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By Bill Mills - April 2004
In the fall of 2003, Ricochet Development gave WARPIG readers a sneak peek at a prototype of their latest flagship product, the Ricochet Apache. In spring of 2004, the Apache became available to paintball players.
The look of the Apache is nothing new, it is design with Ricochet’s easily identifiable “deflection enginnering” faceted diamond shape. What separates the Apache from the 2K, AK and other Ricochet loaders is how it operates on the inside.
Rather than simply having an agitator to stir paintballs preventing jams, the Apache places an impeller in a catch cup, or a depression in the floor of the loader large enough to hold a ring of paintballs. While the Apache is not a force feed loader, it uses the catch cup to separate paintballs out from the main loader space, and does force them to move in a circular pattern. At the front of that movement pattern is the feedneck, and like a paintball over a hole in the bottom of any loader, when the impeller pushes a ball over the neck of the Apache, gravity takes over and the ball goes down the feed neck to the paintgun.
Because the Apache is not a force feed system, it is capable of still feeding a paintgun even if the batteries or electronics fail. If the impeller arms are blocking the feedneck, manually rotating them to clear it will allow the hopper to work like an old-school “shake & shoot” unpowered hopper.
According to the Apache’s Designer, Ennis Rushton, the Apache is capable of feed rates up to 18 balls per second. Like the 2K and AK loaders, the Apache is activated not by a gap in the stack of paintballs in its neck occurring after a ball jam, but by movement of that stack when a paintball is fed into the paintgun. A bend sensor connected to the loader’s circuit board signals the microprocessor that a paintball is fed, and the microprocessor activates the impeller motor for approximately three quarters of a second. That is long enough to put the impeller through one and a quarter rotations, ensuring that a ball will be delivered to the feed neck.
A notable difference between the Apache and other Ricochet loaders, in addition to the way it feeds is how it is powered. A pair of 9-volt batteries are loaded into a molded carrier which allows them to be removed and loaded as a single cartridge. A flexible tab locks the battery cartridge in place securely. While it may seem simple enough to press in the tab to remove the batteries, it proves easier to do the opposite, to tug the cartridge towards the tab, unlocking its forward edge from the loader body. A nice feature to the battery cartridge is that cut-outs for the 9v battery snaps are keyed by size to prevent the batteries from accidentally being installed backwards.
Like the Ricochet 2K, the Apache features a rear mounted LCD display with a series of four rubber armor protected buttons to control the power, game timer and shot counter. The placement of the display on the rear of the loader makes it very easy to read during game play, much faster to glance at than a grip mounted display or wristwatch. A version of the Apache with only a power button and an LED to indicate power status is expected in the near future at a lower price than the full featured model.
In the first month after its release the Apache underwent at least three significant design changes, all centering around prevention of jams. Previous Ricochet models have all relied on monofilament weed trimmer line to form the arms of their agitators. The material is readily available to Ricochet, and light and flexible. It is well suited to the job. While it works well for the application, Rushton wanted something with a more professional look for the inside of the Apache. This led to an injection molded, two arm impeller with angled blades that shipped on the first Apaches – most of which went out to the press for evaluation and to sponsored teams for use.
After only a couple of weeks in the field Rushton changed from the molded impeller back to a monofilament design with two arms arms, their rough edges covered in heat shrink tubing. This change was due to feedback from the teams field testing product. A few weeks later, another change came out – this time with four line trimmer arms – two high and two low, also covered in shrink tubing. Rushton found this set up to be more advantageous at preventing jams, with performance taking precedence over the looks of an internal part. Like the rest of the Apache line, minor improvements such as the impeller upgrades get put into production as they are developed and tested. Similar improvements have gone into the other Ricochet models, like neck lock tabs, and the o-rings on the feednecks that are now standard. Checking in with Ricochet at event trade shows is a good way to find out about keeping a loader upgraded to include all of the latest features.
Unlike the stereolithograph prototype shown in the WARPIG product preview article, the production model Apache didn’t have to be treated with kid gloves when it came time for field testing for review. Perched atop a 2003 Shocker, and LCD Matrix, the Apache had no problems keeping up with either paintgun on the field. For review the loader was powered by a pair of Powerex 9.6v rechargeable batteries. While slightly taller than the Ricochet 2K, and heavier by slightly more than the weight of a single battery, the on-gun feel of the Apache was very similar to using any of the leading agitating loaders on the market today, though the performance was notably better. Using the anti chop eye mode on the Shocker, and no anti-chop system on the Matrix, ball chopping was not a problem. Shots being skipped by the eye detecting a miss-feed, or the Matrix bolt bouncing off of a ball were not a problem either. The Apache kept up with both paintguns, with the Matrix recording a peak cyclic rate of 14 bps after firing.
Only one feed problem was encountered during field testing, a jam that was rectified by starting to remove the loader from the Shocker until the bend sensor actuated the impeller. In retrospect the same effect could have been achieved by cycling the power of the loader on and off, or paying attention to the included instructions, and pressing the second button from the right on the loader controls. During use this button activates the impeller under manual control.
The Apache fed well when leaning out approximately 45 degrees in either direction, but could not feed properly much past that, due to its reliance on gravity. To simulate battery failure, the power of the Apache was turned off 10 times after a string of shots was fired. Of those 10 times, the loader was still able to feed 8 times without requiring the impeller to be turned.
With a size that is only ½ inch
taller than the other Ricochet loaders, upgrading to higher loader performance
doesn’t mean increasing bulk on top of the paintgun. The Apache provides
higher end loader performance in a traditional loader shape and size.
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