Having renewed my interest in airguns (i.e., bb guns) I realized how cool it would be to do away with the costly, static paper targets and have a cheap, dynamic digital target to shoot at. This is the idea I'm currently prototyping, it's a large bb/pellet trap which uses a pico projector to show targets displayed via computer. A large touch pad will register the strikes and be able to instantly provide visual feedback and, with a bit more coding, score keeping/etc. The large paper roll is an optional feature I'm trying out, thinking that rather than require the material deflecting the bb/pellet shot to remain pristine, showing no marks from all the hits, I can instead use disposable paper as the reflective surface for the pico projector, and merely pull up the paper when it's full of holes. The trick will be to have just the right balance of materials in front of the touch screen, to allow the bb/pellet impact to be reduced to a mere touch, instead of a touchpad shattering blow; I'm just waiting for the touch pad to be delivered for this phase of testing to begin.
If you have any thoughts/suggestions, let me know!
Today I spent an hour testing the strength and resiliency of the various materials I gathered by shooting BBs against them with both my Uramax Walther CP99 pistol and my Drozd Blackbird maching gun. The results were surprising, but not shocking.
The materials I had gathered included:
- Fiskers Self-Healing Cutting Board
- Duraplex Extra Strength Acrylic Sheet 0.08 inch ("50x stronger than glass")
- Lexan Polycarbonate 0.093 inch ("250x stronger than glass")
- Thick Rubber-ish Floor Mat
- Not-As-Thick Rubber-ish Floor Mat
- No-Name Kitchen Cutting Sheets
I did all my shooting from about 10 meters.
Impact Survival of Material Combinations
The first thing I discovered was how much faster my Blackbird fires BBs than my CP99. Every material withstood the CP99 shots with no significant damage. The worst anything showed was a slight dent or scratch. This led me to falsely imagine that I'd picked great materials and that I wasn't going to have any trouble. I redid the experiment with my Drozd only to find that it was able to punch a hole through every single material I used except the Lexan sheet, in which it simply left a minor dent. The next step was to try to combine materials, knowing that much of the damage being done was because the material being shot had nothing firm behind it to reduce the distortion of the material.
The goal of the material combinations I was playing with is to come up with something that can withstand single or sustained bb fire (from my pistol or bb gun) allowing the transfer of enough energy to trigger the touch screen without damaging the glass touch screen and without the protective materials sustaining damage themselves. With the touch screen costing almost $200, I can ill afford to include it in the tests until I am fairly certain it will be completely undamaged. I'd rather err on the side of caution initially and struggle to have a "touch" detected than have it register only one touch before it shatters into a thousand pieces.
Because the touch pad is glass I suspect there are three primary things I need to worry about. The most obvious is excess physical distortion, having a BB cause the pane of glass to be deflected beyond its breaking point. I assume there is also a shock force to worry about, that even without being hugely deflected the glass could be shattered by the sudden, brief introduction of a dislocating wave of mechanical energy. And finally I assume that the two previous items could combine in a sense by the latter element introducing small fractures that could grow as a result of the former.
The first step is to find material combinations which stop the bbs without being damaged or worn down. The next step would be to narrow those results down to a combination which appeared to impart just the right amount of "touch" to an object behind them.
The real puzzler is trying to figure out how to ultimately test my best guess material combinations without risking the touch pad. To this end I gathered some scrap window pane glass from a local window installation shop.
I made a mockup in cardboard to check the model in the real world. Most importantly I need to know if the ShowWX+ laser pico projector would be bright enough with the current design and its blocking of ambient light. Sadly the results were not encouraging. Even with a cloudy sky an hour or two away from sunset the projected image is extremely washed out and difficult to see. I added some additional cardboard to further reduce the ambient light, and while that did made a difference I don't think it was enough to justify the use of the ShowWX+. It's inadequate brightness, combined with its horrible green ghosting, made worse by its curious tech support mechanism (fill out a contact form which has no place to indicate the problem you are having and just says you'll hear something in a couple of days), and lack of user community forums, mean it'll be returned in favor of some other, better product; what that is, I'm not yet sure.
