There are some mechanical devices that via their design, function, and power have become statements of the person that owns them or uses them. Like the Scottish Claymore, the Ferrari Testarossa, the first Apple iPhone, the gold Rolex, and the subject of this article: the Magnum Research/IMI Desert Eagle. This giant handgun that fires all manner of massive bullets at all manner of foes, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial and even undead; causing the so-called "Deagle" to become the iconic star of hundreds of video games, movies, TV shows, and even song lyrics. There are few firearms that have achieved such a status as the Desert Eagle and it is high time that FWS gives this 1980's hand cannon its own article because it has become a gun of the future due to its design and the ammo it fires. As Yoel said to me recently about the Desert Eagle legacy, he summed the weapon as such: "the first successful totally non-practical firearm." So, grab some .50 action-express, some sunglasses, and some whiskey as we take a dive deep into the Desert Eagle!
By the Numbers:
- Type: Hammer-fired semi-automatic pistol
- Action: Gas-operated rotating bolt
- Current Cartridges: .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .429DE, .50AE
- Capacity: 9 (.357), 8 (.44) 7 (.429 & .50)
- Weight: 3.9lbs (.357) 4.4 (.44/.429/.50)
- Barrel Lengths: 6 in and 10in
- Overall Length: 10.6in (w/6inch barrel) 14.75in (w/10inch barrel)
- Current Manufacturer: Kahr Arms in the USA
- Known Variants: Mark I (1983-1990) Mark VII (1990-1995) Mark XIX (1995-current)
- First Film Appearance: Year of the Dragon (1985) and Commando (1985)
- First Video Game Appearance: Tomb Raider (1996)
What is the Desert Eagle?
The Relationship Between Magnum Research Inc & Israel Military Industries
One of the most interesting elements about the Desert Eagle to an American growing up in the 1980's, was that the hand-cannon was stamped with the words: "Made in Israel". This only enhanced its allured and badass street cred to most of us. For many, like myself, in the age before the internet, we did not fully understand the relationship between the Desert Eagle and Israel. In truth, the concept of the Desert Eagle was American invention, but the hand-cannon that we know today was forged with a great amount help from IMI and Ilan Shalev. When the weapon was being originally developed by MRI, the .357 Magnum chambering pistol was known as simply "The Eagle" or "The 357 Eagle" during its early days and was largely based on the Colt 1911. Around 1982/1983, MRI partnered with the iconic Israeli arms manufacturer, Israel Military Industries (IMI) to improve and produce the pistol that MRI could not get working. While we know that Bernard C. White was the named listed in the US patent, we also know that the 1985 patent filed by IMI had Ilan Shalev listed. Other sites credit Iancu Bercu as well with the design of the Deagle. It seems that IMI was the actual womb for the .357 Eagle and thus, it came from Israel, reborn as the "Desert Eagle" at some point in the 1980's to the US firearms market.
Some advertisements as late as 1983 show the weapon carrying the "Eagle 357 Magnum" pistol name. We know from the 1984 MRI catalog, that the name had been switched over to the familiar Desert Eagle. MRI marketing for the Desert Eagle was pretty brilliant and liberally mined the Israeli and Biblical connections. For example, Yoel discovered that IMI actually made the .50AE ammunition, then imported to the US under the name of "Samson Ultra". And of course, the name "Desert Eagle" was chosen for marketing purposes that also connected it to Israel. The print ads of the time had the legendary IMI logo featured. Another interesting story here is that something I was told way back in the day by my father.
He said that the IDF had developed the Desert Eagle pistol for use by border guards on the Gaza Strip to take down cars being used as weapons or attempting to drive through the checkpoints. He said that big caliber bullets would be able to stop a moving car. Of course, we know that to be completely false, but still, it speaks to the ideas about the Desert Eagle that were around in the 1980s, especially at gun shows during that time. This is the thing with MRI's relationship with IMI, it constructed a mythos around this massive weapon that could not be bought. Having that "Made in Israel" stamp on the weapon created a story and idea in the heads of Americans that propelled the Desert Eagle into a different league of firearm that few grander. The manufacturing relationship between IMI and MRI lasted until 1995, when the American defense manufacture, Saco Defense of Saco, Maine, made the Desert Eagle XIX. Saco Defense and MRI ended their relationship in 1998, around the time that Colt bought Saco Defense. This is when IMI returns to the Desert Eagle story, and they again became the markers of the mighty Deagle.
