The air cartridge system – 10 years on


Established in the 1980s by Saxby-Palmer – and perfected by Brocock – the air cartridge system was at the peak of its popularity when, a decade ago, the UK government sounded the death knell for the entire range of air cartridge-powered airguns by way of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, 2003.

The Brocock Air Cartridge System (BACS) was by far the most popular air cartridge product on the market, with revolvers the mainstay of the range – although there were a few rifle models based on the air cartridge system.

BACS was an ingenious, self-contained portable airgun propulsion system, initially dubbed the TAC (Tandem Air Cartridge), and is now all but extinct in the UK as the Act required shooters to either hand in their kit (with no compensation), or put it on a licence. Those who chose to do the latter were not permitted to subsequently transfer their guns to other licence holders; in effect, they were dinosaur guns.

Before taking a closer look at the original Brocock Specialist six-shot revolver, permit me to remind you of their rapid, government-assisted descent into oblivion. Up until 2002, BACS air pistols and rifles were readily available on the UK airgun market. The popularity of the Brocock range was such that, by 2002, estimates put the number of air cartridge guns in circulation around the 70-80,000 mark. This figure included western-style Uberti and Pietta airguns, which were manufactured to chamber BACS and other manufacturers’ air cartridges.


However, a small number of incidents relating to the alleged illegal conversion of (mainly) Brococks to allow them to discharge live ammunition sparked a media frenzy. In early 2002, the BBC reported that figures from the National Criminal Intelligence Service showed converted Brococks accounted for 35 per cent of all guns recovered by the police – and David McCrone, firearms adviser to the Association of Chief Police Officers and Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, told the BBC’s Newsnight programme: “There is evidence which would justify banning them.”

In the months that followed the sensationalist media hype, a number of cases involving the illegal conversion of air cartridge airguns were graphically portrayed in a very anti-airgun media, and the calls to restrict their sales escalated such that, by March 2003, the government had included ‘self-contained gas cartridge weapons’ (SCGCs) in a white paper outlining its proposals for tackling anti-social behaviour. As a result of the illegal activities of a few criminals, the resulting Anti-Social Behaviour Act that received Royal Assent in November 2003 had introduced sledgehammer legislation on the tens of thousands of law-abiding airgunners who enjoyed shooting with air cartridge power.

The Anti-Social Behaviour Act introduced a number of changes to the Firearms Act, 1968 – and I deliberately used the word ‘sledgehammer’ earlier, as Section 39 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act added air cartridge airguns to section 5(1) of the Firearms Act, thus classifying them as ‘prohibited weapons’ alongside ground-to-air missiles, sub-machine guns, grenades, pump-action shotguns and burst-fire automatic weapons!

From 20 January 2004, it became an offence under the act for anyone to manufacture, sell, purchase, transfer or acquire a SCGC gun, and it was illegal to be in possession of one after 30 April 2004 unless you had a Section 1 Firearm Certificate. Penalties for non-compliance were fixed at a mandatory minimum imprisonment sentence of five years, up to a maximum of 10 years – and airgunners with air cartridge guns were left with two simple choices: surrender their kit to the police without a penny of compensation; or apply for an FAC.


Rather than simply refer to the commonly-used description ‘air cartridge’, the government dubbed air cartridge-powered airguns as self-contained gas cartridge weapons. At the time, this caused massive confusion as airguns powered by CO2 gas capsules were also incredibly popular, and sold in vast numbers through Brocock! However, CO2 guns did not fall under the new legislation.

Interestingly, the Home Office subsequently reported that fewer than 6,000 BACS airguns had been entered on firearm certificates in the UK, which makes legally-owned air cartridge models some of the rarest modern-day airguns in circulation today. Ironically, though, because they can’t be transferred between owners, these guns have no material value whatsoever – although their owners will tell you that they consider their Brococks ‘priceless’!

While it is, unfortunately, clear to see why these high-quality, precision-engineered airguns were so attractive to the criminal fraternity, it’s also as easy to see why they were so popular with the law-abiding airgun community.

