Evolution 3: A&K M249 PARA

On February 15, 2008, in Evolution, by Mike

The crew go cyclic on some paper targets and flex their muscles taking on a full-metal heavyweight AEG. Have A&K managed to sharpen the SAW with their copy of the M249 PARA? The team hump this metal beast to find out if it’s worthy, and in the process find that you have to be worthy of it!

Technical Notes:

Internals

It uses a specially designed gearbox with the standard XYT steel gears you see in A&K. And as usual it needs lubrication. Fortunately you don’t even have to break the gearbox fully open to do this. There are three screws on either side of the body which hold the gearbox in place. Once removed you can pull it up and out. This exposes the gears near the bottom. Cotton buds and silicone grease could be swabbed in small gobs. Then you can spread the lubricant around by running the gearbox.

The gearbox is self contained with the battery connectors sticking out. And the trigger mechanism is a relay switch on the bottom. Attaching a battery and pushing in the switch is sufficient to fire. Compared to Marui Type 2 gearboxes this is a neat package. Classic Army chose a good design for their M249, and with this being a clone it carries over well enough.

Of course there would be differences in build quality. This clone is half the cost of the CA version. The next competitor, Star, uses a plastic gearbox whereas A&K’s is metal. It should be able to take the abuse of an upgrade but we’re not too keen on modifying this unit immediately. As a squad support weapon, reliability and sustained fire is more important than power and accuracy.

Not that the gun is grossly inaccurate. Just the opposite, we were surprised that a full auto burst out of the box landed our 0.20 gram BBs within the black area (47mm radius) of our target. It isn’t sniper quality but it is impressive for a trench broom. On a bench, most of our M4s couldn’t match that spread going all out. This has a lot to do with the long brass barrel and the guides holding it steady. The metal body on the M249 is heavy and solid. There is no wobble added by holding the foregrip or using the front grip.

Our chronometer testing yielded an average of 399fps with 0.20 gram BBs. This is quite good for a stock gun. We typically test with 0.25 grams but decided against it given the significant price difference even in bulk.

The one part we have a complaint with is the hop-up bucking. The rubber is too soft. A Marui or Systema replacement would work well and is easy enough to install. The barrel has a quick release mechanism that lets the assembly pull out. The metal hop-up is held by a plastic clamp that fastens to the rubber bucking. Unfasten, slip out, replace, refasten, then reinstall.

Reliability

After three months of testing, we have had only one significant failure. This is great considering this is a support weapon and has been abused by an overrated battery. In a typical game day we would use all 2500 rounds plus an extra bag of about 2000. The longest sustained burst we’ve had was 30 seconds on an 11v Firefox lithium polymer. After that first long burst we’ve found that you had to rest the gearbox for half a second between successive bursts. On our third weeked out with the M249, it failed in the middle of a fight. Disassembly showed the barrel was jammed. We found a BB enveloped by the hop-up rubber. After replacing this, we had to change the fuse on the gearbox. It gave out thus successfully protecting the gearbox from damage. The gun had no other internal problems so far.

Externals

The M249 Para is mostly metal. The finish is good with no obvious dings, bumps, or scratches. The foregrip is ABS plastic which is held by a clip. To install and remove the stock 9.6V NiMH battery, you would pull on this plastic piece and could wear out over time. You have the option of removing the quick release barrel instead and installing from above. This is held together by a spring loaded metal clamp.

The collapsing stock is also metal. This piece is pulled out horisontally, twisted, and then locked into full extension. Do the reverse to collapse it.

One notable difference, aside from the barrel and stock type, between the Para and other versions is the inclusion of rails on the top cover. This makes it easier to install scopes and other extras as you desire.

Speaking of extras, you’ll want a sling and a grip as soon as possible. The gun is heavy at over 20lbs loaded. A sling helps you move around during long hikes to the end of the playing field. A ranger grip also helps with ease of bring the gun to bear. You could make do by using the bipod as a grip but this could be awkward to hold for extended periods.

In overall build, the gun is solid. You will want to make sure all the screws are fastened tight. In some cases, you might want to glue some of them with loctite. Our front sight was lost in a game and it has been a pain to find a replacement.

Owning and Playing

Owning the M249 is different from other AEGs. Aside from the mechnical considerations, you should do some introspection before committing to this. The weight of the weapon forces a change of playing style due to shifts in center of gravity. If you’d like to try it out, take a 20 pound barbel and try to run, stop then pretend to aim it. It is hard. Raising it quickly even while static takes effort. We’ve found that rising to fire and ducking is a losing proposition against opponents with plastic guns. Contortions to fire around corners are uncomfortable.

