The Holy Wars Heat Up
Warped Sportzs Dark Angel
© Ravi Chopra, 1999
The word has two very distinct meanings to two very different populations. To the unfortunate non-initiates of the greatest sport on Earth, Angels are heavenly creatures; lofty members of the celestial hierarchy.
To paintball players, an Angel is an entirely more intimidating beast: a 14 shot-per-second electropneumatic monster which has taken the sport by storm over the last couple years. Though the Angel isnt the first production electric paintgun (the Shocker owns that honor), it is the first one to receive widespread acceptance. A mouse-click trigger, stylish and compact frame, light weight, good balance, and acceptable efficiency have combined to make the Angel one of the most desirable out-of-the-box paintguns ever. Short supply, nitrogen-only requirements, and an absurdly high initial price tag have conspired to ensure that the Angel remains an object of desire for most and a status symbol for those few who are fortunate enough to find themselves in possession of one.
What more could one ask for in a paintgun? What more, indeed. Lets face it, we paintball players are a spoiled-rotten bunch. It doesnt matter how good a paintgun may be out of the box. The fashionable player would sooner be caught dead than be seen shooting a stock gun. It was only natural that custom Angels would soon hit the scene. Custom milling. Custom anodizing. Custom internals. Custom trigger-work (Ill explain later why the whole notion of an Angel "trigger-job" is patently absurd).
The number of custom Angels, though, remains small. Its electronic operation frightens off most would-be airsmiths. The sky-high price tag discourages experimentation. WDPs iron-fisted control over supply makes acquisition more difficult yet.
One of the success stories in custom Angels is Warped Sportzs Dark Angel. The Dark Angel is actually milled, anodized, and assembled by WDP to Warped Sportzs specifications before it is shipped to the US. As a result, the Dark Angel is available in relatively plentiful numbers, comes with an intact factory warranty, and is guaranteed to work perfectly with all factory approved parts. After the Dark Angels arrive at Warped Sportz in the U.S. most are sold as-is with just the basic additions that Warped Sportz requested. Things dont have to stop there, though. At the buyers request a whole host of custom tuning and add-ons are available as well. Doing most of the custom work and troubleshooting is Rocky "yes, this is my real hair" Cagnoni, one of Americas premier Angel techs.
How the Angel Works
Since there was a pretty extensive article in the January issue of PGI, Ill try to keep this brief and add a bit of perspective that might not have appeared there.
First lets look at the Angels layout. The Angel is sort of a pyramid of three tubes, a grip/trigger frame, a barrel, and an external pressure regulator. The top tube contains the bolt and swing-out breech at the front, and the electrically-switched 14 way valve at the back. The lower left tube contains the rechargeable battery pack. The lower right tube contains the ram, hammer, exhaust valve and guide, and LPR (low pressure regulator). The circuit board, trigger, and switch are housed in the grip frame. The WDP pressure regulator, which also acts as a handy forgrip, directs its output through the vertical ASA, back into the front of the grip frame, and up into the gun.
If you really think about it, the Angels cycle is an awful lot like a blowback semi-auto. The bolt and hammer start in the open position (the Angel is an open-bolt paintgun anyone who tells you different is either ignorant or trying to sell you something). The bolt has a pin that couples it to the hammer. When the gun is fired, the hammer and bolt are flung forward together. The bolt pushes a paintball into the barrel while the hammer smacks the exhaust valve open, releasing air to fire the ball. To finish the cycle, the hammer and bolt are drawn back to the open position to await the next trigger pull. All just like a blowback semi.
The big difference comes in how the hammer is driven back and forth. In a blowback, a compressed spring pushes the hammer and bolt forward, while compressed air from the opened exhaust valve is used to push the hammer back and recock the gun. The Angel takes a radically different route by effectively borrowing the Autocockers cycling system. A pneumatic cylinder (the "ram") drives the hammer back and forth. Gas flow to either end of the ram is switched by the 14 way valve, an electrically driven equivalent to the Autocockers 3-way. The LPR delivers low pressure air (~90 psi) to the 14-way to drive the ram.
