© Ravi Chopra 2001
I have to admit, my feelings about Jack Wood are mixed. As Im sure most of you know, the good Mr. Wood was the last Technical Editor of this fine publication before he went off to work for Planet Paintball and the position was given to me. They were big shoes to fill. Jack is a skilled technical writer and talented product reviewer. Those skills are rare in this sport. Few people with a strong technical background bother writing for the paintball press. Jack is one of the few people writing product reviews in this sport who actually appears to be both technically knowledgeable and capable of stringing together grammatically correct sentences.
But then Jack reviewed the new Evolution Autococker for this publication. The Evolution was the first Autococker I reviewed for publication years ago and Id been eager to evaluate and write up the latest version but Jack beat me to the punch. Things only got worse when he reviewed the E-mag, a paintgun I was dying to review. Bastard! Not that Im bitter. Oh no. I was planning on biding my time until the chance for revenge (REVENGE!) arrived, and then I would strike.
The time for payback finally arrived. I received a e-mail from Jack indicating that Planet was interested in sending me new Eclipse Autococker to review. "Sure," I said. "Id LOVE to take a look at it." Ha ha ha. HA HA HA HA HA! Revenge will be mine! Ill trash the gun and Planet together, put them all out of business, and leave Jack begging for spare change in the street!
Then the damn thing arrived and everything changed. Ill spoil the finish now by saying that this paintgun is simply too good to trash. Im becoming convinced that more and more people are really learning to build superb Autocockers because I cant remember the last time I reviewed one that didnt impress me. Just look at my last two - the SFL from Bad Boyz Toyz and the not-an-Autococker Revenge from Splat Attack, both ground-breaking in several aspects. Even the mediocre Autocockers Im seeing at the field are pretty decent and the stock Autococker is now better than the best aftermarket gun sold just 5 or 6 years ago.
The Eclipse sits solidly among the upper echelon of Autocockers currently being offered today. Heres why
The components that make up the Eclipse Autococker trigger are all custom and will look very familiar to anyone who has experience with Belsales Evolution. The assembly is built into a Belsales Angry .45 frame. This frame is much like every other aftermarket Autococker frame in that it comes with both front and back guide screws to take away vertical slack in the triggers action. It has a very plain look though, lacking the extra cuts and logos that come carved into most competing frames. Performance does not suffer for the absence of cosmetic cuts.
The front and back guide screws are brass tipped and polished to provide a slack-free and exceptionally smooth gliding surface for the trigger plate. The plate itself is a precision cut stainless part with parallel surfaces like the Shocktech plate and a larger-than-standard width to take up lateral slack. It also has an old-style slot for the timing rod, making for a slightly longer pull but much more reliable timing over the long term. The finished product was every bit as slack-free as the trigger found in Shocktechs superb SFL Autococker.
The sear is something really special and like so many parts on this gun also comes from the Belsales parts bin. They call it the "Equalizer Ball Race Sear." This sear has a tiny roller bearing installed in its tip where it contacts the ramp of the trigger plate. Polishing and wear is no longer an issue at this interface since the sear rolls up and down the ramp rather than sliding. I first ran into this idea two years ago when Danny Love handed me his personal Autococker to shoot at the range. Id never felt anything so perfectly buttery-smooth. He never made any more of them because they were simply too labor intensive and expensive to make. From what Ive heard about Belsales experiences manufacturing these in large numbers, he was right on the money. For what its worth, the $40-$50 they charge for this sear is worth every penny if good trigger feel is important to you. People drop $50 at the drop of a hat to replace a reg that doesnt do anything to improve performance but balk at spending the same on a sear that makes a huge difference.
In use, the trigger on the Eclipse Autococker is a smooth-trigger-lovers wet-dream. The Brits seem to have absolutely mastered the smooth, silky trigger. Check out the Evolution. Its nearly identical. These are not the snappy feeling triggers you find on most US built Autocockers. Its as soft and smooth as velvet with an easy sear release with just enough feedback to let you know that the hammer has released. This is not just a trick of trigger springing and polishing. Achieving this kind of trigger feel is dependent on awareness of how every part of the gun interacts with the trigger. Planet pulls it off magnificently with the Eclipse.
The front end will be similarly be familiar to anyone who has seen either the STO or Evolution Autococker. Rather than going for aftermarket parts (most of which are either no-better-than or actively worse than the stock), Planet stuck with the sturdy and reliable parts from WGP.
The low pressure regulator is the standard Sledgehammer. An optional Twister kit was added to the gun sent to me for review to allow easy adjustment without disassembly. I twiddled around with the setting a bit after getting the gun but ultimately settled on the exact same point at which Planet had set it at the factory. The Sledge is a durable and reliable reg that does the job as well as any other. Some people feel that it is inferior to aftermarket regs, but I have yet to see any real evidence or hear any rational explanations to support that claim.
The 4-way is the Angry valve, made for WGP by the wizards at Belsales (theres that name again) along with a custom stainless steel piston shaft. Though I dont think this valve quite matches the ultra-short throw of the Shocktech "Bomb" it offers similar reliability, smoothness-of-action, and durability. No complaints here. Though simple, this is a superb valve.
Many 4-way leaks and trigger-binding problems can be tracked down to issues with the timing rod. The timing rod runs from the 4-way, though a channel in the vertical ASA, and back to the trigger plate. On some Autocockers, when tipped to the right the timing rod will tip out away from the gun and take the valve piston out of perfect alignment predisposing to 4-way leaks and trigger binding. Though tightness of fit of the Angry 4-way and the timing rod in the trigger slot should prevent this from ever being a real problem in the Eclipse, Planet went an extra step by installing a "No-Slop" support screw in the vertical ASA which holds the timing rod in close to the gun body and preventing any chance of such problems cropping up.
