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Parvusimperator Reviews the F-22 Raptor

No fighter discussion would be complete without mentioning this one, even if it’s technically not available for the procurement games.

To understand the F-22, we should first look at the ATF, or the state of military aviation in the ’80s. The core of the USAF was the F-15 and the F-16. These were great fighters, but the Soviets had counters, namely the Su-27 and the MiG-29, which were at least the equals of the American fighters. In the maneuverability area, they might even be considered a bit ahead.

American doctrine was heavily invested in air superiority, and the USAF was always looking for the next big thing, so they put out a design concept for the ATF. It was to fly faster and higher than other fighters. Or, more precisely, to cruise higher. Speed is good, since speed is energy that can be converted into maneuvers. Energy is life. But supersonic speed meant afterburners, which burned fuel rapidly. So most fighters couldn’t sustain supersonic speeds for very long. The USAF’s idea was to use new engine technology to push the envelope of cruise speed, not maximum speed. The resulting fighter would not be faster than the Eagle, but it would be able to maintain supersonic speeds without lighting its afterburners (to “supercruise”). These engines would be designed to work at higher altitudes, because altitude can be converted into energy. Energy is life. Energy is winning.

Of course, there were secret projects in the works too, and so the USAF added stealth requirements. Stealth demanded careful shaping, special skin, and internal carriage of weapons. This helped the supercruise, since it reduced drag. A protracted development period due to the end of the cold war, and a competition between the Lockheed and Northrop Grumman entries eventually resulted in the F-22 we know today.

The F-22 is the king of the skies. Full stop. There is no better aircraft at aerial combat. None. Fighting with a Raptor really, really sucks. The Raptor has a massive, powerful, highly advanced, low-probability of intercept radar, and the obvious stealth features. So it’s going to see you first. And because it cruises at mach 1.2-1.4 at a higher altitude than you, the Raptor has the energy to decline any engagement it pleases, or dictate the range as it pleases.

If the Raptor chooses to engage BVR, as we’ve mentioned it’s going to get the first shot. It sees you first. It gets to position favorably. Plus, if you’ll recall, it’s flying higher and faster than you. So its missiles get that much more energy, because they start from a supersonic platform, and get a gravity assist as they dive down. Which is a great recipe for an intensely frustrating exercise. And by ‘exercise’, I mean ‘simulation of being smote by an angry god’.

But that’s BVR. The Raptor owns BVR. What if we force the merge and go to WVR? Probably by stipulating in the exercise rules that it’s a WVR fight, but still. Well, here go some of the advantages, though it’s still a massive pain to acquire a lock on the Raptor. At least you can see it. And you can engage with IR seekers, but not super well. Everybody dies in WVR. The Raptor is no exception. But it has the best aerodynamics of any fighter around, with a very high thrust/weight ratio and very low wing loading. It also has thrust vectoring. So even in WVR engagements, the Raptor is a winner more often than everybody else. It’s kill to death ratio at Red Flag is hilariously lopsided, and that’s against pilots who dogfight for a living.

If you’re thinking this is quite gushy, and excessively positive, you’d be right. I love this thing. But it’s not tops at everything. The internal weapons bays are somewhat limiting. The Raptor was designed around a warload of six AMRAAMs and two Sidewinders internally. This isn’t a bad loadout, though it could be bigger. However, those bays are not very deep. So the F-22 can’t carry much in the way of bombs. And it can’t carry any bombs that are all that big. The F-35 can’t carry many bombs, but it can carry two of just about any air to ground weapon you please. The F-22 is limited to bombs of 1,000 lbs or less, and that size class also rules out most standoff weapons. Plus, it only recently got ground-oriented radar modes. Ground attack is not its thing. Though the USAF is trying, and has made special small GPS-guided glide bombs so the Raptor can bomb more stuff.

Oh, and it’s out of production. Even when it was in production, it was super expensive. You could theoretically restart the production line, but that would cost a whole bunch of money. And the USAF only bought 187, which isn’t a lot. And there are have been issues with the onboard oxygen generating system, which have restricted that flight envelope. Those should be fixed by now.

So it’s an expensive, gold-plated, air-superiority fighter with gimped ground attack in a world of strike operations. Would we buy it?

Well, we can’t. Production lines were closed in 2011. Sorry. Blame Rumsfeld, not me.

Feels like a cop-out, doesn’t it? Okay, fine. Suppose they got their act together and started making them again. Raptors rolling off the production lines. Would we buy them?

Well, we still can’t. Even if the production lines were reopened, there’s a pesky act of Congress in the way. Really. There’s a law in the United States that says Thou Shalt Not Export the F-22. Even to one of America’s favorite and closest allies, like Japan or Australia or Israel. No Raptors for you.

Sigh.

Okay, that’s another cop-out, right? I’m still avoiding the question. Fine, fine. Remove both pesky intrusions of reality. Would. We. Buy. One?

We’d need a price, right? Well, let’s be awful and take the figure from an offhand quote of an Israeli Air Force general of $200 million, rather than the much more favorable wiki flyaway cost of $150 million. So. 200 million dollars a copy. Would we buy?

Hell fucking yeah, we’d buy.

Did you really think I’d say no to the greatest aerial combatant of all time? Are you mad?
We’d be all over this, if the above conditions were met. Even at $200 million. It’s got Wunderwaffe-class awesomeness. It’s also an absolutely beautiful fighter. It looks right. It is right.

Since this is a game, you might be thinking I should try to trade Fishbreath something so we can both skirt our self-imposed rules a little. He’d never go for it though. He doesn’t like spendy wunderwaffe.

Author’s Notes: This review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by Lockheed Martin, the Fighter Mafia, or members of the United States Air Force.

Engines for Armor: AVDS-1790

The AVDS-1790 is the descendant of the 1950s vintage AV-1790, from the days when American armored vehicles still used gasoline engines. It was redesigned to use diesel (the “D” in the initials) and use a supercharger (the “S” in AVDS) for more power. The supercharger has been replaced by a twin-turbocharger setup, and the engine has been refitted with modern, computer-controlled, common-rail fuel injection. Continental Motors, now a division of L-3, currently offers the AVDS-1790 in 750, 950, 1,050, 1,200, and 1,500 horsepower versions. The Israelis are big fans of the AVDS-1790, using it on most versions of the Merkava and on the Namer, as well as on their M48 and M60 tanks.

