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IR3 Preview

Video Interview with John Rice at IR3 launch

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Angel IR3
by Bill Mills

The Angel IR3 was released in the spring of 2002, and lived up to the excitement and claims surrounding its launch.  WDP has built a solid name for itself in Europe and the United States.  Their launch of the original Angel V6 at the International Amateur Open marked the first production model paintgun to retail in the US for over $1,000. 

WDP has kept in mind that when selling a more expensive product, customers expect to be treated better.  They’ve taken a similar approach to luxury car dealers.  When a player pays more they get more than just the performance of the paintgun, they get support, style and a quality presentation.

Opening the IR3’s box, one gets the red carpet treatment.  Many paintgun companies pack their products in a plain box with some bubble wrap, shrink wrap, or cardboard spacers for protection, some spare o-rings and a stapled, photocopied, or at best spiral bound manual.  The IR3, on the other hand ships in a 4 color glossy box, with closed cell foam packing. 

Simply opening the box makes an effective display for a paintball store, showing all of the items included.  The IR3’s manual is 4 color printed on semi-gloss paper and 44 pages in length.  It includes not only text but clear graphic illustrations of everything from out of the box set-up to exploded view diagrams and reference charts for converting gas and pressure information from English to Metric.  Also packed with the IR3 body is a barrel, vertical regulator, spare seals and feed gate, a small container of WDP’s Love Juice paintgun lubricant, battery charger, a sock style barrel blocker, and macroline hose and fittings.  Literally everything needed is included, and done so in a way that looks good.  What’s missing from the box are a loader, air system (note: when used with the Angel Air, all fittings, mounts and screws are included), and a squeegee (though that’s not as necessary as one might think).

The IR3 used for this review is a Coloured and Carved (Decorative milling pattern and anodized in a color other than black) model with a champagne dust finish.  The C&C IR3s, as wall as other designs including the Fly, feature highlight panels in the upper rear portion of the receiver.  Mill cuts in the body go all the way to the interior, and vanity panels on the inside with a bright copper like finish provide a contrasting color.  The plates that ship with the IR3 are perforated into a fine screen.  While that looks very good, they can admit dust and fine sand (something abundant on the paintball fields in Florida) which aren’t good things with which to muck up the solenoid valve inside.

Replacing the vanity panels was a quick and easy task.  The two screws that hold the sight rail (which isn’t a grooved rail for mounting a sight, it mainly functions as an access hatch) are removed, and the rail lifted out.  The C&C version of the IR3 includes an Intellifeed port on the sight rail, which can be used for the paintgun to communicate with a hopper (note: this also means that it’s an easy modification to put superbright LEDs inside the mesh that will flash with the Intellifeed signal when each shot is fired).  This is not included on stock IR3s, but it is an upgrade item that can be installed with relative ease.  With the sight rail off, the vanity plates were lifted out and solid plates, which were included with the C&C IR3 were then installed in their place.

Mounting an Angel Air system on the IR3 was also quick.  Two screws attach the Air mount to the bottom of the grip frame and another screw connecting the Air regulator to the mount.  A quick cut to trim the macroline hose down to size and plug it into the waiting fittings, and the IR3 was ready to go.

A striking difference between the IR3 and the previous Angel paintguns (V6 and LCD) lies in the grip.  Rather than being tilted back at an angle like most paintball guns, the IR3’s grip is vertical.  Most paintguns have a grip styled after and angled like a Colt model 1911 semiautomatic pistol.  As the IR3’s designer, John Rice points out, the 1911 is meant to be held at arm’s length, while paintball players tend to hold their paintgun back closer to their body and higher up, bracing the air tank against their shoulder.  This stance creates an awkward angle for the wrist.  Airgun Designs addressed this a few years ago with their Z-Grip for the Automag, which slanted down and forward, so a player’s wrist stayed straight while in a typical paintball shooting position.  The problem with that solution is that it is no longer practical to shoot “from the hip” while running or with the arm extended. 