The operation of the BACS system was – and still is for a minority of airgunners lucky enough to have them on ticket – the closest thing to handling real firearms, but without all the power and noise. The BACS cartridge, just like a live round, is entirely self-contained. It holds the projectile – the pellet – and the source of propulsion needed to fire it: compressed air. No other airgun operates this way.

A Tandem Air Cartridge (TAC) stripped to reveal its component parts

The TAC really was a work of genius. Its body is brass, which incorporates a sophisticated valve and seal system, onto which screws a nose cone to hold the pellet. The body is effectively a mini air chamber, which is filled with compressed air in one of three ways: via a hand-operated ‘Slim Jim’ pump, a stirrup pump or a ram-charger which attaches to a diver’s tank.

The Slim Jim hand-pump is – and I use the present tense because the system is still considered ‘current’ by those who own them on an FAC –  by far the most economical in terms of cost, but most expensive in terms of effort as, typically, each TAC requires eight strokes of the pump. Charging just 12 cartridges can leave the healthiest shooter out of breath! Extracting charged cartridges from the hand pump can sometimes be problematic and can require a pair of pliers to release the pump’s charger cap.

Because of their added ‘realism’, the original range of Brocock BACS airguns, although small in number, was diverse enough to lure airgunners in their droves – regardless of their preferred choice and style of gun. The range included rifles and pistols – most available in both .177 and .22 calibres. The bolt-action Safari and Predator rifles took care of the hunting fraternity, while the futuristic Fox rifle – with its black, skeletal, almost minimalistic frame – attracted shooters who preferred a more unconventional rifle.

There was a choice of eight revolvers, which came with varying barrel lengths – including the western-style, gate-loading single action Texan revolver that was also available with a case-hardened frame. For those preferring a more modern handgun, there was the magazine-fed Para ME9 pistol – available in black and nickel finish. This compact pistol – the only one in the range to chamber BACS Micro cartridges – bore a striking resemblance to the famous Walther PPK.

In terms of the champion of the Brocock pistol league, initially led by the Orion 6 which launched the company, the Specialist revolver, for me, wins hands down. No relation to Brocock’s latest PCP hunting rifle of the same name, the Specialist is a beautifully constructed, powder-blued handgun that was manufactured by Weihrauch specifically to take TACs. Its 10cm barrel is steel and rifled and it is fitted with a fully-adjustable rearsight. It packs a formidable punch – the gun shown here records 5.1ft/lb with RWS Hobby flatheads.

Even the heft of this gun is impressive. Weighing in at just over 1kg unloaded, and with an overall length of 239mm, it feels like you’re holding a real handgun rather than a punily-powered air pistol. Cocking is a dream and perfectly demonstrates its classy engineering; the blued, six-chamber cylinder locks into place tightly, and with a resounding click.

The six-chamber cylinder of the Specialist, swung out and fully laden with primed TACs

The trigger – which is both single- and double-action – is smooth, but quite heavy in the latter mode. On firing, there’s no recoil, but a healthy ‘airgun’ report that even comes with the scent of the shot; not burnt powder – but a nostril-pleasing waft of the special TAC anti-dieseling cartridge lubricant! The final point to note is the seal of quality – Brocock’s famous gold insignia inlaid into the frame above the rubber combat grips.

As I alluded to earlier, there are a very small number of BACS in legal ownership and active use, though numbers ‘in service’ will dwindle as spare parts and maintenance becomes scarcer and FACs expire and aren’t renewed. I’d say Brocock BACS airguns are already museum pieces and, indeed, anyone wishing to see the real thing can do so at the Imperial War Museum in London, where you’ll also see the Brocock Fox air rifle and the Brocock Texan revolver.