Note that the -1790 in the model number refers to the displacement of cubic inches1, not the horsepower or the torque.

At first glance, the AVDS is somewhat odd. It’s a rather big V-12 diesel. Yawn. It’s notably bigger than the other diesels you will find. But there’s a reason for that: the AVDS-1790 is air-cooled.

Air cooling provides some noteworthy advantages and disadvantages. The engine must be physically bulkier, because air cooling must be attached to the cylinders directly. You can’t pipe heat to a separate radiator. Liquid cooled engines will also see a higher amount of power for a given displacement. Liquid cooled engines are also easier to meet emissions targets with.

On the other hand, air cooled engines are lighter overall. They are significantly simpler, because there are no pumps. Further, and this is important for combat vehicle designers, they are more robust. Damage to cooling for one cylinder will not affect cooling from the other cylinders. The nature of an air-cooled system means it’s a lot easier to maintain, since the fins on the cylinders don’t need much in the way of maintenance.

The maintenance and ruggedness are what endear these engines to the Israelis. I’d be interested to learn more about the intake system on the Merkava, since this is a front-engined tank without the usual large amount of grillwork on the engine bay, and yet the air-cooled engines still work well.

I think most telling for the quality of the design is that having gone to the MTU883 in the Merkava IV, because a 1,500 hp version of the AVDS wasn’t designed yet, the IDF went back to the AVDS-1790 for the Namer.


  1. As is right and proper. Suck it, metric system. 

High Noon, No Limits

We’ve talked about a proposed Open-Division optimized Glock build, and a proposed Open-Division optimized 2011 build. Let’s look how they compare.

Cost
This one is pretty easy. Glock by far. Custom 2011 builds are expensive. Tuned 2011 mags are expensive. Glock magazines are not. And an Open Glock can be a good way to break into Open. I should know, I already made a small one.

Trigger
Also easy. 2011. It’s a bigger 1911. The trigger is very short. It can be made very light. It’s the textbook definition of ‘perfect semiautomatic pistol trigger.’1

Magazine Capacity
If we compare apples to apples (9 mm), the Glock gets 26 or 27 rounds in a 170 mm magazine. 2011s are dependent on tuning, but they usually get 29 or 30 rounds of 9 mm in a 170 with the current top parts.

Advantage: 2011.

Springs and Recoil Characteristics
Here, the old school roots of the 2011 come out in its favor. Remember, we’re trying to tune the springs, compensator, slide weight, and load to have as flat shooting a gun as possible. John Moses Browning designed the 1911 so that the slide action of cocking the hammer dissipates some recoil energy. As the slide comes back, the recoil force is dissipated by the recoil spring and the mainspring. Then, the recoil spring pushes the slide back into battery.

Surprisingly, this is easier to tune than a Glock. In the Glock recoil cycle, the recoil force is dissipated by the recoil spring. Easy enough. This spring the presses the slide back into battery. As it does so, it has to partially cock the striker, which means the recoil spring has to work against the striker spring. But the striker spring also provides power to set off primers. So the balance is more difficult to manage, given that we’re also compensating the pistol.

Advantage: 2011.

Caliber Considerations
For our apples to apples comparison, we’re looking at guns in 9×19 mm, loaded to Major power factor. Note that we could also get the Glock in .40 S&W, and the 2011 in .38 Super, .38 Super Comp,2 or .40 S&W. The 2011 has an advantage in being able to take 9×19 mm rounds with a greater overall length, which is a benefit for reloaders trying to make major. While .38 Super/Super Comp brass is quite a bit more expensive and harder to find, it’s a lot easier to load to major power factor, and unlike .40, no magazine capacity is given up.

Advantage: 2011.

Intangibles
A few other things that just kinda go here for me to think about.

I’d actually get to assemble most of the Glock parts. That’s fun. The 2011 would be built for me.

On the other hand, this means the 2011 would need less tuning out of the box. I’d get it, it would be ready to shred. And I’d have someone to call in the event of problems. On the Glock, I’d have to do a bunch of spring weight tuning myself after assembly.

Tuned 2011 mags tend to have issues with slides locking back prematurely. To maximize capacity, usually a follower is chosen that sits high in the magazine. This will often contact the slide stop early, and lock the slide back with a round left in the magazine. This is obviously very annoying. The simplest and most reliable fix is to modify the followers and slide stop to never lock back. Which is different from how must modern guns work3, but shouldn’t be a handicap in a competition, since you should be planning reloads.

That’s a lot of advantages for the 2011. There’s also lots of cost with the 2011. Makes sense. Pay to play. There’s a reason one of these is an optimum choice. There’s a reason why basically everyone at Open Nationals shoots some version of a 2011.

And then there’s one more thing. I’ve wanted a 2011 for a while. A 1911 without the capacity issues? Made to my specifications? That pushes a whole lot of my buttons in a great way.

So we’ll be placing a call for a custom 2011 in the not too distant future…


  1. At least from a shootability standpoint. But for a competition gun, that’s all that matters. 
  2. Basically .38 Super but with even less rim. Note that this is also a chambering difference as the chamber needs to headspace off the throat. 
  3. What is this, 1901? 

A Fishy Race Gun Shootout: Beretta 96A1 vs. CZ P-09

In previous posts, we’ve looked at two options for USPSA Limited competition: the Beretta 96, and the CZ P-09. Now it’s time to decide which one I’m going to build in the 2017-2018 offseason. Two guns enter. One gun leaves.

Likely trigger characteristics

Beretta 96
I know that the 92-pattern pistols have acceptable triggers as far as creep goes, and thanks to the Wilson Combat trigger bar and lightened hammer, the 96 can handle a tremendous reduction in hammer spring weight. The double-action pull is long and takes a lot of reaching, but the single-action pull is just fine.