WDP basically found a compromise between the forward and back angles by making the grip vertical.  Then, by rounding the bottom rear of the grip, they created a shape that can be grabbed low at an angle with the wrist straight in a paintball shooting pose, or high on the grip like a traditional pistol pose.

With the grip panels removed, another dividend of the new grip design becomes apparent.  There is a lot more aluminum in which to sink screws for drop forward and air system mounting.  On many paintguns, especially electros with circuit boards in the grip, this space is limited, and rather short screws must be used, leading to potential breakage or stripping after a hard slide into a bunker. 

Also along with the changes to the grip frame came a new shape and new adjustments for the trigger.  The IR3 trigger features a choice of three pivot points, and ships mounted in the rearmost point.  In order to change the trigger pivot, a small hex screw is removed, and the pivot pin slides out of the grip frame.  It can then be reinstalled in any of the three holes.  On most paintguns, the trigger pivot pin is press-fit into place, and removing it too many times can result in a loose fit.  The IR3’s system makes changing triggers, or moving the pivot pin simple and non-damaging.  The trigger is shipped with the rear pivot point being used, which is most advantageous for firing in the low gripped firing position.  The bottom of the trigger curves outward, and with the rear pivot point in use, the IR3 can be fired just as easily with a downward pull on the trigger as a pull toward the back.

The IR3 trigger has two adjustment screws built in, one of which requires that the grip frame be removed from the receiver in order to be accessed.  The two trigger screws eliminate the need for a “trigger job” as they allow both the front and back limits of trigger travel to be precisely set.  The stock adjustments gave the trigger 5mm of trigger pull when measured at the bottom point of the trigger.  With approximately 3 minutes of adjusting and testing, the trigger pull was reduced to 1mm at the same point (0.5mm when measured at the bottom of the first finger position on the trigger).  While the trigger pull could be adjusted even shorter, the trigger became less reliable at that point.  It is important to test firing from many different angles after making trigger adjustments to make sure the individual shooter can release the trigger far enough to reset for the next shot when rapid firing. 

It is also important to make sure the trigger rear stop makes contact early enough in the trigger stroke that the trigger can not be pulled back all the way into the body of the firing switch, in order to protect it from mechanical damage.  Some players may be tempted to remove the trigger return spring in search of a lighter trigger pull.  While this can make the trigger pull a tiny bit lighter, it can also lead to problems with the trigger resetting fast enough in rapid fire situations, and is not recommended. 

Later model IR3s feature opto-mechanical triggers.  Rather than clicking a mechanical switch, the back of the trigger breaks an infrared beam between an emitter and detector on the board.  This greatly increases component longevity, as there are no switch contacts to possibly fail, and also changes the feel of the trigger as it lacks the same tactile “click” feedback when the trigger is pulled.

Inside the grip is the IR3’s circuit board, which is encapsulated in a plastic anti-tamper shell.  In addition to new software features, the programs that make the IR3 go are protected by a rolling encryption technology which, combined with the tamper resistant seal make the IR3 very difficult to reprogram in a non standard way (such as for adding cheater modes) without leaving some sort of evidence behind.  WDP has definitely taken the lead in the paintball industry for protecting the integrity of the software driving their paintguns.

Sandwiched between the grip frame and the receiver is the Crystal Operated Paint Sensor, or COPS.  This small piezoelectric strip rests below a plastic pin that barely extends into the bottom of the breech.  When a paintball drops into the IR3, the impact of the ball on the pin transfers the energy to the sensor, which converts it to a tiny electric current that is fed by wires into the circuit board.  In this way the IR3 can be set up to not fire until a ball is in the breech, preventing misfires and balls that are chopped from firing when they are partially fed.

The addition of COPS has led to another difference between the LCD Angel and the IR3 – the bolt.  The IR3 bolt is the same as an LCD bolt, with the exception of a small channel milled into its bottom to make room for the COPS pin.  The bolt is made of Delrin with a “Venturi” design that distributes the air around the back of the painbtball.  The bolt is held in WDP’s Rotabreech, a section of the receiver that can swing open for easy breech and bolt access simply by pulling a pin on the back of the receiver.

