Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Discovery’
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today, I just have to address all the discussions in the comments we’ve been having regarding the cost of production (of airguns) and why some companies can or cannot build certain guns. Let me begin with the Benjamin Discovery, whose story is a wonderful lesson of what’s possible.
History of the Benjamin Discovery
In 2006, Crosman held a conference with all the airgun writers. The four of us (Stop laughing! I’m telling the truth, here!) were flown to upstate New York and initially presented with Crosman’s corporate goals and objectives. We were then shown things that were soon to be launched. Finally, they asked us to tell them what we thought airgunners wanted. We sat in what they call their War Room (a boardroom with many of their products on the walls) and told them things we thought they should make — or at least consider making.
As we were telling them our thoughts, an idea began forming in my brain. Crosman could build a PCP! And the way I imagined it, they could build it cheap enough that it could retail for for under $200 at that time. But I knew my idea wasn’t fully developed yet, and also that it was an order of magnitude greater than the ideas we were discussing in the room.
I kept quiet about this idea in the meeting, but later I privately asked the advice of one of Crosman’s trusted contractors — a person I had known for many years and whose honesty I trusted. I told him that I had a world-beater idea and asked whether Crosman was an honorable company, or would they take my idea and shut me out of all that followed? He told me they were very honorable, but they were also businessmen — so I should at least have a non-disclosure agreement in place before any talking started. I later learned that it is Crosman policy to always have such an agreement in place before they talk to anyone — as it is with all honest companies.
Months passed as I started initial discussions with the company. Finally, when the non-disclosure agreement was in place and they thought I might be on to something, they brought me back to make my full presentation. I won’t bore you with the Powerpoint presentation, but that’s exactly how I did it. My idea broke down to the following points:
1. A PCP gun to sell for under $200 could be made from one of their existing CO2 guns.
2. It should be sold with a hand pump, a tin of pellets and full instructions.
3. The price of the set should be under $300.
4. MOST IMPORTANTLY: It should operate on 1,800 psi air pressure.
Now, I have to give the credit for the low air pressure operation to Tim McMurray and Larry Durham because they’re the ones who made it work in the USFT. I knew it would work because I owned a USFT rifle that was working on 1,600 psi and getting 950 f.p.s. with .177 Beeman Kodiaks.
I knew that older airgunners would resist the need to fill the rifle from a hand pump, so the lower operating air pressure was key to its success. Pumping to 1,800 psi is easy. When you pass 2,300 psi, it starts getting difficult.
Crosman listened to the presentation, and I think they were surprised by how passionate I was about the packaging of the gun, the low air pressure and some other things that didn’t deal directly with the actual gun. I guess they thought I would come in and try to tell them how to build an airgun, but I knew they already knew how to do that very well. What I was telling them was how it had to work, and how it had to be presented to the marketplace. I don’t guess too many people from off the street come to them that way.
CEO Ken D’Arcy then leveled with me. He told me they had tried to get into PCP guns years before. He was surprised when I then told him why that venture hadn’t worked. It was before he came to Crosman, but not before I started writing about airguns. They tried marketing British-made Logun rifles, and it backfired. Buyers knew where the guns were made; and instead of buying them from Crosman, they were buying them directly from the UK to save money. But more than that — and this is the real reason it failed — Crosman knew NOTHING about PCP guns, and everyone knew it. So, when support (parts, maintenance, operating information) was needed, how good would it be? That was the real problem that killed the Crosman/Logun deal.
By making a PCP right there in their New York plant, they would be forced to get their hands dirty and learn all the intricacies of precharged pneumatics…and that would make them a better company in turn. That fact, plus my complete marketing plan, was why this project would succeed where the other one had failed — or at least that’s what I believed.