CZ P-09
At present, I haven’t handled a P-09 specifically. I have dry-fired a CZ 75, and my impression about that was that CZ’s factory triggers are much lighter than Beretta’s, if perhaps a bit lower-quality. The action tuning I have planned for the P-09 ought to take care of that, and I expect the end result to be extremely light.

The Victor: CZ. Obviously, having not built either of these guns yet, I can’t say this for sure, but I expect the improvements to be similar, and the CZ starts from a better position.

Likely shooting characteristics

Beretta 96
The Beretta is the heavier gun out of the box, and that weight is better distributed both forward and backward and up and down, especially when taking into consideration newly-added steel parts. The 92-pattern pistols point and present very naturally for me, and given the massive amount of material already missing from their slides, are known to have a low flippiness factor.

CZ P-09
The P-09 is not dramatically lighter, only three ounces. Even though the proposed magazine well is aluminum instead of steel, it ought to suffice to level the playing field. That weight is also less evenly distributed, given the construction; like most polymer-framed pistols, it’ll be top-heavy compared to the Beretta when empty. CZs are known for their low bore axes, and that should help keep muzzle flip down.

The Victor: Toss-up. Both seem similar.

Magazines and magazine wells

Beretta 96
Here, the Beretta gives up some ground. Given the two-round improvement from the MecGar extension (which makes total magazine height about 130mm instead of the USPSA Limited-regulated 140mm), I suspect that the 17 rounds is perfectly plausible, given the MecGar spring and follower plus a custom-made 140mm extension. It may even be possible to get as far as 19, with a custom, flat-wire spring and a reduced follower. Only giving up two rounds of capacity against a tricked-out 20111 is nice, but it would take a lot of work, of which none has, at present, been done. The magazine well situation is also pretty bad. Beveling is about the best you can do, and that doesn’t get you much of a funnel, and in fact reduces your weight.

CZ P-09
The parts may be expensive, but the P-09 has options for large-capacity competition magazines and magazine wells. 21 rounds of .40 S&W in a 140mm magazine is entirely competitive with widebody 1911s. It might be nice to have a steel magazine well option in terms of weight, but the aluminum funnel is perfectly functional and large enough to make a difference in ease of magazine insertion.

The Victor: CZ.

Parts availability

It isn’t even close here, so I won’t bother with headers for each pistol. CZ Custom makes just about everything you might want, including a whole bevy of improved action parts, and Cajun Gun Works goes further still. The only aftermarket parts maker for Beretta guns is Wilson Combat, with the occasional spring from Wolff, and neither has anything like the same variety you can get for the P-09. Given CZ’s popularity on the competitive circuit, it seems likeliest to me that the situation will only tilt further in the P-09’s favor in the future.

The Victor: CZ.

Tinkering potential

Beretta 96
The tinkering potential for the Beretta excites me. Since so little can be found from the factory, I’d get to experiment with actual gunsmithery. At a minimum, I’d eventually want to design a custom 140mm floor plate for the magazine, along with a smaller follower. I’d also want to find a flat-wire spring (for minimum compressed height) to push capacity as far as I can. There would be fun 3D printing of prototypes and, eventually, 3D-printing-as-a-service of metal parts. I could do, for instance, a proper magazine funnel, too. If I wanted to move up to Open, I would have to work up an even bigger magazine extension to fit the 170mm limit.

CZ P-09
Tinkering on the CZ is more about buying and installing parts, and tuning what’s already on the gun. There’s less call for building things from scratch, because most of it already exists. I would still have to build 170mm magazines to play in Open effectively.

The Victor: Beretta.

Ergonomics

Beretta 96
I’ve extolled the Beretta’s pointability and presentation before, but the magazine release is a bit of a reach for me.

CZ P-09
Having not handled a P-09, I can’t say if I’d like it or not. The controls are different than my Production gun (an M9), so I have to ding it for that.

The Victor: Toss-up.

Suitability for Limited

Beretta 96
After the modifications discussed in the article, poor to average. The magazine capacity deficit means I would have to reload one or two times more than a 2011 shooter in your average USPSA stage, at a penalty of 2-3 seconds per reload. That will materially affect my performance in the long run. Also, even with a decocker conversion, I have to take the first shot as a double-action shot, which requires practicing a second trigger pull.

After developing better 140mm magazines, average to good.

CZ P-09
After the modifications discussed in the article, great. The magazine capacity is competitive with the guns at the highest end of the field. The trigger ought to be at least comparable, though it will still give something up to a tuned 1911 trigger. With the safety installed, the P-09 can be carried cocked and locked, removing the requirement for a double-action pull2.

The Victor: CZ.

Suitability for Ghetto Open

It’s difficult to separate the guns for Ghetto Open. In that division, I’m not aiming to compete quite as much; .40 S&W is often seen as a compromise when .38 Super and 9mm Major are on the table, for reasons of magazine capacity. For both guns, I’d have to mount an optic to the accessory rail on a cantilever mount. There are good solutions for that problem, though John might disagree, but it’s less ideal than mounting directly to the frame. For both guns, I’d have to work up a 170mm magazine. With the CZ, I can just stretch the 140mm extension. For the Beretta, the same applies; I’d just have to build my own 140mm extension first.

The Victor: Toss-up.

Intangibles

Beretta 96
As I said in its article, it’s cool, and it’s pretty. It has vintage cred, and is likely to attract more attention on the range, simply because it’s a well-known gun but not an ordinary competition one.

CZ P-09
It’s still a hipster competition gun—a hammer-fired, polymer-framed CZ pistol which is not a 75 or derivative. It’s doesn’t have the cachet of a Beretta, nor is it half as pretty.

It’s also $300 cheaper. In fact, if you ignore the magazines3, the CZ race gun with all the trimmings comes in under $1000—a pretty tremendous price point by any standard.

The Victor: Beretta. The CZ just doesn’t have the cool factor.

Conclusions

On the scorecard we have a CZ victory, 4-2-3. This puts me in an interesting spot. Truth be told, before I did this comparison, I wanted to build the Beretta. As parvusimperator said when we were working up this article series, “It speaks to you more.” And it does. I do very much want to return to the Beretta race gun someday.

