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ULE on a Diet
By Bill Mills - Aug 2005
An article that brought a surprising amount of feedback was a walk-through of building a custom Automag based on AirGun Design’s newer ULE components. At the time the article was written, AGD’s Ultra Light Engineering bodies, on/off assembly and X-Valve were all available as upgrade components, but not shipping in a ready to use paintgun. Those components did eventually find their way together as an option set in AGD’s RT ULE Custom.
The Custom ULE Mag project gun changed form slightly, with the drop forward being replaced with a matching blue DataPimpPaintballProducts removable drop and Smart Parts on/off ASA to allow for use of a screw-in compressed air system, or the option of screwing in a male ASA remote (yeah, remotes aren’t what all the “cool kids” are using anymore, but the weight of a tank is a consideration when trying to trim weight off a paintgun. As it ended up the blue custom built ULE Mag weighed in at 33.7 ounces, or 2.11 pounds.
One of the article’s readers Bob Scott, known to the paintball world as TunaMan from Airgun Design’s forum site, automags.org suggested further lightening the project gun. Scottt had bought out some old stock of Omega paintball accessories, including lightweight aftermarket Automag parts.
Because the Automag design features an integrated regulator as part of the valve system, it does not require a vertical regulator placed in the front. As many players use vertical regs for grips when shooting two handed, grips are a common accessory for ‘mags. The Omega grip is palm sized, and ribbed with light finger groves. It is mostly hollow to allow for minimal weight, with a captured o-ring in its top surface to give it a good friction fit with a screw dripped down through the Automag’s body rail. Weighing in at only 1.2 ounces, it’s very light weight, but it stayed off the ULE, which was trimming down.
The Omega body rail was a different story. The body rail some might say, is the backbone of an Automag. It is what keeps the body, grip frame, sear, and AIR valve aligned properly. Surprisingly, the Omega rail, while larger and more decoratively milled than the stock rail comes in at a lower weight. Even thought its dimensions are larger, much of its interior is milled out to remove metal and save weight. The 4.7 ounce stock rail is simply more dense than the 4 ounce Omega rail. Scott even took things further, producing some lighter TunaRails.
The drop forward was next to go. Style change, and drops aren’t as trendy as they used to be, but ultimately, less metal saves weight. The drop forward was replaced with a rail mount from Smart Parts, using the same dovetail mount on/off ASA. For that super-tiny bit of weight savings, only one expansion screw was used in the mounting rail, and it was strong enough to lock the ASA soundly in place. That swap replaced a 2.8 ounce drop forward with a 0.8 ounce mounting rail.
What was left? The grip frame. AGD’s “Y” grip is an angled grip frame built for a double trigger. While relatively light as far as grip frames go, it weighed in at 8.5 ounces with its wraparound rubber grips. The stock grip for many Automag models is not horribly popular for two reasons. First, it is a single trigger design, something that’s out of fashion in paintball. Secondly, it is made of fiber reinforced polymer. AirGun Design’s marketing slogan has long been “Because quality always shoots straight.” Charlie Holton of Intense Marketing (because he did most of his sales at trade shows “in-tents”) used to pitch aftermarket aluminum frames for the ‘mag with the line “Because quality doesn’t come with a plastic grip.” While a lot of the paintball public often views molded polymers as cheap, flimsy or weak, that is not always the case. To quell the complaints when AGD switched to the polymer as its standard grip material from the original aluminum, then company president Tom Kaye staged a dramatic demonstration. He suspended a Mazda Miata convertible from an AGD polymer grip frame and hoisted it several feet in the air. The material, while lightweight, is extremely strong. Switching to the stock single trigger grip frame brought grip frame weight down from 8.5 ounces to 4.9 ounces.
The featherlight trigger pull of AirGun designs “ULE Trigger” is based on a principle of pneumatic mechanical advantage in the gun’s on/off valve. Because of this switching the trigger and grip frame had no effect on the light trigger pull.
The end result was that the lightweight
project ‘gun slimmed down even further. Final weigh in came in at
27.6 ounces or 1.73 pounds, a loss of eighteen percent. The project
gun matched well with a 4.3 ounce J&J Teflon/ceramic anodized barrel,
its thin wall design keeping it light. Considering the possibility
of remote use, the ASA and its mount could be dropped altogether, linking
the X-Valve straight to the remote for further weight savings, but at some
point it would be overwhelmed by the weight of paint in a hopper above.
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