Today’s ammunition data dump has a tangential relationship with the Second Chance Combat Shoot, as one of the designers was a frequent competitor. John C. “Jack” Robbins worked at the US Air Force’s Armament Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. His then 13-year old son, John, even won the 1977 match! Mas Ayoob and Bill Wilson also credited Jack with introducing them to the Beretta 92.
By the early 1970s, the USAF had become disillusioned with the performance of the .38 Special M41 Ball cartridge. Experiments were made to improve the performance of the cartridge, including short case variants, as well as deep-seated variants. The latter option was ultimately standardized as the PGU-12/B. The USAF also started to look at the potential of modifying their S&W Model 15 revolvers to fire the 9x19mm cartridge.
Robbins, along with Dale M. Davis, led the USAF’s search for a replacement handgun for the service. In August 1977, the Air Force Armament Laboratory contacted manufacturers inviting submission of 9mm semiautomatic pistols. The pistols should be capable of single and double-action fire; have a magazine capacity of at least 13 rounds; the magazine catch should be easily accessible and drop the magazine free upon release; the slide should lock to the rear when empty; the ambidextrous safety must lower the hammer without touching the trigger and lock the firing pin when engaged; the magazines should be equipped with a removable floor plate; and the pistols parts should be interchangeable.
The submissions included the Beretta 92S-1; the Colt SSP; the FN GP35, ‘‘Fast Action’ Hi-Power, and Double Action Hi-Power; the HK P9S and VP70; the Smith & Wesson 459A; and the Star Model 28. The HK entries and the basic FN GP35 were quickly dismissed due to failure to meet the basic technical requirements. Ten each of the remaining candidates were purchased for testing. An equal number of issue M1911A1 pistols and S&W Model 15 revolvers were used as control samples. The test pistols were to be capable of functioning under adverse operating conditions, including dust, mud, heat, and cold. Only eight significant malfunctions were to be allowed during the 5,000-round endurance test. No candidate passed the tests, but the Beretta was considered to have performed the best of all of the handguns tested, including the control models.
One of the reasons the 9x19mm pistols performed so poorly was the mediocre quality of the then-standard 9mm M1 Ball cartridge. Robbins and Davis started a side project to improve the 9x19mm cartridge. Cartridge collector and USAF officer Lewis E. Curtis III provided Robbins with samples from his personal collection of 9x19mm cartridges. (I’m uncertain of Curtis’ rank at the time, but he retired as a Major General in 1995.)
After research and experimentation, Robbins and Davis settled upon two potential 124-grain designs: a truncated cone and a rounded ogive flat point. Either Hornady Manufacturing Co. or Federal Cartridge Co. produced the initial projectile samples, and these were passed along to G&S Munitions Inc. of Hereford AZ for loading. The cases were surplus Canadian manufacture, headstamped “9 MM 45”.
Somehow Hornady-Frontier had heard about the design and commerically adopted the truncated cone variant in .45 Auto, .357 Magnum, and .44 Magnum in 1979. Their 9x19mm variant followed in 1980. (Federal would later introduce its own 9x19m loading, the 9MP, as a match cartridge.)
Jeff Cooper was particularly enamored with the Hornady-Frontier cartridge, and selected it for match issue to competitors at the US IPSC Championship. This was not a popular decision for individuals who had their firearms sighted in and tuned for different loadings.
Robbins & Davis filed their first patent application in December 1979, and abandoned it in favor of an updated application in September 1982. They ultimately received US Patent # 4,517,898 in May 1985.
Instead of the truncated cone design, the USAF selected the flat point variant with the rounded ogive. By 1982, this became known as PGU-19/P. It was loaded by Olin-Winchester in cases headstamped “9mm R&D WCC 82.” If officially asked, R&D stood for “Research & Development,” but those on the inside knew it was short for “Robbins & Davis.”
While the conventional round nose 9mm M882 Ball was elected by the US Army over the PGU-19/P, note that the latest 9mm M1152 Ball is a throwback to Robbins and Davis’ earlier work.