THE PRO ELITE
Despite the success of the TX range of under-lever rifles since the first one was launched in 1991, Air Arms recognised that there was still demand for break barrel rifles and wanted to add one to their range.
As with the TX range, renowned designer Ken Turner was consulted and in 1995 Ken produced pre-production prototypes. Over almost 2 years Air Arms carried out a lot of testing and redevelopment.
With the high power market, particularly in the USA, being considered likely to be the most lucrative, the rifle was designed to be capable of providing up to 30fpe. During testing, Air Arms had an employee fire a pre-production model 10000 times at FAC power levels. Reportedly, when they then stripped and checked it not one issue was identified.
Early in 1997 Air Arms were finally happy with the rifle and it was released as the Pro-Elite, which they described as “the ultimate tool for the professional pest controller” and “the man sized out and out hunting break barrel”.
Shortly after release, 300 Pro-Elites were exported to a private company in Saudi Arabia. It is rumoured these were used for training by the Saudi military but Air Arms have no knowledge of what happened to them once exported.
"Megatest" - Airgun World July 1997 - Part 1
With production ceasing in 2003 the Pro-Elite had a relatively short life.
There were only 1436 Pro-Elites produced. Of these 907 were .22 calibre & 529 were .177 calibre. 806 (56%) of the Pro-Elites produced were exported. Stock wise, only 57 rifles were produced with walnut stocks.
It was always going to be difficult to compete in the pivotal U.S. market with a number of well priced break-barrel options already popular, such as the Weihrauch HW80.
High powered PCP’s were also becoming more affordable, such as the Air Arms S410, which would also have had an impact on the demand for a high powered spring rifles.
"Megatest" - Airgun World July 1997 - Part 2
I have read reports of issues with the Pro Elite with the main one being that with the cylinder walls having insufficient tolerance it could become tapered, especially on the export models – some would open out towards the end and some would close in. This could cause the piston seal to become detached from the piston.
I’m sure Air Arms could have worked on resolving any issues that came to light with the Pro Elite but with relatively poor sales, particularly in the U.S., it could be that they decided to just discontinue production and concentrate on the highly successful TX range.
"Megatest" - Airgun World July 1997 - Part 3
A recurring topic on all UK air gun forums is that of the desire for a new break-barrel rifle from Air Arms. There have been regular rumours over the years of prototypes being tested.
In 2012, respected UK retailer Solware reported that they had spoken to Air Arms, who had confirmed that they had been working on a new break barrel for a number of years and at the time they had 5 working prototypes. Apparently, Air Arms’s Head Designer had informed Solware that it could be several years before a full production model.
However, in 2015, Air Arms gave the following response to an enquiry about any plans for a new break barrel Rifle: “We have discussed the Break Barrel rifle time and time again, but for Air Arms, our number one priority is quality, and our research has shown that the demand is not there for a top quality break barrel, at an affordable price.” Reports of subsequent responses have been basically the same.
In my opinion, although there is a clear desire for such a rifle from UK sub 12fpe shooters, sales potential in the UK alone would not support production from an accounting point of view and the high power export market is still very congested and would likely prove difficult to crack. However, I feel that even if such a project was not profitable, a break barrel would be a worthwhile addition to the Air Arms portfolio.
Barrel length: 13in
Calibre: .177 & .22
To assist with acquiring the high power capability Air Arms wanted for the Pro Elite an oversized piston was used which was about 4.8mm more in diameter than that of the standard TX rifles.
The one piece cocking link is 6mm thick and made from laser cut steel. A recessed pin with 2 c clips is used to hold the cocking link in place.
"Testbench" - Airgun World January 1999 - Part 1
The blued steel around the breech has shims to keep the surfaces apart, with an adjustable pivot bolt allowing the pressure on the shims to be regulated to eliminate sideways play.
The cocking effort is around 32lb. During cocking the safety button at the rear of the rifles pops out and as the barrel returns a hardened steel indent clunks into place.
As with all their range at the time, the Pro Elite boasts a 12 grooved, choked Walther barrel. The Pro Elite’s was 13” long and housed inside a deep blued steel shroud with a 6 baffle built in silencer taking up the last 4”.
"Testbench" - Airgun World January 1999 - Part 2
The trigger unit was the same C.D. unit as used on the TX range – the C.D. being an abbreviation of “Computer Developed”. This is a multi adjustable 2 stage match trigger with sears machined from solid steel and a chasis screwed together rather being formed from folded steel. At the end of the cocking stroke the top sear automatically locks and the safety catch is set.
The sporter style stock was essentially the same as the TX stock of the time with different inletting. I believe there was a short run of left hand versions of the stock. It was available in beech or walnut