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The Arsenal Firearms Group of Company was founded about three years ago by Nicola Bandini, one of the most important Italian gun experts, and by Dimitry Streshinsky, a Russian entrepreneur well known between gun enthusiasts for his Miniature Arsenal, headquartered in Saint Petersburg.
Working out of Gardone Val Trompia, and through a second factory in Moscow, Russia, the Arsenal Firearms company was established with a firm idea in mind, that being, providing a sheer shock of modernity to the arms industry, which has been pretty stagnant lately as far as it concerns “new” ideas, partially due to the current global economic crisis but largely because of the quite conservative habits of gunmakers, civilian shooters and professional operators.
As a matter of fact, Arsenal Firearms idea was to inject innovative ideas in the gun industry, that's been quite poor of truly “new” ideas in the past half a century – exception made for some rare inspirations, such as the KRISS sub-machinegun, that were met with a high degree of resistence.
Watch the Arsenal Firearms AF-2011 A1 Second Century video
It's a fact that gunmakers survive today by beating around the bush of fifty years or century-old designs and concepts, and it's the generally “plastered” state of the sector that probably led Arsenal Firearms to reinterpret J.M. Browning's pistol in his own way.
And that's been such a radical reinterpretation that, ever since it has been first showcased at the 2012 IWA expo in Nuremberg (Germany) the buzz started to flow all over the world: is it a joke? Is it a prototype with no chance in hell to become a real manufacture product? No, it's neither of them. It is real.
Arsenal Firearms double-barrel 1911 version, the AF-2011 A1 Second Century semi-automatic pistol, actually exists and is rolling out of the company's manufacturing lines by the numbers as you read this article, with stocks being piled up as the deadline for distribution in Italy closes by – late September or early October 2013. ALL4SHOOTERS.COM, increasingly known and popular worldwide, thus obtained from the company an authorization to be the world's first to evaluate and test-fire the gun itself!
Of course, the existance itself of the AF-2011 A1 Second Century is hard to understand unless its manufacturing features are fully explained, as it is anything but a simple – albeit double – 1911 variant.
As anybody knows, the 1911-A1 pistol is a finely tuned machine whose operation and performance depends of very tight tolerances and parameters that must be maintained, otherwise the gun will stop working properly. In the AF-2011 A1 Second Century, said tolerances and parameters must be not only double, but also perfectly balanced.
Technically speaking, the Arsenal Firearms AF-2011 A1 Second Century might, under certain points of view, be addressed to as a standard single-action only semi-automatic pistol. Of course, all parts are beefed up to size.
Slides are machined out of solid billets of 39NCD6 steel, through the use of a five-axis, Swiss-made CNC machine that is the most advanced piece of technology available to the entire Italian gun industry today, while the frame, made out of the same material, is machined from casting. Grips are available in a plethora of variants, including polymer and laser-checkered, oil-polished walnut. Moving parts and most smaller parts – such as triggers and barrel bushings – are machined out of solid steel pieces, while seven elements overall are obtained through MIM (metal injection molding) and supplied by a foreign manufacturer that also sells its MIM gun parts to a wide array of world-famous Italian, European and north-American gunmakers. Some of the MIM parts used on the AF-2011 A1 Second Century pistols include the slide stop/hold-open lever, the magazine release pin and button, all springs, the grip and frame safeties, and the double hammer.
The twin 5.03 in. barrels are cold-hammer forged out of solid bars of 36NCD4 steel, and their rifling varies depending on the caliber they're chambered for.
As previously stated, the AF-2011 A1 Second Century is based upon the same working principle used on the standard 1911-A1 pistol: a Browning-style short recoil operated pistol featuring a single-action only trigger, with a fully machined steel transfer bar releasing a hammer that will itself release a firing pin upon the chambered bullet. The movement of said transfer bar can be blocked by engaging the frame-mounted safety lever located on the left side, just above the grip, and easy to operate by a right-handed shooter with his/her right thumb; plus, of course, a grip-mounted safety will prevent the gun from firing unless it's held firmly and correctly.
Arsenal Firearms' AF-2011 A1 Second Century pistols employs two independent triggers – available either in “Match” or skeletonized variants – and two independent firing pins, one per chamber. And yet, the transfer bar will disengage the same double-size hammer, no matter which trigger is fired, and the double hammer will activate both firing pins together. This means that both barrels will be fired no matter which trigger is pulled, or if only one is pulled or if both are pulled together.
A lot of observers, especially from the United States, soon started to wonder how would this system work, and how could it face any kind of malfunction. The most common comment concerning the AF-2011 A1 Second Century to be found around the Web is something along the lines of “double the barrels means double the jammings”, and this might be real if the AF-2011 A1 Second Century was nothing else but a standard – albeit double – 1911-A1 variant. But the AF-2011 A1 Second Century is not a standard 1911-A1 variant.