The end of the previous paragraph gives away the game, though. My goal shooting USPSA is not merely to improve my own shooting. I want to improve my shooting relative to the rest of the USPSA—I want to be competitive. The Beretta could get me there, but especially in reloading, it’s a handicap the CZ isn’t. It’s also, as I mentioned, much cheaper, to the point where I could buy a case of .40 S&W and a proper aft-cant drop competition holster for the CZ before I even get to the Beretta’s price.

So that’s where I find myself. This winter, I’ll be building a CZ P-09 race gun. Maybe in a few years, I’ll put together a Beretta 96 Limited 10 blaster, and work on some of the other tinkering at the same time. Until then, though, the Production-class M9 will have to do for my competitive Beretta shooting. I could maybe justify building the Limited 96 if it were a little more expensive and just as effective. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more expensive, and I’m forced to admit it’s also not as good. The P-09 wins the day.


  1. The largest-capacity 2011 140mm magazines I’ve seen are 21 rounds. 
  2. I’ve heard good things about tuned CZ double action, though. It may be the case that I can get away with the decocker instead, which reduces the number of things to do on the way from the holster to the target. 
  3. Humor me. 

Taking it Two Eleven: The Custom Open 2011 Build

A few days ago, I talked about a race gun for Open, I considered making a more-competition optimized Open Glock. But then I got to thinking: none of the high-level shooters in Open shoot modded Glocks. K. C. Eusebio tried it for a while, but never really got it working well. His gun broke a lot. Now he, and other top Open competitors shoot custom-built 2011s1. This gives a crisp, sliding, superlight trigger, and the possibility of a heavy steel frame. Plus lots of tuning options and custom cosmetic stuff from an army of skilled gunsmiths. Gotta look cool in Open. What would a modern, balls-to-the-wall, custom 2011 for Open look like?

Step one is choose a gunsmith. I know my limitations. I don’t have the tools or knowhow to build a custom 2011. And I’d rather someone who already does experimentation come at it. He knows what works.

I picked Atlas Gunworks. There are a lot of great smiths out there, so this choice is a little arbitrary. Here’s why I went with Atlas:

  1. A good reputation amongst competition shooters at the BrianEnos Forums. Admittedly, most custom shops do. But if a smith doesn’t, well, that’s a red flag. So they passed the test.
  2. Atlas guys shoot USPSA matches. This is another check. Lots of builders do this. If you’re buying a gun for a purpose from a custom guy, he should probably do it too so he knows what works.
  3. Builds that look to be what I want. I would like options, and I would like someone who’s updating their designs. Check and check, but again, most already do this.
  4. Atlas has a bunch of great instructional videos about mag tuning and 2011 design aspects. So they know their stuff, and are willing to talk about it.
  5. Atlas has a very nice website that both showcases options and encourages you to call and chat. Perfect. I want a nice, approachable smith. And I want to see an options list and think, and then chat with them to work everything out. Exactly what I want.

Yeah, that’s a sort of arbitrary list. That’s ok. Lots of great smiths out there means your choice gets kind of arbitrary. And that’s okay. Nothing against any of the other smiths that I didn’t pick, really. Most everyone has a guy or two they like.

Okay, next we’re going to come up with a preliminary parts list. Remember, we’ll be calling once we get money in hand and are ready to go, so this might be subject to change. Again, that’s ok. It’s a custom build, and consulting experts is always a good idea.

  1. Long Frame/5.0″ build. This is a ‘short’ gun, with a shorter, “commander-length” barrel and less overall length (5.0″ rather than 5.4″ overall), and a long frame. We’re trying to keep the weight relatively low in the gun, and fight the nose-heaviness associated with a government-length bull barrel, government length slide, and compensator. We want mass to fight recoil, but we want to keep the gun balanced to improve transitions and bringing the gun to ready. Nose-heaviness doesn’t help us.

  2. Caliber: 9 mm. The modern open gun shoots hot 9 mm or .38 Super Comp to maximize the number of rounds per magazine. In both cases you probably have to reload. 9 mm brass is cheaper, so go 9 mm. I could be talked out of this though.

  3. Grip: Phoenix Trinity EVO. It’s machined out of steel, it’s one piece with a built in mainspring housing, and it doesn’t actually feature a grip safety.2 Oh, and its super comfortable. It even comes with an aggressive texture right out of the box. Steel here gives me more weight low in the gun, and that’s a win.

  4. Double Undercut Trigger guard. The better to get a high grip with.

  5. Slide Lightening. All of it. Less slide mass means less reciprocating mass means less felt recoil. Winning. This has to be balanced with spring weights, but there are two in a 1911/2011 to do it with: the recoil spring and the mainspring. We’ll let our awesome smiths make this work. It’s what they do.

  6. Optic: Leupold Deltapoint Pro. I like the Leupold Deltapoint a lot. Amongst the small micro-red dots, it’s the heavy favorite in carry optics for shooters without an optics sponsor. It’s durable enough to be mounted on a slide, it’s got a bright dot, it’s reliable, and it’s got a nice big window. Bigger than the RMR. In terms of carry dots, the RMR wins because it has much, much better battery life. For competition use, I don’t care as much. As a bonus, the Deltapoint Pro’s battery can be changed without removing it from its mount.

  7. Various Small Parts. Okay, now we get to boring stuff. Pick a safety you like, pick a big magwell, pick a big mag release, etc.

  8. Various final shaping and finish work. More boredom, at least for you, dear reader. Picking stuff to suit my tastes. I shan’t bore you with the details here either.

That covers our design. It’s gonna be expensive. And super awesome. Join us later for a shootout between this and a Race Glock.


  1. Technically this is an STI trade name for a high-capacity 1911 with double-stack magazines. But that’s a mouthful to type. I’m going to keep using ‘2011’ as a colloquialism, with the understanding that it may or may not be made by STI or even have STI parts. 
  2. There is a grip safety bit, but it’s fixed in the “down” position, so it is impossible to fail to depress it. It provides no safety. Sorry, redundant feature from the US Army Cavalry in 1910. 

