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Brocock air cartridges

by B.B. Pelletier

Today, we’re going to look at an airgun phenomenon that has recently come to a close, though it may not be gone forever. I’m referring to the air cartridge by Brocock. Air cartridges have existed for a long time, but the Brothers Silcock (Brocock) put it on the map.

Instead of a reservoir – a self-contained air cartridge!
People who write about airguns make a lot of references to firearms because the two are closely related. But one thing separates them. A firearm uses cartridges, where all the energy for the shot is stored. The gun is just a tool for containing this cartridge. Not so for most airguns! Most airguns store the energy in the gun, rather than in a separate cartridge. That makes an airgun work a little differently. People always ask why there aren’t more full-auto pellet guns. The answer is, because it’s hard to feed soft lead pellets through a rapidly operating mechanism without damaging them. A cartridge, however, handles such abuse fine.

The air cartridge is just like its firearm counterpart, in that it contains both the energy for the shot, in the form of compressed air, and the projectile. Feeding problems are solved by the much stronger cartridge body. Additionally, there is a very big advantage to using an air cartridge – if it is made to approximately the same size as a firearm cartridge, then firearms of that caliber can easily be adapted to use it. Suddenly a whole new level of realism is possible!

A short history
Saxby-Palmer was the pioneer of the modern air cartridge for airguns, with the Ensign being a popular early rifle. The cartridge was about the size of a shotgun shell. They were recharged from a VERY cumbersome hand pump that had to be bolted to a bench or plank. They were filled with 1-6 pump strokes that varied the power, of course. A British report puts the .22 Saxby-Palmer at 800 f.p.s. when pumped to full power, but the one I saw was only making the mid-600s. The difference could be that the one I saw used the early Mark I plastic cartridges, while the other one may have used the stronger metal Mark II cartridges.

air-cartridge-gun-web
Firearms were converted to use the air cartridge. This one was made by Weihrauch.

Brocock bought the liquidated Saxby-Palmer company in 1989 and began producing the cartridges themselves. They became know as the Brocock Air Cartridge System or BACS. In time, Brocock improved the air cartridge until it became the Tandem Air Cartridge, or TAC. This cartridge is the size of a .38 Special cartridge and fits in rifles and revolvers. It is a marvel of small metal parts and O-rings that have to be carefully reassembled for every charging. There is a lot of cleaning and lubrication to do, as well.

air-cartridge-web
The Tandem Air Cartridge is the size of a .38 Special round.

Filling the cartridges
There are three ways to fill a TAC. One is by a labor-intensive hand pump called a Slim Jim. It takes several pump strokes to fill the cartridge this way. The next way is by using a special adaptation of the Swedish manual airgun pump. Usually one or two strokes at the most is all it takes to fill the cartridge. The lazy man’s way it to use a scuba tank with a jig holding six cartridges. They all fill at the same time with no effort.

slim-jim-web
Slim Jim hand pump was labor-intensive.

The biggest drawback
There was a problem with the air cartridges. It took WORK to reassemble, recharge and reload them! It’s very much like reloading for firearms, and it is as bothersome as reloading black powder rifle cartridges, which I believe take the most work of all! Airgunners are not familiar with this, for the most part, and they rebelled when they saw all the work that was required! I can’t begin to tell you how many shooters I watched as they lusted for and eventually acquired an air cartridge gun – only to discover this evil truth! Boy, did the wind ever leave their sails fast! These are the same people who won’t shoot a precharged gun because they don’t want the hassle of a scuba tank, and now they are saddled with an entire support system!

