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This article appeared as an invited chapter in the book, The Beeman R1 - Supermagnum Air Rifle, by Tom Gaylord. Tom had had some misconceptions about the origin of this rifle. He cleared up those misunderstandings, which had been shared by some others, in this interesting introduction to the chapter :
by Tom Gaylord
This book is a celebration of the Beeman R 1-the rifle that brought America fully into the world of adult airguns. In its lifetime, it has become the most sought after, the most talked about and the most modified air rifle of all time. The R1 is the airgun equivalent of a Volkswagen Beetle. You can own it, use it, soup it up or paint it purple - whatever seems right to you. It has tons of potential for modification and customization, if that's what turns you on. On the other hand, many people have just taken their new guns out of the box and shot them without resorting to any of the incantations and magical spells you will learn about. If you are reading this book at a time close to the first printing, you should rejoice, for the gun is still available brand new.
One thing you are going to learn is that an R1 is not an adaptation of a Weihrauch HW 80. The R1 was developed before the HW 80, so it might be said more correctly that the 80 is an adaptation of the R1. That the two guns share the same origins there is no doubt, for the Weihrauch company used their work on the Beeman design to create a lower- powered rifle, the HW 80, for European and worldwide sales. The R1, however, is not just an American invention, modified for production by German engineers. It is also the world's first commercial airgun to be designed by computer modeling and analysis. People today think nothing of using products designed by computers; but it hasn't been three decades since the process, itself, became economically feasible. And, excepting the R1, what other airguns have had their performance subsystems so designed?
The rifle's creator, Robert Beeman, has made more of an impression on the world of airguns than any other individual in the 20th century. He didn't do it by inventing a new gun. Others who invented entirely new types of airguns have names remembered by only a handful of enthusiasts. For example, who remembers the inventor of the modern pneumatic air rifle? The first spring-air pistol? As important as these things are to modern airgunners, few know the people responsible for them. Yet everyone knows Bob Beeman.
What Beeman did was take the merchandising of airguns out of the hands of hardware store owners and hobby businessmen and define it as a legitimate recreation industry in America. Some of the credit for this goes to Robert Law, as well, for he was first to implement the vision of adult airguns in this country. But, where Law eventually left the business for other pursuits, Beeman executed his idea completely. Without any irony, Beeman bought much of the remaining parts stock from Law's Air Rifle Headquarters when it finally closed its doors in the 1980s.
And what did Beeman do for airgunners to be credited with so much? He simply followed through to completion the idea of adult airguns in America and successfully built his enterprise upon that basis. He created the catalog that still earns praise as the finest of its type ever published. A catalog that not only sold things - it also informed, instructed and even set forth the beliefs and principles of the man in its 100-plus pages of text and professional photographs. We all preserved our copies of the Beeman catalog as the significant airgun literature that it was (and still is).
Year after year, the Beeman company improved upon their image and position as the leader in adult airgun sales. Others who watched and tried to emulate parts of their great success fell by the wayside when they learned what it takes to sell top quality day in and day out. Clearly, Beeman was an order of magnitude beyond the competition at all times. And yet, with all their success, they had no real product of their own. They were buying guns from several sources, trying to provide a consistent level of quality, which meant a continuous balancing act requiring daily supervision.
Unless you have dealt directly with foreign manufacturers, you cannot conceive the tremendous obstacles they will put in your way. The myth of building a better mousetrap and having the world beat a path to your door is just that - a myth. Especially when the mousetrap factory speaks a different language and has a different concept of quality than you. On top of that, you can add the difficulties of international shipping, which is still an art, at best. Finally, the governments of the source and destination countries muddle things as only bureaucracies can, until the path between you and your products seems to be one of near-perfect impedance. No wonder smuggling is so popular!
Adult airgun retailers in the U.S. languished in such confusion until the advent of the Beeman company. I'll let Robert Beeman tell his own story of the R 1's development in the next chapter. It's a story that has been misrepresented for years, until all who care about the gun have a perverted idea of where it came from and what it really is. As a writer, I have been as guilty as anyone for either complete misrepresentation or damning with faint praise the real functionaries who had parts to play in this rifle's development. But now we can all learn where this fantastic airgun came from and who really played a part in bringing it to market.
