The Airforce Escape Pre-Charged Air Rifle

By Will Dabbs, MD

This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Pellet Gun!

“Dad, can I have a BB gun?”

I asked timidly one evening over dinner. The year was 1973, and I was seven years old. I would regularly sit and stare through the glass of my dad’s gun cabinet, drooling over the sleek oily blued implements of violence ensconced within. Dad stole a glance at my Mom, the look on her face all but sinking my prospects.

“Well, you are a responsible young man,” Dad answered between bites of meat loaf. Perhaps I wasn’t doomed, after all. “But owning your own gun is a big responsibility. What exactly do you have in mind?”

Here was my chance. My response spewed forth like that of Ralphie, the hapless young man in A Christmas Story, who sees his dreams of his own air rifle all but dashed when Santa warns him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

I already had the particular smoke pole selected. It was a basic no-frills Daisy lever action BB gun. The steel was quite literally blue—painted, not blued—and the humble little gun eschewed a forearm entirely. The flimsy plastic stock was imbued with a faux wood grain and configured for a young man of modest stature such as myself. I later found out the hard way that it also dissolved upon contact with insect repellent. The gun adorned the top rack at our local Otasco hardware store and could be mine for the princely sum of $7. I scampered back to stare at it every time we dropped by for caulk, glue or a sack of nails. To say I was obsessed with this little blue shooter does disservice to the term “Obsessed.”

Dad ultimately assuaged my mom’s concerns and even agreed to split the cost with me. I scoured my piggy bank and poked about underneath the couch cushions until I had scraped together the requisite $3.50, and we together made that little gun mine. In retrospect, my dad really wanted me to have it as badly as did I. He’s always been cool that way.

I literally shot that pathetic little Daisy to death. At different times I killed both a bumblebee and a sparrow in flight with single shots from the hip. You do something long enough and eventually amazing things can happen. Discarded beverage cans and the errant venomous serpent or three all fell prey to my eagle eye and that trusty little spring-powered air gun. Even today, when the personal collection boasts a .50-caliber sniper rifle and more than a couple of machineguns, it is that rusted blue Daisy that greets newcomers to the gun room. The mainspring is shot and the gun is consequently nothing more than a wall hanger, but it will indeed always be my first.

Fast Forward

Now fast forward some 44 years and much has changed. I have served my country as a soldier and gotten to play with some truly serious hardware. Tank guns, artillery pieces, helicopter door guns, automatic grenade launchers and classic German belt-fed machineguns have all sat under my seasoned trigger finger at one time or another. Throughout it all, that first air rifle’s siren song still rings clear above all the sexier iron. There is just something primally satisfying about throwing projectiles downrange via nothing more than air power. The apex predator among modern air rifles hails from AirForce.

The AirForce Escape air rifle is the very pinnacle of modern air rifle development. Running off high-pressure air and throwing a quarter-inch projectile at speeds substantially greater than 1,000 feet per second, the Escape is the air rifle for grown-ups. Capable of phenomenal accuracy and blistering performance, the Escape successfully blurs the lines between BB guns and more conventional firearms.

An Altogether Different Sort of Cool

The Escape is categorized as a pre-charged air rifle. This means the gun sports an onboard high-pressure air tank that drives its single-shot action. The tank itself, adorned with a sheet steel buttplate, also does double duty as a buttstock. The rifle has a velocity thumbwheel that allows the shooter to dial in his shot velocities at the bench. Imagine it like handloading from your firing point. By manipulating the velocity thumbwheel you can optimize the gun’s velocity for particular projectiles.

The gun’s top-flight barrels are imported from Lothar Walther. The entire weapon is manufactured to a superb level of quality. The trigger trips a valve rather than a sear, so it is unnaturally light and crisp. Pellets are available at very reasonable cost in a variety of weights from Amazon.com and elsewhere.

AirForce produces their own extensive line of accessories. Air gun scopes, scope rings and bipods all crafted especially for their rifles grace their catalog. For a seasoned gun nerd such as myself, everything was remarkably fresh and different.

