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By Bill Mills - June 2004
In the summer of 2003, Ancient Innovations, a small company that is both young as a business, and young in respect to the ages of its owners, began publicly demonstrating prototypes of their Q-Loader loading system. One of these demonstrations at the Seattle Pan Am tournament lead to a preview of the system on WARPIG.com.
The Q-Loader is a completely different way of storing and loading paint when compared to traditional hoppers and pods. Each Q-Loader Pod, while resembling a traditional 140 round paintball pod on the outside is actually a self contained, spring powered force feeding loader. The Q-Pods lock into a mount on the paintball gun, and deliver paint to the breech through a flexible hose. This allows for the loader to be mounted in a nearly unlimited number of positions on the paintgun, while the forced feed gives it the ability to keep up with fast paintguns.
The prototype system shown in 2003 demonstrated the operation of the system, but was not complete. Parts were still being refined and developed, and some of the components in the prototype were manufactured by stereolithography, a process for computer generating three-dimensional parts. The stereolith prototype parts would not have the same flexibility and friction ratios of production injection molded plastic parts. The prototype system worked, and demonstrated the concept. The author had the opportinuty to test fire it on an Angel IR3 with the COPS system engaged and found that COPS system kept the paintgun from shooting every shot when rapid firing, indicating that the prototype was being outshot by the paintgun.
Over the remainder of the year, Ancient Innovations refined and adjusted the design of the Q-Loader system. Their initial mid-fall release date wasn’t met, but in 2003 units were shipping to beta-testers and early in 2004, final production models of the Q-Loader were available to customers.
On first impression, it’s clear that the Ancient Innovations crew has a background in graphic design. The graphic printed box, manual, and logos on the Q-Loaders all carry a distinctive style. Aside from purchase of individual parts, the Q-Loader is available in two basic configurations, the Starter System and Tournament System which differ only in the number of Q-Pods they contain – the starter contains two, while the tournament includes 5. Suggested Retail of the systems is $99.95 and $149.95 respectively, with additional Q-Pods available for $24.95 singly, or $249.95 for a dozen.
Most paintball loading systems utilize a bulk holding area, or hopper where paintballs are stored in quantity. To be loaded into a paintgun, they must be sorted into a single file line. In the simplest of hoppers, this happens naturally as balls jostle over the feed-neck and fall into it. In more advanced hoppers electric motors stir the loose paintballs to keep them moving so that they will fall into that feedneck. Further designs use rotating impellers to sort paintballs out of the loose mass and into the feed-neck. With these systems, paintballs are carried in pods, which are used to refill the bulk supply in a hopper.
The Q-Loader works by a completely different method. Each Q-Pod is essentially a self contained loader with its own mechanical components used to drive paintballs into a paintgun. Paintballs are not stored in bulk, but rather pre-sorted into a spiral path inside a Q-Pod. The sorting of paintballs from bulk to a line format happens not in the loader or on the gun, but off the field before the game while the Q-Pod is being filled, where time and feed rate is not critical. As the Q-Pod is loaded the paint is sorted into it, and energy is stored in its internal coil spring. It is the manual energy from loading the Q-Pod that is later used to deliver the paintballs, making operation of the Q-Loader completely battery free.
As the Q-Loader does not operate the same as any other paintgun loader, the manual is the first place to start. This 65-page booklet is heavily illustrated with two photographs on most pages, and very clear explanations of how to install, maintain, clean and repair the Q-Loader. The booklet is also available for review online in PDF format at the Q-Loader web site. A Tournament Package was tested for this review, which began with time spent reading the manual. Because the manual is so thorough, and a warning sheet to follow the manual is included in the Q-Loader box, some may find the Q-Loader a little intimidating to work with. Following the steps in the manual, however installation was trouble free.
Setting up the Q-Loader started with choosing where to mount the Q-Loader socket on the Matrix used for testing. The Q-Loader socket uses a metal band clamp to attach to a round mount point on the paintgun. Three metal bands of varying diameters are included in the kit, to allow for a variety of mounting options. If mounted on the paintgun’s vertical regulator, with the Q-Pod extending forward, the hose would feed out to the right and up. Mounted on the barrel, the hose would feed to the left hand side of the paintgun.