[more to come]
With my 40th birthday fast approaching and my recent move from urban Los Angeles back to rural Pennsylvania, I found myself nostalgically yearning for the playthings of my early teens in the acreage of my dad's old farm house: a bb gun. And while I had loved my Crosman 1377 pistol, and before it my Daisy Model 105 rifle, what I had always really wanted was the 4,000 rounds per minute insanity of the freon-powered Lark International M-19A machine gun, featured routinely in the advertisement section of Popular Mechanics. I knew at the time I would never be able to talk my parents into letting me buy such a thing, and I don't think I even knew how to talk myself into buying such a thing; it just didn't seem to have a lot of arguably positive qualities. A regular bb gun was about marksmanship and having responsible fun. A fully automatic bb gun capable of shredding a newspaper in under a second from 100 feet away just seemed inherently wrong. On the eve of turning 40, though, I think I finally understood just how right it really was, and I wanted one.
It turned out the Lark M-19A was old news, long outmoded by other superior alternatives. I Googled my way through the small but impressive handful of commercially available bb machine guns and ultimately decided on the Russian made Drozd Blackbird. Where the Lark M-19A was little more than a crude mechanical device for throwing gravity-fed bbs in front of a stream of escaping freon, the Drozd is a modern marvel, using a circuit board to coordinate the ballet of motor-fed bb delivery system and solenoid actuated CO2 valve, firing each bb as it is delivered to the gun barrel.
But the stock Drozd Blackbird marks only the starting point of a long and winding path of mods one can purchase and/or create to make this good thing better.
Modding the Drozd
There are a number of amazing mods for the Drozd and Drozd Blackbird, with some very intelligent, creative, and skillful modders producing prototypes as well as commercial products. The options include chips to add features to the existing circuit board, replacement barrels and stocks, and alternate air systems.
The de facto home for the Drozd modding (and user) community is Drozd MP661K BB Machinegun Owners Group. The forum is extremely helpful and the best modders and mods are all to be found there. Sadly the forum software is painfully antiquated, poorly configured, and buggy. Particularly frustrating, the posts are in reverse order (relative to the norm), so "Page 1" is the most recent page of posts and the posts are listed in reverse chronological order. Also, pages are often outdated after a recent post and you need to click around various page features to trigger the forum software's display of the latest. Still, the people and information can't be beat.
Publicly Available Mods
Full Auto Mod Chip
The Drozd as it comes from the factory is not actually continuous fire; a selector allows it to fire 1, 3, or 6 bbs with every trigger press. Most people who buy the Drozd immediately replace a chip on the controlling circuit board to make the 6 bb per shot firing mode a continuous fire mode. That chip comes in several flavors which can increase the selectable firing rate, replacing the 300, 450, and 600 shots per minute default options with 600, 900, and 1200 shots per minute options.
CO2 and High Pressure Air (HPA) / Nitrogen Systems
The Drozd Blackbird can use several types of propellant, which can come from several different sources, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
As it is shipped the Drozd is only set up to use three 12g CO2 cartridges (three at a time) or one Crossman AirSource 88g CO2 cartridge (the JT 90g CO2 works perfectly fine, and is actually priced 35% lower than the Crossman, at least at Walmart which sells the JT for $5.50 a piece versus $7.50 a piece for the Crossman). Optional accessories allow remote paint ball CO2 canisters (such as the common 20 oz CO2 bottles) and even the increasingly popular High Pressure Air (HPA).
In the chilly conditions of late October I begin to understand why the HPA option is so popular. CO2 is greatly affected by temperature. Colder temperatures mean fewer shots and weaker shots. And not only is the ambient temperature important, there is the more serious problem that with each shot the CO2 vessel itself becomes colder. Firing multiple times in a row drops the CO2 canister temperature dramatically, lowering its pressure sharply. The temperature becomes so low that guns can literally freeze up. HPA is free of these issues, at least to any serious degree.