Near the breech is the feedneck, the other item that is changed significantly from the LCD to the IR3.  The IR3 is a centerfeed paintgun and inside the feed neck is a one-way gate.  Three small plastic arms extend into the feed area from a thin plastic ring.  Because of the shape of the feedneck, they are able to flex downward but not upward, thus forming a one-way gate for the paintballs. 

The one-way gate pays off in a number of ways.  The paintgun can be turned in any direction – even upside down, and still fire a single shot.  A player no longer needs to worry about that ball in the breech rolling back into the feeder, and firing a blank while jumping a bunker.  The other major payoff is in feed consistency.  In many paintball hopper designs, especially those that rely in a gap in the feedstack to activate, blowback gasses, and or the physical movement of the bolt closing can cause the balls to bobble back up the feedstack and even into the hopper in extreme cases.  This causes an interruption to feeding, and slows down the maximum practical rate of fire. 

The new feed gate makes this a non-issue.  From a safety aspect it is all the more important that players rely on a barrel-blocking device when off field.  The IR3 can hold 3 paintballs ready to fire, even if turned upside down, when the hopper is removed.  The absence of a hopper cannot be considered assurance that the paintgun is unloaded.

The back of the IR3, from the rear of the Rotabreech to the backplate is shorter than earlier Angel models.  This is due largely to the newer, more compact solenoid valve that is used.  Because of the length difference, LCD sight rails are not compatible with the IR3.  For airsmiths, the smaller valve size means that there is more "meat” to carve up on the body with milling, because the minimum required space for components has decreased.

While the IR3 has a more advanced electronics package than paintguns to come before it, the interface has been made simple enough that it can be operated without understanding the details of advanced settings. 

Charging the IR3 is simple.  The included fast charger plugs into a car’s cigarette lighter and into the back of the grip frame.  When the power switch is turned on, the IR3 will indicate via its LCD display that it is charging, and with any distance, a enough charge for a day’s worth of play can be attained on the drive to the field.  The high capacity of the internal Nickel Metal Hydride batteries (which unlike NiCDs do not suffer a “memory” effect), the charge level indicator on the LCD, and the low power consumption of the two stage solenoid valve (the solenoid opens a valve that pilots the larger valve which drives the ram to strike the Angel’s exhaust valve) mean that running out of battery power on the field isn’t a realistic problem.

The IR3 is turned on with the power interrupt switch on the back.  The LCD display first displays all of its segments while the circuitry runs through its boot sequence, then a Green LED is visible near the top on the back face of the grip, and through the grip panel on the left hand side if it is of a sufficiently tanslucent color.  The LCD will display the word SAFE clearly.  Pulling and holding the trigger while in safe mode will show first the selected firing mode (SEMI in this case) and the electronic ID number of the circuit board.  While the power is on, a four segment bar graph shaped like a battery shows how much of a charge is in the IR3’s battery.

Pressing and holding the red control button for about two seconds puts the IR3 into live mode, ready to fire.  The LED in the grip will switch to red, and the LCD display will alternate between the words “LIVE” and “ANGEL.”  Alternatively, the display can be programmed to display other words besides “ANGEL,” such as the owner’s name, up to 5 characters long.

While the Angel is live, the orange button is used to turn COPS on or off.  When COPS is on, the grip LED will flash red once per second, and the LCD will indicate “COPS” in the upper right corner.  When the COPS is engaged, the IR3 will not fire at its full rate of fire unless it detects that a ball has fallen into the breech.  Instead, it will revert to the COPS rate of fire setting.  This setting is user adjustable, and is ideally set fast enough that if the COPS sensor should jam, or not detect paint, the Angel will still be useable, but slow enough that the COPS will have enough control to keep from firing when a ball is only partially fed.    The COPS status (on or off) will remain even when the IR3 is safe or turned off.  Players who normally use COPS need only to turn on and go live to use it.

