November 21st, 2010
If you’ve been playing for more than a few years, than its fairly easy to remember a time when there was a massive dearth of good support guns. Options were limited to classic gas guns, which were finicky, rare and expensive, or a TOP bellows-powered support weapon, which was also finicky and expensive. Classic Army revolutionized modern support weapons 4 years or so back with their gearbox powered M249s, which were excellent. Also, around that time was the rise of the clones, which brought A&K out of the woodwork as a manufacturer of decent high-powered AR’s with metal bodies at extremely competitive prices. Once they got ahold of CA’s design for the M249, the $300 SAW came to be, making support gunning quite a bit more accessible to players. But is it any good? The fact that you’ve likely seen several of these around your local playsite might make this review feel a bit redundant, but we’re going to look into it anyways. If you don’t like it, here’s some reading about a gun you’ve probably never heard of.
Real Steel History:
“The Minimi light machine gun was developed by the famous Belgian company FN Herstal, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mass production began in 1982 in Belgium, and at about the same time it has been adopted by the US Armed forces as the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW). Since its introduction Minimi has seen widespread service, and numerous variations have been developed. First, the Para (Paratroop) version came out, with shorter barrel and tubular telescoped butt. This gun traded off some of the range and firepower for compactness and maneuverability. Quite recently, an SPW version was developed, which featured a Para-type buttstock, a barrel of intermediate length (between standard and Para models), and a Picatinny-type rail mount, which allows a wide variety of sights and scopes to be mounted. To save weight, the magazine feed option of the standard and para models has been discarded. This version, in a slightly modified form, was adopted by the US Special Forces Command (US SOCOM) as the Mk.46 model 0 light machine gun.
The FN Minimi has an excellent reputation on reliability and firepower, and the latest reports on failures of M249 SAW weapons in Iraq are attributed to the age of the weapons used – most of the current issue M249 in US Army are more than 10 years old and quite worn out.”
|Standard model||Para model||Mk.46 mod.0 / SPW model|
|Weight||7.1 kg||7.1 kg||5.75 kg|
|Length||1040 mm||914 / 776 mm||908 / 762 mm|
|Barrel length||465 mm||349 mm||406 mm|
|Feeding||belt or magazines||belt only|
|Rate of fire, cyclic||750 – 1000 rounds per minute||750 – 1000 rounds per minute||750 rounds per minute|
From World.guns.ru (An Excellent Real Steel Info Website)
The M249 (But not specifically the Mk. II) has been featured in all sorts of movies.
One of the TNT Members sits ready with a 249 Para in Bad Boys II.
John Travolta as Gabriel Shear pulls a wierd Minimi (Mk. I)/Mk. II Hybrid from the trunk of his TVR, and then proceeds to go insane with it.
Finally, one of my favorites is Twombly from Black Hawk Down. The movie was excellent, and every time I see it I miss my Mk. I that I sold awhile back even more.
This is a big, imposing replica, no questions asked. The Mk II is the largest of the three, though I recall the Mk. I being a bit heavier from the metal tube stock. The original box is just a big brown box & styrofoam clamshell affair, unless you pay a bit extra and spring for one that comes with a metal guncase like Mike did when he bought his Mk. I. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the packaging for you, as I bought mine used at a gas station… No, really (Is there a reason that Craigslist airsoft purchases must be transacted as sketchily as possible?)
The replica is more than 3 feet long, and weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 or 14 pounds. The A&K SAW is a bit lighter than the CA, which would not be surprising to me as CA probably had the budget for more steel parts given their typical $549.00 price tag. After a day of playing with this thing though, a few pounds shaved is a blessing.
This is a pretty good shot of the front of the gun, which shows a few of the interesting parts of the gun.
First, the bipod. The bipod is fairly sturdy, but still made of aluminum. The bipod locks in place in the handguard with the metal protrusions on the sides of the bipod legs. The legs of the bipod are sprung apart, and when the bipod is folded up into the handguard, the protrusions notch into the handguard to lock the bipod. When folded down, the bipod legs notch into a peg on the bottom of the swivel. Care should be taken not to push the gun forward or backwards on its bipod, as the notch can get rounded off by the bipod legs, and the bipod will no longer lock in the down position.
Also, the carry handle. Like the bipod, the carryhandle notches in various positions, and locks into place (as the carry handle is spring loaded towards the front of the gun). The carry handle is made of steel, and the mounting feels a good bit more robust than my old Mk. I, whose carry handle was fixed and secured to the barrel with a couple crappy screws. I would still caution against using the carryhandle while running, as it could still fail leading to a costly drop.
The gun has some other interesting external features;
This is the wire shoulder support on the stock. I’ve noticed the Mk II is really balanced compared to the Mk I, so it hasn’t been of much use at the CQB field, however its quite useful when prone.
Check out the charging handle. A&K replicated FN’s Sprung-closed dustcover well, as the dustcover rides up and over the charging handle when pulled.
