The Evolution of the Air Pistol

by Shri Raj Khalid

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Pistol shooting conjures up images of exotic pistols. We all remember Wyatt Earp's famous Colt Revolver with the extra -long barrel made by the famed gunsmith Ned Buntline. In fact the revolver was called a Buntline Special. Through the ages pistols have evolved into remarkably complex yet aesthetically pleasing works of art! No other pistol has evolved as dramatically as the air-pistol.

The early pistols were spring powered of the moving piston kind rather like the Diana we all grew up with. In this kind of air arm a compressed spring drives a piston in a cylinder compressing the air volume and driving a pellet through the barrel. The movement of the spring results in a recoil which tends to throw the pistol off the aimimg area. The forerunners of the modern pistols were the Feinwerkbau and the Walther air pistols. Since Germany was banned from producing fire-arms after the second world war they concentrated their energies and talents in producing remarkably accurate air pistols for target shooting.

Feinwerkbau produced the moving piston air pistol, the Model 65 followed by the Model 80. These pistols had a remarkably ingenious mechanism whereby the entire pistol action moved back on a set of rails to counteract the effects of the recoil mentioned above. They came with fully adjustable sights and a superb finish. Needless to say almost every World, Olympic and National record was soon established by these pistols.

Walther produced the LP3 a pneumatic pistol where the cocking action compressed a column of air which was released at the moment of firing. Since there was no movement of a piston they were recoil free. On the face of it Walther appeared to have a world beater, but the biggest factor was RELIABILITY. The Walther seals were a bit tricky and the pistol did not find favour. The Feinwerkbaus were accurate, beautiful to shoot and totally reliable. The Model 65 is still in current production and is the arm of choice for clubs and training new shooters. All pistols were and still are capable of tack driving accuracy.

The draw back with these pistols was the effort required to cock them and the movement of the action during recoil. Also, the weight of the pistol was above the shooting hand and this contributed to some muzzle heaviness and resultant fatigue. Junior shooters and women found this particularly difficult to start with. Soon gunsmiths started tinkering with the Feinwerkbaus. Donald Nygord an ace American shooter and 'smith chopped the barrel of his Model 65 by an inch or so and soon established a world record of 581 with it. The company was quick to realise this new potential and they too offered a Junior Model of the Model 65.

The next innovation was the Feinwerkbau Model 90 which had an action like the 65 but an electronic trigger! The trigger worked off a 15 volt battery. The advantage was a consistent trigger weight at the time of firing. As shooting standards improved the American Crossman and Daisy's provided inspiration for a new generation of Pneumatic and Carbon di oxide propelled air pistols. The cheaply made American pistols were fun but totally unsuited for any kind of precision shooting.

The Feinwerkbau Model 2 was the first CO2 Match Pistol. It had a cylinder below the barrel which could be filled from a fire-extinguisher type cylinder and fitted to the pistol. This allowed the shooter to fire about 200 shots without the effort of cocking and recoil! The added bonus was the low centre of gravity since the bulk of the pistol was BELOW the shooter's hand. Walther simultaneously launched their CP2 a heavier pistol but with good large sights. Juniors and Women were not left out since both pistols had junior models with shorter barrels and cylinders.

Since the air pistol is a great training aid many European shooters shot extensively with airpistols at indoor ranges to keep their skills honed during the long winter months which made any kind of outdoor shooting impossible. To serve the needs of the Rapid Fire shooters Walther and Feinwerkbau introduced 5 shot repeating CO2 powered pistols. They did not find much favour since the rules did not permit their use in competition and were expensive training aids.

New companies like AirMatch and Pardini Fiochhi produced fine compressed air pistols and the Germans soon had competition from the Italian fire-arm industry. Problems of reliability plagued these pistols and they were not very popular. Their fate was sealed when Feinwerkbau offered their Model 100 and 102 series of pneumatic pistols with their legendary reliability. Walther was quick to respond with a similar model the LP1.

The CO2 pistols had a drawback of varying pressure at different levels of CO2 gas. The next generation of pistols the Feinwerkbau Model 10 and the Walther CP2 Match had a staging chamber built in to compensate for varying cylinder pressures. This innovation was taken one step higher with the Feinwerkbau Model 25 and the Walther conversion to a Vertically mounted cylinder to avoid liquid CO2 leaking into the chamber during firing.

Although CO2 pistols had relatively little recoil they did have a small "KICK" as the pellet left the barrel. Steyr ,an Austrian company introduced a model with a Compensator. This attachment to the muzzle of the pistol vented the residual CO2 upwards to counter -act the effects of the jump.

Initially this pistol was ignored by world shooters. However the Champions who tried this out were pleased with the results and soon the Steyr Compensated Air Pistols were seen on all the ranges. Walther and Feinwerkbau offered their models CPM 1 and the Model C20 and C25 respectively, with compensators.

Legend has it that one great shooter had blamed his CO2 pistol for One Single Poor Shot and this propelled the search for a new propellant. Morini a Swiss company introduced a pistol powered by compressed air! The cylinder is charged with air at a pressure of 3000 psi!!!. This required a valve that worked across a wide range of pressures and a robust mechanism. Today Morini and Hammerli the most renowned fire arm manufacturer offer their models of compressed air pistols.

The Morini is an aluminum cylindered electronically fired air pistol while the Hammerli is a Hi tech pistol with a cylinder of aluminum wrapped in Carbon Fibre. The Morini works on compressed air only while the Hammerli can be charged with CO2 or Air. The compressed air is usually provided through a diving bottle and is relatively easy to use. Now Hammerli has introduced a new model compressed air only pistol the 480K with shorter lighter cylinders.

All these pistols cost a great deal of money and what do they offer? An accurate, high precision piece of equipment which will give years and years of trouble free service. The additional advantage is that in most countries including India they do not require a fire arms licence and can be imported as personal baggage. They are cheap to shoot and will hone your skills to world beating standards IF YOU SO DESIRE.

What does the future hold? Maybe a dual powered CO2 and Air electronically fired permanently lubricated pistol made of carbon fibre and steel components or a relatively light weight reliable pneumatic which does away with the hassles of CO2 and air cylinders. Already Steyr and Feinwerkbau have introduced their compressed air powered pistols and their designers are working hard on the next Models. Air Rifles have evolved similarly particularly in the UK where field target shooting is a rage, but that is another story.


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