What Makes the Desert Eagle Futuristic?
Most modern pistols are based around the Colt 1911 or the Browning High-Power, but the in terms of overall look and style, the IMI Desert Eagle was a complete departure. The triangle-shaped barrel coupled with the overall size made it unlike anything seen before and style counts for a great deal in the world of machines. This barrel is even more sci-fi when seen straight on as we saw it in Robocop. Given its design, this made the job of the prop-masters much easier for sci-fi shoots. Need a sci-fi handgun? Thrown in a Desert Eagle and you’re done.
There is some sort of connection between weapons that fire big bullets with train loads of kinetic energy and the realm of sci-fi firearms. This can be seen in KE weapons like the UNSC M6 pistol, the handguns of Firefly, Hellboy’s Good Samaritan, the Blade Runner M2019 Detective Special, and the Lawgiver from Dredd. It’s like, in the future, we don’t use no stinkin’ 9mm, only .50 man! I think it says something about the future that soldiers and space marines can fire large bullets from their hand-cannons to kill litte green xenos than if they used a more “normal” chamber that would actually be used like 9mm or .45ACP. I think this directly applies to the Agents from the Matrix movies.
The Hand-Cannon Thing…
As TV Tropes pointed out, the Hand-Cannon is the BFG of the pistol world and that directly applies to the MRI/IMI Desert Eagle. Much like I said with the big bullets above, applies here as well. There is some about having a big hand weapon strapped to your leg that clearly communicates that this the future and that you are a future badass as well. When I wrote the article about Blasters of Science Fiction, I equaled the Han Solos and Malcom Reynolds of science fiction to the Old West gunslingers, and I think that frames the conversation here as well. The Desert Eagle is a modern day Kinetic Energy blaster that is at home in sci-fi setting as much as the shooting range. In both of these settings, it is the Belle of the Ball. And this is due to both to its steer mass and the mass of the bullet erupting from its triangle barrel. I’ve been at gun ranges when someone whips out an .44 or .50AE Desert Eagle and everyone gathers around like it’s the Beatles in 1964. And that, my friends, is what the creator is looking for when including the Deagle into the hands of their characters.
The History of the Desert Eagle
By 2000, only 500-1,000 Desert Eagles and barrels were imported to the US by 2000. It is likely that the .440 DE Mark XIX was only produced for about one year. What led to the downfall of the .440? It was unreliable in performance and it was expensive and unneeded in the DE inventory. Around the time that the .440 Cor-Bon was being inserted into the Desert Eagle Mark XIX lineup, the production was shipped back to Israel from Saco Defense. Why the change after just three years? According to what I was able to research, MRI moved production from IMI to Saco during a time of trouble for the iconic Israeli firearms company in 1995 and that MRI was unhappy with some of the shipping delays with IMI. When MRI moved from Saco Defense of Maine back to the holy land in 1998, IMI was now the privately-owned Israel Weapon Industries (IWI), It is likely that MRI preferred that the Israelis handle the production of the Desert Eagle. This would last until 2009, when production was moved back again to the USA, but now under Magnum Research own production facility in Pillager, Minnesota.
that were made in Israel. Oddly, you can request that your parts for your hand-cannon come from Israel. In 2010, Magnum Research was bought out by Kahr Arms, but kept the MRI name and location. The last major change for the good ole Degale is the introduction of yet another cartridge: the .429DE in 2018. This was somewhat the return of the old discontinued .440 CorBon cartridge, but better. An .50AE DE Mark XIX is used with a swappable barrel assembly to create the newest entry to the Desert Eagle family. From recent reviews, some gun magazines are saying that the .429 Desert Eagle is the one to buy and shoot at the range or when hunting raptors on some island. There is even a smaller frame Desert Eagle pistol also, the L5/L6. With the Desert Eagle fast approaching its 40 anniversary, we can safety assume that this hand-cannon will continue to be the queen of the range and the crazy-cool sidearm of the virtual warriors of the online battlefield.