Unlike all, or almost all, conventional 1911-A1 variants, the Arsenal Firearms AF-2011 A1 Second Century comes equipped with straight extractors, machined out of a solid block of stainless steel and mirror-polished; for comparaison, most 1911s come equipped with curved, sheared extractors. Plus, the AF-2011 A1 Second Century comes with mirror-polished bolt faces! That's something that no conventional 1911-A1 maker, no matter the quality and price range, offers nowadays.
Let us repeat: a machined, straight extractor and a mirror polished bolt head is something you will not find on any conventional 1911-A1 pistol out there, no matter if it's a Colt or Smith & Wesson, a Kimber or a Cabot, a Les Baer or an STI. The reason is simple: said manufacturing procedures, despite their undeniable advantages, are deemed somewhat “unnecessary” on standard 1911 and 1911-A1 derivatives; and yet, the fine folks at Arsenal Firearms quickly found out that them would be essential on such a unique gun, and as a matter of fact, the AF-2011 A1 Second Century, with its straight machined extractors and its mirror-polished bolt face, is definitely more reliable than most of the higher-grade conventional 1911-A1 variants ever made. Particularly, the straight machined extractors eliminate almost completely the chance for the gun to experience a failure to extract of any sort, even the dreaded stovepipe malfunction that's so common on 1911s.
Most observers based their criticism over the concept of the AF-2011 A1 Second Century on their experience with standard 1911-A1 variants and the most typical malfunctions thereof. But, yet again, the Arsenal Firearms AF-2011 A1 Second Century is not a standard 1911-A1 variant. It has been conceived to work properly only when the energy levels within the system double the ones that you'd normally find on a conventional 1911-A1 when firing. This means that, should one chamber fail to fire, or to develop proper energy levels, the bullet or bullets will still leave the muzzle, but the slide won't cycle at all and the double hammer will be safely locked in a half-cock position. The shooter will then have to clear and cycle the gun properly to solve the issue, whatever it is. Same thing goes if the gun is fired with only one chamber is loaded: it will fire properly, unless the primer or the bullet is defective, but it won't cycle.
The Arsenal Firearms AF-2011 A1 Second Century pistol feeds through a double magazine that's in fact constituted by two standard 1911-A1 type single-stack, metal sheet magazines with a single, large butt pad. Alternatively, shooters will be able to fit their own 1911-A1 type magazines, as the Second Century pistol is fully compatible with all 1911-type magazines out there. All 7-rounds and 8-rounds magazines will fit, although there's not enough space in there for an 8-rounds magazine to be inserted with the slide closed; should the user decide to use eight-rounds magazines, he/she will have to insert it in the gun with the slide open, and then close it manually. Of course, capacity is doubled, as the AF-2011 A1 Second Century fits two magazines at once. The main caliber the Arsenal Firearms AF-2011 A1 Second Century will be offered in is, obviously, the quintessential .45 Acp; a .38 Super Auto version is however planned for the near future, while in the turn of one or two years the company also plans to offer the platform in further, smaller calibers as well as with longer barrels or with frames made out of a different material, so to appeal a wider range of customers.
At this point, is adamantly clear that the Arsenal Firearms AF-2011 A1 Second Century is all but a “simple double 1911”. As uncommon as this gun is, it's hard to decide what it has actually been conceived for. Albeit big, the AF-2011 A1 Second Century is fun to shoot, it fits comfortably even in not-so-big hands, and is controllable to fire, since the moving masses of the cycling slide will drastically reduce recoil and muzzle flip, even though this is still a gun that fires contemporarily two .45 Acp bullets through two side-by-side barrels – that meaning, up to thirty grains of metal shot at a combined muzzle energy that can top well over 1000 Joules per trigger pressure.
Of course, the Arsenal Firearms AF-2011 A1 Second Century pistol was not meant for service or defense – and this is what prompted an Italian gunwriter to call it a “magnifically useless piece of conversation”. That's of course a collectors piece, despite being able to fully withstand an intense and long life of use at the range. Manufacturer's suggested retail price for Europe is slated to be around 3,500.00€; no MSRP has been announced yet for non-EU markets, and more specifically there's no MSRP for the U.S. market, as the BATFE still has to fully clear the AF-2011 A1 Second Century for import in the United States.
This said, let's see what happened when we test-fired the Arsenal Firearms AF-2011 A1 Second Century pistol!We have to admit: we were skeptical at first about the Second Century, that is, until we had the chance to be possibly the first mainstream gun testers to be authorized to actually live fire the gun in a range and report back to our readers worldwide.