The ram is WGPs superb aluminum STO ram. This large-barreled ram is smooth, fast, and runs at lower pressures than smaller-diameter rams from aftermarket manufacturers. Ive always found them to be very reliable over the long term.
The front-end pneumatic components are the part of the Eclipse that will most likely be criticized by the ignorant. Please ignore those people. These are not the "stock" pneumatics from the original Autococker. Todays stock STO pneumatics outperform not just their predecessors, but most aftermarket parts as well as being considerably more reliable.
The Eclipse also includes all custom internals, again mostly taken from the Belsales-bin.
The hammer and velocity adjuster are the venerable but still unmatched Rex kit which allows external adjustment of the velocity. A notch in the beavertail and hole drilled through the back block allow you to drop an allen wrench into a small screw in the back of the velocity guide and adjust velocity without having to remove and replace the cocking rod. This is huge in the "convenience" department. The only problem I have occasionally run into with the Rex kit is rapid wear of the O-ring which keeps the velocity screw from backing out on its own. I did not experience any problems with this paintgun, but it does pay to keep a few extra replacements around in case the O-ring does wear out and you cant keep a stable velocity from game-to-game. The hammer is stainless and has a locking screw to keep the lug from backing out. The lug itself is square-cut at the bottom and polished to hold the sear well but allow it to release smoothly.
The valve is the Supercharger valve. This exhaust valve really doesnt look like anything special. No extra O-rings, springs, or funky seals adorn it. None the less, Planet manages to squeeze 1200 shots from a 68 ci, 3000 psi air system when running the gun at 325 psi. The only system that tops this is the extremely expensive and difficult to set up Tornado valve from AKALMP. Extra kudos go to Planet for including a Ny-loc retaining screw to prevent the jam nut that holds the valve in from behind from backing out.
The bolt is Belsales Evolution/Supercharger bolt. This cup-faced bolt has a venturi pattern and has long been a favorite on the Evolution Autococker. In addition this is the same bolt that first included a spring-loaded bearing in the back of the bolt to hold in a bearingless pin. This is not the highest flow bolt in the world, but its hard to argue with success. The gun shoots so well with it Id be hesitant to change anything.
ACCESSORIES & EXTRAS
The Eclipse Autococker is built around an authentic WGP center-feed body, eschewing the increasingly popular practice of using counterfeit bodies. No complaints here, though the three or four of you out there who still prefer left or right feed will have to look elsewhere.
Pressure regulation comes from WGPs Ergo reg, the same reg found as stock equipment on the STO. The more experience I have with this regulator, the more I like it. No only is it ergonomically comfortable (nice finger-grooves and easy to adjust), but I recently gauged one and found it to have a remarkably fast recharge rate in this operating pressure range. This is rapidly becoming one of my favorite regulators in all but the very lowest-pressure applications.
Naturally, the Eclipse comes with all stainless steel screws holding the various bits and pieces together and a standard ball-bearing detent to prevent those double-feeds that only the old-schoolers will remember from the days before this became stock equipment on the Autococker.
The Eclipse includes a fairly plain, ported barrel as stock equipment, but allows you to pick an aftermarket barrel of your choice to have anodized to match the gun should you want one and are willing to cough up the extra $$$ (or £££ for you UKers). The Eclipse I tested included a 12" DYE Boomstick big points in the fashion department there.
Jack also included an Eclipse drop-forward and his personal Armageddon air system to power this bad boy. I did not include either in my evaluation as neither is standard and you have many choices in air systems.
As always, cosmetic appearance is most importantly a matter of personal preference and opinion. I have to say, though, that I really dig the Eclipse Autococker. It doesnt have the radical cuts you see on guns like the Twister, but it is very noticeably changed from the stock Autococker. One particularly nice feature is that theyve cut it with 60 degree slants just like the Eclipse Bushmaster, giving it a family resemblance.
The quality of the work, as you might expect, is exceptional. Though every surface of the gun has been cut, there is no sign of swirls or irregularities on any surface or in any of the grooves indication of superior polishing and exceptional attention to detail. Though deep groves have been cut in each side, small guides have been left to keep the cocking rod from rotating around with use. All parts that are not anodized to match the gun are either stainless steel or chrome for a very consistent look.
The anodizing is typical of Planets work. Though they offer limited choices (3 fades, 3 splashes, and one solid color) the quality of the anodizing is very good. The gun I tested was done out in their standard Banzai green splash. Good, thick coverage is evident on all surfaces with no thinning or pooling. The colors have a rich luster that is sure to please over the long term.
Obviously I was very taken with the Eclipse Autococker. Just like the work from Belsales with which it shares so much, Planets Eclipse Autococker is impressive not only in performance superb trigger feel and efficiency but really one-ups most of the competition in attention to detail both in cosmetics and ergonomics. I think that it is fair to say that the Eclipse will not only perform well, but will perform reliably as long as you can resist the urge to fiddle with its settings.
So at what price comes such excellence? Including the DYE Boomstick, the gun sent to me for review retails out $925 here in the US. That puts it right in the thick of the trick-Autococker price-wars. All good paintguns are ridiculously overpriced, but compared to the competition at this price point the Eclipse is a relative bargain and performance superstar.
All material at this site is © Ravi Chopra, 2001