On first glance the new Glock 18c AEP (automatic electric pistol) by Tokyo Marui is virtually indistinguishable from the previous GBB offerings. Indeed the only two differences between this new Glock and it gas-powered brethren appear while firing and reloading. First, this Glock is a non-blowback AEP. This means that the operating system does not cycle the slide after each shot. Instead the internals of this gun resemble those of an AEG. There is an electric motor that turns a series of gears, which engage a reciprocating spring-loaded piston. Now therein lies a sticking point for some would-be buyers. The slide doesn't move when firing. This may or may not be something you care about. Either way, read on.
The slide itself is one-piece, injection-molded plastic. The mold itself was finished in such a way so as to produce a very flat finish on the slide. So yes, the slide's plastic. But no, it doesn't look like it. The barrel block and ejection port are molded together but in such a way so it appears that they are two distinct pieces. The selector switch is present in its normal place, and functions as on previous models, up for semi-auto, down for full-auto. In general, it seems that Marui's learned a few things about molding plastic over the years, and they pull out all the stops here.
There are several key internal differences between this G18c and its gas blowback predecessors. Because this is not a gas blowback pistol, there is no need for a gas reservoir. This allows the gearbox to be mounted in the grip. The motor shaft lies parallel to the axis of the grip. Above it is the gearing, with the piston and spring mounted towards the front. Now this does cause some problems for realism and leads to the second big difference between this Glock and previous models. The presence of such a large amount of mechanics in the grip means that a full-size magazine, such as those found in most GBB models, is impossible.
Instead, Marui has devised a much slimmed-down magazine, less than half an inch deep and an inch wide. Even so, this new magazine holds a very respectable 30 rounds. Another innovative feature of the magazine is the use of two spring load BB retention pins. These small plastic pins sit on either side of the BB channel at the top of the magazine and prevent the BB's from shooting out from the magazine spring's tension. This arrangement, similar to the system used in AEG magazines, allows one to load the magazine with or without any special tool and ensures that each round seats correctly (in a staggered, double-column) fashion without having to think about it. The magazine uses the same catch as the real steel and previous GBB Glocks, so there's no adjustment needed to your motions for loading or reloading.
It's worth noting that the G18c AEP does incorporate Glock's famous trigger safety. However, Marui has added another safety feature unobtrusive enough to be used by those so inclined and forgotten about by the rest. The left tab on the Glock's take down lever is molded as part of the frame. However, the right tab functions as a traditional safety. In the "down" position it physically blocks the trigger from being pulled.
As if they hadn't had enough to worry about, the battery was no doubt the source of additional grief during this weapon's design. With the elimination of surplus room in the grip, there's precious little space left over for a battery pack. So, Marui seems to have worked the problem from both ends, making a little space for the battery and making a custom pack to fit the space. Marui ended up making a unique and virtually field-proof battery pack. Since an AEP doesn't have to cycle a slide, there's no need for a recoil guide or spring. This added space beneath the barrel was all Marui needed to fit a 7.2v, 200 mAh wireless contact battery pack. The battery pack itself has two "pads" on one end for contacts, not unlike those on battery packs for rechargeable power tools. Marui has even provided a wall charger equipped with a port for charging your shiny new AEP battery.
The whole under-slide assembly is accessed by pressing the spring-loaded back hatch on the Glock's slide and lifting up. The slide can then be completely removed. The battery slides into a port underneath the barrel's breach-end. It can be removed again with the help of a lever, mounted to the left of the barrel's breach. Pulling down on this spring-loaded lever pushes the battery, sideways, out from underneath the barrel. This seems to be a very well-engineered system, and at no time did I feel like I was in danger of breaking something. In fact, Tokyo Marui has made the battery replacing drill so easy to execute that it could even be done in the field, even under fire. The process itself (removing the slide, ejecting the battery, replacing it with another battery and replacing the slide) can be done in under 7 seconds. So, you finally have no reason not to carry an extra battery with you into the field, just in case. Although I wouldn't worry about running out of power at a key moment. So far, I've put around 300 rounds through my AEP on the battery's first overnight charge.
The Marui Hopup mechanism, taking the form of a wheel mounted along the back, left side of the barrel is fairly tight. This tightness seemed to be intentional, and again I had no worries about the gun's overall construction. The Hopup wheel is located under the slide and can only be adjusted with the slide off. However, as the slide it not required for operation, you can just leave it off until your Hopup is set to your liking.
First impressions: "Wow". That was not what I expected. Being that the piston reciprocates up and down within the grip, I expected to have some sort of "hop" while firing the Glock. In fact, whatever vibration I did feel seemed to be almost completely dampened by the weight distribution of the gun's internals.
Each shot is accompanied by the typically light "whine" of the motor and gear assembly. In short, it sounds exactly like it should, like a smaller AEG. As for performance, at a range of around 30 feet I was able to get every round in the 30-round magazine into a 3 inch grouping with a continuous full-auto salvo. The mechanics of the gun doesn't seem to hinder its operation in any noticeable way.
Is it worth it?
This all depends on you. If you're sickened by the idea of an airsoft pistol without a reciprocating slide, then you're not likely to find yourself buying an AEP. And at between $120 and $150 it's not any cheaper than its GBB brothers. However, if you're interested in a capable and effective sidearm, largely unaffected by temperature, humidity and the sometimes fickle nature of gas seals, then you may find a lot to like. Time will tell if the AEP concept can find a home in airsoft. As for myself, I'll be giving this new Glock as much field time as possible and closely watching outside reports on its reliability. I'm also anxious to see if this new design will gain enough support to justify further additions to the AEP line by Tokyo Marui.