It didn't take me long to realize the 12g CO2 option is laughably unworkable. The three 12g cartridges were only providing me about 20 decent shots, with a handful of anemic ones after that. Replacing the cartridges is not hard but requires unscrewing the three canister holder, replacing the spent ones, installing the new ones, screwing in the holder, and then screwing in the cartridge holder to puncture the CO2 seals. The procedure becomes almost immediately tiresome. I quickly switched to using the 88g CO2 canisters (actually the JT 90g canisters, since they are 30% cheaper than the Crosman 88g ones). Not only are there more shots per canister, the replacement is quicker; unscrew the old CO2 canister and just screw in the new one. It only took a few more hours shooting to realize that this, too, is a bit tedious. Despite websites saying I could expect 400 - 500 shots per 88g cartridge (with the Drozd Blackbird) I doubt I was getting any more than 100, with a dozen or so after that that could barely make it to the target. And none of this includes much of any automatic firing, most of this was me firing single shots a few seconds apart. At ~$6 per 90g JT cartridge, with so few shots, it doesn't take long to see the folly of using this form of CO2, at least with my usage and in my climate.
While I could upgrade to HPA, I opted instead for the remote CO2 option, using 20 oz CO2 bottles. HPA is a very expensive initial investment. Each large HPA bottle (~1000 shots) costs $170. While you can refill it yourself from a larger tank, such as a SCUBA tank, it'll cost $400 - 600 for the tank and adapter. HPA may be more popular now, but it's still a bit harder to come by than CO2. Going with CO2 means that I get more shots (in theory) per equivalently sized tank, and at only $40/bottle, I can buy two or three and shoot far longer before needing to travel somewhere for a refill. And as I don't expect to do that much full auto firing, the problems with CO2 won't impact me as much as they do others who generally opt for HPA. If my interest keeps up I'll likely go the HPA route as well.
Weaver / Picatinny Rail Options
For those that don't know (like myself only a few days ago), there is a mounting standard for modern gun accessories. The standard has two main variations, Weaver and Picatinny. The only meaningful difference between them is that Picatinny accessories expect larger "recoil grooves", grooves cut transverse into the rail to prevent the scope, laser, light, etc. from sliding forward or back as the gun recoils. For this reason accessories for a Weaver system will usually fit on Picatinny rails, but not the other way around.
The Drozd has one Weaver / Picatinny rail mounted on top of the gun. For many, one rail is not enough to hold all their intended accessories. To solve this problem you could add something like the flat top Weaver tri-rail mount which essentially adds vertical Picatinny rails on either side of a Weaver rail, or you can install a short Weaver / Picatinny rail underneath or on the sides of the handguard. Placing one underneath the handguard is particularly useful if you want to install a bipod. While installing the rails is not particularly technically difficult, it requires little more than picking a rail of appropriate length and using adhesive or screws to secure them, all your efforts will be for nought if you don't mount them straight.
Wanting both scope and laser, and not wanting (at this moment) to install a rail or worry about whether the scope I might choose would clear the laser I might choose, I opted instead for the NcStar 4x32mm Mark III Tactical Scope with Laser. It does a decent job, though I'm sure separate lasers are much brighter, and I've heard the green ones particularly visible during the day.
If you want to ditch the original barrel and the cheesy fake plastic suppressor, your best option is one of JimC's barrels. You can pick between his Tactical Rifle Kit, the SMG kit, the Carbine Kit, or the SMG Fake Suppressor Kit. All of the highest quality.
I went with the Tactical Rifle Barrel replacement in an effort to improve the already decent accuracy and boost the already decent bb fps. Admittedly the purchase was also an aesthetic one, as I think the cheap plastic fake suppressor diminishes what is otherwise a quality airgun.
Sergey's Amazing Replacement Board
While the generally available replacement chips can get you full auto and higher firing rates they can't get you 2,000 rounds per minute and they don't let you adjust the fps of your projectiles. An ingenious Russian named Sergey Pismensky has made and is selling a board that lets you do all these things. The board is a bargain at $120, but installation isn't easy. Unlike the other electronic mods to the Drozd, this one has three buttons and one LED, all of which require careful, clean CNC (or other) cuts in the handguard. I've heard that Ray at DrozdMax will do a great job for you, but I'm not sure what it costs.