They brought me back a couple weeks later, and I was prepared to demonstrate my idea to them. I’d made a pigtail air hose adapter with a built-in regulator that dropped 3,000 psi pressure from a scuba tank to 800 psi. It was set up to connect with their AT392T pellet rifle reservoir and turn it into a PCP right on the spot. The AS392T used 88-gram AirSource tanks, which my adapter mimicked. But Crosman had gone me one better. Ed Schultz, their production manager and also a real airgun enthusiast, had prototyped two 2260 rifles with stronger air reservoirs and special valves to run on 2,000 psi air. He built them both (one in .177 and the other in .22) in about one week and had astounded himself and the entire Crosman management team by producing decent shot strings and great velocities! The .177 got close to 1,000 f.p.s. with lead pellets, and the .22 was just under 800 f.p.s.
This is all that remains of my demonstration hose and regulator for the Benjamin AS392T rifle. I sold the regulator, yoke and AirSource adapter at an airgun show years ago. The black end attaches to an AirSource port.
Before I could unpack my kludgy air hose, Ed burst into the room with one of his prototypes and several spreadsheets showing the performance he was getting. Everyone there — Ken D’Arcy, Bob Hampton (Crosman’s marketing VP at the time) and Ed Schultz — knew they were going to build this gun before I arrived.
The second meeting evolved into this: Should we really build this basic gun, or should we add a better trigger, shrouded barrel and better barrel?
I argued that they should build the basic rifle first. I wanted to call it the Benjamin 8020, because it represented 80 percent of the features of a European PCP for 20 percent of the money. I also wanted to put my name on the gun; because if they were going to really build it the way we were talking, I knew it was going to be a success.
I was pleased that Ed had selected the 2260 as the prototype instead of the AS392T that I’d recommended. It was far easier to modify, plus it was a cheaper base gun and had everything I wanted in this project.
I told them if they would just stick to the basic gun, it would get their production capability spun up and still be simple enough that it wouldn’t give them any insurmountable manufacturing problems. Then, Ken D’Arcy asked me the million-dollar question. Did I seriously believe that if they built this gun the way we were now envisioning it, could they sell 1,000 units in the first year?
When he asked me that, things got very serious because I was putting my reputation on the line. So, I gave him an answer couched with stipulations. IF they built it this way, and IF they packaged it the way I’d specified, and IF they marketed it the way we’d discussed and IF they held the retail price point to not more than such-and-such, then I said I thought they could sell TWO thousand rifles in the first year.
This all happened in February. They worked on the gun all that year. I worked with them testing prototypes, drafting the owner’s manual and on the website animations that showed how to fill the gun. I had wanted to make a short DVD of a teenaged girl filling the rifle with the hand pump, so we could silence all those old guys who say pumping airguns is for the birds and too hard, but we settled for an animation.
The rifle was launched at the next year’s SHOT Show, and it really did surprise the marketplace. Naturally, Cabela’s and Wal-Mart didn’t understand it — but hard-core airgunners did, and they gave it a try. They started talking among themselves, and the rest is history. I have no way of knowing the exact number of rifles that sold in the first year, but it was more than my prediction of 2,000 guns.
The object here is that Crosman was in the right frame of mind to enter the PCP market when I took my idea to them. My idea wasn’t for a gun — it was for a package and a presentation that I knew the U.S. airgun market was ready to receive. In our discussions, I told them that if they did this project the way we discussed, and if they followed it with their upgraded gun a year later (the rifle that became the Benjamin Marauder), they would own the PCP market within 5 years. Ken D’Arcy and Bob Hampton both left Crosman in the years that followed; but before they left, they agreed that this project was a complete success.
What made it a success was the commitment that Crosman gave to the project. Had they faltered or had they had a steering committee overseeing the project, making useless contributions that derailed the effort, it could have gone the other way just as easily. Had the marketing department decided at some point that the Discovery was a cash cow and they needed $25 more profit from it, they could have destroyed all that we’d worked to build. But they didn’t. They stayed the course, and today they’re in the catbird seat as one of the power players in the precharged pneumatic airgun world.
As crazy as this is going to sound, we also discussed turning the Crosman Challenger 10-meter rifle from a CO2 gun to a PCP at the same time we were talking about the Discovery project. Ed Schultz even confided in me that they were going to be interested in big bores at some point, so when Lloyd Sikes showed me his radical new valve….Well, that’s another story.