Is it only a matter of time before the final death warrant is issued and the last of these beautifully engineered airguns is finally laid to rest and consigned to memory? I hope not…

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Features, Gear
35 comments on “The air cartridge system – 10 years on
  1. Chris Atkinson says:

    I live in the Alicante region of Spain and I see these weapons are still available here and sold on one of the Spanish web sites which also markets various well known co.2 guns. I am thinking of buying one but they are quite expensive with a retail price exceeding 300 euros. Also it looks like the slim jim pump and cartridges are extra. The website is

  2. Hello lovers Brocock system,
    True, in Spain there are still lucky and can be purchased without problems the few weapons that are manufactured the Brocock system. I own a website called and talk about them a bit and also sell them. Some of my clients are Brits who have the luck to live here and appreciate as anyone else what they will get their hands on.

  3. Dave Hards says:

    I own a lot of Brococks, Ubertis etc and was apalled when the tabloid-fed legislation was introduced. I still consider it to be worthy of Joe Stalin. The lack of compensation to honest people who had bought these legally and never misused them was, and remains, CRIMINAL! It would help if one were able to export these to Europe, where wiser heads prevail. I am surprised that no one sought to put a case to the court of human rights on this one. I am a retired civil servant – not some sort of activist, but I feel that this type of government action shows how close we are to becoming a police state. I feel that by buying these airguns legally people sgould have been protected in the same way that bankers’ bonusses were by “their contracts”. After all, who did more damage to the UK, them or the airgun owners? If I recall correctly, the home secretary at the time was one David blunkett – nuff said.

  4. Neil says:

    I own a butchered (de-activated) Brocock snub nosed (2″ barrel) revolver in .22 cal. I am rather annoyed that they were classed in the same catagory as a .357 or .38 special revolver. In my view they are simply a PCP airgun, nothing more. Just goes to show what an anti gun media campaign can achieve. For the record, I do hold a Section 1 FAC and an SGC.

  5. Dave says:

    I purchased a ME Compact 5 shot Brocock revolver in 2002, and was totally unaware that they had become illegal in 2004, until the point I was arrested and charged with possession of a S5 firearm. I have had to plead guilty to this offence and am currently on bail facing a 5 year prison term! and the worst thing was my partner who I moved in was also arrested and treated like a common criminal. Is anyone aware of anyone taking the government to court over the lack of publication / amnesty?

    My partner and I are serving police officers and may lose our jobs because the government failed to notify those innocent air gun owning members of the public regarding the change in the law! According to a firearms expert over 68,000 of these things are still out there, owned by unwitting innocent members of the public.

    • Gaz says:

      Although I dont currently own any Brocock products I am a member of my local gun club and I own a number of other air weapons.
      I stumbled across this thread while looking for Brocock stockists in Yorkshire. I am shocked to hear in the change of legislation regarding the TACS/BACS system and I was totally unaware of the change, now considering i’m in the airgun community, so to speak, I think there is a major failing by the British government to publicize this change in legislation, considering the possible serious repercussions to people who fall foul of this change and who quite inocently have no idea they breaking the law

    • Unfortunately, it appears ignorance is no defence regardless of what a lawyer may say and, being a serving Police Officer, the courts will probably make an example of you so that justice can be seen to be done.

      Welcome to the real-world of a “Nanny-State” with our successive elected governments enacting new [knee-jerk] laws with mandatory sentencing dictated by the popular press without either due thought or consideration other than keeping their seats in Parliament.

    • Clive Layton says:

      I own a Brockock Fox and two Uberti SAA Colt revolvers all on a FAC. Although I still have them, in my opinion the value of them (I paid around £1100 altogether) has been stolen from me unlawfully. I am tempted to file a police report for theft against Tony Blair! After all theft is a Common Law matter with no statute of limitations. I have already brought the matter up with the Home Office who did agree with me that I and many others have effectively been robbed. As to the two unfortunate Police constables, who told you to plead Guilty? With a decent Lawyer the Jury might well have been persuaded to nullify that particular unlawful Act of Parliament and open the floodgates to a lot of compensation claims. There must be thousands of people out there who have been criminalised by this disgusting bit of legislation. Maybe the Airgun community can find a decent QC to fight the case of the next innocent party to be facing five years in prison. Dave, you not only have my sympathy you have my fury too. If I were a wealthy man I would be hiring the best QC myself. Given the rarity of a Brockock Fox if you guys at the magazine fancy a go with mine, get in touch.

