Date of last review
Thu December 25, 2008
100% of reviewers
Review: A&K M249 Para
Click all pictures to enlarge
Table of Contents:
Real Steel History
Basic Gun Information
Real Steel History:
The M249 is an air-cooled, gas-operated, fully-automatic-only firearm that fires from an open bolt position. It can accept belts of linked 5.56x45mm NATO (.223) ammunition through the top-mounted feed tray or M16-type magazines through the side-mounted port. The latter allows a SAW gunner to use riflemens' magazines in an emergency if he runs out of belted ammunition, though this often causes jams as the magazine spring cannot adequately keep up with the weapon's high rate of fire. Linked ammunition can be fed from either a loose belt or from a plastic box (or cloth pouch) for 200 rounds, clipped under the receiver. The hard plastic box has issues with being insecurely attached and by producing noise with movement in its standard form. The M249 SAW features a built-in bipod and a tripod-mounting lug for supported fire, as well as a quick change barrel that helps prevent overheating during sustained fire. Barrels are engaged and disengaged by rotating the built-in handle, and a spare is normally carried slung in an "A-bag" by the gunner or his assistant. The forearm is designed to contain a small cleaning kit for field use, though it may not be stored there in practice.
The M249 Para is a commercial product (law enforcement and military sales only) by FNH USA, not a type classification. It features a metallic, retractable stock and a shorter barrel. It was designed as a paratrooper weapon, although its compact dimensions make it desirable in any combat scenario. The U.S. military did test a short-barreled variant based on a standard M249, but it would appear short-barreled M249s (not M249E4 SPWs or Mk 46 Mod 0s) have been modified to this standard in the field and are not original from factory. The difference between the FN M249 Para and the FN MINIMI Para is the use of the so-called PIP (Product Improvement Program) kit developed for the M249, which is also found on all commercial M249 variants.
(Taken from wikipedia.com)
US Army Infantryman fielding a well used M249 Para, complete with M145 Elcan Wildcat scope
Courtesy of Wikipedia.com
I obtained this gun from Airsplat for the purpose of reviewing it for the readers of Airsoft Retreat. Airsplat currently has the lowest price on all three A&K M249 models in the US, coming in at $249.99 with free shipping. As is my normal experience with Airsplat, I ordered in the evening, the gun was shipped out the following day via UPS ground, and arrived at my doorstep the next day at noon. I love living in close proximity to California, as it only takes about 18 hours from the time it leaves Airsplat to the time it arrives at my door. As always, Airsplat was very courteous during the ordering process, and if I have any problems, I know they’ll take care of it!
Basic Gun Information
This gun can be summed up in one word: BIG. It is large in basically all regards, as it should be, being a proper LMG (Light Machine Gun). It’s made primarily of steel, with some aluminum parts, as well as a brick of a gearbox. This is a true support weapon, so it will work in special scenario games that only allow SAW type weapons to have box or drum mags.
The gun arrived in an unmarked brown cardboard box, which I thought contained the actual box. I was mistaken, because the shipping box was the gun’s box. This isn’t a concern, as the gun itself is protected by several inches of high density foam, with tape on the stress points of the box. It got to me in one piece, and that was my only concern!
Included was the gun (all 15lbs of it), electric box mag, manual, 9.6v 1100mAh NiMH small type battery, and trickle charger. Other stores sell it with an extra AR style high-cap magazine and a metal case, but at $100+ higher cost. The manual covers all of the basic features of the gun’s operation, as well as showing some basic maintenance information.
Weight: About 15 lbs. My scale only reads up to 10 lbs, so this is more of an educated guess based on other info.
-Stock Retracted: 31.25"
Outer barrel length: 36.5"
Width (no mag inserted): 5.25"
The externals of the A&K M249 series are made primarily out of steel. Not pot metal, not aluminum, but stamped steel. This makes this gun quite heavy, almost 16 lbs. The only parts that are not metal are the heat shield, pistol grip, front grip, and the handle portion of the carry handle. These parts are made out of ABS plastic, and are strong enough to take the weight of this replica.
