by B.B. Pelletier
Blind Land is this week’s BSOTW. It looks like he’s holding an AirForce Condor.
As an airgun writer, I often have people contact me with their ideas for new airguns and related equipment. The ideas they bring range from half-baked daydreams they hope I’ll somehow implement for them to working prototypes in which they’ve invested both time and money to develop.
The daydreamers are usually pretty easy to deal with. They have asked me to “help” them with their idea; but after a short session of pointed questions, it becomes obvious they don’t even know what they’re asking for. These, I can discharge quickly.
But the fellow who has designed, built and tested a prototype airgun is a whole different situation. This guy is invested in what he’s got, and he usually wants me to agree that it’s as good as he thinks. It seldom is.
I’m not going to name any names or make any veiled references in this report. If you’ve presented an idea to me in the past, you can relax. Allow me to tell you what I look for in a new idea. I think my criteria are simple enough for anyone to understand and apply, and I know for a fact that they’re the same criteria that the rest of the industry will use when you bring them your inventions.
1. Is it really new?
This one applies to those who believe they’ve built a better mousetrap. Many times, an inventor will dream something up, never realizing that it has been done before. Sometimes, it’s been done to death, and the inventor hasn’t got a clue. That really leaves me wondering how smart the inventor is. With today’s resources, there’s no excuse for not finding out everything you can before you launch into a development.
A case in point happens every few years when someone gets the bright idea to power pellets or BBs with firearm primers or percussion caps. To them, this seems to be a moment of cosmic awareness — as though they’ve solved the cold-fusion problem, when in reality shooters have been doing this since 1840!
The Flobert and zimmerstutzen rifles both have their roots in this technology, and target shooters were adapting their muzzleloaders to use primers instead of percussion caps in the 1870s. But the inventor who has come up with the idea on his own doesn’t know this and thinks he’s solved for pi out to the final decimal. “The internet? Nah, I’m too old for computers. I leave that to my grandkids!”
But if what you’ve done is something that has really never been done before, I will listen. If you have a spring rifle that cocks with 10 lbs. of effort and generates 30 foot-pounds of energy, you have my attention.
2. Will people pay money for it?
Sure, the inventor is proud of the rifle he’s made for himself, but would anyone else pay money for one just like it? This is a tough one, because the inventor is obviously proud of the fruit of his labors. So proud, in fact, that he’s pressured all of his friends into making offers to buy one just like it, and sometimes even his mom. If and when he ever makes the second one, however, his friends scatter like cockroaches when the lights come on. His mother can’t run away and does buy one, but only because he’s her boy. They find it in her attic, along with an ashtray that looks like a hand print, when they hold the estate sale.
When someone like this takes his new baby to a company to sell it and retire to the Bahamas, he gets a dose of the cold shoulder. Men in suits who obviously don’t know how long and hard he worked to build this gun tell him there’s no money in it. He tells them he’s sure they can sell 200 of them if they price it at $1,000 and they respond by telling him that it needs to cost $200 and they need to sell 2,000 in the first year. He wonders how they will be able to pay him his $25 royalty per gun at that price, and then realizes they have no intention of doing so. They offer him 30 percent of the money he has invested in the gun, and he leaves without making a deal.
If you build something on your own speculation, when you are done nobody owes you anything for it. Sometimes, you wind up building the very thing millions of people want, like James Dyson. Often, though, you make a thing no one but mom will be proud of, like the Apple Lisa.
Why would anyone want it?
An inventor reads that California is about to outlaw all ammunition that contains lead, so he invents a “pellet” made of bismuth that has a flexible wrapper of PTFE. You load the gun by taking a PTFE wrapper and grabbing a bismuth ball with it. You twist the ends of the PTFE wrapper until they’ll go into the barrel of a breakbarrel rifle. The wrapped ball looks like a comet in flight, with its tail extending back.
A short stick-like device is used to stuff the rest of the projectile into the bore, kind of like short-starting a patched ball, only this is easier because the PTFE is slicker than greased linen. The inventor has worked on this project for six months and is totally immersed in it, but every time he tries to explain it to someone they always ask stupid questions, like, “Why would anyone want it?”
Don’t they see that this is the way around the upcoming California anti-lead laws?
They ask him why he uses the PTFE wrapper since bismuth is non-toxic. Well, it is non-toxic, but it’s also a lot harder than lead; and if the ball were bore-sized, you couldn’t get it into the barrel. The PTFE wrapper is like a patch that takes the rifling and makes the ball spin.
Does the PTFE wrapper fall away like a patch or sabot after the ball exits the muzzle? No, he hasn’t figured how to do that, yet. But surely the engineers at the big airgun companies will be able to solve that problem.
Is it accurate with its tail flapping behind the ball in flight? It’s almost as accurate as a steel BB out to 15 feet. After that it starts to degrade…until 30 feet, when the groups are 5 inches or more.
And why would anyone want this?
Don’t you know that California is about to outlaw lead ammunition?
Here’s the lesson: Never do something because of what a state might do.
I know what will sell because I use it myself!
The inventor has created a quirky airgun that he uses all the time. He has become very proficient with it and can do virtually anything he wants with it. So, it’s time to sell his invention to one of the big companies.
— If it’s a big-bore airgun that produces 200 foot-pounds at the muzzle, they don’t want it because big-bore customers want more power than that. He argues that 200 foot-pounds is all that’s needed, but they counter with the fact that buyers don’t agree. More is better to a big-bore airgun buyer. His gun is like an AA-fuel dragster that tops out at 140 mph. Nobody wants one!
— If it’s a 10-meter target rifle that will sell for under $700 and has a Lothar Walther barrel but a trigger that’s not adjustable and only goes as light as 2 lbs., they don’t want it because their customers all want adjustable triggers that break very light. They couldn’t sell even one gun like the one he’s made because of the trigger. The fact that he’s shown them 5 one-hole groups shot at 10 meters is meaningless. They can’t sell a target gun that doesn’t have an adjustable trigger.
— If it’s a field target rifle that shoots .177 pellets at 1,050 f.p.s., they don’t want it because their buyers are wanting competition rifles that top out at 12 foot-pounds and less. He may have won three local championships with his gun — they’re still not interested.
This kind of inventor is like the salmon who argues with the grizzly bear that he cannot be eaten because he hasn’t spawned yet!
As I said in the beginning, I get people with ideas like these approaching me all the time. It’s turned me into a cynic. But every once in awhile, someone comes along and shows me something that I haven’t seen before. Or I get an idea of my own that I feel has merit.
I’ll leave you with the few principles that I use to evaluate every new idea.
1. Can it be produced inexpensively?
An accurate and reliable PCP that retails for about $100 comes to mind.
2. Does it do something that has never been done before, or does it do something better than anything has ever done it?
A 30 foot-pound spring rifle that takes 10 lbs. of effort to cock would be nice.
3. Is this an idea that people have been asking for?
An accurate .25-caliber multi-pump pneumatic that will retail for under $300 would be a winner.
4. Have I seen the idea perform and does it live up to everything that has been said about it?
Lloyd Sikes proved to me that he could get a huge number of big-bore shots on very little air.
5. Is the person with the idea stable, or is he a loose cannon on deck?
Duskwight did exactly what he said he would do with his Duskcombe spring rifle.