  6. I am a western enthusiast and used to own 3 BAC’s airguns; a lever action carbine which was a replica of the Winchester “Yellow-Boy” of 1866 and two replica revolvers, one a Remington [with an additional cylinder for rapid reloading] and a “gate-loading” Colt SAA. All were bought between 1999 and 2002.

    I was fortunate enough to be made aware of the change in law regarding ownership [and subsequent restrictions on change of ownership in UK] by the supplier. The law offered no compensation so I packed them in the boot of my car, which was legal at the time, and deposited them in my local gun-club in Southern France where I had a holiday-home. I have since sold all 3 for more than I paid for them.

    I sympathise with the previous post from two serving Police Officers who now face the loss of their jobs and mandatory 5 year prison sentences. However, it appears ignorance is no form of defense, regardless of what a lawyer may say, and being serving Police Officers the courts will probably make an example of them so that justice can be seen to be done. If not for the information given by my supplier I could also be facing a mandatory 5 year sentence for possession of an air-gun.

    It should be noted that to re-chamber a BAC’s system to accept firearm cartridges would probably result in catastrophic failure [and death of user] on first-time use regardless of the fact such conversion was, and is not, a cost effective solution. This was never pointed out by the UK press during their hysterical campaign to get the system banned.

    • The Editor says:

      Well put – but I’d like to clarify the last sentence so that those reading understand by ‘…UK Press…’ you mean the national tabloid media as opposed to the dedicated shooting media. It was, as you say, typically uninformed reportage by the mainstream press that sensationalised the air cartridge ban.

      • stephen Langham says:

        I have just come across this site. In reply to The Editor, in my view the shooting press did very little to prevent the air cartridge ban.

      • stephen Langham says:

        Only just read the comment from The Editor. I am afraid I disagree. To me the shooting press did very little to help air cartridge users. We were just thrown to the wolves to protect other forms of shooting.

  7. CapNemo101 says:

    Sad, sad day, I wish I had had Mark-Peter’s forsight. I own 3 Brococks, the classic Orion 6 and two Para’s all on an FAC but I am giving them up now, I am left with no choice but to hand them in to the police to be destroyed. It is criminal that I can not even export them to country’s where they are still legal.
    End of an era ………

  8. clive layton says:

    I have two uberti revolvers and a brockock fox all on a FAC but still feel as if I have been robbed of the £1200 which they cost me. In my opinion I and everyone else affected including the police constables have been caused harm and or loss by this act. That is against the Common law. The constables should have said not guilty and put it to a jury who could then be persuaded to nullify the unlawful act. I for one am going to make a complaint for theft against the government. No statute of limitations on the common law.

  9. David Armstrong says:

    I have the Saxby-Palmer Herald bought just before Nigel Silcock left Stratford-on-Avon and formed Brocock Ltd with his brother. I kept in touch and bought the 2in barrel 522 revolver from them. Years later it was by pure chance that I saw a small paragraph in my local paper warning me I was within a couple of days of committing a firearms offence. I went immediately in person to Surrey Police HQ to get confirmation that I wouldn’t be arrested while the FAC application was being processed. I would like to be able to leave these guns to my sons in my will but failing this compensation should be forthcoming as others have said. I agree with the comments of the other contributors to this thread and if it is still active please add me to the list of those who are seriously hacked off!

  10. The Cynic says:

    I own 5 all on ticket and fully intend to keep them thus. But should I be faced with having to surrender them due to some
    terminal illness etc then before doing so I will bring into
    play my trusty angle grinder and reduce them to as many small
    parts as possible before handing them over and I’d recommend
    anyone else to do the same because if you or I don’t then as
    sure as apples are apples your pride and joy is bound to end
    up for sale abroad. Like my father and his father used to say
    way back in the fifties there are more crooks on the beat than off??