If you don’t focus on kills and think toward team tactics you’ll be happier. The M249 is intimidating with its sustained rate of fire and large capacity. The sound activated magazine means you’ll be able to keep it up for as long as the gun is loaded. And when that runs out, you could easily swap in a STANAG type from your buddies.

Once you’ve considered the change in playing style, there is the cost. Wielding a squad automatic means expending bags of BBs on a typical weekend. This is added to the original price of the gun. It is half the price of the CA M249 it is cloned from, but you could still buy about three M4s with the same money. You should really want it before committing. Your choices for spare parts might have to come from high-end manufacturers. And in some cases, might need to be special ordered off the internet.

All in all?

If you’re ready to graduate from Armalites, G3s, and AKs with box magazines, this might be the gun for you. Out of the box it will be playable, as soon as you get a pair of AA batteries, and should provide loads of fun. For the first time, a good metal in and out option for the M249 has arrived, without costing both arms and a leg.

How sharp is your SAW? Let us know what you think of the A&K M249 PARA in the comments!


Transcript:

A brown box. Many wonderous and exciting things comes in brown boxes.

Some even evoke emotions such as this … unbridled fear.

Now before you run in fright, let me welcome you to PinoyAirsoft’s review of A&K’s M249 Para.

Let’s get straight to the point. Inside that brown box you’ll find the SAW, a motorized box magazine, an 8.4v battery, a charger and some BBs. But you’ll want these extras to enjoy it: You need two AA batteries. A ranger grip is highly recommended. So is a purpose made sling. And for bling, some dummy rounds.

In looks it is quite authentic. The rear sight is fully articulated. You’ve got to love the collapsing stock. On the front is a mount to bolt a grip or a base. You have an integrated bipod. There’s a moving though non functional knob for the gas block.

The barrel changes out like the real thing. Just don’t try to use it as a carry handle. It’s not meant for it.

The box magazine takes some practice to load. It’s a bit awkward as you need to feed the loader before mounting the mag to the gun. Once you have it in, the body opens to load dummy rounds.  It’s also where you’ll find the hop up dial.

The box mag can be set to “on” for loading, and “sound” activated for play. Don’t forget to turn it off when you’re done. The battery goes inside the front grip with small type connectors. Only small type batteries will fit internally. It’s an exact clone of the Classic Army design. Lastly, the fire selector switch goes from safe to full auto. With that together you can rock and roll to a consistent 399fps. Furthermore its surprisingly accurate with groupings averaging 47mm. This is thanks to retaining rings holding the one piece barrel to a solid frame. The brass barrel itself is 510mm long which matches that of a Marui M16.

If it weren’t for the weight it could be a marksman’s gun. It’s grunt happily heavy. At over 20lbs you need to be physically fit to wield it. Unless you have John Rambo arms, snapshots won’t be easy. The recommended sling and grip eases the load for us mere mortals.

This gun definitely requires a different mindset. You can’t run fast or hard lugging this monster. And you’ll never be quicker than a guy holding an AK. As a support gunner your job is to pin and herd the opposing force to where your friends can nail them. It takes a giving character to shell out hundreds of rounds for his buddies to make the kill.

If you think you’re that kind of person, be sure you can afford to own it. The box magazine holds about 2500 rounds. You’ll need to buy lots of BBs if you use it right. And though this clone is the cheapest M249 in the market, it still costs three times what you’d spend on a good ACM M4. Closer to the realm of mere mortals for as long as there are no major breakdowns.

In three months of testing, we suffered two faults.

The first you can avoid by using the stock battery and changing your hop-up rubber to Marui or Systema. We loaded an 11v lipoy into the gun to test reliability in high ROF. In the middle of a fight the gun started to seize up every bursts then stopped altogether. A&K is notorious for the soft rubber used in their hopup. The high ROF caused a BB to snag and completely roll up and jam the barrel. Fortunately the fuse stopped the gun before the gearbox could be damaged. The rubber bucking was replaced along with the fuse and we were back in business. Our second fault was the loss of our front sight. It was lost during an outdoor skirmish and had to be replaced. We had the choice of getting parts from the high end manufacturers or adapt a plastic piece from a Star. We chose the plastic and regret losing the original metal piece.

Two faults, yet both recoverable.

For maintenance, make sure to lubricate the gears. It’s a simple as removing retaining screws from the body and swabbing through the port of the gearbox.

That all together its a fantastic gun to own, if you’re right for it. The M249 Para isn’t a gun for everyone. It’s for the selfless special breed of airsofter with pockets deep enough to afford the expense and the commitment to wield on the playing field.

That’s it for now. Until next time.

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