The .50 Action Express

By Chuck Hawks

Evan Whildin, Vice President of Action Arms, Ltd., designed the .50 AE in 1988. It was intended for use in the huge Israeli Military Industries (IMI)/Magnum Research Desert Eagle pistol. The intention was to improve the ballistic performance of autoloading pistols. To this end Mr. Whildin developed a line of new auto pistol cartridges for Action Arms, including the 9mm AE, .41 AE, and .50 AE. Only the latter has shown any staying power, the others are already obsolete.

In order for the .50 AE to function in the Desert Eagle pistol, which was designed around the .44 Magnum revolver cartridge, it was designed with the same rim diameter (.514"), case length (1.285"), and cartridge overall length (1.61") as the .44 Magnum. The .50 AE uses a straight walled rimless case with a rebated rim and a slight body taper. Its bullet diameter is .500", not the .510" of the .50 BMG or .50-110 Winchester rifle bullets. The SAAMI maximum average pressure for the .50 AE is 35,000 psi.

In addition to the gas operated Desert Eagle, LAR and AMT (Auto Mag) short recoil operation autoloading pistols have also been chambered for the .50 AE cartridge, as has the big Freedom Arms single action revolver. The .50 AE is a viable big game handgun hunting cartridge, particularly in the extremely accurate Freedom Arms revolver.

Speer offers .50 AE factory loaded ammunition, developed in conjunction with IMI, using a 325 grain JHP bullet (SD .186) at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1400 fps from a 6" barrel. The muzzle energy (ME) of this load is 1414 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the figures are 1138 fps and 930 ft. lbs. The trajectory of this load from a scoped pistol is as follows (Speer figures): +2" at 50 yards, 0 at 100 yards, -8.7" at 150 yards.

The reloader can essentially match the Speer factory velocity figures using the same Speer bullet in a Desert Eagle pistol, or slightly exceed them in the longer barrel of a Freedom Arms revolver. The Speer Reloading Manual #13 shows a MV of 1324 fps for their 325 grain JHP bullet on top of 29.4 grains of H110 powder, and a MV of 1475 fps and ME of approximately 1572 ft. lbs. for the same bullet on top of 32.6 grains of H110 in the 7.5" barrel of a Freedom Arms revolver. The same loads can be used in the Desert Eagle pistol with a velocity loss of about 26 and 38 fps respectively. As with most magnum handgun cartridges, Winchester 296 and Hodgdon H110 are the powders of choice for top performance.

For the revolver there is also the option of a hard cast lead bullet weighing 340 grains (SD .194) from an RCBS mould. According to the Speer Reloading Manual this bullet can be driven to a MV of 1412 fps by 29.0 grains of W296 powder, and 1498 fps by 31.0 grains of W296. The latter load churns up approximately 1700 ft. lbs. of energy at the muzzle, and retains about 1118 ft. lbs. at 100 yards. Its trajectory should look something like this: +1.17" at 50 yards, 0 at 100 yards, and -7.5" at 150 yards.

The fly in the ointment of the .50 AE, of course, is recoil. There is plenty of it, in either autoloader or revolver. To wit, shooting the Speer factory load in a 3.2 pound handgun socks the shooter's hand with about 34 ft. lbs. of recoil energy, and in a 4.4 pound gun the recoil is still on the order of 24.7 ft. lbs. of wrist snapping energy.

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.