On April 1, 1993, the Beeman company was purchased by S/R Industries in Maryland. Soon after, the Beeman company was relocated to southern California near Marksman, S/R's other airgun division. In the ensuing years, the product lines have changed a bit, but Beeman Precision Airguns continues to proudly sell and service the R 1, which might be construed as the flagship of the company.
(Click on these authors' names for additional information: Steve Fjestad, Bill Bridgewater, and Robert Hunnicutt.)
THE ODYSSEY OF THE BEEMAN R1
by Robert D. Beeman Ph.D.
|(Reprinted with permission, with minor corrections, from pp. 5-9 in The Beeman R1 by Tom Gaylord, 1995, 174 pp. GAPP Inc., 4614 Woodland Rd., Ellicott City, MD, 21042-6329)|
|I'm delighted to accept the invitation of Tom Gaylord to record how the Beeman R1 magnum air rifle came to be. The Beeman R1 was the first air rifle really developed by the Beemans. We had had a major hand in helping with the development and evolution of the Beeman/Feinwerkbau Model 124, the airgun upon which we really launched our plan to put adult airguns into the mainstream of the American gun industry, but the Rl was the first airgun which began completely as our own idea.|
|We had long been impressed by the wonderful construction and robustness of the Beeman/Weihrauch HW 35, but were puzzled why such a great gun, weighing over 8 pounds, could produce a muzzle velocity of only 755 fps in .177” caliber, while the 7.2 pound Feinwerkbau 124 could put out 800 to 830 fps. The HW 35 compression chamber had a larger diameter and its mainspring was more massive, but it just couldn’t equal the power of the lighter, easier to cock FWB 124, and it certainly didn't put out the power which we felt was the key to success in serious development of the American adult airgun hunting market. We knew that the choked up performance of the elegant HW 35 had to be some permutation of spring length/diameter/weight ratios and constants, swept area of the compression chamber, vent sizes and geometry, piston seal type and flare sensitivity, pellet starting force, piston weight, piston bottoming and rebound, dead space, piston drag, breech seal material and design, etc., but there could be hundreds of permutations. The time and expense of producing and testing even a few prototypes would be daunting, and even production of many experimental variations would not assure one that the optimum combination had been found.|
|The puzzling inefficiency of the HW 35 apparently had not moved English or German airgun developers into action because the HW 35 already operated near their governments' legal limits. Our early marketing success with the export versions of the FWB 124 was beyond any expectations of the German makers and made us confident that an even more potent spring-piston air rifle would finally put adult air rifles on the map in the USA.|
|Fortunately for all of us, computer simulation of mechanical systems had become popular with developers of new devices. At long last, a computer could simulate the theoretical interrelationships, the permutations, of several variables in very short order by extrapolating data from a very few experimental models. I had worked for years in scientific research at several universities, so it seemed only natural to collaborate with a university engineer, E.H. Epperson, who was also an airgun enthusiast, to produce computer simulations of various factors in airgun powerplants.|
|The Beemans began the project in 1978. In January 1979, Mrs. Beeman and I presented our idea and the data to Mr. Hans Weihrauch ("Hans Sr.") and his business partner/wife, Mrs. Christel Weihrauch, owners of the famous Hermann Weihrauch Company, in the Beeman gunroom in San Anselmo, California. Knowing the high technical achievement of German engineers and scientists, we expected that probably they had run many such computer simulations. We were delightfully surprised to find that not only were they extremely receptive to our ideas for a new level of performance in air rifles, but that they knew of no-one in the world's airgun industry who previously had done such simulations. They told us that previous experimentation had been entirely empirical - prototypes were built and the designers were satisfied when a model operated at power and accuracy levels which were within the relatively low European legal limits (under 700 fps). Our baby-to-be evidently was the first airgun to be developed as a result of computer simulations!|
|We decided to call the new rifle the Beeman R1 - our Rifle Number One. We specified that the only already developed parts were to be the fine barrel and Rekord trigger system of the HW 35. This rifle was intended for scope use, so no attention was given to developing new open sights. We wanted an entirely new powerplant utilizing a new synthetic parachute piston seal. A fast, but utterly dependable, barrel detent system was to replace the very secure, but slow and clumsy, barrel lock system of the HW 35. An automatic safety, to protect the gun from being damaged by snapping shut, was to be incorporated.|