While live, the green command button will arm the IR3’s timer.  It will respond by activating the grip’s vibrating alarm, and displaying the time on the grip.  It will then flash between “LIVE” and the time until the trigger is pulled.  Once the trigger is pulled, the grip will continually display the time counting down, until 0:00 is reached, or until the green button is pressed again to turn off the timer.  The backlight, which normally stays lit only a few seconds after any menu change or selection remains on constantly while the timer is counting down to allow it to be read easily in poor lighting.

When in safe mode, the majority of the IR3’s menu items become available.  Items which adjust the rate of fire or firing mode are not accessible from the command buttons on the rear of the grip frame.  The menu system is simple enough that just playing with it for a minute or two is long enough to figure it out.  The middle, orange button cycles through each menu, while the green bottom button cycles through the choices for that menu.  As a matter of convenience, the IR3 stays in a single menu between sessions.  For example, while in safe mode, the orange button can be pressed multiple times to cycle through to the shot counter menu, then the IR3 can be armed and fired.  When the IR3 is switched back to SAFE mode, the pressing the orange button once will bring up the shot counter without having to cycle first through the other menus.

The first menu to come up is the backlight, indicated by a small light bulb icon in the bottom of the display.  The green button selects between ON and OFF.  The backlight definitely helps the display’s readability in dim light or total darkness, but it decreases total battery life on a single charge, and can become a beacon during a scenario game at night.

The second menu is labeled H.U.D., and WDP’s only public comment on this menu is that it is for an unnamed future feature.  Since HUD is used as an acronym for Heads Up Display in aircraft, many have speculated that WDP has a goggle mounted data display in the works, but since the infrared port is not in a position to transfer data to goggles during play,  it may also simply be a red herring.

The next menu is the total shots fired since the board was programmed, much like the odometer in a car, it is not user adjustable.  Following the total shot counter is the shot counter, which is more like a trip odometer in a car.  Pressing the green button resets this to zero, making it useful for keeping track of how much paint is fired in a tournament.

The total shot counter is critical to WDP’s internal service announcement system.  The IR3 tells the user when it’s time for recommended maintenance.  For example after 8,000 shots, the first time the IR3 is set into SAFE mode, the display scrolls the message “OIL SERVICE,” to remind the user it is time to oil the seals.  The IR3 also displays a greeting to its new owner the first time it is used.  Following the counters is the ID number of the circuit board, also not user adjustable. 

The next item is ROF – the highest rate of fire achieved by the shooter, and this is reset to zero by pressing the green button.  ROF gives the speed in balls per second of the two fastest shots fired.  MROF displays the maximum rate of fire allowed under the current settings, but does not adjust it.  MROF with a C on the left of the display is the maximum rate of fire to be used when COPS is on.  This is also not adjustable externally. 

The timer menu is set from 1 to thirty minutes in 30 second increments by pressing the green command button.  Pressing and holding the button resets the timer to 0:00.  There are also three warning alarms that are user adjustable.  The next three menus are signified by a letter A in the lower right of the display with a small number 1 two or three.  These warning alarms are set the same way as the timer, by pressing the green button.  An example use would be to set the timer for a 20 minute game with the first alarm for 10 minutes to signify the game was half over, the second at 2 minutes, and the last at 1 minute, to give warnings about when it’s time to get up and go.  Each of the alarms emits a different pattern of buzzes from the vibrating grip frame.

The next menu – “vibes” – turns on or off the vibrating grip alarm.

The next menus, ASTM, firing mode and dwell time can be viewed, but not adjusted externally.

The hopper motor turning time selects how long the Intellifeed signal should last each time it is sent.  With the original Intellifeed for the Angel, the Intellifeed activated for a preset period of time, because it was meant for one thing – to drive the paddles of a modified Revolution loader.  Now there are a variety of loaders on the market, so the length of this signal is adjustable for optimal operation.  The time is adjustable from 0.1 to 2 seconds in increments of 0.1 seconds.

