How to make a better revolver? Is it even possible?
Those who have frequented TPF-Online may have read about the extremely interesting Mateba 6-Unica. The “Auto-Revolver” designed by Emilio Ghisoni, was an extremely technical work of engineering and while the marketability of the “Mateba” may have been questionable, the fact that the design was something completely new, and born of imagination, only lends to confirm his engineering knowledge and creativity. The driving goal of nearly all of Mr. Ghisoni’s designs was for faster and more accurate subsequent shots on a target. To that effect, managing recoil and muzzle flip permeate every single firearms related patent, which has Mr. Ghisoni’s name associated to it. Unfortunately, Mr. Ghisoni passed away in April of 2008, but not before designing what may be revolutionary in terms of design excellence. However, you will need to read further and be the judge of that.
Macchine Termo-Balistiche (Ma.Te.Ba), was sold by mid-2000 and included in the sale were all the previous patent rights for the Unica-6 and other firearm designs founded under Ghisoni’s former company brand name. In the summer of 2000, the company Thermoballistic Machines di Emilio Ghisoni (aka The.ma), began manufacturing of food industry products for Italy. However, whether it was a personal passion for firearms or the quest for technical excellence in design, Emilio Ghisoni continued to work on innovative firearm layouts. With the assistance of Mr. Antonio Cudazzo, financial backing, product evolution and design were possible. It was through a series of back and forth ideas between technical design and ergonomic form that evolved into the Rhino design. While the ergonomics of the Rhino were due to the concepts from Mister Cudazzo, Mister Ghisoni was the source of engineering ability to design the inner workings and functionality of a reliable firearm in such a condensed package.
In the year 2003, The.ma debuted a model prototype six (6) shot revolver chambered in .357 Magnum, which featured a short 50mm (2″) barrel and an extremely narrow profile. The truly interesting feature, and now almost a trademark for Mr. Ghisoni designs, was that the revolver fired from the six o’clock position on the cylinder. This small revolver was known as the The.Ma Rhino revolver. By 2006, Thermoballistic Machines had created a handful of working versions which, akin to previous projects, were effectively all a series of work in progress stages of the Rhino. As with the “Mateba” however, manufacturing was done, by what amounted to a custom machine shop and, as such, the larger scale production requirements were still being adapted in the design.
Unfortunately, the extreme divergence of the Rhino’s design compared to traditional revolvers made many firearms companies in Italy hesitant, if not completely against, endorsing the design for mass production. It was not until after Mr. Ghisoni’s passing that Mr. Cudazzo met with Reno Chiappa (pronounced ‘ki-appa’) who recognized the potential in the design. As proprietor of the Chiappa Group, Mr. Chiappa saw the 50mm (2”) revolver and saw the designs best market being in North America, specifically the United States. Contacting Ron Norton, president of Chiappa Firearms Ltd., in the USA, Reno presented the design for marketing and design adjustments for mass production tweaking. In 2009 the first production models were introduced and to this day the Rhino continues to evolve with customer feedback and market requests.
From Chiappa’s introduction of the Rhino back in 2009 it was obvious that the design was completely alien to common concepts of revolvers. The title statement from the 2009 catalogue was simple and to the point:
A revolver is a repeating firearm that consists of multiple chambers and at least one barrel for firing. As the user cocks the hammer, the cylinder revolves to align the next round with the barrel, which gives this type of firearm its name. In modern revolvers, the revolving cylinder typically chambers 5 or 6 rounds. And that is where the similarity ends.
The biggest difference is the barrel position which is mounted so the bottom most chamber of the cylinder is aligned with the barrel axis. That is a complete flip from traditional revolvers. Yes, there is one or two similar concept designs, such as the Russian AEK-906, but in general the orientation is nearly unheard of outside of firearms designed Mr. Ghisoni. Some of the traditional revolver designs characteristics were ignored to accommodate to accommodate the compact design profile dreamed up by Mr. Cuzzado. His initial wax model helped Mr. Ghisoni to engineer new mechanisms and concepts that would lead into the Rhino being made by Chiappa. A traditional revolver has a hammer located above the revolver’s grip and a trigger that resides near the back edge of the cylinder. With the inverted barrel design and a goal for reduced size and profile, the Rhino’s hammer resides inside the grip area of the revolver and the trigger is positions mid-cylinder. With such a radical change in grip and trigger placement, the Rhino is significantly smaller than a comparable traditional revolver. The 50mm (2.0”) barrel version of the Rhino is less than 165mm (6.5”) long overall, compared to a Smith & Wesson 327 of similar barrel length, which is roughly 180mm (7.1”) in length. There have been several changes since the initial release of the Rhino way back in 2009 and TPF will hopefully cover all of them in this review.