A Fishy Race Gun Proposal: CZ P-09

In my first post on the Fishy Race Gun of 2018, I laid out my plan for a Beretta 96 competition gun. I said there that a new contender had shown itself, and here we are: the CZ P-09. Since I’ve already justified myself in the previous article as far as building a race gun goes, let’s jump straight into the parts.

The Parts

CZ P-09 .40 S&W
Although CZ is a common name in competition handguns, the P-09 is decidedly unusual in that realm. The P-09 is a full-size polymer-frame pistol in the same pattern as the earlier, compact P-07. Like all of CZ’s pistols, the slide rides inside the frame, rather than outside as is the norm. CZ claims this has myriad benefits. For myself, I find it interesting from a design perspective. I have nothing to say on the relative merits.

Unlike the Beretta 96, the P-09 has nicely capacious magazines from the factory. The flush-fit .40 S&W magazines hold fifteen, the same as MecGar’s extended Beretta 96 magazines. It also comes in decocker configuration from the factory, with parts in the box to switch to a non-decocker safety. (That is, a safety which supports being in the holster cocked and locked.) That’s a major competitive advantage over the Beretta. All the guts, including the trigger, are steel, and even the double-action trigger reach is significantly shorter than the 92-platform pistol1. Finally, the P-09 is a recent design, and CZ, by way of CZ Custom, provides a great deal of ‘aftermarket’ support even for unpopular pistols.

As a polymer-frame pistol from a cheap foreign country, as opposed to an alloy frame from an expensive one, the P-09’s street price is about $440. Call it $490 shipped and transferred.

Sights
Cajun Gun Works, the premier non-CZ Custom CZ gunsmith, provides blacked-out rear sights and a fiber-optic front blade for $80.

Extended magazine release
I haven’t yet held a P-09, so I don’t know if the extended magazine release is important. That said, it probably is, since my thumbs are small. Cajun Gun Works sells one for $40.

Trigger tuning
Unfortunately, there is no all-in-one kit for trigger tuning, unlike Wilson Combat’s Beretta kit. I’ll have to assemble it myself from parts from Cajun Gun Works. First up: their competition spring kit, which includes a firing pin spring, a firing pin block spring, and two reduced power hammer springs (15lb and 13lb, down from stock 20lb). That comes to $25.

While I’m in there, I’d also want to do the Cajun Gun Works short reset kit. It includes an extended firing pin, which serves to make the lighter hammer strike more effective at setting off primers, as well as an improved firing pin retaining spring, and an enhanced disconnector and lifter. The kit costs $75.

Finally, I’d put in a reduced-power trigger return string for $7. The trigger tuning comes in total to $107.

Other internal gubbins
Cajun Gun Works makes an improved hammer which purports to reduce creep in the single-action trigger pull, which costs $90.

Magazine well
Unlike the Beretta 96, the P-09 has a properly funnel-like magazine well available through CZ Custom. It requires a special hammer spring plug ($15) and costs $75 itself, for $90 total. Also, it looks properly race-gun.

Magazines
Now we come to the pain point. A Beretta 96 15-round .40 S&W magazine is between $20 and $30, depending on where you go. A factory CZ P-09 15-round magazine is $50. Fortunately, it comes with two in the box. Unfortunately, I’d want to order two more, and turn three of them into high-capacity competition magazines. Each high-capacity magazine requires a $38 base pad extension and an $18 spring and follower kit. The less high-capacity magazine still requires the extended base pad to fit in the magazine well2.

Let’s break it down. I need to buy two magazines ($100 total). I need three extended magazine kits ($56 each, $168 total) to hit my capacity goal of 60 rounds on the belt3. Finally, I need one magwell base pad sans the spring kit ($38).

In total, magazines and related accoutrements will cost a staggering $306. It’s worth noting that Limited-ready P-09 magazines cost about $100 per, provided you have no starting materials. That’s in rarefied company, not much cheaper than your high-end 2011 magazines.

Finishing
I see less need for it on the P-09, which is, let’s be honest, a profoundly ugly gun4. That said, CZ finishes its suppressor-ready 9mm P-09s in a lovely Urban Grey, which goes some distance toward making the gun merely inoffensive. A similar gray or dingy white on the frame, grips, and magwell would be nice. The local cerakote shop would charge about $200 for that, including the armory fees5.

In total, the P-09 race gun costs around $1200, again less cerakote costs. It lacks the pedigree6 of the Beretta 96, and has a much smaller cool factor. It’s also quite a bit cheaper, to the point that the difference could cover a case of .40 S&W and a competition holster.

Where does that leave me? With two solid options, each with a lot to recommend it. The only thing for it is a good old-fashioned shootout post. Stay tuned!


  1. It’s a hair over three millimeters longer than the Glock’s reach. 
  2. This is not strictly true, but I see no reason to spend $26 on the normal base pad when a mere $12 gets me the full 140mm. 
  3. Why the fourth magazine? It’s nice to have a spare so you can load the chamber without downloading one of your full-capacity magazines. 
  4. Not quite as bad as a Glock, though. 
  5. Something like this would be nifty, but probably more than I would want to pay. 
  6. CZ has a long history of competition, it’s true; it’s just the P-09 in particular has very little competitive history. 

Glockblaster 2: Glockblast Harder

Last time I visited Raceguns, I built with the constraint of keeping it at least semi-concealable. What if we dropped that requirement, made it for open-class shooting first?

We’ll need a base gun. We’re going with the Glock 22. This gives us the option to shoot .40 and make major power factor easily with factory ammo. Or we can drop in a 9 mm barrel and shoot 9 mm. Note that to properly switch from .40 to 9 mm, you’ll need to take an extra 30 seconds to swap extractors. Also, the beefier slide for shooting .40 is a little more comforting if we go to 9 mm major. We can always remove material, but it’s hard to put it back.

