Gun test: Air Arms RSN 70
10:42 20 December 2016
Terry Doe examines the motivation and methods that brought us this incredible - if costly - airgun from Air Arms
What do you think when you look at the Air Arms RSN 70? It costs a terrifying £2,399.99, there will only ever be 70 offered for sale and the company will be fortunate to break even on the whole project despite that price tag.
The RSN 70 was devised as a tribute to the late Robert Sinclair Nicholls, founder, owner and driving force behind Air Arms, which, from its inception in 1983, has become one of the most successful airgun manufacturers in the world. It was designed to run parallel with brand new company presentations at shows and game fairs, creating a twin representation of Air Arms’ capability and intent.
Then there was the purely personal aspect of it all. Bob’s daughter, Claire West, is now Air Arms’ Managing Director and no one knows more than she about the influence her father had on making the company a worldwide success.
Claire told me, ‘In the early days, when the business relocated from Carshalton to Hailsham, my dad would sleep in the rafters of the factory because he couldn’t afford to waste money on accommodation, or the cost of travelling to Croyden and back, where we lived. This allowed him to do the minumum 15-hour days he needed to get his business off the ground.’
Bob’s vision was to put high quality PCPs into the hands of as many airgunners as possible, and he certainly did that. I spent many hours talking to him over the years, and he didn’t mince his words. He’d always let me know if he thought I’d messed up, but that trademark grin was never far away. Bob was old school and he worked extremely hard all his life, right up until he passed away in 2011. Despite the success, he never forgot his roots and what it was like to struggle. I’ll never forget Bob’s selfless gesture of donating £5,000 so we could finish refurbishing the ranges for the disabled shooters of Stoke Mandeville. Bob requested no publicity for this, making it simply because it was the right thing to do. That was typical of the man I was proud to know.
If anyone deserves an airgun as a tribute, it’s Bob. The rifle is a personal indulgence for anyone lucky enough to own one, and it has been styled to reflect the features of one of his guilty pleasures, his beloved Bentley Continental GTC.
I regard the RSN 70 an important statement for our sport. I remember when airguns were regarded as little more than low-grade stepping stones to ‘proper’ shooting, but this rifle is a testament to the technical and perception upgrades since those dark days.
The basis of the RSN 70 is the Air Arms HFT500, .177, single-shot rifle. But apart from the finish on the air reservoir and the mechanics of the shooting system, that’s just about where the similarity ends and the RSN 70 really begins.
It’s worth noting that each specially commissioned component requires its own tooling-up process. The cost of this would normally be spread over the production of thousands of units, but here, it will be just 71 (counting the rifle the company will keep) and not a single one of those components will be used on a production rifle. A perfect example is the stock.
The RSN 70 stock is completely covered by layer upon layer of Umbran Red paint and lacquer, with each coat hand polished by a craftsman at Italian specialists, Minelli. Then added are the leather inserts – the exact type and grade used by Bentley, including padding at the cheek piece to represent the car’s head rests – the decal at the heel and chromium plate on a selection of the fittings.
It’s easy to see why producing the RSN 70’s stock was eight times more expensive than the standard item, which isn’t exactly a budget item to begin with.
Note the wave of the rifle’s name plate. There is some serious technical firepower invested in that relatively small detail, and Air Arms included it purely because they can. Bob believed wholeheartedly in cutting-edge technology and in-house production wherever it did a better job, and I know he’d have approved of this techno’ gesture.
The sloping face of the action block at the rear of the breech cut-out has a laser-cut star motif applied for similar reasons. ‘Because we can’ is an entirely valid reason at this level of production, or for owning a rifle like the RSN 70, actually.
The muzzle end of the shroud is ventilated to echo the grille of the Bentley and I really like the way it looks. I told Claire I thought it would make a great feature on production rifles but she underlined her company’s commitment to making the RSN 70 a unique example of Air Arms technology. he also confirmed the rifle will only be sold in the UK.
Oh well. I still think that muzzle brake would look fantastic on the production HFT 500, but fair play to Air Arms for sticking to their guns.
Inlet valve cover and muzzle plate
Check out the ‘tyres’ that provide grip on the rifle’s threaded charging valve cover, and the ‘wheel’ at its end cap. I was given the costing breakdown on this component – and I actually winced.
Even the tiny plate on the end of the shroud gives a nod to the Bentley’s brake discs, and the entire assembly made an engineer friend of mine smile as he worked out how Air Arms had done it all. ‘And they’re only going to produce 71 of those?’ he said. ‘Blimey!’ Only he didn’t say ‘blimey’.
Air pressure gauge
How neat is that little petrol pump air gauge? Air Arms don’t make their own gauges, so that was another short-order commission, although not in the same league as the stock or valve cover. Great touch, though.
Throughout the RSN 70 you’ll see touches of chrome and again this is in keeping with those used on Bob’s Bentley. It’s simply more indulgence on the unashamedly extravagant theme of the RSN 70 and confirms once and for all that this fully-functioning and supremely accurate air rifle is designed to be owned more than used.
Finally, the RSN 70 comes complete with its custom designed slip and documents wallet, into which goes the certificate of authenticity. It’s yet another lavish gesture to complete the presentation.
The rifle shown here is no 71, the one Air Arms will display in its own hall of fame. Like the man whose initials it carries, the RSN 70 represents a positive future for Air Arms – and makes a great case for the future of our sport.
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