This gun needs about 3,000 psi of pressure to run well. You will never attain those sorts of pressures with a typical box store air compressor. There are dedicated compressors available that will produce pressures that high, but they are expensive. The obvious solution is a scuba tank.

I bought a scuba tank new off of eBay for substantially less than two hundred dollars. A used version is about half that. Our local dive shop charges me a few bucks to top it off. However, when fully charged this one tank will feed my pre-charged guns for a ridiculous period of time.

Most proper paintball fields offer the same service. Carbon fiber paintball tanks are markedly lighter but smaller and therefore not as long lived per charge. You can score a paintball tank on eBay for about $40. AirForce produces a special adaptor that allows you to charge your gun directly from these tanks.

AirForce also offers a manual hand pump that can indeed attain the sorts of 3,000-psi pressures necessary to run the gun effectively. This device looks at first brush like a bicycle pump on steroids. Be forewarned, however, that charging this gun manually is a workout of the highest order. I have filled my rifle’s tank with this device before, but it pegged the funmeter before we were done.

Shooter’s Impressions

The AirForce Escape is lithe and sleek. At 5.3 pounds the rifle seems about weightless compared to more conventional iron. To run the gun, you slide the cocking device forward, manually insert a pellet and pull the cocking knob backwards until it settles in place. The manual safety is located in the same spot as that of an M1 Garand and operates in the same manner. The safety resets automatically every time you cycle the bolt.

The report the gun issues when it is fired is unpleasant without muffs, and the pellets can easily be supersonic at lower weights and top-end pressures. However, the diminutive little pellets run between 19 and 35 grains, so the weapon is all but recoilless. The experience of running the rifle from a bench is refreshingly original.

The gun is strikingly accurate at appropriate ranges. My favorite exercise is to center punch pennies and dimes at about twenty meters. Connecting with the target is rewarded by seeing the little disk zip briskly off into the distance.

Pellets are hugely cheaper than any sort of fixed ammunition, so a modest investment in ammunition lasts a really long time. You can while away a pleasant Saturday afternoon with the AirForce Escape without worrying about blowing the kids’ inheritance. Once you have invested in the gun and support gear, incremental costs to run it are about nothing.

Practical Applications

The AirForce Escape is an absolutely splendid way to kill time recreationally at the range. The gun sports some fairly hefty downrange horsepower, but its modest report and diminutive caliber allow it to be run on restricted ranges that would not support serious centerfire guns. Configure your backstop appropriately and be careful, and you can run the Escape safely in most backyards.

The AirForce Escape is also spunky enough to put an end to garden pests. A determined hunter or survivor could use this tidy little rifle to keep the cooking pot filled with edible critters as well. You only have one shot at a time, but that makes you pay attention to the details. A full-sized scuba tank properly pressurized will keep you shooting for ages. Whether the mission be recreation, light hunting tasks, utilitarian garden chores or survival applications, the AirForce Escape can fill all those missions nicely.


We all like to shoot. Were that not the case, you would not at present be clutching this hallowed tome. While science has not yet isolated it, I suspect there is a gene for that someplace. Those of us who have the gene just cannot get enough of throwing bits of metal downrange to see where they land.

This deep into the Information Age, there are literally countless ways to feed this ballistic addiction. The modern-day equivalent of my first little Daisy putt-putt BB gun will set you back about as much as treating your wife to dinner at a fast food restaurant. A transferable full-auto minigun would cost more than my house. In between these two extremes is where the true magic resides.

Chances are you already own a carry gun, maybe something spunkier tucked into the bedside table and perhaps a black gun or three. Collecting guns is indeed a hole without a bottom. If it is possible to accumulate enough firearms to satisfy the craving, I have yet to get there myself. However, despite more than my share of trigger time, I really did find the AirForce Escape to be an exceptional diversion. Lightweight, sexy and refreshingly different, the AirForce Escape is the Mac Daddy of modern Information Age pellet rifles.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N1 (January 2018)
and was posted online on November 17, 2017


Comments have not been generated for this article.