The results of throwing out tradition? TPF does a review of a Rhino 50DS to find out.
Model: Chiappa Rhino 50DS Revolver
Finish: Matte Black
Calibre: .357 Remington Magnum
Capacity: Six (6)
Barrel: 127mm (5”)
Mass (Empty): 895g (31.6oz)
Like its predecessor, the “Mateba”, the Rhino design is one that can be considered ugly when compared to traditional designs. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and everyone has his or her own opinion. The reviewed Rhino was a black finish 50DS model, which stands for 5.0” barrel and Double/Single action. Currently there is a double action only version available but only in 50mm (2”) barrel configurations. The original version of this Rhino, as initially reviewed, had a plain front sight post and a target rear sight, which was adjustable for windage and elevation. The faux “hammer” on the Rhino is simply a cocking lever, as the internal hammer is connected via a floating bar, meaning that in double action shooting the cocking lever stays immobile while the hammer is cocked and released via the trigger mechanics. An interesting feature is the cocked hammer indicator pin that extends roughly 3mm (0.12”) from the frame of the Rhino when the hammer is in the cocked position.
A hexagonal cylinder makes for a thinner profile and supposedly is better for concealment and comfort for those regions/markets where concealed carry weapon permits are available. The cylinder release is completely alien to modern revolvers being a rotating lever co-axial with the cocking lever. The crane arm swings out just as a regular revolver but there is a spring-loaded ball detent to ensure positive closure and assist in cylinder alignment/lockup. All the newest models of the Rhino sport fibre optic front sights compared to a simple blade sight. Rear target sights, adjustable for windage and elevation, are standard on the 102mm & 127mm (4” & 5”) Rhino’s and the 152mm (6”) version has a fibre optic enhanced version. The 50mm (2”) barrel version has a slight variation that utilizes a notched cocking lever for a fixed rear sight. The 102mm (4”) and longer versions of the Rhino incorporate a Picatinny rail under the barrel for mounting tactical accessories and the longest Rhino has an additional rail up top for optic mounting. These features add to the apparent bulk of the Rhino.
There are two available finishes to the Rhino, Black and White; with the black being a matte finish and the white being close to a brushed stainless steel colouration. The reviewed Rhino does strike an interesting change in appearance when compared to similar sized traditional revolvers. With several cutouts along the barrel shroud, the Rhino is very light in mass despite the bulky frame. Aesthetic curving lines and sweeping radii are not a part of the design profile unless you include the grip. However, the angular features and slab-like sides create a particularly fierce and futuristic look to the firearm.
Physical Size and Handling:
The very first thing to note is that the Rhino is roughly 10-15mm shorter than any comparable modern revolver. Additionally, due to the grip position the firearm also has a shorter height than most other revolvers. From a bulk perspective, the grip area and cylinder occupy less space whereas the lower barrel position requires the inclusion of an elevated rail for sight alignment easily doubles that of revolvers that have a full-length under barrel lug. When gripping the Rhino, the first thing that is noticed is the enhanced grip angle is similar to that of Styer M9s, however the smooth, curving heel coupled with the huge “Beaver Tail” included in part of the one piece grip make holding the Rhino very comfortable. The shooter’s grip is extremely high on the firearm and as a result, the lower barrel axis is extremely close to the arm’s centerline. Held as per instructions, the Rhino seems to point very naturally with one hand.
The bulk of the gun belies the lack of mass when the Rhino is actually hefted. This is due to the shrouded style barrel construction similar to that of many Dan Wesson revolvers. The frame itself is manufactured from Ergal, a lightweight 7000 series grade aluminum alloy, with only a few select parts, other than the internal mechanics, manufactured from carbon steel. At roughly 46mm (1.8”), the grips are the widest part of the Rhino as the flat-sided cylinder is a mere 35.8mm (1.41”) in width when locked into position. One of the biggest features noticed by the author was the changes to the cylinder itself compared to other current designs. Gone is the typical ratcheting cog for indexing the cylinder into position. The Rhino’s ratchet system utilizes 6 cylindrical posts to be pushed by the pawl arm, supposedly to extend the usable lifetime of the cylinder. As well the ejector system travels over 29.0mm (1.12”), which when used with any amount of authority, easily sends spent .357 Magnum cases flying from the cylinder.