People are the biggest impediment to success in any industry — or anywhere else, for that matter. You can have a wonderful, successful and powerful company; but if their marketing manager has other interests and if he’s the one traveling to China to make the selections and talk to the factory, you’re only going to get products that are as good as he asks for. If he doesn’t know the market, you’re going to get garbage because he can’t tell the difference. Would you go to a 5-star restaurant and let a 4-year-old order for you? NO! Mommy or daddy need to reel in the child and take control. In fact, 4-year-olds probably don’t belong in 5-star restaurants. And by the same reasoning, people who’ve just graduated from business school don’t belong on management steering committees that select the key features for a new airgun.
Another problem — and a solution
Managers who don’t know their market are another huge problem. That marketing manager who goes to China and brings back the wrong airguns is acting in good faith. He may not be an airgunner or even a shooter (though he certainly should be!), but he makes his selections based on what he sees in the marketplace.
Speed sells and everyone knows it. I’ll not deny that it really does sell. But — and this is key to understanding how this all works — WHO does it sell to? Does it sell to the 24-year-old kid with his ball cap on backwards and his baggy drawers hanging too low? Because if that’s who you’re watching — he’s not your main customer. His shallow pockets have holes in the bottoms and he has the attention span of a fruit fly. If you’re going to sell to him, everything has to be below a certain price point and has to be named something exotic — something like Extreme, or some jumble of numbers and letters. XZ7 or Zombie Revenge are a couple good model names for this guy.
On the other hand, the people who regularly spend hundreds of dollars a year on their hobby are the ones you want to please. They are the ones who will keep buying from you when the rest of the market goes slack. But what if you already have a pretty good handle on those people? Where do you get more people just like them? I’ll tell you.
When I started writing about airguns in 1994, there weren’t over 10,000 serious airgunners in the United States. When I started Airgun Illustrated magazine in 2003, we estimated there were 15,000 to 45,000 serious airgunners.
Today, I would estimate there are no less than 50,000 and probably closer to 100,000 serious airgunnners in this country. And I’m not including the youth shooters on teams in this number, because they don’t buy airguns, for the most part.
However, there were over 5 MILLION serious firearms shooters back in 1994 — and today I would not be surprised if that number was three times as much! NRA membership surpassed 4 million recently and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it top 5 million very soon.
So, I’ll ask again: Where can you get new airgun customers who like to shoot and are willing to spend money to do it?
Now, what do you think might attract a firearm shooter to buy an airgun? And I’m not taking about a Daisy Red Ryder for the grandkids. Please don’t try to answer this with a single answer because that’s what all those failed marketing managers are doing.
The reasons people want to shoot airguns today, or should want to, are numerous and complex. A 21-year-old woman in Oregon who wants to get her concealed carry permit has one reason for wanting an airgun (training), and a 73-year-old man in Maine who is living on a fixed income has another (economy). David “Hawke” Hunter in Lubbock wants to drop prairie dogs without endangering the nearby oilfield workers, but Sally Primrose lives in a two-bedroom condo in Pasadena and wants to shoot targets indoors without alarming her next-door neighbor, with whom she shares a common wall. NASA wants to remove woodpeckers from the sides of launch vehicles where they’re damaging the insulation (a true story), while the city of Spokane wants to eradicate pigeons under nets they throw over trees on downtown streets at 3 a.m. to keep from alarming the residents (also a true story).
Folks, the marketplace has burst wide open, and buyers with money are looking for what “They ought to make.” It’s necessary to reach out to these customers and inform them that there are airguns that can put 10 pellets into an inch at 100 yards, serve as a good training tool for a sidearm or drop a wild hog humanely.
Two things need to happen. The makers need to make the kinds of airguns shooters want to buy, and then they need to inform the shooters that such guns do exist. We need to do better on both accounts.
by B.B. Pelletier
Blog reader Kevin inspired this report with a comment he made on Friday’s blog. He wondered whether my exposure to nearly all the airguns in the world, both past and present, has inspired me to own any one gun in particular. But it also comes from my visit to Leapers this past week (which I will be sharing with you very soon), because that thrust me into the world of manufacturing, again. I still remember a lot from my time at AirForce Airguns, but visiting Leapers and speaking with all their product developers brought technical things back into sharp focus, again.
