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SI Profile: Beretta U.S.A.

SI Profile: Beretta U.S.A.

What does "Beretta" mean to you? Well, that depends on where you live and perhaps also on your field of interest.

Here in the United States, "Beretta" is the new military sidearm and the name conjures up images of semiautomatic pistols. To many in the U.S., the name might mean a variety of medium and small frame pistols from a double action .380 to a tiny .22 that hides in the palm of your hand.

Among medium frame pistols are the 84 and 85 series double action .380s with 13 or 8-round magazines respectively, and the 86tip-up barrel .380 with an eight-round magazine. The Model 87 is the same pistol in .22 caliber and there's a long barrel version. The Model 89 Target Pistol takes full advantage of the six-inch barrel's sight radius, weighs 41 ounces and comes with thumbrest target stocks.

Small frame pistols include the 950 series of single action semi-autos in .25 Auto or .22 Short with tip-up barrel, and the 21A double-action tip-ups in .25 Auto or .22 Long Rifle.

In Europe, mention "Beretta" and thoughts turn to hunting rifles and fine shotguns.

The S689 and SSO are high-powered, double barrel O/U Express rifles in .30-06 and 9.3 x 74R and .375 H&H Mag. and .458 Win. Mag. respectively.

There's the .303 self-loader shotgun with all versions featuring the unique Mag-Action(TM) that handles both 2-3/4 and 3-inch Magnum barrels. A one-piece, stainless steel piston meters gas; no seals, rings, springs, or valves. The piston is split at one end so it expands. Higher pressure expands it more so it hugs the cylinder walls. The greater the pressure, the tighter the grip so the piston works harder to move the action. With low brass shells, the piston moves freely.

The more traditional sportsman may think of classic over/under or side-by-side shotguns when he hears "Beretta."

Yet the Onyx series was designed for American tastes and preferences, in both over/under and side-by-side models. They feature the patented monobloc construction for strength and perfect barrel alignment. Stocks and forends are American walnut. Special steel capable Mobilchoke(R) screw-in choke tubes are included.

If you're a competition shotgunner, "Beretta" means special models for trap, skeet and sporting clays in your choice of an autoloader or over/under. The Trap Combo includes a second barrel assembly with just one barrel where the lower barrel would be. A high ventilated rib maintains the sighting plane. Or you can have the single barrel on the top.

If you're a military or police man, the imagery is quite different. You might think of the 1200FP, 12-gauge, semiautomatic shotgun with six-round magazine, matte black finish and a 20-inch barrel. Beretta even manufactures machine pistols and machine guns to round out their involvement in all areas of manufacturing.

"The Beretta family is dedicated and devoted to the gun business," says Bob Bonaventure, vice president and general manager of Beretta USA. "We're in every aspect of it, and will be in it for the long run."

Beretta USA was formed in 1977 to meet increasing demand by U.S. consumers, according to the company. They began producing the small semiautomatic pistols in 1978. Of course, they were also hoping for the contract to build the U.S. Armed Forces new standard issue 9mm sidearm. That XM-9 contract required stateside production capability.

The military contract was awarded to Beretta in 1985, and the Accokeek, Maryland plant was doubled in size to some 86,000 square feet. The number of employees has increased from 100 to 475. More than $15 million has been invested in capital improvements from 1985 to today.

We cannot ignore the controversy over this military contract. Smith & Wesson was bidding, along with Heckler & Koch. SIG/Sauer and Ruger, for this lucrative business and they weren't happy about the award to Beretta. They all protested Accusations of improper evaluations apparent bias, and contract improprieties has led to five years of argument, interservice disagreements, and involved the House Committee on Government Operations and General Accounting Office (GAO). The latest is the sixth pistol selection competition since 1953, the third in the past five years.

The first stage military requirements is some 300,000 Model 192F pistols by 1990. The Department of Defense had planned to award the second "follow-on" contract for some 142,000 pistols to Beretta automatically. But Congress decreed that the Pentagon had to re-bid the $30 million second stage order.

The new XM-10 competition's product specifications are not the same as before. When the Army exempted Beretta because their product had already passed evaluation, S&W and SIGARMS refused to enter a retesting program unless Beretta was included. Beretta protested to the GAO. It seems they did not submit new pistols for evaluation because the Army said it "would select the M9 from its own resources." Then, after the deadline had passed, the Army "changed the rules" by saying it would not exercise that option.

This meant a randomly selected sampling of Berettas would be competing against guns prepared expressly for evaluation. Beretta proposes that evaluation guns from all manufacturers be randomly selected. Even with these obstacles, the Army again selected Beretta as the "new" service pistol of the military. Beretta's current reign as the winner is expected to last for some time before new trials rear their ugly head again. The "M-10" as it is now known, is just as popular as before and is assured a place in small arms history.