Here you can see the only Marking on the gun. The dragon logos and white laser engraving are starting to feel a bit played out on airsoft stuff, but a rattle-can of black paint would fix this pretty easily. These all appear to be individually serial numbered (see the bottom line in the logo). The semi-circular button on the right side of the photo is the button to release the top cover. Also, at the bottom of the photo, you can make out the cross-bolt style safety. If you’re looking for a fire-selector, slow down there chief. There are none to be had on the M249.
Who is that hanging out in the background? Who cares? I know what you really want to know about is that rear sight. Have another picture.
As you can see here, the rear site adjustment is taken care of with the two knobs, and the workings are incredibly simple. The first knob adjusts for windage as the actual sight block is mounted on threads from the first knob. The second knob adjusts elevation simply by rotating the bar that the sight block rests on up and down. The rear sight is a good replica of the real steel one. The front sight is a simple hooded post with no tool-less elevation or windage adjustment.
Here’s an ever-so-slightly off kilter shot of the sight picture from the A&K. Its hard to get a straight-on pic on a bigger gun like this. I’m sure you understand.
Anyways, while we’re around the top cover, lets see whats under the hood here…
Doesn’t mean much to you? Let me break it down. Towards the hinge for the top cover (top-left), you can see the hopup for the gun. I’m not sure why I’m pointing this out to you, as out of the box, the hopup does nothing. There are several purported fixes for this floating around the internet, but I’m hoping Mike will write a proper one for us.
Moving down, you can see the top of the gearbox. The gearbox is the real jewel on these M249s, and is shared with A&K’s M60 lineup too. The gearbox is a beefy PGC style gearbox, which can handle a ton of abuse. It doesn’t turn over the quickest out of the box, but it really can take a beating, which is a good thing for a support gun.
One quite cool feature on this gearbox is hot-swappable springs. The catch visible towards the back of the gun holds a plug in the back of the gearbox. By pulling a pin, and folding the stock down, you can trip the catch, and pull the plug (which also acts as a spring guide) from the back of the gearbox, bringing the AEG spring with it. This means easy spring swaps for various occasions, easy enough that even newbies can work on their gun correctly (as its quite difficult to mess up…).
I grabbed the above image from Google until I have the chance to tear mine down and have a look, but I wanted to illustrate why these gearboxes are excellent. The large amount of metal along the top of the gearbox, back around the spring guide, and at the front of the gearbox by the air nozzle demonstrates reinforcement in common failure areas for gearboxes. The sintered steel gears are stamped A&K, and appear quite robust. They’re also standard gears, so you’re not up a creek if a gear strips. The motor is a short-type motor, and is a pretty standard torque-y-but-slower-turning-than-name-brands affair. If you want more rate of fire out of yours, a new motor would go a long way.
The weakest points on this gun are the white plastic piston and air-nozzle, which while they look junky, they do work. I feel I lose some airseal around the nozzle, as my chrono readings are quite inconsistent, I feel a basic nozzle from a better manufacturer/donor gun would make a big difference. Another shortcoming on the A&K is the microswitch trigger that CA, A&K et al have chosen to trigger the motor. These microswitches are an metal prong that will sit stable in either an “on” or “off” position, depending on if the trigger is pulled. One of the issues with this however, is that microswitches can stay stable enough when they’re in the on position not to want to return to the “off” position, yielding essentially a stuck trigger, and a gun firing itself until the battery gets pulled, or the gearbox tears itself apart. This was a silly design choice, offering overcomplication where standard AEG copper switch units would work fine. My Mk II was exhibiting this behavior a lot when I received it, but a tear-down and silicone-ing of the microswitch seems to have it working better. I don’t want to retread the durability alert below, but just for emphasis, in case the switch sticks for your, KNOW HOW TO PULL YOUR BATTERY IN A HURRY.
Finally, lets talk about the magazine;
The magazine is an OD hard-plastic shell, with capacity for 2500 rounds. The bottom of the magazine has a switch for “AUTO-OFF-SOUND”. AUTO refers to a basic constant-on function, where the mag will wind until you turn it off, or the batteries die. SOUND refers to the magazine’s pressure winding function (which, coincidentally has nothing to do with sound). As the gearbox turns, puffs of air vibrate the pressure sensor, which tells the box mag to wind. You can test this out yourself if you have one. Set your box mag to “Sound” and shout at it for a while. Tell it what a disappointment its been to you and your family, that its the reason for all your problems. Rant about its stupid looking springs and silly noisemaking. Scream like a crazy person if you like. But note (while you’re having a conversation with your box-mag (which other people might take as an indicator of your mental health)) that it hasn’t wound a single time in all of your tirades. Now grab the magazine connector, and blow into the ‘mic’ (just behind the BB tube), and you’ll notice that the mag winds happily. Draw your own weird and snarky conclusions from that one, but… whatever (That got weird quick, didn’t it?). Its a pressure sensor. OFF- You guys can figure this one out.