As a shooter and firearm student, the experience of hefting the massive lump of stainless steel that makes up the Second Century for the first time can only be described as… unique. The workmanship is amazing, every single part is obtained CNC machining billet steel on state of the art five axis workcenters, then hand assembled with outstanding fit and finish; there’s no compromise on quality and attention to detail. A few corners were rather sharp on our sample, but we were holding one of the pre-production samples, so a bit of roughness was understandable.
After a few minutes handling the “anvil” sized gun, incredibly, the Second Century grows on you; it still does makes little sense as a practical handgun, but… somehow, and irrationally, the gun makes itself desirable.
Many questions pop up in our mind, holding the gun in our hands, handling it and familiarizing with the controls, working the double slide (and noting the amazing effort needed to do so), trying to find a decent grip pointing it downrange, since the firearm’s handle is so impossibly huge that whoever is not gifted with very large hands will have a very hard time – bar that, will find it impossible to shoot the Second Century holding it single handed. That is, not taking into account the double trigger, that tends to bind into the frame if a consistent and symmetrical pressure is not applied to both trigger surfaces. In the end, we found that a very unconventional, modified two handed hold with both index fingers pressing on both triggers simultaneously worked best for us, consistently obtaining a predictable and relatively smooth trigger release in our dry fire practice before range time.
It is by all means next to impossible to depress the slide stop hold open lever to release the slide over a loaded double magazine with our thumb, at least on our gun. So, we resorted to simply pull back the slide when we needed to chamber the rounds. The manual safety is smooth and easy to operate. The magazine release also is reliable and smooth in use.
Loading the double magazine needs concentration, as both single stack magazines have to be loaded with exactly the same number of rounds. Seems more than obvious, but it is uncannily easy to be distracted and end up with one magazine holding one round less than the other. Nothing happens to the gun in this instance, except that a short recoil on the last shot may jam the spent case with a FTE. So be sure to check that both magazines are loaded with the same amount of rounds.
So, we placed our first target at a distance of 10 meters (about 11 yards or 33 feet) and with a bit of concern, we squeezed off our first double shot.
460 grains of .45 hardballs being unleashed by the gun is quite an experience. The two .45 FMJ projectiles deliver in excess of 1000 Joule downrange, roughly the same as a single .44 magnum round shot in a 6” revolver.
The blast is impressive, and recoil is different than what we expected. There is no harshness, it’s not sharp as that of a .44 Magnum revolver although comparable in terms of energy, rather it’s a very smooth, long and powerful shove, with a very controllable muzzle flip and fast recovery time. We found out that the gun is very pleasurable to shoot, and not at all tiring.
It is however, because of the sheer size, of the effort needed to operate it, and the recoil, what we could define as a Man among Men’s Gun.
Our modified two hand hold to fire the gun worked well, and after a couple boxes of ammo (which count as a single box of ammo!) we even managed to pull off reasonably fast double taps (or should we say quadruple taps?) with the Second Century. Pulling the trigger with both index fingers is not that awkward as it sounds like, and we found it quite comfortable after a few shots, after all the triggers are linked together and the hammer is actually one for both barrels; your mileage may vary.
Evaluating the trigger pull is not easy, because of the above and also because the twin full-power hammer mainsprings obviously influence the trigger pull. We found the trigger a bit coarse, with a very heavy pull but a crisp release, with next to no trigger overtravel.
Ten round groups printed at 10 meters measure around 10 cm (about 4”), and this is taking into account that the two bullets print at about 5cm from each other quite reliably at this distance. At 15 meters (16.4’), groups grow to about 15-17 cm (5.9” – 6.6”), again consider that our test gun is a pre-production sample and that production guns should be able to considerably pattern below the group sizes we obtained in our test.
Overall, our first live fire test with Arsenal Firearms Second Century semiautomatic handgun has been a very positive experience, and although there really is little practical use in any real life scenario for the Second Century, this will not in any way taint the almost worshipping following the gun gained without even being available commercially, undoubtedly becoming an instant classic and “must have” for many gun enthusiasts as soon as the – already sold – first few units will be delivered to firearm retailers all over the world.
Arsenal Firearms S.r.l - Via X Giornate 14
25063 Magno di Gardone Val Trompia (BS) – Italy
AF-2011 A1 Second Century
Double-barrel semi-automatic pistol
|.45 ACP, .38 Super Auto - others planned for the near future
Modified Browning type
|2x 125mm, 6 grooves LH, 1:16 pitch
|2x 8-rounds single-stack magazines, 16 rounds overall
Single action only, double hammer with single spur, single trigger set with double spurs
Left-side frame lever safety (Colt 1911-style ) with half cock hammer safety and grip safety
Fixed front post; interchangeable rear sight (fixed or adjustable)
39NiCrMo steel machined from casting (frame), 39NiCrMo steel machined from solid billet (slide), 36NCD4 cold hammer forged steel (barrel) - some smaller parts obtained through metal injection molding
|Total height and width
145mm (height), 50mm (width)