The rifle on test here is to Phoenix Air Guns Ltd what the Bugatti Veyron is to Volkswagen – namely a stunning piece of work that costs so much to produce, its makers have to sell it at a loss. Such an analogy is meant as a compliment, of course – and for airgunners, it’s also a call to reconsider an old airgun offering that’s long been lost in the shadows.
Not that the Phoenix Mk2 10-shot PCP has ever been lost on me. I’ve owned one for over a decade – serial no. 00001, in fact, complete with my name stamped on its action – which reflects my involvement with its inception, almost two decades ago. One of my shooting buddies yearned for a certain type of air rifle (that didn’t exist), and another of my mates was clever enough to not only design this dream gun, but also build it. That airgun genius was Graham Bluck, and once I saw the one-off he built, I put him in touch with Parker-Hale… who ultimately went in to production with it.
When Parker-Hale ceased trading, the rights to build the Phoenix found their way to Pax Guns of North London, whose staff are visionary people in the world of airguns. Sadly, because the original Phoenix hadn’t been designed with mass production in mind, the Parker-Hale-made gun had many flaws. Pax’s owner, however, in conjunction with his associates in the newly-formed Phoenix Air Guns company, re-employed Graham Bluck and gave him a new brief: redesign it.
The result was the Mk2 – a similar-looking air rifle, but with a completely revamped action that had been built around an all-new magazine. All bar the Italian-made Minelli stock was British, with many of the rifle’s components being manufactured at Phoenix Air Guns’ own factory in Chingford, London, where it also equipped its rifle with barrels specially commissioned from BSA.
The Mk2 was available in Rifle and Carbine formats (and subsequently a take-down version, called the Fast Fire 10) – and it was a huge improvement over the original. It was launched in a decade when PCPs were both very mainstream and extremely affordable, though, so the Mk2 has always struggled to sell in any quantity. Which is a crying shame, because it’s an absolutely incredible airgun – beautifully engineered, attractive, highly accurate… oh, and it offers one of the fastest-firing multishot mechanisms on a full-powered PCP that you can legally enjoy in the UK.
And to revisit that Veyron analogy, because the Phoenix hasn’t really increased in price – currently it’s around £750, complete with a carbon-fibre silencer – it‘s now pretty much in sync with 2013 pricing levels. Considering it’s an air rifle which is effectively being subsidised by its maker, I’d say that makes it a pretty good buy. Not only are you getting a highly distinctive, top-performing PCP, but because its sales volumes are likely to remain low by comparison with other airguns, you could well be investing in a long-term gem.
So that’s the history and reason for perhaps considering a Phoenix – but what of the rifle itself? Well, it’s a PCP, but one that breaks convention in just about every way. It runs a removable air tank that’s secreted in the butt, and utilises a high pressure Schrader valve system that’s easily maintained (a spare valve and tool is also supplied). A 250 BAR fill provides enough puff on the longer-barrelled Rifle for 100 full-powered shots in .22 calibre and 80 in .177, with the Carbine capable of 80 and 60 – and there’s a 30ft/lb FAC option, albeit with a reduced shot-count. A 90-shot sequence from the Carbine is shown opposite – and as you can see, there’s no real power curve to speak of; most shots fall within an acceptable spread of just 0.5ft/lb and this test rifle produced more usable shots than the manufacturer’s claim.
Access to the bottle is ingenious. You pull off the hard rubber butt pad, remove the tommy bar tool from the end of the butt and use it to unscrew the bottle. Using the supplied adapter, you then fill up via a diver’s tank or stirrup-pump, screw the replenished bottle back in (nipping it up tightly with the bar) and replace the butt pad. The standard of finish in this ‘fuelling’ area is superb, with the butt plate one of the best moulded components you’ll ever see gracing an air rifle.
Having a slimline bottle tucked inside the butt means the rifle’s design doesn’t have to conform to convention – and the end result is a very unique looking air rifle with a two-piece stock and an action that sports side-plates etched with the logo of a Phoenix. On top of that, there’s the stylish cocking system – incorporated into the gun by way of a knuckle strap for your trigger hand.
It looks and operates like a Winchester. After the shot, simply advance your trigger hand so the backs of your fingers push the strap forward, and pull back. In a split second, you’ve not only re-cocked the rifle, but indexed the 10-shot magazine… and loaded another pellet. Moreover, the whole cycle can be achieved with the gun still in your shoulder and your head still on the stock – you don’t even have to come off aim between shots. You can squeeze off an entire magazine in around five seconds – but, more to the point, if you’re shooting a target the size of, say, a tin can at 25 yards, you’ll be able to register 10 ‘hits’ in around 10 or a dozen seconds. It’s fast… and accurate.
Slow things down a bit and it’s accuracy with a capital ‘A’. Phoenix have selected BSA’s cold-forged barrel for a reason and my own rifle – a .177 Carbine – groups inside a 20mm circle out to 40 yards in the right conditions. Initially, it liked RWS Superdome, but in recent years, I’ve had even better results from Air Arms Field 4.51 ammo – although there aren’t many decent brands which the rifle doesn’t like.