As you can see, the mag takes two AA’s to function properly. You can also see from the divider that the majority of the mag is NOT used to store BBs (the top compartment is the BB hopper, the remainder is clockwork/batteries/electrical components/wasted space. Care should be taken to store the mag with the minimum of the springs exposed (these can be shoved back into the box mag body), but if you accidentally crush a coil a bit as I did with my Mk I in the midst of moving, you will have a world of stupid annoying feeding problems. Take care of the springs, and you’ll stay happy.
Also, as stock, the magazine is a hassle to get in. To insert the mag, you have to hang the front of the mag in the tracks of the gun, slap the feeder plug into the gun, and then slot the box mag the rest of the way under the gun. A pesky plastic lip creates the necessity for this ridiculous order of operations, as the plug won’t fit in and out if the mag is fully hung under the gun, and you risk stretching the springs by installing the feeder plug first. Taking a long notch out of the lip on the feeder plug gets rid of this issue very satisfactorily.
I didn’t get a picture, but your A&K will feed from AR magazines as well. Simply insert them in the same fashion you put the box mag’s feeder plug into the magwell.
Unquestionably, these are fun to shoot. While the difference between this and any other stock AEG is all mental, it’s still a great time to shoot. The gearbox turns over fairly slowly, but you can hold the trigger for a good long time on these (as a support gun should be). All of this fun fades when you try and hit something, and watch the sad, hop-less trajectory of your BB’s flaccidly arcing out of your barrel into the ground. As mentioned above, stock hopups on the A&K come useless from the factory, and the fix is on you. Again, I’ll be bugging Mike to write a bug fix on this one.
Once the hopup is fixed, the gun is pretty pleasant. Again, the stock rate of fire is low, but tolerable, and the gun is consistent due to its relatively long barrel. Mine chronos anywhere from 290-350, but this is due to an airseal issue somewhere in the piston head/air nozzle. My Mk. I was a lot more consistently around 350 when I owned it. Caution not to over-hop your BBs after you get your hopup working, because this will cause a barrel blockage that will break something (most likely your nozzle).
Using the gun in games is interesting because of the bulk of the replica. The gun has some heft, and that may slow your play down a bit. Its also long, making it a handful in CQB. The counterbalance here is that good solid gearbox, which lets you hold the trigger without having to worry too much. Don’t get me wrong here, you hold a trigger too long on anything and it will break eventually. The A&K support guns gearboxes can just handle it quite a bit better than other standard affairs. When I played support with mine, I really just treated it like going for a walk… with my machine gun. I covered my own advances with my large supply of BBs in the box mag, and if needed, held the trigger down to keep others down every time I waddled around. The results were definitely not too shabby.
In all, its a fun gun to play with, but I wouldn’t play it if you run around on the field like a small child/professional athlete/meth addict.
I discussed above that this gun’s electrical motor is controlled by a microswitch, which is different from the majority of other standard guns which use a basic knife switch. Microswitches have the ability to ‘stick’ in the closed (“On”, or trigger pulled) position, leaving your gearbox spinning away until you pull the battery, or your gearbox rips itself apart. If there are BBs in the magazine, you have the added bonus of the gun shooting the entire time. I’ve witnessed this happening to someone else’s CA SAW in a safety briefing, and all of us were lucky not to get hosed by the guy’s out of control gun. This player panicked, and didn’t have the solidarity of mind to pull his battery, and sat there freaking out and shooting BB’s until the gun stripped its sector gear. My Mk II as reviewed here suffered similar issues (though never loaded, never pointed at anyone, and I pulled the battery).
A shot of silicone in the microswitch will fix this. Pull your gearbox (Two screws on Left side of the SAW, one screw just in front of the charging handle on the right side of the gun). You’ll notice (on the right side of the gearbox) two screw holes that are sort of in the middle of the gearbox, as opposed to around the perimeter. Pull these screws, and the switch will drop from the bottom of the gun. You need to spray towards the back of the switch, as getting silicone spray towards the front of the switch is unnecessary and may cause arcing and pitting on your microswitch, which will eventually require replacement.
If you don’t understand the process above, just buy one of these replacement A&K microswitches for $8, swap it in (which is entirely simple, slip the wires over the connectors on the switch and you’re done), and be on with your life.
The big takeaway here is KNOW HOW TO PULL YOUR BATTERY QUICKLY. Pull the battery, perform the above, reassemble, and your gun should be fine.
If the gun’s hopup came working, and the microswitch problem didn’t manifest its stupid-and-unnecessary self so often, I’d give it a 4.
External Design: 4/5
Solid! I love the externals on this thing, though some trademarks would kick this into high gear. In all though, quick takedown to the mechbox, and good solid construction give it a 4 here.
For $265 (at airsplat), this thing represents an awesome value, where support gunning used to be a spendy proposition. Buying into a few problems, though not awful to address, is the only thing that keeps this replica from taking a 5
The performance rating is what destroys the average here. If I wasn’t doing things mathematically, I’d subjectively rate it a 4. The problems are niggling little things that aren’t bad to take care of if you’re at all mechanically inclined. I’d recommend looking into one of these before a CA, which comes with the same microswitch problems at nearly twice the price. I’d never regret an A&K support gun purchase.
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