The Desert Eagle is a large-framed gas-operated semi-automatic pistol designed by Magnum Research in the U.S., and manufactured primarily in Israel by IMI (Israel Military Industries, now Israel Weapon Industries). Manufacturing was moved to Saco Defense in the state of Maine from 1996 to 2000 which carried the XIX designation, but shifted back to Israel when Saco was acquired by General Dynamics. The Desert Eagle has been featured in roughly 500 motion pictures and TV films, considerably increasing its popularity and boosting sales.
Magnum Research has marketed various versions of the short recoil Jericho 941 pistol under the Baby Eagle name; these have no functional relationship to the Desert Eagle and bear only a moderate cosmetic resemblance.
The Desert Eagle was originally designed by Bernard C. White of Magnum Research, who filed a patent on a mechanism for a gas-actuated pistol in January 1983. This established the basic layout of the Desert Eagle. The Desert Eagle was originally designed as a revolver, but was later reshaped into a semi-automatic pistol. A second patent was filed in December 1985, after the basic design had been refined by IMI for production, and this is the form that went into production.
The Desert Eagle uses a gas-operated mechanism normally found in rifles, as opposed to the short recoil or blow-back designs most commonly seen in semi-automatic pistols. Unlike most such pistols, the barrel does not move during firing. When a round is fired, gases are ported out through a small hole in the barrel near the breech. These travel forward through a small tube under the barrel, to a cylinder near the front of the barrel. The separate bolt carrier/slide has a small piston on the front that fits into this cylinder; when the gases reach the cylinder they push the piston rearward. The bolt carrier rides rearward on two rails on either side of the barrel, operating the mechanism. Its rotating bolt strongly resembles that of the M16 series of rifles, while the fixed gas cylinder/moving piston resemble those of the Ruger Mini-14 carbine (the original patent used a captive piston similar to the M14 rifle).
The advantage of the gas-operation is that it allows the use of far more powerful cartridges than traditional semi-automatic pistol designs. Thus it allows the Desert Eagle to compete in an area that had previously been dominated by magnum revolvers. Downsides of the gas operated mechanism are the large size of the Desert Eagle, and the fact that it discourages the use of unjacketed lead bullets, as lead particles sheared off during firing could clog the gas release tap, preventing proper function.
Switching a Desert Eagle to another chambering requires only that the correct barrel, bolt assembly, and magazine be installed. Thus, a conversion to fire the other cartridges can be quickly accomplished. The most popular barrel length is 6 in (152 mm), although 8, 10 and 14 in (202, 254 and 356 mm) barrels are available. The Mark XIX barrels are machined with integral scope mounting bases, making adding a pistol scope a simple operation. The rim diameter of the .50 AE is the same as the .44 Remington Magnum cartridge for which the pistol was originally chambered, consequently only a barrel and magazine change is required to convert a .44 Desert Eagle to the larger, more powerful .50 AE.
The Desert Eagle is fed with a detachable magazine. Magazine capacity is 9 rounds in .357 Magnum, 8 rounds in .44 Magnum, and 7 rounds in .50 AE. The Desert Eagle's barrel features polygonal rifling. The pistol is mainly used for hunting, target shooting, and silhouette shooting.
Mark I and VII
The Mark I, which is no longer produced, was offered with a steel, stainless steel or aluminum alloy frame and differs primarily in the size and shape of the safety levers and slide catch. The Mark VII includes an adjustable trigger (retrofittable to Mark I pistols). The Mark I and VII are both available in .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum; the Mark VII has been chambered for .41 Magnum. The barrels had a 3/8" dovetail, to which an accessory mount could be attached. Later Mark VII models were offered in .50 Action Express with a 7/8" Weaver-pattern rail on the barrel; the .50 Mark VII would later become the Mark XIX platform. Barrel lengths were 6, 8, 10 and 14 inches.
The most recent model, the Mark XIX, is available in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .50 Action Express (or .50 AE). This model comes in a variety of different finishes, such as brushed chrome or titanium gold. Magnum Research offered this model in .440 Cor-bon caliber, a .50 AE derived case. Mark XIX barrels are available in 6 and 10 inch lengths only.
The DE44CA is the only XIX that is approved for dealer sales to the public in the State of California: it differs from standard XIXs in that it has a firing-pin block incorporated in its design.