Air Arms FTP900 FT Rifle
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- Last updated: 16/12/2016
Mark Camoccio tests the much anticipated Air Arms FTP900 field target rifle – was it worth the wait?... Too right it was!
Rarely has there been such anticipation within airgun circles, as we have witnessed over the last few months. Yet when the major product launch concerns Air Arms, our biggest home-based manufacturer, it’s a special event indeed.
Well it’s been quite a wait, I’ll grant you, but the brand new FTP900 model is now filtering out throughout the land as we speak. Christmas came late for many, and when I received a call from Air Arms’ Sales Manager, Simon Gibbon, to say my own rifle was ready, (yes I have put my money where my mouth is!), I could hardly contain myself.
With delays in production, and subsequent release, rumours have abounded, and the company’s tactic of killing off their flagship EV2 model, before the replacement was available, was indeed a bold decision. If it was a bid to fuel anticipation in the market though, then I can confirm it worked!! Consider that the FTP900 is the first all new model to be produced under the stewardship of Air Arms’ Managing Director Claire West, and it’s also perfectly understandable that the company should wish to get everything right. It is after all, designed as a ‘no compromise’ full blown Field Target match-grade special; and as the EV2’s replacement, it has a lot to live up to. First impressions though, are extremely favourable, as the FTP is not only a thing of beauty, but a supreme example of engineering sophistication.
So just what is included in the mouth-watering specification? Well, as a full-on target rifle, every aspect of the design is over refined, and pushed to the limit. There’s a lot to get through, so I’ll take each feature in turn. Of course the stunning woodwork grabs the eye, so it’s a good place to start. Designed by three times World Field Target Champion, Nick Jenkinson, you could say it comes with a seal of approval. Nick has designed his own stocks over the years, and certainly knows a thing or two about subtle features which can aid control. He acted as a consultant on other aspects of this rifle too, and with background input from Nick and a variety of other sources, the company’s tradition of listening and evolving, continues to their advantage.
The stock is made by Minelli , and is fashioned from multicoloured laminate. I prefer the look of walnut every time, but given that laminate is the most stable form of wood - effectively immune to extreme temperature change, the technical advantages can hardly be ignored at this level. Let’s have a quick reality check though- the configuration itself, certainly around that curvaceous grip, will always be a compromise, as the manufacturer has to arrive at what they deem to be average proportions. This grip fits me perfectly, but I have large hands. Configuration includes a subtle thumb-up rest which I particularly appreciate, and also a removable and adjustable palm shelf. Herein lies one of my negative points (oh yes; it’s not perfect!). The palm shelf is surprisingly wide; so much so, that it becomes an issue when placing this rifle inside some gun bags. The word on the street is that there’s already some after market mods being offered in this area, with more subtle palm shelves part of that deal. Air Arms will apparently offer some option, to accommodate different sized hands in any case. I reckon a quick release knob design would have been preferable here, given the dimensions.
But for me personally, I can see the palm shelf just staying in the cupboard. Once my hand is in that grip and connecting with the thumb groove, it’s not going anywhere. So personal taste and body shape will play a part.
When I first took delivery of this rifle, I spent an hour and a half just setting up the adjustable cheek piece and butt hook… all done without firing a shot. The classic test for scope positioning is the start. Close the eyes, get comfortable on the cheek piece, then open the eyes and gauge whether the eye relief is correct.
Length of pull is adjustable via the butt hook slide, as is the butt hook itself - every which way! Seven points of adjustment are waiting, and with the whole thing mounted on a ball joint, it will literally sit and angle exactly where and how you want it! In order to satisfy the criteria for Hunter Field Target as well as FT, Air Arms have cleverly designed the butt hook with a special fold-away bottom section. If FT is the game, then the full ‘hook’ feature can be utilized, where the bottom section locks under the arm, keeping the rifle at a consistent point in the shoulder. Rubber studs spread evenly over the hook, really help to hug the shoulder too.
The cheek-piece also allows for a multitude of options. Another ball joint coupled with adjusters, allows for height, cant, and angle adjustment, as well as rotation. In practise, whilst all these options can drive some to a nervous breakdown, the end result is that the stock can be made to fit the shooter like a glove. Good fit means relaxed muscles, which in turn promotes accuracy. Simples!
Final adjustment comes with the front fore-end riser (‘hamster’ if you must), and here, Air Arms have extended the length when compared to the EV2. It also now sits on two risers instead of one for improved stability. Again, the fore-end, with the riser plate locked up, comes in with a depth of around 120mm, well within the all important 150mm ruling for HFT.
Air Arms make the switch to a plug-in probe system with the FTP, and this is certainly the quickest route to getting air into the cylinder. For peace of mind, I prefer their ‘T’bar system, where the filling adaptor locks into place, but as long as care is taken to ensure the probe is fully inserted early in the filling cycle, all should be fine.
One point to note here is the super neat twistable valve cover, that now stays attached to the action. Twist up to reveal the inlet valve, insert the probe, charge the cylinder to 200bar, bleed the line, remove the probe, then twist down to close and keep out dirt. It all works well and illustrates the attention to detail in just about every department.
