an injection molded slide instead of metal (cast alloy). Still, that’s quite a price spread with an average difference at discount pricing of $144. The net result is that handling the H&K P30 feels like a solid copy of the centerfire model, the M&P 45 not as much.
The M&P 45 loads CO2 into the grip frame (and rather ingeniously) and uses individual cast alloy pellet and molded plastic BB rotary magazines, while the more expensive P30 uses a drop free CO2 BB magazine combined with the same rotary pellet-firing system as the M&P, and all pellet-firing predecessors of this internal design dating back to 1996. In simple jargon, the Umarex S&W M&P 45 is a mixed bag.
What’s in the bag?
On face value, the M&P 45 is a basic CO2 powered pellet pistol with molded-in features, a decent finish, and by virtue of the centerfire model being a striker fired gun, must be equipped with an added manual safety on the right side of the frame. While this is common on CO2 models based on centerfire guns that do not have a manual safety, the M&P 45 does this in a much more interesting way, using what would be the right side slide release lever as the safety selector. Pushed slightly down (out of line with the slide), the gun is on SAFE. Pushing it forward and up puts the gun into FIRE and also reveals a small red dot below the lever. It is probably one of the smartest manual safeties I have seen on an air pistol that is copied from a handgun that does not have a manual safety.
In terms of feel, the airgun is light in the hand weighing 22 ounces (empty) compared to the .45 ACP model at 29.1 ounces (empty). It goes without saying, a .45 ACP has substantial recoil, and this CO2 model has virtually none. For handling, the Umarex with most of its parts molded in (disassembly lever, magazine release, and front sight, (which is dovetailed on the centerfire gun), gets you only the most rudimentary of features as an understudy for the .45 ACP model. But it does provide a hand’s on feel, accurate sighting, and either a heavy double action trigger, or if you rack the rear of the slide to cock the action, you have a lighter single action trigger pull.
The M&P 45 actually has a lot of features for the price, and it fits holsters made for the large frame S&W models. In 2011, that was a pretty impressive lineup of features.
In Part 2 we will spec out the entire gun, measure trigger pulls, loading, and initial velocity testing.