While the shorter slide of the Glock 19/23 makes it handle a little nicer with a red dot without comps, we’re going to be compensating this pistol, which will take away most of the advantage of the shorter slide. We’d still expect a lock-time advantage, but this is outweighed by the full-size grip of the 22 having a lot more magwell options. Also, I prefer the feel of the full size grip. Further, it’s easier to make a frame-mounted optic work well with a full size slide.

The Freya magwell on my heavily modified Glock 19 is very well made, but it didn’t make my reload times much faster. It’s not all that much bigger than the normal magazine opening. I do like it because it helps push my hand higher up on the gun, especially on the draw. I like this advantage, but it’s not really why one buys magwells. That’s true for the other concealment-type magwells too.

But on this one we’re not looking at the little concealment magwells. We’re looking for big mag funnels. Given the proliferation of 170mm length magazines from ETS and Magpul, I’m not going to worry too much about compatibility with basepads. Besides, that’s nothing a file wouldn’t fix. What we are going to look for as the differentiator is weight. Glocks are really lightweight, and we’d like to add non-moving mass to improve recoil characteristics. So we’re going with the SJC magwell, because it’s the biggest and heaviest we can find.

Next, we’re going to need an optic mount and optic. Free of the size constraint imposed by a desire to easily conceal the weapon, we can mount an optic on the frame, which will abuse our optic a lot less. Our mount is the ALG six second mount, which interfaces to the frame with the accessory rail, and by replacing one of the trigger pins. This will be more secure (and hold zero better) than mounting simply by attaching to the frame rail.

I like ALG’s products a lot, but the big driver towards picking the Six Second mount is my choice of optic: the Aimpoint T-1. I’m picking the T-1 because I want a bombproof optic with good adjustments, good battery life, and I actually like the closed tube design. I prefer not having to think about nature getting all over an emitter lens. Also, honestly, can C-More shorten their stupid Railway sights? Those look so 90s. They’re super popular on open guns though, so clearly I’m missing something.

The shorter Aimpoint T-1 will also not overhang the ejection port, so we won’t have to worry about tuning that. Win win.

This is going to need a compensator. Duh. It’ll be bigger than the one on our original Glockblaster because there’s more gas from the hotter .40 round, and we don’t care about length. We’ll go with the SJC Major Comp. Great reviews, very effective, and it even looks good.

We’ll need a threaded barrel, of course. I’m going to do this right. And I’m in no rush. So we’ll get match target barrels from Bar Sto, and have them professionally fitted.

Next, we’ll want an aftermarket guide rod. A steel one, again for weight reasons. More importantly, this will let us get the right weight recoil spring to go with our compensated barrels. We’ll get a bunch of spring weights and test.

I know what I like for triggers. Overwatch Precision’s DAT flat-face trigger with NP3-coated trigger bar, and the TTI Grandmaster spring/connector kit. That said, I might like to try something different. What is left to do? Well, some of the aftermarket trigger companies change the trigger bar/trigger shoe interface geometry. There’s a little bit of this done with the Overwatch triger, but if we go for a complete kit we can do more with that. Plus, I need to get all of the things like trigger housing and striker anyway. Might as well go with a kit from Zev or DK and see how that is.

Perfect, right? Well the problems K. C. Eusebio had with his open Glock got me to thinking…

A Fishy Race Gun Proposal: Beretta 96

In my review of the Beretta M9, I teased that I would be looking into a true competition gun based on the Beretta 92 platform. In this article, I’ll go into it a little deeper.

Why?

Why build a race gun at all? I like USPSA. (More on that later.) I like tinkering. I don’t want to be boring and buy the same gun everyone else is using1. There you have it. As I’ve said in the past, I like Beretta 92 platform. It points naturally for me, and my M9 is one of the softer-shooting 9mm firearms I’ve handled. (Obviously. It’s enormous and heavy.)

Given that I find myself really enjoying USPSA, I want to explore some of the other divisions. Given that I don’t have $2500 to spend on a 20112, nor much experience with the 1911 platform, nor much interest in learning how to tinker with the 1911 platform, I don’t have much reason to go in the traditional direction. Given, finally, that the thing slowing me down is not the handgun but rather my limited skill, I don’t mind slightly suboptimal equipment.

Since the kinds of race-y modifications I’m considering take me out of USPSA Production, the obvious place to aim is Limited, where scoring depends on power factor, and 9mm Major isn’t allowed. I need to do a little testing to verify, but my suspicion is that I’ll be insignificantly slower shooting .40 S&W, and the more forgiving scoring will help me out.

So, let’s look at the parts.

The Parts

Beretta 96A1
We’ll start with the gun itself. The Beretta 96 was the first 92-pattern gun chambered for .40 S&W, which is the minimum caliber required for shooting Limited Major in USPSA. The original 96, being simply a 92 with a larger-bore barrel, did not cover itself in acclaim. It was, in fact, oft-maligned for falling apart. The 96A1, a 2010 refresh of the design, solved many of the issues, adding a recoil buffer in addition to heavier construction elsewhere. As a recent design made of alloy, rather than plastic, its street price is about $675. Figure $725, shipped and transferred. Stock magazine capacity is twelve, going up to fifteen with MecGar’s extended jobbers.

The 96A1 also features a front sight dovetail, which brings me to my next item.

Sights
The traditional sighting system for Limited guns is blacked-out rear sights and a fiber-optic front sight. Wilson Combat sells just such a setup for the 96A1, coming to about $1003.

Trigger
Quite a bit going on here. The stock Beretta trigger is plastic, which doesn’t bother me overmuch, and bends a long way forward, which makes it difficult for me to get a good finger on it for the double-action pull. Wilson Combat and Beretta both make an identical steel trigger which features a less aggressive forward bend and a shorter overall reach.

While I’m working in the trigger well, I plan to remove the factory trigger return spring and replace it with a reduced-power unit, to score an easy improvement in trigger pull weight.

The trigger and reduced-power return spring come to about $50.

Action tuning
Wilson Combat sells an action tune kit for $80, which includes three options for lightened hammer springs, a trigger bar, and a chrome-silicon trigger return spring. As far as I can tell, this kit is the only way to get the Wilson trigger bar, which is an important part of tuning lightened trigger pulls.