The circuit board in the grip frame is the brain that controls these events. Essentially, all it does when the trigger is pulled is switch the 14-way valve to drive the hammer forward, pause, then switch the 14 way back to return the hammer. That pause in between is called the "dwell" and is adjustable with a dial on the circuit board. This pause determines how long the hammer is held forward, and thus how long the exhaust valve is held open. The LPR pressure determines how much pressure is driving the hammer, and thus, determines how hard the hammer hits the valve. It is these two factors, the dwell and LPR pressure, that are primarily important in determining operating pressure, ensuring reliable operation, and optimizing efficiency. Ill come back to this issue later.
How Does it Shoot?
Now that Ive compared the Angels operation to an blowback semi, Id better spend a little time on how it shoots.
It doesnt shoot like a blowback.
Since the Angel depends on air pressure in the ram rather than the heavy mass of a hammer to open the valve, it has a very light brass hammer. The bolt is a 2" (about 5 cm) long delrin piece with a venturi face. As a result, the moving parts are very light and dont jerk the gun around like the heavy steel hammers and long bolts in most blowbacks. When the gun is set up for best efficiency it launches the paintball quietly and with barely a twitch.
Everyone will tell you that it is the trigger is what wows people first and foremost. Since the Angel has a purely electric trigger system, all the trigger has to do is trip a microswitch. As a result, the Angels trigger is, for all intents and purposes, nothing more than a computer mouse click. Now, if you pick up your average Angel youll find that the trigger has quite a bit more play in it than your average everyday mouse. But if you twiddle with the trigger to find out how far it actually has to travel to cycle the gun, youll find that the entire travel required from triggering to resetting of the switch is something on the order of one half of a millimeter (0.5 mm). All the rest is just useless slack in front of and behind the switch point of the trigger pull. Experienced Angel shooters can twitch their finger back and forth through that point to achieve ridiculous rates of fire very easily. It is because of this that the whole concept of an Angel "trigger job" is patently absurd. Who needs to shorten a mouse-click? All most people do in Angel trigger work is to just stop the trigger out around that fire point to eliminate the slack.
This combination of an extremely short and light trigger pull with a minimum of drama during the cycle results in a very stable shooting platform. Anyone can stay on target while rapid-firing this paintgun.
Even the stock Angel comes with cartloads of cool stuff. Due to WDPs policies, just about all custom Angels come with them as well. As its made with the full cooperation of WDP, Warped Sportzs Dark Angel is no exception.
Today, all Angels come with a select-fire board running the show. What you may not know is that the Dark Angel was the first one to offer this feature. This is a dramatic improvement over the original board, not just in reliability, but functionality and convenience as well. It certainly deserves some individual attention. First, the new board is much more nicely laid out than the original one. the dwell and ROF (rate of fire) pots are labeled on the circuit board along with adjustment directions. A pair of dip switches are new additions which add three new firing modes. Along with standard semi-auto, the turbo board now offers 3 shot burst, 8 shot burst, and full auto. The bursts last only as long as the trigger is pulled, and the burst speed can be adjusted with the ROF pot on the circuit board up to a maximum of 14 shots-per-second.
To help feed that 14 shot-per-second craving, Angels come with a standard center-feed tube. Strangely, it doesnt come ready to take a VL Revolution (or other moto-loader, mandatory with this gun). Rather a plastic adapter (included) is required to bridge the gap between the hopper and feed tube. Center-feed has become one of the most popular features around because it helps you keep from hanging your hopper out as a big target on one side. Kudos to WDP for its inclusion. It does beg the question though: Whats the point of the sight rail behind it? The only sight you could realistically use with the Angel would be one of Armsons sights which you dont actually look through.
One of the neat little innovations in the Angel is the patented Rotabreech just behind the center feed. The section of the upper receiver which houses the retracted bolt can rotate out to the left. This allows quick and easy access to the bolt, feed port, and barrel. Its just big enough to allow most pull-through squeegees, though some may be a tight fit. Its also nice in allowing you to fish out bits of paint and shell if you break a ball in or near the feed tube.
As with the stock Angels, the Dark Angel comes with a matching Infinity barrel. Im going to go out on a limb here and say that I think this may be the best stock barrel offered on a paintgun today. This barrel has all the latest, greatest design features found popular on barrels these days. Its a 12" aluminum barrel with a 0.686" breech a good tight bore for most high-quality paints on the market today. About half-way down the barrel, the bore diameter steps out a bit, giving the same step effect as found in two piece barrels like Smart Parts All American, DYEs Boomstick, and the new J&J two pieces. Also similar to those two piece barrels is porting that runs down the length of the stepped out section. The Infinity barrel has six rows of ports that dissipate excess pressure and quiet the barrel down. The ports are also very small, so they clear quickly and completely if you break a ball in the barrel.