The primary sales of the Rhino are in the USA, and focused on the short barrelled version, which is prohibited here in Canada. As such TPF was using a more commonly available 127mm (5”) version for the review. For the information of the reader, the Rhino was compared to the same Ruger GP-100 used in the “Mateba’s” review. During the course of the review, several hundreds of rounds, both .38 Special and .357 Magnum, reloaded and factory, were discharged through the Rhino. The claim that the grip and barrel arrangement reduce muzzle flip is completely true. Lighter loads such as those from .38 Specials were indeed easily controllable in recoil, muzzle flip, and recovery for follow-up shots. With full power 158gr factory defensive loads, the reduced muzzle flip and recovery were indeed evident, however with the lightness of the Rhino became painfully obvious after several dozen successive volleys downrange. For those who are interested in the Rhino for action shooting, you are in luck as Chiappa has one of the most well renowned action shooting holster makers on their side. Ghost International makes both a speed holster and a concealment holster for the Rhino revolver. Also having the ability to use the same speedloaders as the GP-100 and S&W 686 makes it easy to set up for IPSC, IDPA, or in the case of the reviewer, ODPL. Over the course of several months, the author subjected the Rhino to an excess of a thousand rounds of ammunition and power levels both for target and for action shooting disciplines. The 50DS handles much differently than the traditional revolver; mainly due to the perceived recoil pushing straight back instead of the torquing motion of a typical revolver. At many times in the beginning, the Rhino was gritty in trigger and occasionally hard to cock the hammer via the external lever, however these issues smoothed themselves out through use. Chiappa has communicated to the author, since that time, that they have enhanced their trigger mechanisms and linkages and corrected any inconsistencies and functioning issues. A worthy note is that there has not been a single failure to fire in the Rhino reviewed despite the condition and quality range of ammunition utilized.
The key benefits of the Rhino are also the sources for the initial negative aspects of this piece of “out-of-the-box” engineering. The extremely high sight rail in relation to the barrel bore means a level of adjustment for point of impact far different that those of traditional revolvers. The grip placement and angle are the second initial detraction for the Rhino revolver. Readers will note the use of the word “initial” in those critiques, as these issues are solely the result of usage and expectations from other handgun designs. With time and practice, these design features will become commonplace to the user of the firearm. However, the Rhino does have a couple features that do deserve note as possible flaws in the initial design. The frame’s edge near the trigger and finger groove is less rounded than the author would have liked. As well the trigger is much different in movement due to finger placement on the trigger. On traditional revolvers, the grip promotes a straight back trigger pull whereas the Rhino’s high, angled, grip causes the trigger to be pulled back and upwards in a rotating motion, yet the extra wide trigger shoe does aid in the pull. The trigger reviewed was an original design and started out quite harsh in both double action and single action, and repeated usage has seemed to have worn in the mechanisms into a relatively smooth action, if still a bit heavy. Chiappa has since offered five (5) different trigger/hammer spring setups with the original measuring about 3.6kg (8.0lbs) and the very light spring set versions warning about reduced reliability for primer ignition due to lighter hammer springs.
The Rhino is indeed innovative in the technical excellence required to re-arrange and re-design the revolver. In January 2012, at the SHOT Show Media Day, the moon clip prototype versions, chambered in .40S&W as well as 9mmx21, where being shot by scores of individuals. These are now into full production and have opened up a completely new marketable region for Chiappa. Reno Chiappa and the entire Chiappa Group have what could be one of the most modern mechanical designs in the realm of ‘wheel-guns’, however the classical concept and set ideology on revolvers is still very much alive and well. As we all know, resistance to change is difficult to overcome in some instances, but the Rhino is well on its way to re-write what defines a revolver. After all, the Rhino is a new design that does not just re-position the barrel location, but alters the whole concept of how revolvers work.
The Chiappa Rhino 50DS revolver as reviewed has an MSRP of $909.00 USD, and retails from $999.99 to $1099.99 CDN at places such as South Frontenac Retail Center (SRFC), located in Harrowsmith, Ontario. It is truly a different animal from the traditional revolver design, and as many readers can attest, a person’s resistance to change can be irrational and misplaced. The Rhino is overall is a new concept, however the ever-increasing popularity, continuous product improvement and large marketing efforts by Chiappa on behalf of the Rhino may create a lasting legacy for Mr. Ghisoni by cementing a place in the annals of firearms history as the father of a new age of revolver design. The Chiappa Rhino, the self-proclaimed revolution of revolver design, is a winning design in the eyes of the author, but is it Tactical, Practical, or Fantastical in the eyes of others such as you, the reader?