It goes like this: you install a reduced-power hammer spring. (The kit includes a 12lb spring, down from the 20lb factory spring.) Your gun no longer reliably ignites primers. You install the trigger bar, which lengthens the hammer arc and delivers more impulse to the firing pin.

This is one of the most important mods for a competition gun, and would probably bring the double action pull weight well under ten pounds, and the single-action pull weight to the vicinity of three or four, much better than stock.

Skeleton hammer
The skeleton hammer not only looks cool, it also masses less than the factory hammer. A given spring therefore drives it more quickly, which helps to reduce lock time and increase the energy delivered to the firing pin. $30 from Beretta.

Steel guide rod
This isn’t all that necessary, but I prefer steel parts where I can get them. It also does a little to combat muzzle rise, being a heavier-than-stock part out near the muzzle. $25 from Wilson Combat.

Extended magazine release
As I mentioned in the M9 review, I can’t reach the factory magazine release from shooting position. Wilson Combat makes one which would fit right under my thumb. $50.

Magazine guide
The hammer spring block on 92-pattern pistols normally has a lanyard loop. Wilson Combat makes a magazine guide instead, a sloped piece to guide misses aft into the magazine well. $50.

Gunsmith work
Living near Pittsburgh as I do, Allegheny Arms is within driving distance. As one of the premier Beretta gunsmiths of the modern day, they offer two services of which I want to take advantage. First is a decocker conversion. For a carry gun, I like having a manual safety. For a gun whose sole purpose is competition, I want to do as little as possible coming out of the holster.

Finally, I’m not great at reloads, and any little bit helps. Allegheny Arms will do a fairly aggressive magazine well bevel. It isn’t a full-on magazine funnel, but combined with the Wilson Combat magazine guide, it would meaningfully improve my first-try reload percentage. All together, the gunsmith work comes to $285.

Magazines
The stock Beretta magazines are useless for Limited. To start off, I’d want to buy four MecGar 15-round magazines for a total stage capacity of 60 rounds. That adds $100 to the total. Eventually, I’d probably want to experiment with custom followers and longer extensions4, but given that I could spend an essentially unlimited amount of money tilting at that particular windmill, we’ll leave it off for now.

Finishing
Beretta’s stock finish is fine, but I’ve always wanted a Flat Dark Earth or Desert Sand Beretta. Leaving it at the local cerakote shop costs about $300 for barrel, slide, and frame, plus armory services.

If you’re keeping track, that puts me at right about $1500, not including the cerakote finish. (That seems fair. It’s completely unnecessary, so I could always do it later.) That cost includes some shipping, but maybe not all of the shipping, and of course fixes the value of my time at zero5. In return, I get a Beretta competition pistol, more or less the pinnacle of the platform, for about half of a reasonable 2011 build. It’s what you might call vintage—Beretta hasn’t been properly popular on the competition circuit since the 1990s. It has a tremendous amount of cool factor for me, a massive Beretta fanboy, and even parvusimperator would agree that the 92-pattern pistols are pretty.

So, why haven’t I started building it? Well, a forum post brought a new contender to my attention, and the choice turns out to be harder than I expected. Stay tuned. Next week, we’ll have a look at another Fishy race gun idea, and the week after, we’ll decide which one it’s going to be.


  1. Sometimes, people settle on a given platform because it’s the best. Competition frequently, but not always, finds that platform. For instance, the downforce revolution in Formula 1 came after a long period of mechanical-grip-only racing. We understood aerodynamics, and there were no rules preventing it. It was just that nobody thought to try it. 
  2. Probably can barely even get a used model from a reputable maker at that price. 
  3. I’ll borrow parvusimperator’s sight pusher. If he doesn’t have one, I’ll borrow his brass punches. 
  4. Woo, 3D printing! 
  5. If I consider building a gun leisure, I think that’s reasonable. 

Glockblaster Shooting AAR

I’ve spent more time with my Glockblaster since I last wrote about it. Since then, I’ve taken it to class, taken it to a two-gun match, taken it to a USPSA match, shot it a bunch on the range, and carried it frequently.

So let’s review, Q&A Style.

Is the red dot an improvement over iron sights?
Yes. The red dot is amazing. It does require practice, especially on the presentation, but it is a superior sighting system. It makes moving targets and long-range targets easy.

Does the compensator function as advertised, or is it just a barrel weight?
Yep! The compensator does its job. If dry and run with underpowered ammo, the gun may jam. The compensator definitely works to compensate using gasses. Note that a bigger compensator would be more effective, but then it would be harder to conceal and we’d have to mess with recoil spring weights. I’m running a stock recoil spring assembly, and the pistol functions well.

Is this gun as good as a 2011 in USPSA Open?
No. It comes close, but we can definitely get more performance out of the system. It’s not uncompetitive in Open, but it’s definitely suboptimal compared to a tuned 2011. It’s also a lot cheaper than a tuned 2011. And, requires a lot less tuning. Tuned 2011 mags are $130+, Glock mags are $20. At this point though, the limiting factor is definitely the knuckle-dragger behind the trigger. Yeah, I’ll probably get a custom 2011 someday, but for a guy getting started it’s fine.

Is this gun concealable?
Yes. It’s big, especially with the light. But not more so than a Glock 34 with light or government model 1911 with light. It’s no Ruger LCP, but it is concealable with a good holster and a little effort on one’s part.

How was the optic choice (RMR06)?
I really like the RMR for its class-leading battery life and durability. It’s got a smaller window than a number of competing sights, but I haven’t found this to be a big deal, given presentation practice and the compensator. I like having manual intensity control much more than automatic intensity control. Also, I really like the smaller dot size. That’s a preference thing, but mine is for the little dot.

How is the magwell?
The magwell is well made, but probably not worth it. It does help push my hand higher, and it closes off the gap at the back of the frame. Those are nice. It doesn’t make the magazine opening that much bigger, so I don’t notice much difference on my reloads. That said, I also suck at fast reloads, so maybe I’ll see a difference down the line with more practice. I will say that I have had zero problems with the magwell either coming loose, or not working with magazines. All magazines I’ve tried work fine, even stock Glock 19 mags with factory basepads. No problems inserting those.