  11. The Cynic says:

    Further to my post of yesterday. What I should have added was something which neither my firearms officer nor the press in
    general or the shooting press in particular (of which I used to subscribe) which as Stephen Langham says and I agree whole
    heartedly with him “threw us to the wolves”, is that you do not
    have to surrender guns for destruction. You can have them deactivated ( see the Home Office Guide to Firearms Licencing
    Law 2013 and earlier versions, page 21 sec 3.12 last line
    “they may however be deactivated”

    So if my sons should decide that they would like to share out
    my guns between them prior to me snuffing it then for the current charge of between £100 to £150 per gun they can be deactivated. Try Henry Krank or your RFD, as all of us have already lost had stolen in excess of a grand or two a few hundred more (if you can afford it) maybe worthwhile and of course no ticket required after.

    And finally just to show what a mockery our particular
    predicament is, it is known that you can make a simple but
    effective firearm from nothing more than two 3/8″ or larger
    bolts one nut and a drill, just wondering how long it will
    be before we will need an FAC to visit the hardware store??

  12. stephen Langham says:

    I am still waiting for The Editor or any one else from the shooting comics to tell us exactly what they did to try and avert the ban.I await with bated breath!

    • The Cynic says:

      Join the club Stephen. Like me you must have found the shooting
      bodies silence deafening. I had been a subscriber to Airgun World
      for many years and also made the odd purchase of it’s sister mag
      Airgunner. Not a single outcry or offer of a petition from
      either and stopped subs when ban came in, BASA and BASAC were
      no better either.

  13. stephen Langham says:

    Glad your of a like mind to me ‘The Cynic’ although nearly 11 years have passed I am still bitter about the whole affair. I have worked and paid my tax for 39 years just to be shit on by chinless wonders in whitehall.

  14. The Cynic says:

    “Yep” Steven, 39 years is a lot of hard graft and taxes and in
    my case 56 of them. And what have we got out of it all?? Well
    we got to be looked on and treated as the “Pariah’s” of the UK shooting scene. The thing is that there are more shootings out
    there now with guns of all types including UZI and Mac10’s
    obtainable from your friendly eastern European contact (you can
    thank Blair and co for them) because it’s easier and cheaper
    than converting a Brocock. Which sort of takes us back to the
    start of our predicament, which if I remember correctly was
    following the shooting of three black teenage girls outside
    a nightclub in Birmingham/Manchester or thereabouts and came
    just as the sensation press were having a field day over a
    couple of morons that had converted a couple of ME38s, so
    instead of getting the UZI/ Mac’s of the street they took us
    out, and our shooting press and associations shut them selves
    in the cupboard until it was all over.

    Just a final thought if they were to disband operation
    “Trident” and just let them get on with it big time with a
    bit of luck they will wipe themselves out in a couple of

    I wish you a happy new year and hope you will continue
    to enjoy your Sec 5s as I will mine.

    PS I think this sites dying, cos there only seems to be
    us on it??.

  15. stephen Langham says:

    Happy new year to you Cynic my friend. Yes me and my 5 Uberti’s will be together till the day I pop off(not yet I hope). Wish the cartridge ‘O’rings were a bit cheaper.

    • The cynic says:

      Stephen you lucky beggar, 5 Ubertis’s. I’ve got 3 Pietta’s
      1851 Colt Navy Sherriff, 1860 Colt Army, 1858 Remington New Army,
      Armi San Marco 1873 Colt SAA 4.5in barrel and dare I admit it
      a bad boy ME38. Six months back I managed to get a ram charger
      off ebay the slim jim and the stirrup pump were killing me, by
      the time I’d charged a couple of dozen cart’s I couldn’t hold
      a gun steady for about 30min. But now with the r/c and my new
      dive bottle I’m enjoying them all far more than I have ever done.

      By the way the 1858 Remington was a freebie from Brocock.
      A few weeks before the ban kicked in I had enquired about
      the future spares situation, a couple of days later the Remmi
      turned up complete but in bits a phone call to them asking if
      a mistake had been made I was put through to Gary who said
      he thought it better that I had it rather than put it in the skip. I just can’t imagine how much they lost through the ban.