|We knew that most American shooters focus first on the appearance and stock of a rifle, as opposed to the typical European who seems to focus first on the mechanics. Therefore, we also set out to develop an entirely new stock design. Our guiding principles were that the stock had to be based on the best of American classic stock lines and that the barrel base and cocking lever, only too obvious on previous European break barrel air rifles, had to be attractively covered. We worked with Gary Goudy, one of America's premier custom stockmakers, who richly deserves his four-figure stock fees, and together we produced several design prototypes - the final one being the model for the now familiar R1 stock style.|
|The Weihrauchs took our design ideas and specifications to their own engineers and our stock model to Mr. Erich Wolff, Germany's most outstanding commercial gunstock maker, for execution. After much cross-Atlantic communication, and several developmental guns later, a penultimate prototype was ready. In March 1981, we met with Hans Sr. and Christel Weihrauch, and some German engineering and marketing people, at the Weihrauch factory in Mellrichstadt in Bavaria, Germany. After much discussion, final small changes were made, and virtually all details, except for final stock modifications were approved. We had to leave for a meeting with the Feinwerkbau leaders, far across Germany, hard against the Black Forest, before the final production prototypes of the R1 stock could be produced. To expedite this final phase of our mutual project the ever-cooperative Hans Sr. and Christel Weihrauch gathered up the final stock models as soon as they were finished and raced halfway across Germany to meet us at a mid-point Autobahn Rasthaus (freeway rest house) where the four of us pored over the models and agreed on the very final details.|
|While we contributed the R1 concept, specifications, and key design points, the R1 could not have become such an excellent gun without the Weihrauch's superb final engineering and unexcelled factory tooling. As the primary development grew to a close, Hans Sr. gave us a choice: we could pay for the execution and tooling and have the exclusive worldwide rights to our model or the Weihrauchs would pay these costs on the agreement that the Beemans would have exclusive rights to the gun in the United States, and anywhere else that it was marketed as the Beeman Rl, and that the Weihrauchs could market other versions, with specifications appropriate to other markets, under the HW 80 label, outside the United States. In the interest of cost and cooperation, we chose the latter. (This same arrangement was used in the development and distribution of other Beeman designs, such as the Beeman P1 magnum air pistol, Beeman Universal Muzzle Brake, etc.). We shook hands and, as they say, the rest is history. The resulting rifle was handsome, beautifully balanced at 8.5 pounds, and easy to fire accurately. It was engineered with an understressed, straight-forward powerplant, and the most solid, well-machined mechanism on the market. Muzzle velocities were in an astonishing new range: 900 to almost 1000 fps in the then-most-popular caliber, .177". It was virtually without competition! Ironically, delays in the production of the R1 stock, which required larger stock blanks than the shorter, rather Germanic HW 80 stock design of that time, resulted in the HW 80 being introduced a little before the U.S. debut of the Beeman R1 in late 1981. In any case, just as the Beeman P1 pistol was not developed from the HW45, the Beeman R1 rifle definitely was not developed from the HW 80. Both rifles were developed from our concept of the R1.|
|The German records show that of all the Beeman Rl and HW80 versions ever manufactured, about 75% were the Beeman R1 top power versions. (The rarest of which is the Beeman R1 Tyrolean). By the time the R1 got well into production the Beeman company was selling an average of well over one hundred imported adult airguns a day, the largest share of which were Beeman R1 rifles. There are now tens of thousands of Beeman R1 rifles just in the USA; many more are found around the world, especially in Indonesia, Australia, and Africa. The large majority of the HW 80 rifles were designed for, and sold in, the British market. Since there were at least three versions and power levels of the HW80, it may be difficult to know exactly what is meant when someone refers to an “HW 80”. Most of the HW 80 versions were designed around lower European and Canadian power limits. Absolutely no HW 80 rifles were ever designed or factory authorized for distribution in the USA. Some HW 80 rifles did come in, against Weihrauch authorization and without factory backing, through unauthorized channels. Many of these were doctored in attempts to bring some of them up to the Rl power standards. Some of the tinkers just added a stronger mainspring, not understanding the sophistication and complexity of this simple looking object and its intricate balance with other parts. Such springs generally were not only more brittle but actually reduced power in the top power versions of the gun. ( Beeman Laser mainsprings, instead of being stronger like the British aftermarket springs, achieve their performance in a completely different way). Federal import figures make it clear that U.S. imports of HW 80 rifles never reached even one percent of the R1 production.|
