Recently I had the opportunity to shoot classic air rifle that I had never shot before, the Weihrauch HW80 in .22 caliber. We’ll get to a description of this rifle and how it shoots in Part II of this blog, but first let’s consider the somewhat unusual history of the Weihrauch HW80.
To start, we have to go back, all the way back to 1978. Robert Beeman and his wife – the owners of Beeman Precision Arms and pioneers in bringing adult precision airguns to Americans – were puzzled. Why was it that the 8-pound Beeman/Weihrauch 35 would shoot at only 755 fps in .177 caliber while 7.2 pound Feinwerkbau 124 could crank out 800-830 fps? It appeared that the HW 35 should be more powerful; it had a larger diameter compression chamber and a more massive mainspring, but it couldn’t match the easier to cock FWB 124.
The Beemans had a very practical motive for their curiosity. Their dream was to create the first true “magnum” airgun with a spring-piston powerplant for the U.S. market. English and German airgun manufacturers weren’t generally interested in answering the question because of power limitations on airguns in their countries. So the Beemans enlisted the help of university engineer E.H. Epperson, an airgun enthusiast, to simulate on a computer the interrelationship of some of the variables in airgun powerplants.
Early in 1979, the Beemans presented the results to Hans Weihrauch and his wife (who was also his business partner; they were owners of the Hermann Weihrauch Company). Together, the Beemans and Weihrauchs agreed to collaborate – with Robert Beeman as the prime mover behind the big concept as well as the final details – on a new rifle for the American market. The new rifle was the first air rifle to be based on computer simulations. Previously, airgun prototype development and experimentation had been done on the “try it and see what happens” basis. Beeman also worked with custom stock maker Gary Goudy to produce several prototype stocks for the new rifle.
In an article on his website, Robert Beeman says, “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.”
In his book The Beeman R1 – Supermagnum Air Rifle, Tom Gaylord said, “the Beeman R1 is the rifle that brought America fully into the world of adult airguns.” The plainer Weihrauch HW80, designed for the European market where power and style were not so important, would be an offspring from the development of the R1.
Eventually the new rifle, called the Beeman R1 for Rifle Number One, made its debut in the United States in late 1981. In Robert Beeman’s words, “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 1,000 fps in the then-most-popular caliber, .177.”
Beeman adds, “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.”
Next time, we’ll take a tour of the HW80 in .22 and see how it shoots.
Til then, aim true and shoot straight.
– Jock Elliott