For details on the board (including talking to and buying from the man himself), follow this thread (and the one that preceeded it). And check out this great video with explanation of its features and use.
It should be noted that while the board can deliver 2,000 rounds per minute the stock magazine motor can't keep up for long. Modders have identified some replacement motors, including the Nichibo motor, but you'd better read the threads to see where research currently stands.
Barrel Attachment Adapters
While it's not my thing, modder Netstamp has made available an adapter which lets you connect 14 mm (paintball) barrel accessories (such as mock suppressors and muzzle brakes) to the end of the stock Drozd barrel. You can read more here.
Notable Prototypes and Ideas for Prototypes
High Capacity / Drum Magazines
A few people have done some amazing work creating drum (or at least drum-looking) magazines for the Drozd. One of the nicest looking is by "Camracer". Unless I'm mistaken it's not a drum magazine in a functional sense, it just stores the bbs in a drum-like holder where bbs can be fed into a semi-traditional hopper. Camracer has a great YouTube channel to show off all his Drozd creations and setups.
I had hoped to avoid annoying the neighbors by adding a genuine suppressor/silencer, perhaps even make my own, but within a few dozen Google searches I realized just how bad an idea an airgun silencer would be. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms does not regulate airguns, but they do regulate silencers for use on firearms, and the BATF considers any silencer, regardless of actual use, as requiring a firearm license if it could be made to work, even once, on a firearm. Any silencer made for an airgun could arguably be adapted for use on powder based firearm, and the punishment for that crime is potentially 10 years in jail and $250,000 fine for manufacturing a silencer and an additional 10 years and $250,000 for possession of an unlicensed silencer. And these are not idle threats, a recent case sent a person to prison for at least 15 years for having mailed an airgun which included a silencer built specifically for that airgun (the sound dampening material would not survive the shot of a firearm). It should be noted, though, that the individual in this case had a prior felony and as such was not allowed to possess a firearm. Airguns are not firearms but in the view of the jury (and the BATF) the silencer is a firearm. I have seen no mention of whether his sentence was based in any part on his status as a previously convicted felon.
While it is possible to legally own/operate a silencer (in 47 out of our 50 states), the process is not guaranteed to work and can take 3-4 months and $200; you also need to get your local police chief to sign off on the form (I believe there is some other alternative to this). If silence was a greater issue for me, perhaps I'd explore it just for the curiosity factor.
A bb machine gun is a somewhat purposeless device. It exists in that space between a firearm capable of defending your home/family/country and an orange-tipped toy suitable for a 10 year old. Within that space, however, is the potential for wild, but tempered and costly, amusement.
The costs do add up quickly. A $299 semi-automatic (technically fully-automatic but in bursts of 3 or 6 bbs) gun suddenly becomes a $375 truly fully-automatic gun with your choice of basic mod chip installed. That gun suddenly becomes a $550 fully-automatic bb machine gun with a tactical barrel. And that gun becomes a $660 full-auto tactical machine gun with laser and scope. And that gun becomes a $735 full-auto tactical machine gun with laser, scope, and a 20 oz remote CO2 supply. And there is ample room to invest even more in something whose only dividends will be smiles and the confetti of shredded targets.
My standard justification for all such costly habits, "Well, it's cheaper and better for me than crack cocaine would probably be." as if in each situation crack cocaine was the only other available option. There's something to be said in favor of the straw man argument when you're trying to talk yourself into something. 🙂
So, if you're looking to join we fools who own and enjoy a Drozd, I can heartily recommend Ray at DrozdMax for sales/service and the aforementioned Drozd MP661K BB Machinegun Owners Group for all your questions, chat, and ideas. Hope to see you over there.
My own Drozd Blackbird, as of 11/5/2011, includes the following:
- Mild Full Auto Mod Chip
- JimC Tactical Rifle Barrel
- NcStar 4x32mm Mark III Tactical Scope with Laser
- Bulk Remote CO2 Kit