Much to the consternation of US players, all Angels come with the stock WDP regulator controlling input pressure and velocity. Though early versions of this reg had some problems, the current version has eliminated them and is actually a pretty decent reg. Americans have a pathological need to replace stock parts, though. So off it comes in favor of your favorite aftermarket reg, right?. Wrong! The kind folk at WDP have seen fit to equip their regulator and vertical ASA with a completely different thread pattern. This means that you cant put any other reg in this vertical and you can put this reg on any other gun. Great. Fortunately, many companies have come out with standard-thread vertical ASAs for the Angel. Warped Sportz has been kind enough to include one with every Dark Angel so you can use your favorite Uni-Reg, Stabilizer, or whatever if the stock WDP reg just doesnt do it for you.
Microline is the standard hose that comes attached to the WDP reg on all Angels. I see a lot of people using it, but I just cant recommend it. Microline has a rated operating pressure of only 350 psi. Even the Dark Angels low pressure valving requires 450-550 psi coming from the WDP reg, meaning you need to feed 750 psi or more into the reg way above the safe operating pressure. You can get away with using Microline for a little while, but in time it will blow out and need to be replaced. If it pops during a game, youre going to be mighty pissed.
All Angels also sport a .45-style frame, Fat Boy Houge-like rubber grips, and a venturi bolt; common, popular aftermarket parts on other paintguns.
Battery charging can be accomplished in your car on the way to the field with the handy charger which plugs into your cars cigarette lighter on one end, and into a small plug on the back of the Angel on the other. Though some people might prefer a wall-charger, youll be thankful for the car charger the first time your Angels battery runs dead at the field and you can charge it up between games.
The plug on the back of the gun is notable because it acts not only as a power input, but an outlet as well. WDP makes a Viewloader modification called the VL2001 which plugs into this port on the back of the Angel. The VL2001 is driven off the Angels internal battery and is turned on and off by the Angels circuit board depending on the rate of fire. It is a clever innovation which is, unfortunately, only partially successful. First, it runs down the Angels battery four times faster than the Angel operating alone (about 5,000 shots from a full charge rather than 20,000). Secondly, and much more irritatingly, it doesnt plug in very tightly. Crawling, running through brush, even just bumping it against your shoulder can be enough to knock the plug loose and leave you without an operating moto-loader. Though it did earn some early popularity, it seems that most tournament players have gone back to their VL Revolutions.
In the center of the back of the gun, just above and to the right of the power plug is the power light. It glows green when the Angel is turned on and flickers red when the gun is fired. The power switch is located on the right side of the grip frame (dont laugh, many electropneumatics dont have power switches).
The Edge of Darkness
Just about all of what Ive said so far applies to the stock Angel just as much as the Dark variant from Warped Sportz. So what does the Dark Angel offer over and above what you find in the Stock Angel? What are you getting for all that extra money? Good question. The stock Angel alone is one hell of a lot of paintgun. What do you do to improve a gun with a mouse-click trigger, light weight, good balance, and a feature set that is usually found only on highly customized variants of other paintguns? Heres the big secret: theres just not that much. Sure, theres a lot you can change and add, but its not like the Autococker where custom guns barely resemble the stock. That said, the Dark Angel does offer quite a bit more than what you get in the stock Angel.
The big performance upgrade in the Dark Angel is the low pressure valving. Stock Angels run in the 450-550 psi range. With the Eclipse low pressure parts you knock about 100 psi off the operating pressure, bringing it down into the 375-450 psi range. More importantly, efficiency is dramatically improved over the stock gun. With the Dark Angel you can expect to get between 1500 and 2000 shots from a 68 ci, 4500 psi nitrogen system. I know what youre thinking; those are huge ranges. Theyre definitely better than stock, but you want to know what you can really expect. The answer falls somewhere between the dwell and the LPR. You may remember that these are the two settings that have the strongest effect on your operating pressure and efficiency. These are to the Angel what timing is to the Autococker, but their effects seem to be somewhat less predictable. Dark Angels are assembled and set up at the WDP factory. When they show up at Warped Sportz in the US, they fall somewhere in those ranges mentioned above, but theres really no way to tell where until you unbox them, gas them up, and shoot some paint.