Much like the AGD Warp Feed before it, the Q-Loader moves the paint storage area off of the top of the paintgun, keeping the hopper from being a pop-up target when a player comes out from cover to shoot. With most of today’s paintguns putting their feed-port in the center of the top of the paintgun, the Q-Loader hose and elbow must still fit up on top of the paintgun. The standard Q-Loader configuration – under the barrel mounted to a paintgun’s vertical regulator, puts the hose on the right hand side of the paintgun. With most paintballers holding their paintgun in the right hand, and leaning out predominantly to the right, this seems counter-intuitive as the hose will be exposed to the right, rather than lying on the left side of the paintgun where it will not increase the player’s target silhouette.
Airgun Designs and Worr Game Products have both produced left side feed paintguns with this concept in mind, and the Matrix used for testing was equipped with a left side feed breech. Feeding to the left side instead of the right meant installing the Q-Loader socket inverted on the vertical regulator, which pointed the feed hose downward, forcing it to curve up to the Q-Loader elbow and into the breech. The hose run was then a bit longer than if the feed started in an upward direction, and needed an extra change of direction. This was a situation of concern for the ability of the loader to feed properly. It was decided that if it did not feed well in this configuration a top feed test would be done.
Ancient Innovations has already addressed these limitations with the design of a custom mount, which can be pivoted and locked to different angles. This product is planned for release in the summer of 2004.
Mounting the Q-Loader required first selecting the appropriate sized mounting band to fit the vertical regulator of the Matrix. As the manual pointed out, it is important not to mount the Q-Loader over a regulator vent hole as that could cause overpressure or other operational problems. A small metal block locked into the mounting band, and the Q-Loader socket slid on and attached with a Phillips head screw, which cinched the band for a steady mount. Lining the regulator or other mount point with plastic or cloth tape is a recommended step to prevent scratches in its anodized surface.
With the mount in place, the Q-Loader elbow was test fitted to the Matrix breech. The elbow is designed to fit universally, either sliding onto a 7/8” feedneck, or inside a 1” feedneck such as clamping feednecks. The elbow is slightly more than 90 degrees in angle, so as to feed paintballs smoothly rather than create resistance. Alternatively, some players have used Pro Team Products' powerfeeds and Warp adapters for a clean 90 degree connection. Like the socket, the hose side of the elbow is double walled to allow a section of Q-Loader hose to slide into it and be held firmly in place.
The next step was to cut a section of the corrugated Q-Loader hose about a ¾” longer than what was needed to connect the socket to the hose. Then paintballs were stacked into the tube and the end of the tube trimmed so that the hose would hold a full number of paintballs, rather leaving a portion of a ball sticking out of the end.
Included in the kit were o-rings to fit into the grooves of the hose. By placing one on each end of the hose, it attached very securely to the elbow and socket. Even with the recommended use of dish soap to lubricate the o-rings, only one was able to be wedged into the elbow as opposed to the recommended two. This however proved more than adequate to securely hold the hose in place.
While the hose and socket were secure, the elbow was not. A small piece of duct tape was used on the 7/8" feedneck to wedge the elbow in place. The elbow fit with no problems inside an FBM clamping feedneck.
With the socket on the paintgun, it was time to fill the Q-Pods. The pods are filled by putting up to 500 paintballs in a kidney shaped hopper that Ancient Innovations calls a silo. At one end of the silo is a hose fitting, and the hose is connected to the reload socket. The reload socket looks much like the paintgun mounted socket, except that instead of a mount it has a freely spinning rounded end with a winding handle.
The Q-Pod is placed in the loading socket, and the silo slung from the user’s shoulder with its included strap. Paintballs then fall down the hose to the loading socket where turning the crank loads them into the Q-pod and simultaneously winds the pod’s internal drive spring.