The hopper motor activation menu is even more important for different feed systems.  The original Intellifeed activated when the user fired faster than 4 shots per second, because that’s when agitation would be most likely needed.  However there are products like the Warp Feed that must receive a signal with every shot in order to work properly.  This setting allows the Intellifeed signal to be sent after every shot, or when the rate of fire is greater than 2, 3, or 4 shots per second.

The temperature setting shows the current temperature on the circuit board, and the green button selects it between Fahrenheit and Centigrade readings.

In the right side of the circuit board, visible through a window in the grip are the infrared emitter and detector from which the IR3 gets its name.  These are used to send and receive data with other IR3 paintguns, or PDAs.  The first IR menu selects the data to be sent or received.  Pressing the green button cycles between IRM1 – swapping the library of text messages, IRM2 – swapping game timer settings with vibes on, IRM3 – swapping game timer settings and resetting the shot counter with vibes on, and IRM4 – just swapping all game timer settings.  On a team using all IR3 paintguns, the team captain can set timer values for specific plays, and then beam the settings to the rest of the team so that everyone gets a synchronized signal to make their move.

The next two menus are each activated by pressing the green button.  Send attempts to send the IR menu that had been selected (1-4) to another IR3.  For 30 seconds it will attempt to detect another IR3 and send the data.  FETCH will prepare and IR3 to receive data, and will look for a signal for 30 seconds.  The IR3 can only communicate while in safe mode, and can only receive data when the FETCH menu is activated.

The TCOPS menu is the test mode for the TCOPS system.  Pressing the green button will begin the test, during which the LCD will read DROPB for Drop Ball.  Dropping a ball into the breech should result in the display switching to PASS, if not, the COPS system is not adjusted properly, or is not working.  Adjustments are made to the COPS sensitivity while the paintgun is live.  While live with COPS on, the orange button is held for 5 seconds until the LCD shows the sensitivity level along with the word SENS.  The sensitivity is adjustable from 1 to 12.  In testing with Diablo, RP Scherer and Severe paint, we found the setting of  8 to be the lowest that would reliably trip when a ball was just lightly tapped past the feed gate, and used this setting during testing in the field.  Holding the orange button down again for 5 seconds advances to the COPS base ROF menu.  This is where the restricted rate of fire is set for use when COPS can’t detect a ball in the breech.  This way if the sensor for some reason isn’t working properly and COPS is on, the IR3 can still fire, albeit at a low rate, of either one, two or three balls per second.  In field testing, we used the setting of 3. 

Further software adjustment on the IR3 requires opening the grip, as a many of the functions are controlled by a pair of buttons inside, one blue and one yellow, in order to lock them out from access on the field.  The yellow button cycles through menus just as the orange button does, and the blue button is used to cycle through the items in these menus analogous to the green button on the back of the grip.

In the protected menus, the ASTM menu is designed to switch between ASTM (compliant with proposed ASTM guidelines for paintguns) and EXTRA options.  On IR3s sold in the US, and in countries where full auto paintguns are prohibited by law, the EXTRA option flashes between EXTRA and NOACC for no access, indicating that setting is not available. 

The next menu is firing mode.  While there are 26 modes possible with WDPs software, the only one available under ASTM mode, and thus the only mode available to IR3 users in the US is SEMI – semiautomatic with a maximum rate of fire of 20 balls per second.

The MROF menu allows the maximum rate of fire to be adjusted between two and twenty balls per second.  This is useful for limiting the rate of fire, either as a method of game handicapping, or to keep from outpacing a hopper that does not feed at higher rates.

Similarly the COPS MROF menu (signified by a C on the left of the display) sets the maximum rate of fire (up to 20 BPS) to be used when the COPS is on.  Since COPS can be turned on and off without opening the IR3 grip, this can also be used as a way to switch between two MROF settings in the field (note: both MROF readings are available to read from the main menus, so this isn’t an effective way to cheat on settings).