This brings us to the Warped Sportz lifetime warranty. For the original purchaser, Warped Sportz will provide you with free service for your Dark Angel as long as you own it. Gun acting funny? Not working right? Not getting the low pressure or high efficiency it should? Warped Sportz will repair or hand-tune your Dark Angel free-of-charge to ensure its working as well as it possibly can. And since they have one of the best Angel techs in Rocky, US owners dont have to send their guns very far for servicing.
Speaking of free stuff, Warped Sportz offers a variety of other free add-ons and accessories available at the buyers request. Ive already mentioned that all Dark Angels come with an extra vertical ASA with standard threads for people who wish to use aftermarket regulators. For the top side of the Dark Angel, Warped Sportz offers a match-anodized low-rise VL adapter to replace the standard center-feed tube. The low rise offers a couple of nice advantages. First, it has a wide mouth to accept your VL hopper without any adapter. Second, it brings your hopper down about 1" lower to make you a smaller target. Some people will choose not to opt for this since some feel that the smaller stack of paintballs between the hopper and breech makes it easier to chop paint during rapid fire. The upgrade is free and the choice is yours.
The trigger is another area in which you can get quite a big of extra stuff at no extra charge. If you request nothing, the trigger that will come on your Dark Angel will be very similar to that found on stock Angels: lots of slack both in front of and behind the fire point. Want something shorter? Warped Sportz will accommodate you. The stock trigger piece has a single stop screw which can be adjusted to limit forward trigger travel. They will also install a second trigger-stop screw to limit backward travel. Tell them how much travel you like in your trigger and theyll stop it out however you like. Do you prefer a two-finger trigger? No problem. Though the idea of needing a two-finger trigger with a mouse-click pull seems ridiculous to me, two finger triggers are another completely free option on the Dark Angel. They even offer them in several styles, including an add-on two finger shoe, a full two-finger trigger plate replacement, and their own custom piece with a ring for the lower half. Warped Sportz will soon also be offering a new 2-finger trigger guard that can be added on to guns that have had their stock guards removed. However you want your trigger to look and feel, Warped Sportz will set up your Dark Angel to match your style and they wont charge you extra for a "trigger job."
Certainly the most striking aspect of the Dark Angel is its cosmetic upgrades. Angels just dont have that much extra meat to cut into, but what there is, Warped Sportz mills. The upper body in front of the 14-way valve is squared off and cones down to the barrel at the front. Large tear-drop shaped divots are cut out of the sides of this squared off section for a very sleek and custom look. The back of the vestigial sight-rail is milled down a bit to provide that extra bit of uniqueness. The only thing I really dont like is the standard ball-detent. Functionally, it works perfectly to prevent double feeds and chopped balls. Cosmetically, it looks like a giant wart that interferes with the guns otherwise clean lines and stylish millwork. Cant anyone come up with a low-profile version of this thing?
Currently, Dark Angels come anodized in a single solid color. Every month, Warped Sportz gets a new shipment of Dark Angels in three colors. To date, theyve offered such colors as blood-red, electric-blue, hunter-green, brass, light-gray, gunmetal blue-gray, and chrome. These anodizing jobs are rich and gorgeous looking, but they have one major problem. Theyre about as scratch-resistant as warm butter. Anodizing is supposed to be a protective layer for the aluminum, but their current anodizer seems to be making it awfully thin. Before I ever got my own Dark Angel out to the field it had already taken on the look of something that had been through a war-zone. Warped Sportz is aware of the problem and is looking to improve their anodizing, as well as offering more colors and fades in future runs of Dark Angels.
The above is all you get for the base price of the Dark Angel. But thats not where it stops. If youre willing to spend a little more you can trick out your Dark Angel to set it even further apart from the pack.
On the barrel front, though I really think the Infinity barrel is superb, many people simply wont be satisfied with shooting anything "stock." For the fashionable player, Warped Sportz offers DYE Boomsticks with the aluminum second stage anodized to match the color of the gun. If you have a collection of old Autococker barrels, you can use them on the Dark Angel as well with Warpeds Autococker-Angel barrel adapter. Be cautious using this, though. Its ID is relatively large (0.689" or so) and will not work well with tight-bore barrels.