|The great acceptance of the R1 solidified the development of the mainstream of the U.S. adult airgun market and established the base of the first of the real "super magnum" adult air rifles. That market had grown over twenty fold since the Beeman company started in 1972; after the introduction of the R1 the Beemans were bringing in over 90% of all the German and British adult airguns that were coming into the USA. Government import figures also indicated that the Beeman company has brought in the large majority of all the adult airguns ever to have entered the USA. This largely was because of the Beeman R1 family of rifles and the Beeman P1 pistol.|
|The success of the R1 had some interesting side-effects. In 1982, the Beemans asked the Weihrauchs to produce a sidelever, or underlever, fixed-barrel air rifle of the same power as the R1. The Weihrauchs started the design of what was to become another truly elegant adult air rifle: the HW 77. The first prototype was a beautiful piece of machinery, but it was simply massive - it seemed like it weighed about twelve pounds! It was suggested that it needed wheels. We all agreed that it had to be scaled down, but this would reduce the power to below 12 foot pounds of muzzle energy (about 825 fps in .177" caliber). This was fine for the British and most other European markets, but it was the gun's undoing for the U.S. market. While the HW 77 became a great success in the European (especially the British market) it was a great marketing failure in the U.S. market. Despite its elegant design, its great quality, its fixed barrel/receiver arrangement, and the fact that the Weihrauchs had produced every detail of the stock just as we specified to make it attractive to the American market, the HW 77, from all sources, sold in the U.S. only about five to eight percent as well as the Rl. When it came to putting their money on the counter, the mainstream of American customers simply would not pay somewhat more for a gun that not only was a bit heavier, but less powerful !. Its only real acceptance in the United States came from airgun hobbyists, an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable group, but who, unfortunately, comprise only a tiny fraction of the American adult airgun market. During the last 20 years or so, no precision underlever air rifle has really made it in the mainstream of the American shooting industry. So, relatively poor as the U.S. sales of the HW 77 were, as of 1995 there still had been more sales of it here than all other precision underlever air rifles combined.|
|Not long after the good start of the R1 in 1981, we began to feel that the U.S. market needed a lighter, much less expensive magnum air rifle. We kept presenting this idea, and basic specifications, to the Weihrauchs almost every time that we conferred with them in Germany. Finally, in January 1985, Hans Weihrauch Sr., now in company with his sons (who were now coming of age to enter the firm), Hans-Hermann (Hans Jr.) and Stefan (both of whom were to take the HW company reins sooner than any of us realized), presented an early prototype of the Beeman R10, derived from the Beeman R1. Indeed, it was lighter and trimmer than the R1. Its stock was a nicely slimmed-down version of the R1 stock, and it was easier to cock - just as we had specified - but cheaper it was not! It seems that Hans Sr. just couldn't, or wouldn't then, make a cheaper gun at this level. After much consideration of the gun and much discussion of the market, we all agreed that the gun would be produced and marketed as "son of the R1", being lighter and easier to cock, and that, for now, we would leave the corner-cutting, needed to produce an economy model, to the economy-level airgun producers in Germany, Spain, and elsewhere!|
|When new variations of existing models are introduced, the sales of the new version often cut into the sales of the older model but the total of the two generally is somewhat greater than the sales would have been for just one version. Thus, we expected to somewhat increase our sales by adding the R10 to our line. However, after the R10 was introduced in 1987, even we were delightfully surprised to see that our combined sales of the R1 and R10 were 210% of what the sales of the R1 had been the year before! It was clear that the R10 was not competing with the R1 but rather appealing to another segment of customers. "Father and son" were working together very well. Many shooters purchased one, or more, of each model. The R10 gave many airgunners an excuse to add another caliber, especially the .20"/5mm caliber which was then becoming more popular than .177".|