The End
The end of air cartridges, at least from Brocock, came in January, 2004, when the Anti-Social Behavior Act of 2003 went into effect. But the guns and cartridges are still around and will no doubt become collector’s items rather soon. That’s a good category for them, because in a sporting airgun, the TAC leaves a lot to be desired.

author avatar
B.B. Pelletier
Tom Gaylord is known as The Godfather of Airguns™ and has been an airgunner for over a half-century, but it was the Beeman company in the 1970s that awoke a serious interest in airguns. Until then, all he knew were the inexpensive American airguns. Through the pages of the Beeman catalog, he learned about adult airguns for the first time. In 1994, Tom started The Airgun Letter with his wife, Edith. This monthly newsletter was designed to bring serious reports about airguns to the American public. The newsletter and Airgun Revue, a sister magazine about collectible airguns, was published from 1994 until 2002, when Tom started Airgun Illustrated -- the first American newsstand magazine about airguns. Tom worked for three years as technical director at AirForce Airguns, the makers of the Talon, Condor, and Escape precharged air rifles. Today, he writes about airguns and firearms for various publications and websites. He also makes videos, and you'll find short clips embedded in some of his artices on Pyramyd AIR's website. Tom is a consultant to Pyramyd AIR and writes under the name of B.B. Pelletier.

41 thoughts on “Brocock air cartridges”

  1. cold shooter:

    The Anti-Social Behavior Act of 2003 is a piece of legislation in the UK that basically outlaws “any air rifle, air gun or air pistol which uses, or is designed or adapted for use with, a self-contained gas cartridge system”.

    Aside from the issue of recharging, the idea behind Brocock air cartridges is extremely nifty. The possibilities… Oh well.

  2. I own 3 Brocock 1851 Navies made by Pietta. I also have their Black Powder counterparts. 2-7&1/2and 1 5&1/2. Yes they are work and expensive and a bother, but they are acurate and fun, and I can practice my CowBoy Action draw and fire all winter in my family room. The Ram Charger is really the only way to go. QUESTION: Would a sliencer made for a 9mm sub gun be effective on a .22 Condor It is legally owned

  3. I owned a Saxby-Palmer Ensign rifle, I got one and the bench-top pump from FSI when they were closing them out. It was a great gun for people who enjoy tinkering. (Sort of like British sports cars, I guess.) As noted in the article, it was highly labor-intensive to operate, and it definitely was a poor choice for plinking.

    On the other hand, all the labor was at the reloading bench rather than out in the field. As a hunting rifle it worked pretty well. It was handy and lightweight compared with springers, and it was powerful, accurate, recoilless. I could carry a dozen air cartridges in a belt pouch made for shotgun shells. Compared to most other rifles of the time, the Ensign’s performance was excellent.

    I eventually sold mine to a collector. It was cool and all, and I have fond memories of it, but I don’t regret selling it either. It couldn’t compete with the much better air rifles we have available now — especially today’s PCPs.

    The coolest thing is that it prompted me to get into reloading ammo for my firearms. I’d long been deterred by the complexity, but after using the Saxby-Palmer rifle for a while the idea didn’t seem so scary.

  4. ” At January 29, 2006 8:55 PM, Anonymous said…

    I own 3 Brocock 1851 Navies made by Pietta. I also have their Black Powder counterparts. 2-7&1/2and 1 5&1/2. Yes they are work and expensive and a bother, but they are acurate and fun, and I can practice my CowBoy Action draw and fire all winter in my family room. The Ram Charger is really the only way to go. “

    Thanks for the comment on the Ram charger 🙂 it’s nice to know people still enjoy using something I designed over 10 years ago now 🙂

    Best Wishes

    Dave Sheldrake
    UK

  5. MitchellN,

    The TAC are too small to fit in your Ensign, but I think there are still Ensign cartridges floating around. It sounds like you have the plastic ones. If so, try for the metal ones. They last longer with proper care.

    It sounds like you live in the UK, and if so you should be able to speak to Brocock. They told me they are keeping a cartridge manufacture line active somewhere in Europe.

    So there is hope.

    B.B.

  6. Hey B.B.,
    What would you say the major reason why these Brocock air cartridges didn’t really make it to the states(US)? I do realize that it is probably because of the effort to recharge the cartridges, but is there something else because to me they seem pretty interesting since they’re so unique.

    Thanks,
    Jack

  7. Just out of interest, until they were banned I operated a shooting gallery on the fairground using the Brocock system, I would charge around 600 cartridges up each day and with teh ram charger it wasn’t that onerous a task.

    Now I am banned from using the Brocok because it may be possible to convert them to fire live ammunition. I can however legally purchase guns upto .23 calibre that already fire live ammunition due to a firearms exemption certificate I possess.