The upper and lower receivers are made of the aforementioned stamped steel, and provide the majority of the weight of this gun. The receiver is very sturdy, and has absolutely zero flex. The feed cover is also metal, and on the Para model, there is a molded in 20mm RIS mount, for adding your choice of optics. The receiver also includes the feed system, as well as a mock charging handle, box mag attachment point, and rear iron sight. There is a metal belt feed system to allow you to put a chain of deactivated rounds in the feed ramp, adding some realism to the gun.
Receiver, mock charging handle shown
Mock charging handle pulled back
The upper feed cover is attached at the front of the receiver using a pin, and is secured in the rear by two buttons. You can open the feed cover to access the gearbox as well as the hop-up by pushing the two buttons at the rear and lifting the cover. In order to close it, you must pull the charging handle back a bit, and pushing the cover down until the buttons click.
Cover opened; note inner barrel/hop-up is removed
Closeup on belt holding device
The outer barrel is metal, and has the front sight attached. It is attached to the gun using the same “30 second barrel change” system as the real gun, which allows you change the inner/outer barrel in less than 30 seconds, using no tools. The front sight on some guns has been reported to be loose from the factory, but mine was tight. The plastic heatshield is attached at the front on the sight pin, and is secured to the barrel by two metal clips. These clips have a tendency to scratch the barrel, but it is only cosmetic. The barrel also has the carry handle attached, which is adjustable to one of four positions. It is plenty strong enough to carry the gun by.
Outer and inner barrel removed from gun, heatshield also removed
Push this lever to eject outer/inner barrel
Carry handle raised
Carry handle lowered
The muzzle on mine was threaded 14mm- (CCW) which is unusual, because the review on Arnies stated that the muzzle was threaded 14mm + (CW). Mine was a later run, and perhaps they changed it. Either way, if you buy the gun, it can be threaded either way, so check it before purchasing a different muzzle or mock silencer.
The handguard is made of plastic, and houses the battery, as well as securing the bipod in the folded position. It is removed by pulling it back, while pulling it down at the same time, until it pops free. The battery compartment holds the stock 9.6v mini battery just fine, and can fit up to a 9.6v large type nunchuck.
Shot into handguard, showing battery compartment
The bipod is reported as being weak, and prone to breakage, but in my rough use so far, it has held up fine. It locks in the rear position, straight down, or straight forwards, and has quite a bit of rotational freeplay, to allow for various terrains. The legs themselves are adjustable for length, but must be set at the shortest setting for folding. The bipod doesn’t lock too well into the handguard, so a little bit of Velcro to secure it would be a good idea.
The pistol grip and lower receiver are attached to the main body by two pins, with one being secured by a c-clip. The grip itself is made of plastic, and is quite comfy to hold. It also contains a small compartment secured by a metal clip, but it has a tendency to fall open on its own. A bit of glue wouldn’t be a terrible idea. The trigger and trigger guard are both metal, and are quite sturdy. The lower receiver is metal, and is simple, only containing a push button safety. The trigger assembly is pretty complicated, with a trigger activated lever pushing a microswitch contained in the gearbox. It’s not the best system, but it works.
The stock is metal, collapsible, and has a folding metal loop to help hold it on your shoulder. The stock is attached by a rotating assembly, which allows for it to collapse. To collapse the stock, the stock back a bit, and rotate it to the left (counter clockwise) and push it in until it clicks. To extend the stock, pull it back until it can’t go back anymore, and rotate it to the right (clockwise).
The sights are metal, and are fully adjustable for windage and elevation. The rear sight is adjustable using the two knobs on the left side, with the front knob adjusting windage, and the rear knob adjusting elevation. The front sight post is also adjustable for elevation, but requires a tool. There are nice markings on the rear sight, to help you keep track of the adjustments. As mentioned before, there is a 20mm rail on the upper feed cover for attaching other optics.
The magwell is on the left side of the gun, and is able to fit AR style mags, as well as the included box mag.
