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By Bill Mills - June 2004
The Q-Pod has a spiral guide rod in the center. As the paintballs are loaded into the pod, they spiral down, around the rod, toward the bottom of the loader, maintaining their order in a single line. Moving the paintballs is a rotating inner sleeve. Spiral ridges on the inner sleeve are angled in opposition to the spiral of the center rod. Depending on which way the sleeve is rotated, these ridges either push the paintballs further into, or empty them out of the loader. The sleeve system is rather ingenious.
As more paintballs are loaded into the Q-Pod the drive spring is wound up tighter. The force it exerts is applied not applied directly to the last paintball in the stack, which would smash it against all the other paintballs. Instead the spiral ridges on the sleeve apply an equal amount of force to each paintball individually. This prevents the mashing of paintballs found in some spring fed magazine side-arm paintguns.
Inside the loader is a small white plastic sphere, slightly larger than a paintball. Ancient Innovations calls it the rotation limiter. This sphere rides the spiral just like a paintball, but acts as a stopper, keeping the loader from further unwinding when it is emptied. This is an important feature, as it allows for “pre-wind,” the term Ancient Innovations uses to refer to the amount of tension kept on the loader spring when the Q-Pod is empty.
A system of saw-tooth ridges lock the inner sleeve in place when the Q-Pod is not attached to either the socket or the loading socket. This is an important feature that keeps the Q-Pod from emptying its payload when being handled and stored in a pack.
Loading the Q-Pods is a somewhat cumbersome process that is not as fast as filling traditional pods. This is due to jams in the Silo. After every two or three turns of the loader socket crank, the silo needs to be shaken to refill the connecting hose with paintballs. In practice this proved to be a task much better suited to two people, one holding and gently shaking the silo while the other is filling the Q-Pods.
As an alternative to using the Silo, a little experimentation showed that an agitating loader with a few wraps of duct tape on its neck fit snugly into the loading socket, and allowed for loading of the Q-Pods without the need to stop and shake every few winds. While this made loading easier for a single person, it had the drawback that the hopper would need to be refilled between each Q-Pod that was loaded as it lacked the larger capacity of the Silo.
The crank handle on the loading socket was a feature not found on the prototype system shown in the summer of 2003. That unit featured six raised ridges. The addition of the handle to the loading system was a definite improvement that significantly helped the speed of the loading process.
Once a Q-Pod is loaded, it is ready to go. Sliding it into the socket, and twisting it to lock it in place unlatches the Q-Pods internal locking teeth, and it will very quickly load paint into the hose between the socket and the paintgun. At this point it is important that the hose and elbow are securely in place, as if they are not, the rush of paint could pop them loose creating a fountain of paintballs from the flailing hose.
After the hose is charged with paint, the Q-Pod will be partially emptied. It can be removed and topped off. At this point the reason for trimming the hose to allow only an even number of paintballs becomes clear. This is what prevents a paintball from resting halfway between the opening of the Q-Pod and the socket to be scissored in half when the Q-Pod is removed. When the pod is removed from the socket, a small metal spring prevents the paint in the hose from falling out of the open socket.
With the socket installed, and the pods loaded it was time to head to the field. The pods were used with a Ronin Gear 4+3 pack that put the pods horizontally and could be loaded from either side. The reason for the pack choice was that it would be easier to re-load this pack style on the field than a typical pack where the pods are pulled down. Typically paintball pods are used, tossed on the ground and picked up after the game. With the added cost of the Q-Pods compared to a plain pod getting them back into a pack during the game seemed like a wise idea.
Field testing was performed with DraXxus Hellfire paint. A warning from the Q-Loader manual suggests avoiding thin-shelled paintballs as they may have problems loading at high-speed with the Q-Loader. Like the socket placement it was decided to proceed, and then make adjustments if the paint choice proved to be a problem. The Q-Loader was used on both the woods and concept fields at Hurricane Paintball in Palm Bay, Florida.
One item noticed almost immediately, was that when used on an LCD Matrix with a DYE Excel barrel, there was very little noise. The Q-Loader is relatively quiet in operation, far quieter than a motorized loader, and because the paint balls are constantly under a light pressure, they do not rattle at all. This set up would prove especially potent during night games, where noise can be an important factor.
In addition to the reduced noise, the Q-Loader is completely gravity independent. Whether crawling, leaning at extreme angles, even shooting upside down, the Q-Loader kept the Matrix supplied with paintballs.
Using the Q-Loader in a game requires a different mindset and more attention to paint management. With traditional hoppers, re-loading means opening the hopper and pouring in some more paint. The paintgun can still shoot when the hopper is open, and it is no problem to “top off” the hopper, adding paint to what is already in it. This is not the case with the Q-Loader. Each Q-Pod has a 100 ball capacity, roughly half that of a typical hopper, or 2/3 that of a typical paintball pod. Not only does this mean reloading more often, but also that the same size pack carries less paint on the field. With 4 Q-Pods in the pack, and one on the paintgun, the author walked onto the field with a total of approximately 500 paintballs.