Has the Desert Eagle ever been used in Combat?
Here is the eternal question concerning the Desert Eagle pistols...are they used or have they been used by a military organization in actually combat? Officially, we know that the Polish SOF GROM unit has them in their inventory along the Portuguese Grupo de Operações Especiais, however, I am certain that Desert Eagles have been taken to battlefields unofficially by Special Operators, Mercenaries, and non-conventional forces, much like how a few Gyrojet pistols made it to Vietnam. However, it must be said while I do believe that some SOF units have a few of the Desert Eagle in their armories, they are fun guns, range queens, and something different than the typical Glocks, H&K, and SIGs to wipe out blow some targets with big bullets. I also do firmly believe that there have been Desert Eagles used in combat situations. It is highly likely that the Desert Eagles were used in nonconventional warfare situations by warlords, Cartels, and gangs the world. Due to the power of these hand-cannons and its reputation these groups would use one to see what it could do and to have bragging rights that they shot someone with a Desert Eagle! According to sources, GROM Operator legend Pawel Moszner carried a .357 Desert Eagle into the field. So, why is the Desert Eagle not used by military units?
First, the Desert Eagle is a big boy, both in weight (over 4 pounds) and size (nearly 11 inches). It is a greedy boy in terms of its muzzle flash (can be deadly in combat), round size, and expense. Given the size of the weapon and bullets, you image hauling this thing on your leg along with several magazines that are less than half the capacity of an average combat-grade 9mm handgun magazine. In addition to that, which caliber do you chose? .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum, .50AE, or even the new .429DE? None of these are used by any military and the power of these round is massive, does that justify carrying fewer rounds and more recoil? One person online also raised a point about the cost of the ammunition itself. Most of the ammo for the Deagle is $2 a bullet verse $.15 for 9mm.
Then there is the ability to put rounds down range and wasn’t something I had considered. One commenter on Reddit stated that in the time that you put one DE round down range, the 9mm user could triple that out going fire at you due to the recoil and fire-re-aim-fire method. Firing a Desert Eagle can hurt your wrist, and this could cost you the ability to be combat effective. When I rented a .50AE DE, just a few rounds into the magazine, my wrist did indeed hurt. Then the last major issue: reliability. From a great deal of reviews I read, the Desert Eagle has reliability issues that cause the weapon from cycling correctly, leading to stoppages in combat conditions. That could be the end of the user’s life during a gun fight and the cycling issues grow worse with some types of ammunition, the quality of the ammo, and how you hold the massive grip.
Some say that feed it properly, grip it right, and keep it clean; and it will work. Some reviews have said that the DE runs best in the .357 Magnum and .429DE cartridge, and to avoid the .50AE. These are issues that would prevent most soldiers from humping the big boy through the jungle, the mountains, and the urban battlefield. But, I think we are being hard on the Desert Eagle…it was never intended to be the US Military’s next combat handgun. It was designed for being a range queen and a hunter of big game, but a hunter of man? I don't think so. It is not even a good gun for home defense. When civilization ends, it is not the handgun that you would want. This debate about the DE in the combat zone has extended to the virtual battlespace with games like Rainbow 6 Siege, Call of Duty, and Counter-Strike. While there are weakness to this hand-cannon, the power and ability to have a quicker time-to-kill brings video game warriors to wield the Deagle on their favorite maps and have braggin rights in the lobbies.
The Cartridges of the Desert Eagles
With the Desert Eagle being placed into so many movies and TV shows, blank ammunition was a must and two different companies produced the blank ammo for the DE.
The .357 Magnum (1982-Current)
.357/44 Bain & Davis (Prototype 1989?)
The .41 Magnum (1987-1990?)