There are integrated sling mounts in the body of the gun, front and rear, and they hold the weight of this replica quite well. A sling is pretty much a must have for this gun, so I recommend buying one ASAP.
There are no trademarks on Airsplat’s version of this gun, but some other stores have UK Arms trademarks on the receiver.
The gun includes an electric sound activated box mag, which is actually built quite well. The included box magazine is improved over the old version, which was prone to jamming and misfeeding. The old one required you to open it up and sand down some of the screw supports, which were molded too long. This one doesn’t have that problem, and works quite well. The mag itself is basically a hi-cap mag with a large reservoir, and a sound or switch actuated motor that keeps the feed gear wound. The reservoir holds about 3000 rounds, and can be filled either by opening the side of the mag, or by opening the small door at the top of the mag and filling it that way. The best way to use the mag is to insert it partially into the attachment point on the bottom of the receiver, until the latch is flat. At that point, you can insert the feeding assembly into the magwell. If you lock the mag in before inserting the feeding assembly, you cannot fit it in, due to the latches design. An alternate method is to cut out notches for the latch in the feed assembly, to ease installation.
Shot into mag, 2 AA batteries shown
Like the real M249, this replica can use AR series mags, which is a nice touch if you run out of ammo in the box mag, or if you simply don’t want to lug around the big box mag. I’ve tested it with MAG midcaps, and DBoys, JG, SRC, and UTG hicaps with no fit or feeding problems.
Gun shown with AR mag installed
Out of the box, the performance is certainly skirmishable, but not really competitive with some high end guns. FPS came in at 346 FPS shot with TSD .20g bbs, but improved to 371 FPS after switching the piston head o-ring with a new #14 one. This shows how bad the stock airseal was. ROF with the stock battery left a little to be desired, especially in a support weapon. It only averaged about 10.4 RPS on the stock 9.6v mini, but went up to 13.7 RPS after putting in a small type 9.6v Intellect nunchuck battery, which is still a little low for a support weapon. I believe the stock "compromise" motor is to blame here, and I'll be obtaining a TSD ultra high torque motor to see if it improves.
Accuracy isn't really what a support weapon is designed for, and this model sticks by that principle. At 100', the grouping is pretty big, about 1' across, but that is a decent "cone of fire", so quote a support weapon term. With support weapons, you want to throw out a burst of 10-20 rounds at the enemy’s direction, in order to keep their heads down, and this cone of fire helps ensure a hit in that burst. With this gun, put the sight post near your target, and burst away. Chances are, you'll score a hit!
Maximum effective range with .20g bbs was about 160', as that is the longest range I could let loose a 1 second burst, and guarantee at least one hit on a man sized target. It could get further than that with some shot arcing, but it becomes a bit of a lucky shot at that point.
Basically, the performance isn't much to write home about, but can certainly be improved. A better battery, one #14 o-ring, and a tightbore barrel will put this gun in a much higher class, and will allow you to compete with the big boys in the field.
The inner barrel is brass, and the hop-up is metal as well. This uses a special hop-up design, but standard buckings and nubs, so upgrades are possible. Some users report misfeeds out of the box, mostly due to rough casting and machining of the hop-up chamber. A dremel polishing bit, or even some sand paper can improve this. I wasn't having this problem, nor was I having the weak hop-up effect found by some other owners. Whether it is because mine is a newer model or what, I can't be sure. The inner barrel is brass, and is 360mm long.
Barrel and hop-up
Hop-up feed tube, this is the part that usually needs some cleaning up with sandpaper
This gun uses a special type of gearbox, with an inline motor like a V1/6, but it is quite a bit larger overall. It's normally referred to as a PGC style box, and it is literally the easiest gearbox to work on. There is no complicated trigger mechanism with springs, there is no need to hold the spring in while reassembling the box, etc... Easy stuff!