There was also a comment last week from someone who stated outright that a spring gun is far simpler than a precharged pneumatic. When I read that, it didn’t sit quite right with me, so I thought about it for awhile until I had worked it out. And this report is the result.
So, today’s question is this: Which is simpler — a PCP or a springer? The answer may surprise you.
A spring-piston gun is far less cumbersome for a shooter to operate — I think we can all agree about that. All you do is cock it, load a pellet and you’re ready to go. With a precharged gun, there’s the complexity of the gun, itself, which is pretty much on par with the springer in most cases. Only the repeaters are more complex because of how their magazines or clips are loaded with pellets and then how they’re loaded into the guns.
But a precharged gun brings with it the need to put air into the gun at some point. And this is where things can get very complex. Sometimes, they’re not as bad as shooters realize or imagine. The part about filling the gun can be no more involved than it would be to take the pumping function that all multi-pump pneumatics have…such as the Sheridan Blue Streak…and separate it from the gun. That was what was behind the Benjamin Discovery precharged air rifle, and it’s the reason the Discovery is an order of magnitude less complex than all other PCPs on the market.
The Benjamin Discovery is simpler than other precharged airguns because of its lower fill pressure. One version comes with a hand pump that can easily fill the gun with little effort on the shooter’s part. Think of it as a more powerful and more accurate Sheridan Blue Streak with a separate pump.
The common perception among airgunners is that a PCP is more complex than a springer because of the need for special fill devices. Actually, the Benjamin Discovery and all other guns that use a Foster quick-disconnect air fill coupling have fixed this problem, but there are still a lot of PCP makers who aren’t yet using this type of fitting. So, their rifles are, in fact, more complex and prone to equipment compatibility problems for the buyer. But all Benjamin PCPs, all Daystate PCPs, the USFT rifles and all Quackenbush PCPs now come with the common Foster fitting. So, if informed users shop for a gun that has solved the filling problem in this way, they won’t have to deal with that issue.
AirForce Airguns recognized this fact also and created a Foster fill device for all the AirForce Airgun sporting air rifles (Talon, Talon SS and Condor), adding that company to the growing list.
And the perception problem continues, as new shooters believe that they need to own a chronograph with their PCPs, to somehow manage them. The truth is that you can manage the shots in a PCP just fine by shooting the gun at great distance and stopping whenever the shots start to scatter. That tells you the maximum number of shots you get per fill if you’re shooting at that distance. If you shoot closer, there are more shots per fill before the groups enlarge. But that isn’t how the articles and reports read, and people are blinded by the perceived need for additional expensive technology. I recommend owning a chronograph because it helps you know your gun better, it isn’t absolutely required.
Spring guns, on the other hand, are perceived as being simple and easy to understand. The only complexity that most shooters know about is the need for some skill in holding the gun when it fires. A PCP shoots accurately regardless of how it’s held, but a spring gun can be very sensitive to slight changes in the hold. Other than that, though, the springer is thought to be dirt-simple.
Manufacturers see the spring gun/PCP world exactly in reverse. It’s the PCP that’s simple and straightforward to make, and the spring gun that requires a lot more machining operations and special tooling to complete. The PCP is a reservoir connected to a barrel, with a valve in between. It’s a simple, straightforward arrangement.
A springer has the barrel that must be held in a baseblock to withstand the shock of the firing cycle as well as deliver the small puff of compressed air generated by the piston to the rear of the pellet. While a PCP valve is about as complex as an entire spring-piston powerplant, nothing in it is under anywhere near the stress from an overly powerful mainspring or the heavy hammer-blows of the piston. Where the trigger in a PCP holds back 6-10 lbs. of striker-spring force, the spring-piston trigger might hold back 150 lbs.
A spring-piston gun needs a lot of very strong components to withstand the hammering of the piston. A PCP can be made of lighter components. There are heavy PCPs on the market, but I invite you to examine the Benjamin Discovery and all the AirForce Airgun sporting rifles to compare the power that lightweight PCPs deliver, as opposed to what super-heavyweight springers can do. And I’m saying nothing about accuracy, where the PCP wins every time.
