Retrospect Series Part 7 – M&P 45

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.

The centerfire S&W M&P 45 was introduced in 2007, and four years later Umarex and S&W teamed up to build a matching (design) CO2 model. The air pistol copies the lines as closely as possible and gives one a fairly accurate feel for the .45 ACP model.
Smith & Wesson was among the first American firearms manufacturers to venture into building airguns. The most famous CO2 pistol built by S&W was the 78G, a single shot .22 pellet model copied from Smith & Wesson’s famous .22 LR Model 41 target pistol. The 78G was built by S&W from 1971 to 1980.

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.

S&W sold their Air Gun Division to Daisy in 1980, and would not brand an air pistol until S&W reentered the airgun market working with Umarex. One of the earliest and still popular models is the 586 (black finish) and 686 (satin nickel finish) introduced in 1999. Even today, this remains one of the more expensive CO2 revolvers on the market with an MSRP of $329.95.

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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.

Price point makes a big difference in the high-end pellet pistol market and the HK P30 is not only significantly more expensive than the S&W M&P 45, it comes in hard foam lined plastic storage case, not unlike a number of centerfire handguns…
…conversely for a far lower price the entry-level S&W M&P 45 comes in a blister pack designed for sales rack display. Once you open it up, unless you are very careful opening the pack from back side so the gun can be slipped in and out (not easy), you end up with an air pistol that needs a place to be stored. Of course, you can always buy a plastic case for under $20, so the case certainly does not account for the vast difference in price.

Crossover engineering  

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.

The big difference is construction. Number one, the HK has a metal slide (actually 2-piece slide like all similar Umarex air pistols) as opposed to an injection molded slide on the M&P 45. The other big difference is that the CO2 HK is hammer-fired gun like the 9mm and can be cocked and de-cocked, as well as having a correct manual safety and functioning magazine release that drops the CO2 BB magazine. If you want to shoot BBs from the M&P you switch to a plastic BB rotary magazine and the CO2 goes into the grip frame. Two means to the same end, but the M&P does it for a lot less.

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.

The gun comes with one 8-shot cast alloy pellet magazine and one plastic BB magazine. All cast alloy pellet magazines built by Umarex for various air pistols sharing the same basic firing system can be used with the M&P. Also note the bright orange dot sights. The rear is windage adjustable with a center set screw (hex head wrench not included).

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.

Open wide! The M&P has a clever CO2 loading system that combines lowering the base of what would be the magazine and raising the hinged backstrap panel. Pretty clever design!

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.

Also clever enough is the seating screw key recessed inside the base of the grips. The CO2 system preserves the lines of the gun when it is loaded.

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.  

The other clever feature is the mandatory manual safety. Since the centerfire gun does not have one, Umarex disguised it as the right side slide release (the actual guns are ambidextrous), and it is shown here in the SAFE condition, which is pressed down and out of line with the slide.
Pushing the slide release forward and up sets the gun to FIRE and reveals a small red dot as a warning the gun is ready to fire. This is about as unobtrusive of a manual safety as you could ask for, especially compared to other CO2 pistols that are saddled with a manual safety not found on their centerfire counterparts. While there are very few moving parts on the Umarex S&W M&P 45, those that do move are well utilized!

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.

Best of all, the dimensions of the centerfire gun have been well maintained and the CO2 model will fit in holsters that fit the centerfire guns. (Pyramyd Air sells this Swiss Arms Level 1 locking paddle rig that fits M&P 45)

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.

So, for a little bit of money compared to “technically” comparable guns like the Umarex HK P30, the S&W M&P 45 pellet and BB firing model actually delivers a lot. Next we need to find out what it delivers on performance.

In Part 2 we will spec out the entire gun, measure trigger pulls, loading, and initial velocity testing.

4 thoughts on “Retrospect Series Part 7 – M&P 45”

  1. For certain reasons I am interested in this one but I would like to know two or three things; where it is made and if the barrel is recessed in .45 caliber.
    The other thing is about trigger pull compared to the P99, but I believe you will have the answer on Thursday.
    Thanks in advance

    • Bill, yep, trigger test on Thursday. To answer one question, the .177 caliber barrel is recessed 1/2 inch inside a .45 ACP muzzle opening. Nicer than the P30, which has no recess for the .177 caliber barrel.


  2. Was not a big polymer pistol fan even in airguns , but I now have a third Gen Glock and this pistol among others. I happened to be wandering through Walmart, that has the lowest price on Crosman co2 ,40 for around $16 currently. Around 3 years ago they had a sale on airguns, I walked out with a Colt Commander and the this pistol for under $100. While a blister pack finger guillotine baby, once I surgically removed the pistol, it was a pleasant surprise. I had a plastic case lying around so I reposed the pistol in there to avoid further visual trauma, and took it out to shoot. Pretty accurate , and while I didn’t chrony it , it felt like over 350 fps. Will be interesting to see what your test shows

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