Even when shooting deliberately, the Phoenix’s action is a dream – it may cycle lightning quick, but it never jams, nor misfeeds a pellet enough to send it wayward. That’s testimony to the Phoenix-designed and built magazine that adorns the Mk2. The Parker-Hale rifle’s mag was spring-driven and didn’t suit the Phoenix’s fast-fire mechanism, but the Mk2 magazine is indexed entirely by the gun, making it far more reliable and accurate. It’s also numbered, and a small window in the magazine lets you see how many shots you have remaining. For example, fire off two shots, and the window will display ‘8’.
The magazine consists of a CNC-machined alloy wheel which sits within a plastic cassette that’s had its off-side shaped to match the chamfered receiver. It’s locked in place to exactly align the chambers with the breech, and to release the magazine, you open the underlever and slide a short, serrated catch forward, extracting the cassette with your fingers as you do. There’s a slight recess in the cassette to facilitate this. Loading is like most PCPs’ magazines – you push a pellet into the open aperture, rotating the inner wheel (clockwise) to expose the next empty chamber. An O-ring holds the ammo in place, and all but the longest-nosed of pellets seat into the chambers without any difficulty.
While it’s phenomenally quick to operate, it’s in the hand and shoulder where I have my only couple of criticisms about this rifl e. First, the butt plate. I’ve already attested to its high standard of finish, but its ultra-smooth face doesn’t make it the grippiest of butts – and with the rear-biased weight of the Phoenix and its longer-than-average, 372mm (14.6in) length of pull, I found the gun tended to slip out of my shoulder. Not through recoil – it’s a PCP, so totally recoilless – but because that pad is simply too smooth to anchor-in. I sorted it with some self-adhesive ‘grit’ tape from Halfords – but I have to live with my other gripe.
That relates to the pistol grip. To accommodate the inner bottle and air transfer system, the grip cannot be scalloped out in the same way as on a conventional rifle’s stock. So the area where you’d normally expect a thumb muscle cut-out is actually swollen – and that takes some getting used to. I have to adapt my right-hand position whenever I’m shooting the rifle – but the accuracy I can get proves it’s more a small, ergonomic annoyance than a design failing.
Indeed, the stock design is otherwise spot-on. The butt is ambidextrous, with a profiled cheek on both sides and well-cut chequering panels on the grip. Chequering is also sharp on the forestock, which is very ‘stalking rifle’ in its shape, tapering on its roof and belly to a well-constructed Schnabel. If you think most PCPs feel a bit top heavy with their barrel-over-tube arrangement, then you’ll absolutely love the Phoenix.
The trigger – which is protected by only a front section of guard to allow the underlever to swing forward – is two-stage (and adjustable). Without being too heavy, it breaks very crisply, and there’s a push-button safety – manual – just above it, in the action plate. Up front, the barrel is capped with a knurled muzzle cap that unscrews to reveal a 1/2in UNF thread – and I tend to think the Carbine looks unbalanced without a silencer, which its muzzle report needs, anyway. No problem – the gun comes with the lightweight carbonfibre Phantom moderator.
Like the rifle, it’s no ordinary silencer, either. Inside its main tube lies a highly-sophisticated baffle that’s been moulded with a reverse helix inside. The concept behind this is that the air is not only dissipated through the muting holes, but also ‘stripped’ in the opposite direction from the pellet’s spin. This captured energy also helps negate any muzzle lift caused by the rocket effect of the high-pressure air compressed around the pellet. Thus, the silencer acts both as a sound suppressor and muzzle brake. The Phantom – available in short and long – has been designed to be disassembled in seconds, so aside from keeping it clean, you can also marvel at its very unique structure.
Indeed, ‘marvel’ is an appropriate word when it comes to the Phoenix Mk2. It has to be one of the most individual airguns ever built, and ranks among the most beautifully engineered PCPs I’ve ever handled. Arguably it’s a gun that’s ahead of its time, and probably a gun that was launched at the wrong time, too. But whatever, I can’t see whenever the time’s not right to own one of these fine examples of British airgun craftsmanship. Given the manufacturers should be selling it at well over the £1,000 mark to return a profit, I wouldn’t need much convincing to invest in one right now. But then again… I already do.
MODEL: Phoenix Mk2
TYPE: 10-shot, precharged pneumatic
COCKING: Underlever, auto-loading
CALIBRE: .177 (reviewed), and .22
FILL PRESSURE: 250BAR
SHOTS PER CHARGE: Carbine: .177 (tested) – 60+; .22 – 80. Rifle: .177 – 80; .22 – 100
OVERALL LENGTH: Carbine – 836mm; Rifle – 1,000mm (excl. silencer)
BARREL LENGTH: Carbine – 414mm; Rifle – 578mm
WEIGHT: Carbine – 3.3kg; Rifl e – 3.5kg (unscoped)
STOCK: Two-piece, ambidextrous sporter
TRIGGER: Two-stage, adjustable
SAFETY: Manual push-button, resettable
POWER: 11.3ft/lb (FAC available – up to 30ft/lb)
SRP: £750, complete with Phantom carbon-fibre silencer, 10-shot magazine, spare HP Schrader valve, tool and charging adapter
CONTACT: Phoenix Air Guns ● 020 8340 3039