After the stunning woodwork, the next feature that stands out is that rather snazzy barrel shroud, and muzzle brake. Take a close look at that front assembly and the bold styling and sheer size of the tube, come together in a most satisfying way. Whilst those angled flutes in the muzzle brake undoubtedly look the part, they do of course play an important role. Inside the tube, Air Arms have also incorporated what’s known as an air stripping cone, and the whole set-up is designed to maximize accuracy.
For the uninitiated, the pellet exits the barrel inside the muzzle brake, travels a short distance, then enters the cone, which is only fractionally wider than the diameter of the calibre itself. This strips excess turbulent air away from the pellet and up through the vents, leaving the pellet to continue its path in relatively still air. The upwards venting counteracts the phenomenon of muzzle flip too, and the end result means a lot to sad fanatics such as my good self.
No one is more obsessed with triggers than me either, so if I’m impressed, it’s unlikely anyone wouldn’t be… and I’m impressed!
Of course this trigger design is loosely based upon the company’s RN10/ Pro-Target unit, but since that was a top class affair from the off, that makes sense. Trends abound, and shooting is no different. Currently, ‘button’ triggers are all the rage, and Air Arms have jumped in with their own design. Why ‘button’? No idea, and I wont be sticking with mine for long, but as for the incredible lightness of final release, crispness and predictability of the mechanism, this trigger is just about flawless. A second weight release pressure in the region of 2 ounces if you want it, has me skipping down the high street (no really!). Couple that with utter precision and, you get the general idea.
Further precision comes with the all new side lever, where style and substance come join together. Just look at the pure flowing curves of both the lever itself and that delicious breech block. There’s some slick engineering going on here, and the way the lever recesses into the side of the block is all part of the magic.
The FTP900 is a regulated action, with an all new regulator, contrary to rumours and counter rumours. I’ve seen the old EV2 insert alongside its new FTP replacement, and the factory have a strict testing regime for this new model, with all regs fully cycled and monitored for consistency.
Cocking the action just requires that silky side lever to be gently pulled rearwards to engage the hammer. Very little effort is needed, and the whole operation is civilized; especially now the slightly rough edge of the lever scoop has been modified. This was the result of feed back regarding the prototype in circulation last year.
One feature of the old EV2 which I could never abide, was that rather crude metal tab protruding through a split in the base of the breech block. This acted as a carrier picked up by the moving breech, in order to cock the action. Happily, no such unsightly nonsense is on display here. Instead, the retracting breech of the FTP is a seamless, silky affair; beautifully engineered, and aesthetically pleasing.
One aspect of this masterpiece that does irritate me, however; concerns the breech itself. In theory, the design allows for the pellet to be fed directly into the barrel. However, unlike the original Pro-Target, which did feed directly into the rifling, the FTP mirrors the EV2, which sees the pellet pass through an ‘o’ring, and into a fairly slack chamber. The closing of the side lever does seat the pellet consistently, via the sprung loaded bolt probe, but finger sensitivity is largely lost. Of course, if accuracy is forthcoming, my bleetings seem trivial, yet the value of being able to call an overly loose or tight fitting pellet, is significant. Air Arms adopt this breech configuration for reasons of air flow dynamics I believe, (effectively a faster transfer of air), and if the result is a faster lock time, it’s a goal maybe worth sacrificing a little ‘feel’ for.
Over the chrono, I stopped at 100 shots, which showed a total spread of 15fps. Pellets straight from the tin too, so fairly text book results. Where down range performance is concerned, if I tell you that the weight of expectation with this gun, prior to firing a shot (especially as it had already become my personal property) was enormous - to the point where I felt nauseous with anxiety, I wouldn’t be exaggerating.
A little familiarity was needed, and I needed to stop hyperventilating with excitement, but once a sense of calm returned, and I did my bit, (you still need to try with this rifle!) some stupendous groups began to form. Sub quarter inch c-t-c over 35yds was a good start, using AA Field Diabolos.
The FTP900 becomes the new flagship model at a time when its predecessor, the EV2, took the top three places in last year’s national Grand Prix Field Target Series. I think it’s called ‘going out on a high’. On a personal level, I’ve had a great run with my Air Arms S400, and it’s proved a super successful tool in HFT, often against more expensive opposition. But I know a good thing when I see one. Of course I’m biased. I’m a huge believer in ‘Buy British’ when at all possible, and I’ve spent much of my life shooting Air Arms products, and feel an affinity with the brand. But this is no blind faith. I’m driven by competitive shooting, and demand top class accuracy. The FTP900 just oozes class. Straight from the box it will deliver stunning performance, with handling, adjustability, a superb trigger, and a level of engineering, that should keep Air Arms at the forefront of outdoor airgun competition shooting for some while to come. At £1485, it’s great value for money too, when pitched against other match rifles costing considerably more.
For now then, if you don’t mind, I’m off to have my smug grin surgically removed!
tel. 01323 845853
£1485 inc charging adaptor and padded carry case