Gun test: Benjamin Armada
PUBLISHED: 13:14 15 August 2017 | UPDATED: 13:14 15 August 2017
Our least 'tactical' shooter has a good look at the very tactical Benjamin Armada
Ever since guns were first invented, the ordinary man has dreamed of owning the ones the elite military and police units chose to carry. The very suggestion that the SAS ever used a weapon guarantees its immortal place in history and today many of the West’s elite forces use versions of the AR15/M4, 5.56/.223 making it the dream rifle to own. It seems to me that every rifle of this kind is adopting the Weaver/Picatinny rail standard and that every accessory manufacturer is offering their products to fit, so I wondered why Benjamin would go for something at odds with this. In answer to my thoughts, Benjamin includes sections of Weaver/Picatinny rail that you can attach to the M-Lok system to accept the more commonly available accessories.
On the subject of accessories, the Armada is delivered with a 4-16 x 56 CentrePoint scope with mounts and a Harris-style bipod as standard. This has tall, sniper-style turrets with locking rings at their bases to ensure that your hard-won zero cannot be accidentally lost. Of course, the reticle is a mil-dot as befits the set-up. I was pleased to see that the scope offers side-wheel parallax adjustment down to 10 yards as any good airgun scope should. This adjuster was very stiff on my test gun, but I’ve tried others that moved freely. Flip-up lens covers that stay attached to the scope at all times are supplied, maximising protection.
The rifled and choked barrel lives inside a full-length shroud which, in turn, free-floats inside an aluminium extrusion that has four accessory rail interfaces. As delivered, the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock faces have bolt-on hand guards, whilst the 12 o’clock position displays an integral Weaver/Picatinny rail. Like the hand guards, the bipod is attached with the M-Lok system, for which spare parts are included.
I was so wrapped up with the exterior I forgot about what makes this pre-charged pneumatic rifle tick. The long, slim air reservoir lives inside the fore end extrusion and is filled to 3000psi, rather than the European 207 bar expression. This is good news because almost every dive tank we own will fill this rifle comfortably. For those who don’t own a firearms certificate (FAC), owning a replica has usually meant buying a low-powered, 6mm airsoft version, but now Benjamin is offering us this sub 12 ft.lbs. pellet firing rifle with all the long-range accuracy potential that brings.
Straight from the box, the rifle’s lineage is clear to see and the brochure tells us that this rifle is AR15 compatible, in other words M4/AR15 grips and butt stocks are interchangeable. This opens up an immense world of accessory parts, all designed and engineered to a common standard. There was no C-tool included with which to remove butt section, but my sample’s lock ring was only hand tight, so it was easy to unscrew.
In America, this rifle standard is epically popular, and just about every gun company that wants to sell anything meets these dimensions. What surprised me much more than this was that Benjamin has bought into the Magpul, M-Lok modular rail system. This is much less well known, but with the Weaver/Picatinny rail accessories included, accepts all the lasers, flashlights and widgets any would be SAS man could ever want.
In a change to the military trend of ever shorter carbines, the Armada is a long rifle at 42½” making plenty of space for all the accessories you could ever want. The trade-off is that it’s a long and unwieldy rifle.
Under a solidly machined dust cover, I was happy to find a standard male Forster fitting connector that I know from experience is one of the toughest and most reliable of its kind. This makes air filling easy and quick, accepting that all the usual PCP hygiene standards are upheld by the owner. I much prefer screw-on caps to less secure fittings when in the field, simply because I know they’ll still be there when I get home from a day’s hunting and I know the rifle’s delicate filling port will be as clean as it deserves to be.
PSI not BAR
3000psi delivers 60-plus full-power shots that I chronographed at 539fps with my standard test pellet, the Air Arms Field Diablo, which weighs a nominal 15.9 grains which equates to 10.3 ft.lbs. Shot-to-shot velocity variation was also good at just 12fps over 50 shots. During the chrono’ testing, I noted how well the barrel shroud worked as a silencer, delivering a surprisingly muted muzzle noise. Inside the shroud is a series of spring-loaded synthetic cones that trap and decelrate the high pressure air and appear to do that job very well.