      The Cynic aka Mick

  16. stephen Langham says:

    Like you I also found Gary and Nigel really good to deal with. My favourite Uberti is my Schofield. As for spares most Uberti spares for black powder pistols from Henry Krank fit our pistols. Must admit have been thinking about a ram charger. Why dont you come over to the Umerex boys club site. Plenty of us pistol shooters there.

  17. Jay says:

    Good old Brocock
    Back in the early 90’s I had I thing the 522?
    However my interest has been re awakened as I have found a S/A Western style version for sale.
    It’s €350 including pump and some BACS, so not cheap.
    Forgot to say, I’m in France so it’s perfectly OK for me to have one.

  18. stephen Langham says:

    Go for it Jay. They are good fun when the cartridges play ball. Your lucky you can get them over there, all mine on section 1, which to be honest was easy to get.

    • The Cynic says:

      Stephen, just read the reply that you left on the 2nd and checked out Kranks. I will also hop over to UBC later to sign
      on, do I say who prompted me?. I also found the ticket easy
      to obtain, at first I thought it was because I’d held one way
      back in 1962 but then found that the Home Office guide said that
      a chief constable could not refuse to issue one to anyone who
      already owned said weapons.

      Looks like we’ve awakened this site. Hello jay, as Stephen says
      go for the S/A but if your getting on in years like me then
      you’ll curse the pump but still have fun.

  19. stephen Langham says:

    Yes,we may have awakened this site,but my no response yet from The Editor.

    • The Cynic says:

      No response is just admitting that they made no effort to avert
      the ban or to get the compensation that the live round fraternity got. It was the lack of compensation that pissed
      me off the most.
      Thanks for the Kranks tip they have got just what I want.

      See you over on UBC once I’ve got around to signing on.

  20. stephen Langham says:

    Look forward to seeing on UBC site. I post comments/questions under the name of Troy T.

  21. steve says:

    I used to own an 1851 navy revolver using TAC’s and as soon as I heard a wiff of rumour re law change I sold it and regret doing that.

    What I would like to know is if I applied for and received a firearms certificate I know I can not legally buy or sell one of these in the UK but could I buy one in say Spain or the USA and then bring it back in to the UK with me? or have it sent to a local RFD for service and collect from there?

    I am asking this not to find a way round any laws but to find out if I can by following the set rules be able to own one of these guns again.

    I do agree it is a breach of human rights re how you had to hand them over without compensation or pay via a firearms certificate for the privilege to continue an air gun that was soo ! highly dangerous to public ( last it is sarcasm ). If they are that dangerous ( which they are not ) at total ban was the logical route but no lets make money from the public. Most I knew who had these guns where without disrespect to other airgunners some of the most responsible airgunners and had more respect for the airguns they owned I think this was part due to they where works of art not just work/fun tools.

  22. Christian Dé Lisle says:

    Most images of these Brocock TAC guns have a normal cylinder. I have seen ones with cut away cylinders showing the TAC cartridges. I thought these were made for use by genuine air gunners? Were they also illegal?

    • The Editor says:

      The ones with the cutaway cylinders are the original ones; Brocock changed them to a full cylinder after a few years. However, ALL TAC-firing airguns fall withing the 2003 legislation.

  23. Stanley says:

    Hi. I plan to buy a German-made bull barrel ME .22 revolver. However, I am wondering if I need any kit to convert it in order to fire a .22 live round?

    • The Cynic says:

      Hi Stanley. I think you’ll find that the “kit” you require will
      be “Full Frontal Lobotomy Kit” currently obtainable from Broadmoor Hospital. It’s “Friggin” morons like you that got all
      us responsible air gunner’s kicked in the goolie’s and hung out
      to dry in the first place. It’s a pity “plod” can’t trace you
      and put you away for even thinking let alone asking such a stupid
      question. Not just a moron but thick with it too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Follow Us!