The gearbox is removed from the gun using this procedure:
1. Ensure that the gun is unloaded, set on safe, and the battery is removed.
2. Push the barrel quick release lever, and remove the inner and outer barrels.
3. Open the top cover, so you are looking at the gearbox.
4. Remove the screw holding the cocking handle track on, and remove the cocking handle assembly.
5. Remove the two screws on the side of the body that secure the gearbox, and partially remove the gearbox from the body.
6. Disconnect the battery wires, and fully remove the gearbox.
With the gearbox out, you can see that this is no V2 tossed into a SAW body. This model has a large gearbox that uses 8mm ball bearing bushings, and mostly V2 internal parts. The gears, piston, piston head, cylinder, cylinder head, and spring guide are all standard V2 parts, albeit with the spring guide attached to a quick release base. The spring can be removed without opening the gearbox by simply pulling back the spring release lever, located on the top of the gearbox. Make sure you are applying some pressure to the base, so it doesn't shoot across the room.
Lever at rear of box is spring guide release lever
There aren't traditional trigger contacts on this gun; instead there is a microswitch triggered by the trigger mechanism. The switch itself is too long, and tends to get triggered by the sector gear. This is a bad thing, and needs to be corrected by snipping off about 3mm of the switch, and re-shaping it so it doesn't get caught on the gear.
Switch is too long, see how it gets hit by the gear?
The cylinder doesn't fit all the way in the gearbox, and leaves a bit of a gap up front. This isn't good, as it leads to air leaks and lost performance, but can be fixed by pushing the cylinder towards the front of the gearbox, moving the gap to the rear. In fact, the whole compression system can use a quick and cheap tune up for max performance. I recommend tossing a #14 o-ring on the piston head to improve compression, as well as moving the cylinder forwards a touch so the gap is at the rear instead of at the front. The cylinder itself is a type 0, and has no port, which is unusual, given its relatively short barrel length.
Shot of internals
The motor is a short type, and isn't particularly high speed or torque. It works well with an M100 or less, but may have some problems pulling back an M120 and still give a decent ROF.
The gears are XYT labeled, and are strong enough for stock power levels. I wouldn't put too strong of a spring in it without upgrading the gears.
Gears in box
Gears out of box
Overall, the gearbox was way too greasy, but had decent components. I changed the cylinder head, piston, and o-ring, and have near perfect compression now, which improved performance quite a bit. They are pretty much ACM parts in a nice shell, with nice 8mm bushings installed. Luckily, you can replace the parts with standard upgrade parts, which makes this an excellent upgrade platform!
You can build this model as either high power or high ROF pretty easily, so it can really be a force to be reckoned with on the field. Externally, you can get ranger grips, RIS kits, etc to fit whatever role you want to play. Almost mandatory are some linked 5.56mm deactivated rounds to complete the SAW gunner look!
Personally, I stick with silencers and EOTech replicas
Much cheaper than other M249s
Included bipod, box mag, scope mount
True support weapon
Heavy - Realistic
Decent performance out of the box
Gearbox components are a bit iffy, but easily upgraded
Trigger switch too long, needs trimming
Hop-up may need a little sanding to function properly
Heavy - Cumbersome
Not really high ROF or FPS out of the box
If you want a SAW, and you don't want to toss $500 on the underperforming and plastic bodied STAR, or $600+ on the CA, then this is certainly a viable alternative. It is a great base for a high performance SAW platform, and at less than half the price of the nearest comparable replica. It's a bit on the heavy side, and it has some quirks that need to be worked out, but all and all, it is a good gun with great potential!
Many thanks to www.airsplat.com, and of course, www.airsoftretreat.com!
Registered: January 2007
Location: West Jordan, UT
Review Date: Thu December 25, 2008
||Would you recommend the product? Yes |
Price you paid?: None indicated
| Rating: 0
Positive aspects of the product (pros):
Quick addendum to my review. While the hop-up uses standard buckings, the nubs are NOT standard. They are similar to normal AEG nubs, but positioned on it's end, not on its side like traditional applications. New nubs can be custom made using wire jacketing. Very easy operation if you want to design a new nub.