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Tippmann Pneumatics

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Tippmann A5
by Technical Editor Bill Mills

Tippmann Pneumatics is one of the oldest paintgun manufacturers still active in the sport of paintball.  While Tippmann started out with founder Dennis Tippmann Sr. manufacturing .22 caliber miniature versions of famous military machine guns, Dennis Sr., got into paintball in the 1980s, and took the business in a new direction.

At a time when all paintguns were semiautos and most ran on 12 gram CO2 cartridges, or were custom modified with hoses and bulky on/off valves to use refillable tanks, Tippmann rocked the sport with the introduction of the SMG-60.  The 60 was the first paintgun to use a refillable “constant air” CO2 tank from the factory, the first to use a screw-in ASA valve that is now the industry standard, and the first paintgun available with semi automatic and full automatic capability.  The SMG had a select fire trigger.  Pulling it halfway back fired a single shot.  Pulling and holding it all the way back fired in full automatic.

The SMG-60 was not without its shortcomings though.  It used .62 caliber paintballs which were not as plentiful as .68 (in those early days paint was available in .50, .62 and .68 cal.)  It also used a spring fed magazine with stripper clips that limited it to holding 15 shots.  The stripper clips acted as the SMG-60’s chamber, with no bolt it simply advanced to the next breech in the stripper clip and fired.  It was the full auto capability of the SMG-60 that led to full auto being banned on most paintball fields in the US.  The valve system on the 60 used a rather heavy hammer to strike a double ended valve.  This lead to the paintgun literally rocking and rolling in the user’s hands while firing.

The SMG-60 was followed by the SMG-68, a semi auto only, 68 caliber version of the 60.  Then with the addition of a feed port and a bolt that was linked by an external arm to the hammer, Tippmann built the 68-Special on the chassis of the SMG68.  It was a quick success because it combined the durability Tippmann was known for with semiautomatic operation (which was, just becoming popular in paintball) and the ability to feed from a hopper, instead of stripper clips.

Tippmann then refined the operating concept into it’s own that didn’t build on SMG parts – the Pro/Am, and its successor the Pro-Lite, two of the most successful paintguns produced in the mid 1990s.  The Tippmann F/A was built on the Pro/Am chassis, but used an impeller feeder that had to be wound up like a clock each time the hopper was refilled.  Pressure from a light coil spring turned a starfish shaped impeller to lightly force paint into the breech of the gun.  To keep rate of fire in check, a system of linked hydraulic cylinders and sears delayed the hammer at the rear of its stroke.  Due to most fields banning full autos, and reliability issues with the hydraulic cylinders, the F/A was only marketed for a relatively short period of time.

Then came the Model 98, and of course the 98 custom.  The 98s saw a lighter weight clamshell receiver structure, new valve that was more tolerant of cold temperatures, and new trigger group that allowed smoother and lighter trigger operation than any previous Tippmann auto.  The newer manufacturing techniques also meant a lower cost, leading to massive popularity in the US.

In 2002, Tippmann has furthered their legacy with the introduction of the A5.  While the A5 was meant to be kept under wraps until release, some photos of a prototype being field tested managed to get loose onto internet message boards a few months prior to the product launch.  The A5 combines the best of Tippmann’s past product line.  It has the light weight, manufacturing techniques and light trigger of the Model 98.  It has the star drive feed system of the F/A with a pneumatic drive, it has the option for a Response Trigger like the 98, and it features a new field strip system.

While they were quiet about the A5 in particular, Tippmann wasn’t so shy about the fact that they were looking at ways to revive the star feed system from the F/A.  The F/A’s star feeder worked well, but having to wind it was simply impractical.  What it needed was a way to be advanced automatically by the paintgun with every shot.  When Tippmann developed the Response Trigger for the M98, they also hit on the way to advance the star feeder.  A side tap captures a small amount of the gas which is being used to re cock the hammer with each shot and redirects it to a self-resetting pneumatic cylinder.  This cylinder in turn puts spring pressure on the star wheel.  This is key, because the star wheel now puts pressure on a ball to force it into the chamber.  Since it is spring pressure, the problem of timing the movement of the wheel to the opening of the bolt is greatly reduced, if the bolt is only partway open, the ball simply has pressure on it until the bolt is cleared and the ball is pushed into the breech.  The year before the release of the A5, Dennis Tippmann Jr. gave the public a sneak peek at the new loader system as it was being developed, then mounted on a Model 98 (CLICK HERE for more info).

