Every time I start off a review with the words “This won’t be a long review” I end up writing at least 3 thousand words, but I’m pretty confident this won’t be the case here.
The humble charging handle is a pretty simple item, but one that can actually have quite an impact on the overall functionality of a Gas Blow Back replica.
I’ll begin with a very brief synopsis on the real URG-I (Upper Receiver Group – Improved) charging handle to give a little context and also show why I chose it, but bear in mind that only a few of the features will actually be relevent for a GBBR.
Manufactured by Geissele Automatics in the USA, the genuine URG-I charging handle is effectively the same as Geissele’s Airborne Charging Handle (ACH) with a couple of cosmetic differences. The ACH itself was developed from Geissele’s earlier “Super Charging Handle” (SCH) series but with a reduced size to prevent it snagging and catching whilst stowed against a parachutist’s body, this was a request made by a Special Forces unit for the ACH that was later picked up and used as part of the USG-I package for USASOC’s next generation M4 program.
The ACH has a number of features that made it a good choice for the URG-I program and indeed many other contemporary rifles; it’s fully ambidextrous, low profile and also helps mitigate the effects of hot propellant gasses being blown in the shooters face whilst shooting a suppressed rifle. These are generally not something an airsofter has to worry about, but its worth noting that these features have led it to become a highly regarded component for real life suppressed builds.
Onto the Z Parts URG-I ACH, unfortunately there’s not a lot of information about it, even on the manufacturer’s own website. The only information given is that it’s made via CNC and that it’s anodized, not really groundbreaking stuff… But let’s have a closer look and see if there’s more to this than the mere three bullet points they give on their own website.
Unfortunately as mentioned, the Z Parts URG-I ACH doesn’t come with a bristling list of it’s materials and construction. Unlike their (arguably main competitor) HAO, they seem to keep the information on how their products are made and what they’re made from to a frustrating minimum. I’ve a long held believe that if you’re not shouting from the rooftops about the efforts you’re go to when making something, you’re probably cutting as many corners as you can… Prove me wrong Z Parts, I beg you.
The overall profile of the Z Parts MWS URG-I ACH is shorter than that of a real AR pattern charging handle (as are all MWS compatible charging handles), this is to accommodate the MWS’s hop unit which sits where the bolt carrier’s gas key would usually connect with the rifle’s gas tube.
The MWS does have a mock gas key, but it only serves as an interface for the charging handle as well as giving the handle something to latch on to.
The main body of the charging handle is hollow, this allows the bolt carrier to travel back and forward without the charging handle also moving as per its real life version.
The PN (or part number) is laser engraved onto the top, a nice touch and close enough to the genuine article to please most users, although it’s not really seen unless you hold it all the way to the rear or remove it from the upper receiver (which would make it obvious that it’s not a real charging handle).
The charging handle itself is fully ambidextrous, the latch portion is a separate piece of what appears to be milled and anodised aluminium. This sits within the lever on the left hand side and engages firmly with the upper receiver. Both left and right levers mesh together in a cam-like motion and are retained by roll-pins, meaning that pulling either the left or right lever will result in the catch disengaging from a detent on the upper receiver and allow it the whole charging handle and therefore the bolt carrier be pulled rearwards.
The levers are chequered on their front face to aid in gloves or adverse environment use, and I have to say they work well. The overall profile of the levers is also about right, there’s a good amount to grab hold of but without adding any unwanted bulk, but like anything cloned, the original manufacturer is deserving of all the credit… Not the guy who copied someone else’s homework.
The rear of the levers are adorned with “Geissele” trades and the NSN number. These appear to have been machined into the levers which is a deviation from the real URG-I ACH which is roll-marked, but I can’t really fault it. Roll-marking is a little niche for an Airsoft parts company to start doing purely for bragging rights, but it would have been cool. It’s worth pointing out that the civilian ACH is laser engraved, not roll marked, so those of you doing a military clone build should be looking for the URG-I specific handle.
The top of the handle has a raised section, referred to by Geissele as a “gas mitigating fence”, this has zero impact on MWS users but adds a nice overall look and stops the charging handle from rattling around too much but I do have a minor gripe, actually, It’s probably my biggest disappointment of the whole charging handle; The fence doesn’t fit to the rear of the MWS’s upper receiver. The overall length of the charging handle is slightly too long to allow the fence to properly engage the rear of the upper and so you’re left with a charging handle that looks like its never quite “in battery”.
The anodising is a good colour match for Geissele’s DDC hard anodise and therefore HAO’s, it certainly doesn’t look out of place on a mostly HAO build and really stands out against the black cerakoted MWS receiver.
In actual use, the Z Parts ACH actually fits against the receiver a lot tighter than the original Tokyo Marui MWS Colt type charging handle. The latch is considerably stiffer then the stock part and positively clicks into place once the “rifle” is in battery, it’s also a little harder to charge the ACH as this latch provides more tension than the stock part which has led to a fair amount of wear on the upper receiver.
As for negatives? It’s certainly not hard anodised as per the real component, in some areas the DDC has begun to wear off a little, showing bare silver aluminium. I’m also not sure of the actual grade of aluminium billet used, or in fact much about the manufacturing process at all…
Whilst they’ve stated that it’s CNC machined, there’s zero tool path marks in places you’d expect to see them (even where the real one has them) and I’m convinced that the harging handle is most likely cast and then finished off via CNC, not machined from billet. It’s all educated guesses really as they’ve not bothered to include any form of useful information whatsoever.
It would have been nice for Z Parts to be a little more open in how they’ve made this item, it might even win them more business over the poorly made Angry Gun MWS parts that seem to have flooded the market.
Another negative is that it doesn’t seat centrally onto the upper receiver, again this is due to the overall length being slightly too long. The latch spring causes the rear of the handle to pull slightly to the left, not by much but it’s hard to ignore once you’ve spotted it.
Overall though, can I give it the thumbs up? Well, yes. It’s well made enough and close enough to the genuine ACH (whilst being MWS compatible) that it will work well for practically any airsofter’s needs. Whilst I’d have bought a URG-I ACH from HAO in a heartbeat, it appears that it’s just not something they’re going to do anytime soon (And yes, I’ve asked).
Hopefully if they consider building an M4 receiver set for the MWS, then we might see a full URG-I Kit for the MWS become available in the future. Until then, if you’re looking for an ACH for your MWS build, unfortunately I couldn’t think of a better option than this.
A big thank you to Gaz of Red Wolf Airsoft UK for sourcing the part from their Hong Kong Warehouse, as far as I know there isn’t another UK business that imports this particular part.