|Finally, by upgrading the trigger and sights, and adapting the now well-known Beeman R1 stock design, we were able to rather easily create the Beeman R7 and R8 rifles from less sophisticated HW models. Despite its position as the most expensive mid-sized air rifle in the world, the R7 has always been a top seller, and even has come close to equaling sales of the R1 itself. This is not really puzzling to any reasonably intelligent shooter who actually has carefully examined and handled this gun and who knows that so many American shooters put quality well ahead of price. Frankly, even from my point of considerable bias, I really must say that it's a gem!|
|In addition to its effect on the production and success of other models, the R1 had another very different effect. At the time of the R1's introduction, the Beeman company was the U.S. representative of Weihrauch, Webley, Feinwerkbau, and Diana. These four makers produced almost all of the precision adult airguns of that time. Webley had not yet entered a serious modern contender into the magnum air rifle arena and it was clear that Feinwerkbau, the match-gun experts, would soon leave that area, where they felt neither comfortable nor profitable. That left us to compare the new R1 with the new Diana/RWS Model 45 sporting air rifle, a version of which we were marketing as the Beeman Model 250.|
|I must say, with no apology, that we were enamored with the way the R1 had turned out. When we compared it, feature by feature, with the Diana/RWS product, we quickly came to the conclusion that the R1 simply was in a different league and that it was that higher quality level with which we identified. Thus the thrust of our promotion and marketing was clarified. We became much less enthusiastic about the lower level guns which we had started to promote. We had already started dropping Diana models in 1979 and now we were willing to let the rest of their rifles go to other distributors who were more interested in high-volume items produced to sell at lower prices. We would have liked to have kept the unique Diana Model 6 air pistol, but we could hardly expect to keep one model when we would no longer endorse or promote the rest of the line. Thus, if it had not been for the R1, the Beeman company probably would now still be the U.S. distributor of the Diana/RWS airgun line! I think we took the right turn for, in my very considered opinion, Dianawerk still has not produced an airgun which actually competes with the R1. By analogy, one may say that both Ford and Mercedes are good cars, and that one may even drive both of them about equally fast for awhile, but no one would suggest that they are in the same league. The Beeman company’s "Tap the Cap" promotions, and the "State of the Art" comparisons in the Beeman catalog, revealed the differences in these two leagues of airguns for those who were not yet really familiar with such products. Fortunately, in the case of adult airguns, almost anyone who can afford one of the economy models can stretch to a higher league and will find greater satisfaction, and in the long run, greater economy.|
|Mrs. Beeman and I do, indeed, look back, from our semi-retirement, with considerable satisfaction and pride, on the Beeman R1, and the several other models that it has spawned, and even at its would-be followers from other makers. Hans Weihrauch Sr., quite unexpectedly and most regrettably, left this world on April 9, 1990. We owe a great deal to his technical brilliance, unflagging cooperation, and wonderfully sincere friendship. Although I know that we tried his great patience a few times with our intense involvement, I'm sure that he too, would be proud of where the development of the R1 has led. It was a trip well worth taking!|
|4/13/96 May be used, on a non-exclusive basis, only by written permission of Robert D. Beeman.|
P.S. For a short, but excellent, note on using the Beeman R1(and caliber and pellet selection) for hunting, click on this website link by Tom Holzel, the original airgun hunting wizard:
http://www.velocitypress.com/pages/Woodchucks.php Be careful about reading some of Tom's wild personal info bombs, listed in the left column of his website. You just might blow a brain cell or two!!
And, try to find a copy, or request an interlibrary loan, of Jock Elliott's wonderful article "A Perennial Favorite - The Beeman R1" in the January 2005 issue of The Accurate Rifle magazine. He feels that, even a quarter of a century after it was introduced, this is the air rifle by which others are measured!