Along with every other company in the world, Warped Sportz has their own LPR chamber expander called the "Maximizer." These chambers screw into the front of the gun in front of the LPR. No one really seems to really know what theyre supposed to do, but everyone seems to want one. From what I can tell, the only effect they have is to store enough regulated air to cycle the hammer and bolt four or five more times after the marker has been degassed. If thats worth $35 to you, you can have one anodized to match your Dark Angel as well.
If you want to protect that delicate anodizing job, a soft, fitted, protective cover called the "Angel Condom" is available. It is large enough and shaped to form fit over the body, barrel, regulator, and grip frame.
For people who want to be able to charge up at home as well as on the road, a wall charger unit is available. Its a simple adapter that plugs into your wall socket and has a car lighter socket in its front. Its simple, it works, nuff said.
Finally, my favorite Warped Sportz option is Macroline. Ive mentioned my concerns about Microline earlier. Macroline is like Microline on steroids and addresses most of its problems. Macroline has a much stronger 500 psi operating pressure (2000 psi burst), and can allow sixteen times the flow of Microline. I highly recommend it if you want the flexibility without the reliability problems.
Maxing Out: Tips and Tricks
I want to start by saying that the Angel manual is superb. Id put it amongst the best in the business, on par with the Automag manual. In addition to excellent operating instructions, it includes diagrams of all the internals, part names and numbers, maintenance instructions, assembly and disassembly instructions, and troubleshooting tips. The instructions contained within are sufficient to allow just about anyone to set up an Angel from scratch and to get the ram position, dwell, and LPR settings to a point where the paintgun will work properly and reliably.
While they do allow just about anyone to get the Angel working well, I really dont think it gives the best tips on how to optimize it for best efficiency and lowest pressure operation. When the Dark Angel sent to me wasnt getting the efficiency I had be hoping for, I was put in contact with Rocky at the Florida Warped Sportz location. Of course, I could have just sent the gun in and let them do all the work, but I didnt want to wait. Rocky put me at ease and gave me some great advice. What he told me was this: The Angel just isnt that complex. People fear working with it because its electronically operated, but theres really nothing to it.
The two big things you need to get just right are the dwell and the LPR. Remember, the LPR determines how hard the hammer hits the valve while the dwell determines how long it holds it open. If you minimize both of these settings, you can decrease the amount of air the gun consumes.
Ill start with the LPR. The LPR is the frontmost component in the lower right compartment of the gun body. When you remove the front plug (all the wrenches you need are included with the Angel) youll see the brass piston that makes up the front end of the LPR. A threaded hole in its center is what you use to pull it out. WDP offers a set of tools to help you with all of these settings, but Ive found you dont really need them. Instead of the expensive M3 screw (LPR piston extraction tool), Ive found that a 20¢ miniature machine screw from the hardware store fits the threads properly and can be used to pull out the brass piston. Make sure to keep the gun tipped nose-down so you dont lose the springs or shims which sit behind the brass piece. Shims are the thin foil donuts which sit furthest back. Adding shims increases the LPR output pressure. Removing them turns it down. Each shim adds about 3.5 psi to the output pressure. WDP recommends an LPR pressure of 80-90 psi. Ive found that you can set it somewhat lower. In fact, I prefer to set it using the operating pressure to judge the sweet spot rather than a gauge.
Start by chronoing the gun and take note of the input pressure required to get a velocity of 300 fps. The standard-thread vertical ASA included with the Dark Angel is particularly useful here since the WDP reg doesnt have a gauge and you need to know the pressure going into the gun (the operating pressure). I then take out the LPR piston, remove one shim, reassemble, and rechrono. Since the LPR is now putting out less pressure, the hammer is hitting the exhaust valve with less force, so the pressure you need to get 300 fps may go up. I keep removing shims until the pressure required to get 300 fps suddenly jumps to 700 psi or so. At this point I drop one shim back in to bring the operating pressure back down and leave it there. Since the LPR pressure is now lower and the ram uses a fixed volume of gas, each cycle sucks less air from your tank. If you want to run the gun at a lower pressure, you can add more shims back in to increase the LPR pressure and reduce the input requirement.