The dwell adjustment sets the length of time that the solenoid valve is held open, in milliseconds.  This directly affects how long the exhaust valve stays open, delivering gas to the breech.  As the dwell time is reduced, the volume of gas used to fire the ball is reduced, and thus its pressure must be increased to maintain velocity.  Conversely, increasing the dwell time requires a lower pressure to fire the ball.  Adjusting the dwell and pressure time can optimize the gas efficiency for any particular barrel and paint match.  Additionally many players have reported that increasing the dwell has helped take care of ball breakage problems with out of round or fragile paint.

Field testing of the IR3 for this review was done by a number of players ranging from beginners to advanced, at a number of fields including Paintball Long Island, Spacecoast Paintball, and the Florida Fireman’s Olympics tournament.  Through testing, HALO B, Revolution and VL 200 loaders were used along with an Angel Air compressed air system.

The stock barrel features a .690” diameter bore.  It had no problem coping with a variety of paint sizes, though as would be expected it was less efficient with smaller bore paints. While one might argue that the owner of a higher end paintgun will be spending money on higher grade paint, so a smaller bore barrel would be in order, an equal argument can be made that it is better for the barrel to do a good job with whatever is thrown at it, not just fresh, high grade paint.  It features several rows of porting in its last third giving it a reasonably soft noise signature. 

Adjustment of the IR3’s velocity is the same as with previous model Angels, by adjusting the pressure output of the vertical regulator with a hex wrench.  It is a simple process, and with all but the worst, out of round paint, velocity fluctuations at the chrono were at +/- 5 fps or less.

When first tried, the COPS system led to disappointment because it was not sensing the balls dropping into the breech.  After increasing the sensitivity the COPS system, combined with the feed gate provided chop free foromg even with a non-agitated VL200 hopper.  Certainly ball jams were noticeable and the hopper needed to be shaken often through the games, but the CPOPS system kept the IR3 from breaking paint.  With the COPS on and the feed gate removed, the IR3 fed less consistently from the VL200, but still did not chop paint.

Glenn Bryant used the IR3 in the Florida Firefighter’s Olympics, representing the Palm Bay Fire Deparment, and was very pleased.  For Bryant, who was used to paintguns with mechanical triggers, the ease of firing at a higher rate was a benefit to his game, and despite a lack of experience with LCD or IR3 menus, he had no problems operating the ‘gun in the tournament.

At different fields during testing, the IR3 was handed around to players to try.  One, who had just purchased an LCD Angel remarked that he was able to fire the IR3 noticeably faster than the LCD and he attributed the difference to the positioning of his hand on the IR3 grip frame.  Most experienced players were put off at first by the appearance of the vertical grip frame.  Many changed their minds after trying it out, and getting the feel for the way the palm of the hand mates up with the curve on the back of the frame.

Purposefull tipping to the sides and pointing the barrel up while using a Revolution loader verified that the feed gate kept paint in the breech ready to fire.

Soon to be released is additional infrared based programming software for notebook computers and personal data assistants using the Palm Operating System.  According to WDP’s John Rice, the Palm OS was chosen because Handspring PDAs utilize it and are available in low end models for as little as $100.  Expected features of the programming software are the ability to save and swap IR3 settings, make adjustments with a graphic interface and programming of messages to be displayed on the IR3’s LCD.

All things considered, the IR3 has incorporated key improvements to position it well as the next generation Angel.  With a maximum rate of fire of 20 balls per second, smaller size, than previous models and new anti-chop systems, the IR3 has quickly gained market acceptance despite its unorthodox grip frame.

Author’s note: One significant mishap occurred during review testing.  While packed in a JT Gearsack, an impact, presumably at the hands of airline baggage handlers was enough to crack the LCD display inside the IR3’s grip frame.  While the menus were inaccessible, the Angel could switch between safe and live modes and have COPS activated or deactivated, and was used for a full day’s play.  Due to the modular nature of the IR3 electronics package, installing a new LCD onto the circuit board was a quick procedure.


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