Loading the magazine is a little unusual because you rotate the clear faceplate, as the arrow shows, and then insert the first pellet from behind, skirt first, or from the front, nose first. Either way, you need to keep a finger on the other side to stop it dropping right through. From there, you load the other nine pellets through the front. It sounds tricky, but it’s actually perfectly easy and my test gun was completely reliable, suffering no jams or misfeeds at all. I particularly like this style of magazine because when it’s empty, it tells you. There’s no doubt, because the loading probe connects with a solid lug inside the mag’ that stops it cold. There’s simply no way to fire the gun on an empty chamber.
Cycling the bolt-action was a little stiff, but I often find that guns like this will improve their smoothness after a few tins of pellets have run them in and I’d expect the Armada to be just the same.
The trigger was probably the best I’ve ever tried from an American gunmaker. The design is sophisticated and adjustable enough to keep anybody happy, and the way it was set from the box was very much to my taste. It was sensibly heavy, but displaying a clean break with no creep at all that I could detect.
The blade and safety feel as though they come from a military build. The blade is long and quite straight inside an oversized trigger guard, as if it was built for cold weather operations when the shooter would always be wearing gloves. In front of the blade, we find the safety lever which, importantly, moves forward for ‘fire’. Some people suggest that you should separate the safety from the trigger blade to prevent accidents, but I’ve never had any difficulties with this location. Just in front of the trigger is the pressure gauge marked in PSI rather that the more usual BAR increments.
Any M4 worth its salt wears a collapsible butt stock and the Armada does just that. It’s made from a hard, synthetic material meaning that the chequered butt pad is flat and slippery. You need to be careful if you rest the rifle against a wall so that it doesn’t slip down and get damaged. Because the ‘buffer tube’ runs straight back from the action, the cheek piece is naturally high in relation to the scope, which is a good thing in my book. The Armada’s stock has a raised cheek piece to make this even better, and I found that I could ‘get onto’ the scope instantly and consistently, which is absolutely vital in a combat rifle, for obvious reasons. Because there’s so little drop to the butt pad, I found that I often had the toe of the pad perched against my chest rather than the whole surface, but that’s the nature of this kind of rifle. However, because this is a pre-charged pneumatic, there’s no recoil to worry about.
Up front, there’s a bipod included and it’s one of many that copy the classic Harris design which has been the top choice of serious riflemen for decades. The legs adjust for height with a press of a button. In use it felt just like the real thing, offering good solid support at all times. Of course, it adds to the already muzzle-heavy balance but can be removed without tools for off-hand shots when necessary. The balance point with it fitted was some 9” forward of the trigger, which makes for some pretty unusual handling, but I imagine that this rifle was designed more for prone shooting in the first place.
As I shot off the bipod, on a bench, I began to see the accuracy that I could expect from this sniper-style behemoth. I was surprised to find that it didn’t like the Air Arms Field Diablo, so I ran through my list of top performing .22s and stopped when I saw the groups that the H&N Field Target Trophy pellet was producing. This is one of the greatest airgun pellets of all time, and the Armada showed its respect by producing one-hole groups at 30 yards with only the odd flyer to spoil the fun. Perhaps, when it’s run in, those will go away too.
This is clearly not a rifle for every airgun shooter because it’s about as niche as a product could be, but those who love modern military rifles will love everything about this gun. At its heart, it’s a thoroughly modern PCP with all the advantages they bring, whilst outside, it’s a front-line combat rifle ready to accept every single ‘flashlight’ laser and accessory you could ever dream of.
Somebody asked me if this rifle is a ‘tactical hunter’ and I had to answer that I didn’t know because I’ve never heard that expression. It certainly ticks every tactical box and has huge appeal to those who like military looks. Added to this, you get all the performance of a modern PCP with a high-quality trigger and a quiet, recoilless action. This is no traditional sporter, but more of a prone sniping option that would do well against the rabbits in open paddocks. A Marmite choice is what I see, and those who like the taste are in for something very special to enjoy.
Importer: ASI Guns
Tel: 01728 688555
Type: Pre-charged pneumatic
Action: Bolt-action, magazine-fed
Trigger: Two-stage, adjustable