For all the great innovations Tippmann has made in their past paintguns in terms of durability, reliability, and improving rates of fire, their paintgun designs were not the easiest to disassemble and maintain – until the A5.  Screws into steel nuts (as opposed to aluminum of the receiver which would more easily strip) hold together the A5’s clamshell body, like the 98 series, but the A5 is field strippable with removable pins all the way down to the valve, something that is unheard of in most paintguns.

Four quick strip pins lock in the A5’s main components.  These pins have spring clips which prevent them from falling out in the field.  Pulling the two out of the grip frame allows it to be removed.  On Response Trigger equipped A5s, as the one used for this review, the gas line between the body and grip frame has a sealed fitting that allows the grip assembly to come off without having to re-hose the cylinder afterward.

At this point, in the standard configuration, the grip frame is still hooked up to the A5 by the bottom-line hose.  Instead of going direct into the valve as with previous Tippmann models, the bottom line hose connects to a female ASA in the receiver.  This connector can be unscrewed, freeing the grip frame without tools.  At this point, the safety can be slid out the side of the receiver, and the sear and trigger assembly lifts out in one easily replaced or repaired unit.  Because the trigger and sear group is framed together in the grip frame, is has no screws holding it together.  Once out of the grip, its side panel may be lifted off for replacement of any of its components.  One may be tempted to think that the safety locking the trigger group in place would mean that it may fall out and be lost on the field.  This is not the case.  As is typical of the A5’s construction the safety gets locked in place by another part – a rail on the bottom of the receiver – when the grip frame is mounted on the gun.

Additional shop disassembly with a Phillips screwdriver and hex wrench may be done to take apart the two halves of the grip frame in order to replace the Response Trigger cylinder, or swap out the modular trigger guard for a two finger model.  Up at the front of the receiver is a machined aluminum collar with threads for a Pro-Am/Lite barrel.  The M98 used a much coarser barrel thread, owing to the fact that the barrel threads were cast into the receiver halves.  Fine threads like those on the Pro-Am barrels could not be duplicated through casting.  The machined barrel collar on the A5 increases production costs, but avoids some of the issues faced by M98s, where misalignment of the two receiver halves would angle the barrel to the left or right.  The included barrel is eight and a half inches in length, with a single ring of 12 ports in its center. 

Another pin releases the back plate, which allows removal of the mainspring and spring guide.  The hammer (which Tippmann calls the rear bolt) is linked to the bolt with the valve sitting between them.  It is unlocked by removing the vertical ASA.  The fourth lock pin holds in the ASA, as does a small spring loaded latch.  The latch is a safety mechanism.  Because the ASA is not screwed in place, it is important to make sure the gun can’t be accidentally gassed up without the ASA lock pin in place.  The latch protects against this by serving as a backup for the pin, but it should not be considered a replacement.

The ASA has a tab which extends up and into the middle of the A5 valve, where it sits flush against a seal and washer that hold the valve spring and cup seal in place.  When the ASA is removed the valve is free to slide out the back of the receiver along with the bolt, hammer and link rod.  The aluminum valve body can then be slid out of its polymer case (the mainspring guide can be used to lever the valve body out) and the cup seal and valve spring are directly accessible to be replaced.

With the valve body out, the A5’s velocity adjuster system is clearly visible.  A hex screw extends into the rear of the power tube.  Screwing the screw in blocks more of the air passage, slowing how fast the air can flow to the breech.  Screwing it back out opens up the passage to increase velocity.  This has an advantage over mainspring pressure velocity adjusters as it will not cause problems with the re cocking of the hammer.

Unlike past Tippmann autos, there is no cocking knob on the hammer.  Instead the upper receiver has a charging handle.  A spring biases this handle forward.  When it is pulled back it contacts a tab on the top of the bolt pushing it and the hammer back until they are cocked.

This brings to point the looks of the A5.  Undeniably it is styled after the famous H & K MP 5 submachine gun.  The upper receiver shape, removable foregrip, sights and charging handle mimic the MP 5’s look and to a more limited extent, its feel.  For some players this is a major selling point, as they want that “realistic” look.  For others it is a negative, as they are concerned with the image the sport of paintball represents to the non playing public.  In attempts some municipalities have made to ban the sport of paintball, or ownership of paintguns in the year 2002, the argument “because they look so much like real guns,” often comes into play.  While other manufacturers such as Pro Team Products and ATS have produced paintguns with military styling, their products have not been produced on nearly as large a scale as Tippmann’s paintguns.  Tippmann’s choice to style the A5’s appearance so strongly after the MP5 may have an impact on paintball legislation in the future.

