by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

The RWS Diana 54 recoilless air rifle, also called the Air King, is big, beautiful, powerful and accurate.

There’s certainly a lot of interest in this RWS Diana model 54 Air King rifle. We heard from many readers, including some surprises. We also saw a lot of interest among those who have considered buying the rifle but have not yet taken the plunge. Also, I heard a few disturbing things.

Light-duty barrel?
The first disturbing thing I heard was a question about whether the 54 really does have a “light-duty” barrel. Since I never raised that issue in this report I have to assume the reader read it on one of the forums. The RWS Diana 54 does not have a light-duty barrel, but I think I know where this comes from. The rifle has a metal jacket surrounding the barrel, and if it’s removed the true barrel does look out of proportion with the large proportions of the rest of the airgun. But it isn’t too thin for the job it’s asked to do. In fact, it’s a normal barrel diameter, but that fat metal jacket makes it appear thin in comparison. Since you don’t cock the rifle with the barrel, it’s plenty strong.

One tip Mac wants me to pass along to all of you is that the barrel jacket must be absolutely tight to have good accuracy. If it gets loose, accuracy goes away. When people fool with the front sight, the barrel jacket sometimes gets loose. The jacket on the test rifle is as tight as can be, so we should see some good groups.

Two-stage trigger?
This is another concern that was raised. Yes, the trigger is two-stage. Whether it’s a T01, a T05 or the new T06, when it finally comes out. They’re all two-stage triggers. But some owners don’t like two-stage triggers, so they adjust the first stage out. You can do that and if you do, what remains is just a single stage.

You need to read the trigger adjustment instructions in the manual for your rifle, or go online to the library of manuals on the Pyramyd Air website. Here is the page with trigger adjustments. The trigger can be adjusted to be crisp and even, if you take the time to read the manual and follow the instructions.

Is the rifle too heavy?
The 54 is a large, heavy air rifle. It’s not the gun to tote around in the woods all day. It’s more of a take-it-to where-you-want-to-shoot gun. I have a lot of firearms in my collection that are like that. The M1 Garand isn’t a rifle to carry all day unless you have to, nor is the Ballard, nor my Remington Rolling Block. These are all too heavy to lug around, but when the time comes to hit the target, these are the best rifles to have. I think the 54 is like that, too.

Before you decide to buy a 54, think about how you intend using it. If you want tight groups at 50 yards, this is one of the best spring rifles you can buy. But if you want to shoot 500 rounds in a lazy afternoon, get an Air Venturi Bronco or a TF39 from Tech Force.

Bent cocking link?
Finally, here’s a complaint from a long time ago, but one that is still valid today. A reader wrote that the cocking link of his RWS Diana sidelever rifle (could have been a 48, 52 or 54) was bent when he got it. We went back and forth on this blog for days about it. A new link was ordered and I believe installed. All, for naught.

The cocking link is flexible and is supposed to be bent! Besides linking the sidelever to the sliding compression chamber, the link also acts as a spring that flexes when the lever is closed. It pops over center and maintains force to keep the sidelever pressed tight against the side of the rifle. In other words, it’s designed to look bent and to do exactly what it does. So, keep outa da mechanism! Just cock, load and shoot.

Cocking effort
Unlike the RWS Diana 48 sidelever, the 54 cocking mechanism has one additional function to accomplish. It has to lever the entire barreled action forward to set the rifle in position for recoilless operation. Whatever force that takes must be added to the regular cocking effort needed to make the gun ready to shoot. I found the test rifle cocked with 33 lbs. of force, which is exactly as advertised. Levering the action in the stock at the end of the cocking stroke dropped the effort back to 30 lbs., so in this case, the rifle doesn’t need any additional effort. You simply have to pull the lever back a little farther with this model.

Velocity with Premiers
The test rifle is a .22 caliber and Crosman Premiers averaged 827 f.p.s. for 10 shots. The velocity went from a low of 824 to a high of 833 f.p.s., so a total spread of 9 f.p.s. That’s tight for a springer. At the average velocity, this 14.3-grain pellet generates 21.72 foot pounds.

JSB Exact 14.3-grain pellets
The JSB Exact Jumbo Express pellet weighs 14.3 grains, also, but it’s pure lead, unlike the Premier. That usually means it’ll be faster, but in the test rifle that wasn’t the case. This pellet averaged 794 f.p.s. and the total spread was 22 f.p.s., from 781 to 803 f.p.s. The average velocity generated 20.02 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.

RWS Hobbys
The last pellet I tested was the RWS Hobby. This is a light lead pellet that weighs 11.9 grains. Normally, the lighter pellets generate higher muzzle energy in spring guns and these averaged 872 f.p.s., with a spread of 9 f.p.s., ranging from 867 to 876 f.p.s. At the average velocity, they generated 20.10 foot-pounds, so the norm didn’t hold this time. The heavier Premiers were also the most powerful pellets tried in the test rifle.

Overall observations
Thus far, this rifle is behaving very well on the test. It’s broken-in but not tuned in any way. What I got is also what you can expect from a rifle after it’s been broken in.

The firing behavior is buzzy, though recoilless. I would like to get rid of that buzz, but if I do it with lubricants I will lose about 2-3 foot-pounds. A better way would be to machine some tighter-fitting parts to eliminate the vibration. Since I don’t have the tools to do that, I’d have to pay to get it done. I don’t think I’m going to shoot this rifle enough to justify a professional tune. I’ll just put up with the buzz and let things remain where they are.