Reloading means removing a Q-Pod from the paintgun and replacing it with a full one. While there is no Q-Pod in the socket, there is a paintball in the breech, but no driving force to load the remaining paintballs out of the hose and into the paintgun. The Q-Loader user is somewhat vulnerable while reloading because of this.
The Q-Loader system cannot be topped off in the field. If a player is down to 15 paintballs but decides that is the best time to re-load, the 15 paintballs go out with the old pod, and 100 new paintballs are put into place with the full pod. It is this difference that sets up the biggest need for changes in style of play for paint management. Sneaking through the woods, and popping up for short bursts of shots, then disappearing back under cover and moving, this was of little consequence. On the concept fields it proved to be more significant, and paying attention to paint levels and reload times had to be carefully coordinated with movement of team-members.
Removing a Q-Pod typically also resulted in the loss of one or two paintballs that were on the verge of exiting the pod, but not still retained by the paddles of is drive system. Similarly, when the Q-Pod was emptied, the paintballs remaining in the hose between the ‘gun and the socket could only be used by tipping the gun at an odd angle. For some players this condition can seem even more frustrating than simply running out of paint even though it is really no different.
Leaving paint in the sun for an extended period of time can damage it, causing paintballs to deform. With a typical pod it is generally not a problem to empty the pod, and pick through the paint to remove the bad balls.
Testing for a worst-case scenario, a loaded Q-Pod was left in the sun for a long period of time. This caused the paintballs to soften and deform causing the loader to jam. Cleaning required disassembly of the Q-Pod. This is a process that may seem a little daunting at first, but was so thoroughly explained photographically in the manual that it turned out to be quite easy. It is important to note that typical paint handling procedures (setting a pack down in the shade between games rather than in direct sun) were enough to prevent any sort of heat related problems from occurring.
Performance was another issue altogether. While there were new twists to learn in using the Q-Loader, it had no problems whatsoever when it came to supplying paint to the paintgun. It was not out-shot, and did not miss-feed once during field-testing. Neither did it suffer jams or any other mechanical problems (with the exception of the intentionally over-heated sun-baked pod.) Performance wise it had definitely improved over the prototype to put it on par with other top end loader products.
This of course begs the question – how fast can the Q-Loader feed? By relying on spring pressure, the Q-Loader does not need electronics to start stop the flow of paintballs to match the rate of fire. It simply constantly puts a light push on them.
To find out, WARPIG Ballistic Labs put it to the test. As a test platform an LCD Matrix was used with its forward pulse time adjusted to 8ms. This allowed the bolt enough time to move forward and close the breech, but then retract before delivering a full load of propellant gas. The paintballs were ejected from the breech by the bolt and small burst of gas into a catch-bin where they were protected by open-cell foam pads. The reason for using a bin, no barrel, and minimal exhaust gas was to allow the breech area, the spot most critical to feeding, to perform the same as a paintgun in the field, but to allow the paintballs to be captured, counted and inspected for damage. Firing at a target would not give the ability to ensure that each paintball had made it through the breech intact.
The Matrix was triggered by a microprocessor for 10 shot bursts at pre-programmed rates of fire. Prior to testing, the system had been calibrated with a waveform recorder to verify the rates of cycle achieved. The Matrix was set up not with the side breech used in field-testing of the Q-Loader, but with a vertical breech and FBM clamping feedneck, as the use of a standard configuration allows for comparisons with other hoppers.
It should be noted that various numbers as far as feed rates are discussed by hopper manufacturers, players, and publications. Often quoted numbers are usually based on how quickly the hopper can empty itself into a bag or other container. This does not present a realistic picture of on-gun performance as used by paintball players because it does not take into account the constant start-stop nature of paintballs loading.
Performance of the Q-Loader on a different paintgun and under different conditions may very depending on paint used, as well as configuration of the paintgun, type of breech and timing values.
The Q-Loader system fed properly when cycled for three ten round bursts at each of the following cycle per second rates: 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20. At 22 cycles per second, the loader delivered 8 balls, then 9 balls, and 9 balls through the test system. Additional test groups with two different Q-Pods, and firing at various levels of paint in the pod consistently delivered 10 balls at 20 cycles per second, but 8 or 9 at 22 cycles per second. This put the Q-Loader well ahead of any agitating loader on the market, and in direct competition with today’s high performance loaders.
While using the Q-Loader involved a bit of learning, and more attentive paint management on the field, it performed well as a loading system. It did not suffer from jams, and it delivered paint consistently at high, continuous rates of fire. The changed look and feel of the Matrix, with no hopper on top, and the Q-Pod beneath the barrel, somewhat similar in shape and placement to a military under-barrel grenade launcher, is something that may be of specific interest to scenario and mil-sim oriented paintballers. For regular recreational and tournament play, the reduced target area, and increased visibility that come from not having a hopper on top of the paintgun are beneficial features as well.
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