The company also supplies its high performance 9mm pistol to some 400 U.S. law enforcement agencies including the Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, and North Carolina State Police, Wyoming Highway Patrol, and Texas Rangers. Accusations of failures and malfunctions rippled through the law enforcement community with all the speed of bad news rumors.

In response, Beretta published a pamphlet - "92F Facts."

Regarding reported slide breakages, the company says, more than one million slides of the M9 type have been made and are in service without incident. Only four in-field failures were reported, all incidents occured under unique operating conditions with one elite special operation unit of the U.S. Navy and involved suspect ammunition. An early run of M882 ammunition, loaded with a very fast-burning powder, gave chamber pressures often as high as 50,000 psi, higher than regular proof loads which average in the 42,000 to 46,000 psi range. Typical pressures in commercial ammunition ranges from 25,000 to 35,000 psi.

Extensive examination by government techniques found nothing to indicate that the pistol was the cause of the breakage.

Beretta points out that more than 150 M-9 design pistols have been endurance tested with NATO-approved ammunition under the supervision of U.S. and other governments to 5,000 rounds and beyond, several tests adding up to 10,000 rounds. "Not a single breakage, crack or even microscopic indication of breakage has occured," Bob Bonaventure said.

No slide has ever failed under normal operating conditions. The four reported incidents, involving that suspect ammunition: two occured at 30,000 rounds, one at 10,000 and the fourth at between 4,500 and 6,000 rounds.

In addition to manufacturing the small frame and 9mm autos in the U.S., Beretta also imports and distributes the sporting and military arms produced by its parent company, P. Beretta S.p.A. of Gardone Val Trompia, Italy.

For nearly five centuries, the Beretta family has been involved in producing firearms. Bartolomeo Beretta, born sometime before 1498, was a master gun barrel maker in Gardone. His son Giovannino followed in his father's footsteps and that's the way it went for ten succeeding generations of Berettas.

Pietro I began the expansion that was to make Beretta a pillar of northern Italian industrialization. His son Giuseppe supervised the transition into international horizons, and his son Pietro II assumed the chief executive role in 1903.

With the introduction of the Model 1915 semiautomatic pistol, and its adoption by the Italian armed forces, Beretta's position in the firearms industry was assured.

Today, the parent Beretta is under the leadership of its chairman, Dr. Pier Giuseppe Beretta, and Ugo Gussalli Beretta, managing director. Both are direct descendants of Bartolomeo. The Gardone operation employs 2,200 in a 550,000 square foot factory.

The U.S. plant shows no signs of such a long history, however. It's new, modern and state-of-the-art. Medium and small frame pistols are made in the original part of the plant. The 9mm production is in the newer 55,000 square foot addition to the rear of the plant.

Machinery is largely NC (numeric control) or CNC (computer numeric control) and is grouped into "island" work stations so one operator can conveniently keep as many as four complementary manufacturing stages going at once.

As you walk back into the new 9mm working area of the factory, you see machinery arranged so there is a smooth flow of product in process, from one automated machine to another. But where only human hands can do the job right, as in polishing, that job is still done by hand.

Every pistol is proof fired, naturally, but function firing is another job that must be done by hand. Every pistol must feed and fire a full magazine load on the range before it is passed.

It is Beretta's philosophy to make one model in one location, rather than duplicate capabilities. The Model 92F is an exception. It is manufactured in both Italy and the United States, and plans are to build a factory in France to produce it there, too. The Model 92F is used in 45 different countries either as a military or law enforcement sidearm.

The most difficult challenge, according to Bonaventure, was developing the skilled work force. "There's not much but fishing and hunting to attract people to Accokeek," he said. But, after a nationwide recruitment program, he now has the technicians, set up people, quality control inspectors, and trained employees to maintain production. "We have a team that's ready to go." Bonaventure added.

While Beretta USA is run by Americans, Beretta executives from Italy visit frequently to provide technical expertise and consultation.

It is obvious that Beretta management is proud of their physical facility and skilled work force. There was no place I couldn't go, no person I couldn't talk with, and no question I couldn't ask. Such an open attitude as that is bound to engender confidence.

When I asked Bob Bonaventure what's the one thing he'd want said in this article, he replied: "Beretta is a company that makes high quality products that we're proud of and want others to be happy with."

PHOTO : Bob Bonaventure holds the shotgun while Ralph Cole, left, public and legislative affairs manager, and Rafael Aguirre, right, director of marketing, look on.

PHOTO : Part of the new addition for Model 92F production shows how work stations are grouped to provide a smooth process flow.

PHOTO : Frames go through several steps on the platform of this automated CNC milling machine.

PHOTO : Human hands check every frame.
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Title Annotation:firearm manufacturer
Author:Clede, Bill
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:company profile
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Previous Article:Doing business with Uncle Sam.
Next Article:SI takes a look at: Armscorp of America.

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