The .44 Magnum (1986-Current)
.440 Cor-Bon (1999-2001?)
This is by far the most mysterious and rare caliber chambered in the Desert Eagle is the .440 CORBON Magnum. At some point during the early years of the Mark XIX model, this wildcat 10mm round was placed into the inventory of MRI's offerings. Cor-Bon was a small ammo marker and was founded in 1982. In 1998, Cor-Bon developed an wildcat .440 (10.9mm) cartridge that was necked-down from the established .50AE round, to fit an .44 Magnum bullet. Much of the history and why of the Cor-Bon .440 round is unclear, but it is clear that using an .50AE brass, the ..440 was designed specifically with the Desert Eagle in mind. It did not last long though. By 2000, only 500-1,000 Desert Eagles and barrels were imported to the US by 2000. It is likely that the .440 DE Mark XIX was only produced for about one year. What led to the downfall of the .440? It was unreliable in performance and it was expensive and unneeded in the DE inventory with rounds like the .44 and the .50AE.
The .50 Action-Express (1991-Current)
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine, that all the world will be in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish sun.
The .429DE (2018-Current)
The newest caliber to find its way into the Desert Eagle family is the .429 DE. This cartridge was developed Jim Tertin who is the director of manufacturing over at MRI in 2018. This means that the .429DE is likely the first cartridge developed by MRI for the Desert Eagle directly. For the most part, the .429DE is a .50 AE case necked down to a .44 Magnum bullet that comes in a .429. This round is close to the old .440 CorBon round and the .44 AutoMag cartridge. It seems that MRI never forgot the failure the promise and failure of the .440 CorBon round and worked to develop an similar round for the DE platform. From reviews I've read, the .429DE performs better than the .44 Magnum in terms of energy and better shooting characteristics than the .50AE. For me, I think if I was in the market for an Desert Eagle than an .429DE might be my choice (that or a .357 Magnum).
The .51 (Prototype 1990?)
The IMI Jericho 941...the Baby Eagle?!
The Desert Eagle Carbine?!
The Case of the MK.23 SOCOM and the Desert Eagle
When the topic of the rumored military service of the Desert Eagle is discussed, some people bring the H&K SOCOM Mark 23 offensive handgun from the 2000’s up. These two handguns are connected due to their size, weight, and mystery surrounding them. USSOCOM wanted an offensive handgun in .45ACP for Special Operators to use in a more offensive role rather than the normally defensive role of pistols and that these special pistols would be equipped with a laser module and a suppressor. This is a very cool project and the only gun to make through the trials was the Heckler & Koch Mark 23 .45ACP. About 2000 were issued in USSOCOM unit mostly in the USAF, NAVSPECWAR, and some SOCOM crew serve personnel While a masterfully designed pistol that is a legend, it is also heavy and large…nearly as heavy and large as a Desert Eagle.
For comparison, the Desert Eagle weights in 4.4lbs with a overall length of 10.75. Compare that with the Mark 23, which is 9.65inches and 3.2lbs. That is not much separating these two giant weapons, but why was the Mark 23 allowed to serve on the frontlines of the War on Terror and the Deagle was confined to the range? H&K designed the Mark 23 for combat, and it survived on of the most hellish endurance tests ever put to a pistol trial. Let us be frank, the Desert Eagle could have never survived the trials that the HK Mk. 23 went through. While the Desert Eagle and the Mark 23 are similar in size and weight, the Mark 23 was designed for the realities of combat while the Desert Eagle was never engineered for the battlefield and it shows, especially in the fifty caliber. In addition, the Desert Eagle was designed by two companies, not government contract requirements, which shaped these guns in radical different paths of the firearms market.
Action Arms Ltd., the Timberwolf .357 Pump Action Rifle, and IMI
Can You Suppress a Desert Eagle?
