Umarex Heckler & Koch VP9 Part 3
A balancing act on air
By Dennis Adler
Building new guns is always a balancing act between design, production cost, and marketing, which was pointed out in detail by Walther designer, engineer and author Dr. Peter Dallhammer in his 2018 book The Textbook of Pistol Technology and Design. In it he writes, “From a manufacturer’s point of view…consumers are more cost-conscious than ever and competition among the market is fierce. It isn’t enough to try to differentiate a product based on performance alone, so manufacturers utilize special promotions, persuasion and sale price.” Dr. Dallhammer underscores in terms of cartridge-firing handguns the same balance I have been writing about in Airgun Experience with comparable CO2 models. The same forces are at work whether it is a new H&K 9mm pistol or a CO2 model. He also notes in his chapter on Production Technologies that the use of polymer parts “is widespread in gun manufacturing. Plastic parts are ideal for both integral designs and functional integration, and are beneficial in the construction of pistols.” It is easy to apply this to CO2 models based on centerfire guns that have polymer frames and parts. Guns like the Umarex HK VP9 and Glock 17, for example, are easier, faster, and more authentic to manufacture because the centerfire guns they copy have the same polymer frames. This makes it possible to sell blowback action CO2 models like the VP9 for only around $80 (discounted by retailers) because the primary components can be more affordably manufactured compared to metal frames. And of course, this applies to centerfire guns in comparison to those with steel frames.
Investment casting is another firearms manufacturing technique that has translated to CO2 pistols, as the same principles used for manufacturing parts, including frames, slides, breech blocks, and other key components made from steel, titanium, or aluminum-based alloys allow the production of aluminum-alloy based frames and slides for CO2 models. Sturm, Ruger has been utilizing investment casting for their handguns, rifles and shotguns for decades, so in a very broad sense, CO2 models like the Umarex G17 and HK VP9 are much closer to their centerfire counterparts than many of us realize. These same technologies are used in their manufacturing. The more effort manufacturers put into their CO2 pistol designs (like the latest Sig Sauer and Umarex models), the closer they become to the guns they are based upon. The new Umarex HK USP is one of the best examples of how very close air pistols can come to matching centerfire pistol design and construction. Dr. Dallhammer’s book also goes into the fine details of engineering (he was one of the lead designers of the Walther P99 and PPQ), and marketing , so for those who want to delve into a textbook-like approach to gun making technology, it is a fascinating read. The book is hard to find, I’ll tell you that, as it is a limited publication printed in Germany, but if you find a copy it will explain a lot about today’s world of firearms manufacturing. It also leads me to explaining why the VP9 CO2 model (USP and G17) are more gun than meets the eye.
At a discounted price spread of only $20 from the $79.99 for the VP9 to the $99.99 for the G17 and USP, you actually encounter three different levels of design and functional authenticity. The VP9 represents the economy of manufacturing with molded-in parts that serve no purpose for the air pistol’s operation and result, in part, in that $20 difference in price. Is $20 a make or break for consumers? The answer depends upon the retail venue. In a Big Box store it is important in terms of potential sales and shelf space, but with internet based companies like Pyramyd Air, everything is available at all price points, so it comes down to consumer preferences. If you want the latest H&K model, even though it lacks some of the refinement of the USP, it is a very simple choice. The VP9 measures up to its 9mm counterpart but not as well as the USP or G17.
Comparisons between guns
The VP9 centerfire pistol has an overall length of 7.34 inches, a sight radius of 6.38 inches, height of 5.41 inches, width of 1.32 inches, barrel length of 4.09 inches and a weight of 25.56 ounces (empty). Whether or not one would consider the VP9 CO2 model a training gun, (and lesser guns have filled that role for years), it should come as close as possible to duplicating the cartridge-firing model as possible. The air pistol has an overall length of 7.25 inches, sight radius of 6.38 inches, height of 5.43 inches, width of 1.25 inches, internal smoothbore barrel length of 4.13 inches, and weighs 22.7 ounces (empty). Not a perfect match but close enough that the gun will handle like the centerfire model, fit the same holsters, and the dustcover rail will accept the same light and light/laser accessories.
The trigger on the 9mm VP9 has a light, consistent take up with an average resistance of 5.4 pounds to a crisp break with all the effort going into the last 0.24 inches of travel. The CO2 model has an equally effortless take up (just under an inch) with an average trigger press of 5.8 pounds and all the effort going into the last 0.25 inches of travel to a very firm but crisp break. It is a heavier trigger than the Glock 17 CO2 model uses.
Speed and accuracy
Initial velocity tests were shot with Umarex Precision steel BBs which clocked an average of 352 fps with a high of 360 fps and a low of 345 fps on a fresh CO2 for 10 consecutive shots. The gun is factory rated at 350 fps, so the VP9 is running to spec but not delivering the extra velocity that the Glock 17 does. The VP9 has fairly robust recoil and a medium-loud report, so you get tactile and audible feedback that some blowback action air pistols lack. It’s not quite as good as the Glock 17, which has an average velocity of 376 fps. So the extra $20 gets you around 20 fps better velocity, and as Bond would say, “I guess that’s something.” (What Daniel Craig Bond film is that line from?)
I ran a second test using Air Venturi Dust Devils, and the lightweight composite BBs clocked an average of 356 fps with a high of 368 fps and a low of 349 for 10 rounds, but of the total number of shots only one fell below 350 fps. So there is no great velocity advantage with Dust Devils from the VP9, but they function perfectly in the magazine, making it possible to shoot at metal targets. As for accuracy, from 21 feet I put 10 Dust Devils into 1.81 inches with one flyer at 6 o’clock in the 9 ring, and a best five shots grouped at 0.75 inches with double overlapping hits. From 21 feet my best 10-shot group with Umarex steel BBs measured 1.56 inches, and a best five rounds at 0.625 inches all managing to hit anywhere but the bullseye. To be fair, I had a pair of bullseyes on another target but the total group spread was greater, so I used the no bullseye target. All tests were shot unsupported offhand from a combat Weaver stance and two-handed hold.
Overall, this is not as easy a gun to shoot as the Glock 17 or the HK USP, but it certainly makes the $20 difference easier to understand. As a beginner’s air pistol, the look and feel of the VP9, make it a great buy. For more experienced shooters or those who have the Glock 17 or USP, it is a step back, but not a misstep for Umarex. The VP9 nicely fills the marketing gap between non-blowback, and 100 percent matching blowback action pistols in the Umarex HK lineup.