We’re discussing an airgun manufacturer’s perspective of the two types of powerplants, and there’s one weak spot in the PCP’s design. It has to be built to hold air under high pressure for a long time, and air under pressure is hard to hold. Some companies find this to be a very daunting challenge, because they don’t understand the need for absolute cleanliness in the manufacturing area, or they select materials that are known to have porosity issues, or they use dull tooling (not changing it often enough) or they’re just sloppy in their assembly. I worked for three years at AirForce Airguns and was intimately familiar with every step they took to protect the long-term integrity of their compressed-air reservoirs.
I own three AirForce guns, and all are stored at full pressure all the time. In the past 12 years, I’ve never had a single issue of leaking. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, because it sometimes does. But compared to the PCPs from certain other manufacturers that have some or all of the problems I just mentioned, AirForce Airguns has none of them.
I watched Crosman build their first Benjamin Discoveries, and they had the good sense to do a 100 percent testing of their guns holding air before shipment. They continued doing this until they knew they had a positive handle on the build process. That’s how a good company enters the PCP market! In contrast, there have been more than a few boutique PCP builders who learned as they went and let their customers be the quality control. I won’t name any names, but this practice is what gave PCPs a black eye.
Do spring guns have similar weaknesses? Yes, they do, but because of how they work, they can often still function when the manufacturing is flawed. Guns full of metal shavings make it to market, and their new owners are none the wiser. That would kill a PCP, but a springer will still shoot when the compression chamber is filled with metal shavings and the piston is embedded with nails! Comparing a springer to a PCP is like comparing a longbow to a top-of-the-line crossbow. The longbow is simpler and will work under less favorable circumstances, but the crossbow will outshoot it every time and in every way.
The next time you hear someone say that a springer is simpler than a PCP, ask yourself what they’re really saying. Because you may not want all the shortcomings that accompany the “simpler” design.
That concludes this report, but I have more to say. I wrote today’s report because I felt that it would be good to explain the full ramifications of an issue that we airgunners often assume to be an open-and-closed case. I sometimes delve deep into the technical aspects of airgun performance in my reports, and I think it can lead readers astray. My comment above about not needing a chronograph for the enjoyment and operation of a PCP was an attempt to bring this out.
I am soon going to start another test that will be both long and technically involved. The results should prove interesting, no matter what they are, but I’ve had to choose only one of several possible ways to conduct the test. We’ll learn some things, but the possibility exists that bias will also be present, because I cannot test everything. I’m using today’s report to get your minds into an analytical mode, but I don’t want to leave any of the new readers behind.
The object of today’s report is that every question should be viewed from several different perspectives, because sometimes the things we think are obvious are not really what is happening.
by B.B. Pelletier
As I write this report, Edith is sitting on the couch, reading and approving customer reviews of airguns. It’s a lazy Sunday morning, and we generally try to work on things that are easy on such days. She just made this remark to me while reading another customer review, “People want powerful hunting air rifles that cock with 20 lbs. of effort or less. Isn’t that called a precharged pneumatic?”
That was what came to my mind the minute she announced what people want. But experience tells us that it isn’t what’s on the new airgunner’s mind. They want a spring rifle, because they want nothing to do with all the extra stuff that’s needed to keep a PCP running. They just want to cock the gun, load a pellet and shoot. And many of them wonder why this springer can’t be a repeater, as well.
The question that’s often asked
Surely “they” could make a powerful spring-piston air rifle if they wanted to. All they have to do is make one that will go at least 900 f.p.s. [or whatever number seems best to them] in .22 caliber with real-world lead pellets and cocks with 20 lbs. or less. If they would make a rifle like that, I would be first in line to buy one.
Don’t you think “they” have been busily trying to do just that for the past 100 years? From the first moment someone cocked a spring-piston rifle (or pistol) that was a couple of pounds too heavy for them, they started thinking about designing exactly the rifle our hypothetical new airgunner has requested. And they haven’t done it, yet!