For field testing, the A5 was first set up on CO2 with a 12 ounce tank at Righteous Paintbal in Jupiter Farms, Florida.  The bottom line was removed from the grip frame (a single hex wrench is needed for this task) and unscrewed from the vertical ASA.  The CO2 tank was screwed into the vertical ASA directly.  While no longer a very popular configuration, vertical tank placement does an excellent job of preventing liquid CO2 from feeding out of the tank, and gives the paintgun a very compact and “mobile” feel.  This is especially important for fields with structures such as buildings and large bunkers used for scenario play.  The compact nature also makes it well suited to use on a speedball field.  The tight configuration eases movement around corners.  With the 12 ounce tank, the A5s vertical fore grip did not have enough clearance for a thumb behind it.  A hex wrench through its center loosened its mount, and it was able to be relocated.  The fore grip locks into a lug that slides within a channel allowing the user three quarters of an inch adjustment space in were to set the grip.

At the chronograph, the first step was to load up the A5 with paint.  The A5’s loader has a much wider neck than most paintgun loaders, in order to accommodate the star drive system.  This means that without extensive modification, the only loader compatible with the A5 is its stock loader.  The cylinder which drives the feed mechanism has a charging knob on its back.  By pressing in on the knob, the drive system is advanced one fifth of a rotation.  This allows the first ball to be chambered.  This knob is mounted on a plastic rod that did not break during testing, but looks fragile relative to the rest of the paintgun.  This should not be a real concern however, as during testing it was found more practical to simply shoot a “blank” shot first at the chrono rather than use the feeder charging knob.

A few moments with a straight screwdriver adjusted the gas flow on the restrictor valve for the Response Trigger.  Unlike the Response Trigger for the 98 Custom, none of the adjustment range on the A5 produced a runaway trigger, where a light pressure would lead to the trigger bouncing back and forth for unusually fast fire.  Instead, the RT adjusted easily to create a trigger pull that was definitely reactive, and much easier to pull at notably higher rates of fire than when the Response Trigger was turned off.

After a number of shots at the chrono station a problem developed that had nothing to do with the paintgun.  The 12 ounce CO2 tank being used had sat unused for so long that its pin valve seal had rotted, and now clogged the pin valve.  The bottom line setup was reinstalled, and field testing was performed with a Crossfire fixed output compressed air system.  With the bottom line, the balance was more typical of a low/mid cost semi-auto paintgun.  It is important to note that the A5 has a hollow grip, without the twin inline mount holed used by so many paintguns.  This means that standard drop forwards will not mount directly on the A5 grip.  Already, aftermarket manufacturers have begun producing bottom line adapters which fit into the A5 grip frame and offer a bottom mounting plate for a bottom line or drop forward with standard screw placement.

Velocity adjustment as fast and easy.  The A5 held stable over the chrono with a typical variance of under 7 feet per second between shots.  Using a variety of paint brands, including some old and far less than ideal paint, the A5 fed flawlessly during play, regardless of rate of fire, or tilting the gun heavily to one side or another.  It became clear that Tippmann’s newest incarnation of the star drive feeder was more than capable of keeping pace with the A5, and performed better than either standard or agitating loaders.  Accuracy was as one would expect from a blowback paintgun – not as nice as the top dollar custom paintguns on the market, but very usable, and subjectively seemed better than the Model 98 with its stock barrel. 

While there is rarely time to used traditional “iron” sights in a paintball game, the A5’s rights mimic those of the MP5.  A ringed post sight is in the front, and four selectable notches in the rear line up the A5 on target.  As iron sights go, they are relatively quick to use.  While most players avoid the sights all together and simply walk their paint stream to the target, those wishing to use a scope or dot sight can mount it on the A5’s 3/8” or weaver sight rails.

Despite its controversial looks, the Tippmann A5 combines the best features of Tippmann’s past products in a compact, durable paintgun that is a performer on the field, and strikingly easy to break down for maintenance.  While the A5 does carry a higher price tag than the 98 custom, and other similar entry level blowback paintguns, it is important to remember that it includes an active feed loader system, something that needs to be figured into the cost when comparing.  On field, the A5 proved to be a performer, and an impressive new paintgun.


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