    Oh and I have a large qauntity of TAC cartridges available.

    Jason
    jarm@funfairgames.net

  8. Hi
    I have read with interest your comments on the TAC cartridge system
    I have a schofield with this system.
    I brought this gun with me to the USA where I now live, but what a problem bringing it out of England, but thats another story.
    My question is, can this gun be converted to take conventional cartridge. Tony

  9. Tony,

    According to the British Home Office, the Brocock guns can be converted to firearms. What that would take is beyond me.

    I suspect that by the time a gunsmith did everything necessary to convert the gun to centerfire cartridges, it would cost more than a new Schofield from Navy Arms.

    B.B.

  10. The perennial “You can convert a plastic capgun into a working MG42 with minimum effort” argument persistently shouted by the British press and Police authorities comes to mind as always at this point.

    Of course it’s true anyone with the suitable machinery and technical ability and could convert a Brocock into a live firing firearm.

    But, they could also convert a soda can into a flame-thrower too!

    The claims are specious and designed to convince the ignorant of the UK govs dedication to protecting it’s people (whilst it taxes them out of existence).

  11. hallo i was just wodering if the m32 brocock can be converted,i did have one but police got it out of my house i thougt it was a pullet gun i didnot know it can be convered or it was banned,my question is can anyone convered this gun

  12. Three Brocock’s have just come my way, through a relative (he passed away – nothing to do with the guns 🙂 – anyway – I have tried to sell them, or at least enquire on their worth – only to be told… throw them in a river, or hand them into the police for destruction…

    Surely there must be a way i can pass them on to a good home…

    Get in touch quick with any ideas, as I have an appointment with my local firearms police in the next few days.

    cheers

    jim
    07711 948 990

  13. Jim,

    If you could find a way to send them to a buyer in the United States, you could sell them, but I think you will run into a problem trying to export them, because you don’t have a license to export FAC guns – as these are now categorized. At least that is my understanding.

    Brocock still operates in the UK, but they had to move their manufacturing offshore to avoid entanglements with the Home Office, I believe.

    Contact Kevin Breen or Graham Hinds at Brocock Group for assistance.

    1527-527800

    sales@brocock.co.uk

    B.B.

  14. I think the reason they failed to catch on in the states is because they appear to have been made primarily as handgun substitutes for countries with repressive gun laws. They weren't cheap toys and they required fairly pricey charging equipment, so it was a tough sell to Americans who could go out and buy the real thing for about the same amount of money.

    I can see where these would have real appeal to someone in the UK who wanted something as close as he could get to a real revolver though.

  15. Hi
    I now live in the United States and I brought with me under licence a Uberti Schofield .22 air cartridge revolver.Is there a market here for this revolver as a collectors piece. Or am I able to purchase a new barrel and cylinder to convert it to a .38 special.
    Regards Tony

  16. Converting a brocock was so simple,take the guts out of the cartridge,bore the end of the cartridge out to take a .38 blank,fit a promethious .22 slug in the end of the cartridge and bingo.i had a brocock rifle with one of these in,fired it in a scrap yard,the pellet went through 2x 3" planks,two washing machines a fridge freezer and a dishwasher all in a line and hit a car 100 yards away it went in one door and out of the other.Awsome!!

  17. I once conerted a bsa scorpion pistol to fire hilti cartridges, it wasn’t hard to do, i loaded a pellet filled with solder, only fired it once,scared me to death, i destroyed it.

  18. I got a german-made ME 38 magnum (the manufacturer is called Cuno-Melcher ME Sportwaffen, I believe) and several air cartridges (still manufactured by – and ordered from – silco) a couple years ago (I’m in Europe where it’s still legal). Tons of fun but an actual workout to reload.
    I’m now signed up to a shooting range and they have a refill station using SCUBA tanks for PCP airguns, so I’m wondering about that 6-cartidges jig you mention in the article. It would be phenomenal if there was such a thing interfacing with the standard PCP refilling station but I can’t find any info at all on that contraption anywhere online. Do you have any info on that?

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