But there have been several good attempts. John Whiscombe, for example, broke the cocking sequence down to two or even three pulls of the underlever to cock his dual-opposed piston rifles. Owners of his rifles have not one but two coiled mainsprings to cock; and their efforts, while not quite doubled, have to be increased significantly. Which is why Whiscombe broke the cocking effort into two and even three strokes of the lever. The gun cannot be cocked with fewer strokes. If you try, it will remain in a limbo of a partially compressed set of mainsprings that cannot be relaxed, because they’re held in check by the safety mechanisms. So, a Whiscombe owner can’t cock his JW80 just two strokes for reduced power. It’s three strokes or nothing.
Rutten of Belgium used a small, high-torque electric motor to cock their spring-piston rifle with just the push of a button. Wonderful, you say, except now you’re tethered to the power grid, because the rifle cannot be cocked any other way than by its motor. And when you do push the button, prepare for the sound of an impact wrench for a couple seconds, because that little motor raises quite a ruckus! That rifle sold under the Browning name several years ago, and the reception, once people saw how it actually worked, was chilly at best. So much so that there are still a considerable number of Browning-trademarked new-old-stock rifles that float to the surface every so often, as yet another person wonders, “Why not?”
One approach that did work well is employed by Weihrauch in their HW45 air pistol that also sells under the name Beeman P1. The way it works is that you cock the barrel to the first detent (sear catch) for low power and to the second detent for high power. The cocking force remains approximately the same for both power levels. All that’s different is the length of the piston stroke. It works very well, and I wonder why manufactures are not using it on a rifle today. What’s apparently lost to many airgun manufacturers is that the power of the mainspring contributes very little to the power of the gun. What matters most is the piston stroke. Many springs do stack (increase) in force the farther they’re compressed, but that’s not a universal rule. It’s possible to make a spring that provides a near-uniform force throughout its compression, as Weihrauch has done in the HW45.
Back to the question
We’re discussing why nobody makes a powerful spring-piston air rifle that also has a very light cocking effort. This is a question that many new airgunners ask, not realizing that physics stand in the way. A pellet fired from a spring-piston gun produces only a fraction of the power generated by the mainspring, so that’s the limiting factor. Making the mainspring more powerful is the brute-force way of making a gun more powerful, and it’s the practice that’s in vogue today.
What about a gas spring?
One question that often follows the main one is why wouldn’t a gas spring (gas strut, gas ram) work? To understand why it wouldn’t, you have to shoot a gun that has one. Gas springs exert their full potential from the instant you start cocking them. So, instead of a gun that requires 34 lbs. of cocking effort but starts out at 15 lbs. at the beginning of the cocking arc where the leverage is poorest and you’ll need all the help you can get, the gas spring has 34 lbs. of effort right from the start. Gas springs are never easier to cock than coiled steel mainsprings — they’re always harder, or at least they’re perceived as harder because of how they work.
Where does that leave us?
If you want real power from a pellet rifle and you also want the rifle to be lightweight and easy to cock, the precharged pneumatic is the only way to go. No spring gun ever made can keep up with a PCP in the weight and ease of cocking departments. A Benjamin Discovery weighs just over 5 lbs., yet in .22 caliber it puts out the same power as an RWS Diana 48 that weighs 3.5 lbs. more and cocks with 10 times the effort. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know about the AirForce air rifles, some of which will produce as much muzzle energy as a .22 short, with long-range accuracy that not even a $3,000 Olympic target rifle can match.
My message to new airgunners
The question that you have asked is the same one that’s been asked by airgunners for decades. It’s not that airgun manufacturers have overlooked anything or that they’re holding back, like the inventors of the 100-mile-per-gallon carburetor did in the 1960s. They’re stuck on the physics of the problem. You can’t get more work (foot-pounds of energy) from a shot than the force that’s put into the shot. With a spring-piston airgun powerplant, you’ll get significantly less energy out than you put in.
Can things be done to reduce the cocking effort? Maybe. Has everything been tried? Perhaps not. But if you want to get the greatest power from a light air rifle that cocks easily, you definitely want a PCP — not a springer!