The second setting is the dwell, and its extremely easy to set. Take off the rubber grips and youll find a dial marked "dwell" on the circuit board. Turning the dwell all the way down makes the hammer return so fast it doesnt even open the valve. Turning it all the way up has it hold the valve open so long that you waste tremendous amounts of air long after the ball has left the barrel. In fact, a too-high dwell setting is one of the easiest things to diagnose. All that extra vented air makes the gun extremely loud. If your Angel is making a lot of noise when fired, chances are good that your dwell is set way too high.
You adjust your dwell while shooting over a chrono. The manual recommends turning the dwell all the way up and adjusting it down until your velocity starts to drop. The idea here is to release an amount of gas that gives maximum velocity, but no more. This works, but I have not found it to be the optimal setting. Rockys advice was to turn the dwell all the way down, and adjust it up until it plateaus. Youll find that velocity climbs sharply at first, but levels off quickly. The reason for this is that there is a big flat spot in the middle of the dwell range where large dwell adjustments achieve some, but relatively little velocity change. I attribute this to the stock barrels porting. You get maximum push from the unported, tight-bore section of the barrel. After that point, pushing more air in does achieve some modest velocity increase, but most of it is vented off. Turning your dwell up to a point just past where you get your biggest increases minimizes the wasted air and improves efficiency markedly.
Of course, this raises the point that each barrel will have a different ideal dwell setting. A LAPCO barrel for instance, which has a longer unported length and consistent ID down the entire bore will have a higher ideal dwell setting and allow a lower operating pressure. The differences should be relatively small, but it would still be wisest to set your LPR and dwell with the barrel you most commonly use.
Keep in mind, none of the above are hard-and-fast rules. Efficiency is a weird function of LPR pressure, dwell, and input pressure. These settings often affect each other in inverse ways: higher LPR allows lower operating pressure, a higher dwell allows a lower operating pressure, a lower LPR pressure may necessitate a higher dwell setting. Which is the most important to minimize? Its hard to say. You may need to do some experimenting with different settings to find the spot where you get best performance.
Ultimately, I found the Dark Angel to be an awful lot of fun. With Warped Sportzs expert trigger stopping, the Angels normally easy-to-shoot-fast trigger becomes absurdly-easy-to-shoot-fast. I have to admit that the extreme ease with which you can rip paint out of this gun is intoxicating. Youll may actually find that you need to adjust your game a bit to keep from going broke. If you dont pay attention, youll empty your hopper and all your pods in half the time it normally takes. Dont let the rate-of-fire go to your head, though. No paintgun will make you a better player. Anyone with a good shot can still take you out of the game if you hang out too long.
Its light weight, low profile, and center-feed make the Dark Angel a natural for point players who need to cram themselves into the smallest possible space. Theyll also find an extra appreciation for the trigger which makes it all the easier to pop out, rip off a few shots, and get back in before someone can take your head off.
Cover guys arent left out either. The low pressure, high efficiency operation of the Dark Angel gives it a king-of-the-hill shot count amongst electropneumatics, and even compares well to some of the most gas-stingy Autocockers. Dont worry, youll be able to empty your pack. Many people have described the Angels accuracy as being its one weakness. I dont know if I entirely agree with that. Though I do think that heavier, closed-bolt paintguns do tend to be more stable shooting platforms, I havent found the Angel to have any intrinsic accuracy deficit. Carefully aimed, the Dark Angel will put paint on-target just as well as any other paintgun with a good barrel and fresh, round paint. One good friend of mine actually improved his accuracy quite a bit when he switched to an Angel because the light trigger made it easier to stay on target when he popping in and out of cover and during rapid fire.
In the staging area, the Dark Angel is a head-turner. It is still rare enough to look fresh and consistently draws admiring comments.
The final question is always the same: Is it worth the money? At $1550, the Dark Angel is not cheap. Lets face it though, top-end guns never are. Your extra money pays as much for style and appearance as it does for performance. With the Dark Angel, you do get a lot: great performance, lots of options, sweet looks, and the peace of mind that comes from a lifetime warranty. Its impossible to call any $1550 paintgun a good value, but if you have the money to spend, there is no compelling reason not to give the Dark Angel serious consideration.
All material at this site is © Ravi Chopra, 1999