Is the flat face trigger worth it?
Oh yeah. Love the trigger. It feels way better than stock. If you’re on the fence for this one, go for it. Do it. You won’t regret it.

Do I regret not getting a lot of slide work done?
Well, my slide doesn’t have front cocking serrations, windows, or little skulls. I don’t care. It’s got the RMR milling, cerakote over the milled surface to fight rust, and that’s it. Don’t need anything else. Also, why bother with front cocking serrations when you have a milled mount for an RMR? It’s a sight with a bonus cocking handle built right in.

Fishbreath Shoots: Beretta M9 Review

Is it necessary to review the Beretta M9 nowadays? Given the 92-pattern’s long history of military and police issue, I don’t doubt it’s near the top of the list as far as ‘how many people have shot this?’ goes. Am I going to review it anyway? Yes, yes I am. Will it be a traditional review, where I tell you things you already know? No, it won’t.

The gun in question is a bone-stock, commercial production Beretta M9. It isn’t a 92, so it has the flat backstrap and straight dust cover. It’s neither an M9A1 nor an M9A3, so it doesn’t have a rail, retains the original snowman-style sights, and isn’t finished in Modern Operator Tacticool Desert Tan1. It’s an M9, no more, no less, recently produced but in the very same pattern as the M9 as accepted into US military service in 1985.

Like I said, it’s one of the most widely-shot firearms in history. Like many popular things, the stereotypical view of it is wrong.

If you hang around firearms forums, or if you were recently deployed to somewhere sandy and far away, you may be down on the M9. “It’s unreliable! The fiddly bits inside get clogged with sand. Mine is inaccurate. It rattled when I walked. The slide came off of a buddy’s gun and hit him in the nose.”

None of these complaints are strictly inaccurate, but they don’t capture the full picture. Let’s get nerdy and talk about firearms actions for a bit. The 92-pattern pistol, unlike most modern handguns, does not use a Browning-inspired tilting-barrel design2. Rather, it uses a locking block, which engages the frame by lugs until an internal plunger running up against the frame pushes the locking block down to release the barrel.

Though it’s less common nowadays, the locking block action has some advantages. For one, given the traditional open slide, the ejection on the M9 is absurdly reliable. If the case comes out of the barrel at all, it’s leaving the gun. For another, the skeleton slide makes for a much smaller recoiling mass. The main wear item—the locking block—is easier to fix than worn-out cuts inside a slide. All you have to do is replace the locking block, rather than the slide. The bullet at the top of the magazine can feed directly into the barrel, since its angle relative to the barrel never changes. This makes for simpler magazines and requires no faffing about with feed ramps; as a side effect, it means that the M9 will happily feed any ammunition which is not overlong. It also means that feeding failures3 rarely happen outside of torture tests.

Now, the 92-pattern pistol does have some failings as an issue weapon, which we’ve touched on in previous articles. Mainly, a double-action pistol is not especially well-suited to the role the M9 found itself in, that of a soldier’s sidearm. Shooting a double-action pistol well requires mastering both the double-action trigger pull and the single-action trigger pull. It’s a heavy pistol, only incrementally lighter than the 1911 it replaced, and it’s also quite large. I have average-sized hands, and I suspect my thumbs are somewhat shorter than the norm; the magazine release is out of my reach.

I’m purposefully not mentioning the trigger reach or the safety. The former is obviously a problem, and the latter is obviously not. Do you subscribe to the school of thought which claims the 92’s safety is easy to engage by accident while working the slide? If so, next question: have you ever actually done it? Parvusimperator and I once spent a good ten minutes trying to engage the safety by accident, and wouldn’t you believe it, neither of us managed to. This particular complaint is overblown.

I did say that the 92 has some failings as an issue weapon, and if pressed, I might even admit that a striker-fired gun is probably a better choice (for a secondary weapon, because of easier training). Obviously, it isn’t a great choice if your aim is concealment. That leaves two categories: the duty gun and the competition gun. I think it stacks up well in both of those. Let’s look at why.

Weight
For a competition gun in particular, weight is not a bad thing. Even a heavy gun can be comfortably carried in a good holster, and if concealment isn’t a requirement, it’s not terribly hard to make a good holster. Weight means less felt recoil. Less felt recoil means faster, more accurate follow-up shots.

Trigger
It’s a double-action trigger. By definition, that means it’s better than almost every striker-fired trigger in existence. The first pull is rough, but how often do you have to do that? Once4.

Dependability
Much like parvusimperator’s favored Glocks, the M9 is, on the whole, a legendarily reliable piece of equipment. Unlike said Glocks, the M9 requires some attention to hold up its end of the bargain. Any firearm with steel riding on aluminum, like the 92-pattern guns, requires lubrication. It also requires occasional replacement—the design life of an M9 is about 40,000 rounds, and combat conditions undoubtedly shrink that figure. Many of the M9’s alleged flaws can be chalked up to pistols nearing their end of life, and to bad maintenance habits5. Carrying an M9 by itself, or shooting it in competition, leaves a gun owner room to solve both problems.

It’s no secret I like Beretta’s products. My carry gun, after all, is a Px4 Compact, and I’ve taken to shooting the M9 as my standard competition pistol. It’s plenty competitive, both in 3-Gun Nation Practical division, and USPSA Production division. I have some plans, even, to build a Beretta 96 for Limited competition next season. Watch this space.


  1. A color I actually really like. 
  2. For patent reasons, maybe? Ask parvusimperator. 
  3. Why yes, I did choose a picture of a Glock to illustrate this point. No, no particular reason why. cough 
  4. The match-running mavens at Performance Shooting Sports in Ohio are fond of ‘pistol loaded, chamber empty’ start conditions. Those are my favorite. No double-action pull at all! 
  5. I’m not judging, mind. A soldier overseas has many, many tasks which come ahead of ‘pistol maintenance’, not least of which is ‘rifle maintenance’.