Air Arms S500 Carbine
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- Last updated: 22/02/2021
Where product development is concerned, Air Arms (AA) are well known for adopting a calm measured approach. Whilst I’m sure they must have had meetings discussing radical product overhauls, slow evolution remains the order of the day. To be fair, why would you do anything else when you have such stalwarts as the super successful S400 in the line-up, one of the best PCPs in its price sector, and a model that punches above its weight.
Granted, head-turning models such as the Galahad and FTP900 have come along from time to time and raised the bar in terms of engineering achievements, but more conventional fare remains the bread and butter for this quality brand.
The AA S510 was voted Airgun of the Year at the British Shooting Show in 2020 and this model basically upgraded the S400 format to a shrouded barrel and that delightfully precise side lever action. The ‘10’ part denotes multi-shot of course, with the reliable AA 10-shot magazine system at its heart. However, they have now released a single-shot version, in the form of the S500 Carbine.
I still get excited when airguns arrive to be tested, and this S500 Carbine in Walnut pretty well stopped me in my tracks - for two reasons. Firstly, the quality of the walnut used for the stock is simply mouthwatering, and secondly, the small label hanging off the trigger guard. Three years warranty is quite a bold move for sure, and a measure of how AA is confident in the quality of their products. When handling the S500, everything screams quality and refined engineering.
So why ‘Carbine’, when the action clearly looks standard length? I was confused, and a quick call to the factory confirmed that all these S500 models (S510 included) are fitted with full-length cylinders for more shots, but, they use a carbine length 15.5” Lothar Walther barrel - hidden of course under the full-length shroud.
All the recognized features are here, but without the mag system, and for many, that will be a cause for celebration. My obsession with competition shooting has always lead me to be slightly suspicious of magazines, and whilst Air Arms’fine tolerances of manufacture put them firmly in the top bracket quality wise, my brain still has trouble accepting that the pellet has to make a jump from one chamber to another when magazine bound.
The single-shot format then, in theory at least, trumps everything. There is, of course, another advantage, a ‘not to be sniffed at’ saving of around £150 against the comparable multishot version. So, significantly cheaper, and potentially more accurate. Yes, there is the HFT500 model aimed at the HFT target fraternity, but not everyone wants the crack of a barrel airstripper and all the ‘fuss’ and expense of the fully adjustable stock. So this new S500 offers single-shot loading but in a more traditional specification.
The subtle matt oil-finished walnut (crafted as usual by Minelli in Italy), looks superb. Wrap a hand around that exquisite, finely chequered pistol grip, assume the position, and everything just falls into place. My test model came with distinctive tiger striping, and this, coupled with the rosewood capping on the grip and foreend, adds real class to an already great looking sporter. The usual prominent cheek piece is here, which is a basic feature so often missing on standard airguns, and this sets us off to a great start in terms of setting up the scope with perfect eye/scope alignment or near as damn it.
AA use a familiar figure-ofeight clamp at the front of the cylinder to connect with the shroud. Look to the rear of the shroud, and there are small holes which actually back-vent some of the spent air. And herein lie my only negatives. This model is still quite noisy on firing and I don’t quite see the point of the last few inches of shroud if it isn’t to mute down the report. Admittedly, the muzzle comes with a neat threaded cap. Once removed, a suitable moderator can be screwed into place, but it’s a female thread so an appropriate moddy needs to be sourced.
Unsurprisingly, from such a pedigree manufacturer as Air Arms, the 2-stage, fully adjustable trigger fitted to the S500, is well up to spec. The end result means a very acceptable, predictable shot release, and this will always have a great influence on down range performance. A manual safety catch sits in the trigger blade for those that feel the need. Yes, a dodgy place for it, but that’s old news!
One thing I noticed in the instruction manual with this model is that AA specifies the fill pressure as 200 bar, opposed to the usual 190 bar with the S510 previously. I played ball and charged it to the recommended pressure with the super safe T-bar adaptor supplied, intrigued as to how the chrono figures would pan out. This model has the familiar AA manometer safely positioned bang in the middle of the underside of the forend. No looking down the barrel here to check on the air supply!
Air Arms claim a shot count of 70 in .177 (on test), yet my figures clocked 100 shots, with a total spread of 32 FPS using the highly dependable Air Arms Diabolo Field pellets. Not bad from an unregulated action, but I did note some early, slightly lower figures. A simple reminder with pneumatics, that if you overcharge any unregulated action, power will go down initially, not up, as the hammer struggles to open the valve against the greater pressure.
One look at my data sheet confirmed that from roughly 190 bar, my model returned 92 shots all within 20 FPS, which is very impressive indeed. The usual story then- if consistency matters experiment with lower fill pressures.
Either way, this model has the potential to deliver top-class performance figures when necessary. Otherwise, just enjoy what is still a sizeable shot count.
Neat refined engineering is what AA is all about, and that is perhaps no more evident than with the side-lever. I must try not to overuse the word exquisite, but it just sums up the feel and function of this area. OK; we’ve all bumbled along quite ok with bolt action systems for years, but there’s no denying the refined feel and added control that a side-lever design can bring to the party.
The lever here is perfectly shaped, and pulling it back requires very little effort to cock the hammer and set the trigger. In S500 single-shot mode, we now just roll a pellet across and into the loading channel, gently return the lever, which probes the pellet into the breech and home. For those who appreciate such delicate function, ‘over centre engineering’ does the rest, as the lever smoothly snaps closed under just the right amount of spring pressure. It closes against a nylon stud too, further evidence of the attention to detail that’s sets apart Air Arms kit from many rivals.
Settling into my test range, I was eager to get properly started. Warm-up shots are all very well, but there is a certain level of expectation with this grade of kit that adds pressure to the proceedings. Zeroing was quickly achieved, and first up was my 25 yard target point. Ragged tight clusters were easy to come by at this distance and I knew that the range had to be extended to give the S500 a proper challenge. Moving back to 40 yards, and sub half inch groups were on the cards, again, with little input required from a rested position. All achieved, I hasten to add, with pellets shot straight from the tin. Take the time to sort pellets and test with a variety of batches, and those groups could be trimmed further I’m sure.
As previously mentioned, I’m a huge fan of single-shot rifles, and I’m apparently not alone, since Air Arms report a recent surge in popularity for this back to basics pellet delivery. You get a feel for an airgun, and this S500 just exudes class. It gets you an awardwinning rifle on the cheap, and that 3-year guarantee. Yes, there are a host of cheaper options out there, but the performance, potential, engineering integrity, and overall build quality put it straight into the shortlist for top quality sporters.