The Desert Eagle in Popular Culture
For 35 years since the Desert Eagles first appear in film, this iconic and infamous hand-cannon has appeared in over 500 films, TV shows, and video games and despite being 35 years old, it still appears in forms of media on the regular and used everyday by video game warriors on the gaming grids. One of the results for the massive inclusion of the Deagle into popular media is that MRI actively persuaded prop houses and firearms outfitters to include the Desert Eagle. At the time the Desert Eagle entered the US market, action films were big business and having the Deagle in the film made it just that much more cool. Very soon, it seemed like all of the major action movies and action stars were wielding the Desert Eagle into battle. According to my research, the action star that has wielded the Deagle in the most movies is Arnold Schwarzenegger. When video game technology was able to render more realistic firearms in the 1990s, the Desert Eagle was rapidly included in titles like Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, and Counter-Strike.
Its inclusion into Counter-Strike propelled the gun into the next level. Much like the Glock and AK47, the Desert Eagle was featured in hip-hop lyrics. The Desert Eagle took a life of its own in popular media and even the must garish gold-finished Deagles were being coming icons of status. When the Desert Eagle was seen on-screen, it said things about the character and setting without saying a word. Creators against all media enjoyed inserting the Deagle into their work to capitalize on its image and the power of the bullets it fired. I think Yoel summed the Desert Eagle in popular media best: The vibes I get from this gun is that the Kardashian of the firearms world - famous for being famous. it isn't famous of being used by any military or police agency, it is simply famous.
The Desert Eagle and Science Fiction
For many of us that write and creator in the genre of science fiction and more specifically, military science fiction, there are those weapons that spring inspiration. For me, my inspiration for military SF pistols was the H&K USP in the hands of the RAINBOW Operator on the cover of the original Rainbow 6 game. For some, the Desert Eagle is their inspirational weapons. This is seen in weapons like the UNSC M6 Magnum from HALO. This is just one part of the relationship between the Desert Eagle and sci-fi.
Examples of the Desert Eagle in Fiction:
The "Podbyrin 9.2mm" from Red Heat
One of the more forgotten films of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Golden Period was 1988's Red Heat, where Arnold plays police office Ivan Danko in the Soviet Union with a iron haircut and a unique fictional firearm: the "Podbyrin 9.2mm" hand-canon. In the film, the Danko explains that the Podbyrin 9.2mm is the most powerful handgun in the world and not the .44 Magnum revolver. It is used several times by Danko, but none of the other Soviet police officers. Of course, this is an Mark I .357 Magnum Desert Eagle with some customizations done by the legendary custom firearms master Tim LaFrance. The director of Red Heat was Walter Hill and he wanted a non-realistic weapon based on the look of the iconic Walther P38, just larger and meaner that could also look impressive even in the hands of Schwarzenegger. Some color changes were made to the Mark I DE for desired more P38 appearance with a likely 8-10inch extended barrel, different front sight, and wooden grips added for good measure. Tim LaFrance was asked for a rush job by the director and instead of his normal $3,000 fee, it was doubled. Three of the Podbyrin 9.2mm "Hollywood Eagle" pistols were made for the film so that the actor could always have one loaded. Interestingly enough, the three Podbyrin pistols were blank firing and the gas porting proved to be the most difficult part of the fictional weapon. The gun has gone on to be a popular fictional weapon and often appears on internet lists and some have modified airsoft Desert Eagles into the Podbyrin 9.2mm. Interesting fact, I think that Schwarzenegger has used a Desert Eagle more on screen than any other actor.
The Desert Eagle in Terminator: Salvation
For many of us fans of the Terminator franchise, we wanted a film set in the dark future of 2029...but, we didn't get that with 2009's Terminator Salvation. Instead, we got a half-ass film with elements of what we wanted and alot we did not. Two of the characters in the film are show wielding Mark XIX Desert Eagle in the .50 range in the post-Judgement Day world and there is never much in the way of explanation of why and one of them is an A-10 pilot that has her Desert Eagle as her backup weapon. Makes one wonder what effect an .50AE round would have on Terminator?
The Desert Eagle in RAINBOW 6
The Desert Eagle in Half-Life & Counter-Strike
While the Desert Eagle 's first appearance was in the first Tomb Raider video game in 1996, it was its appearance in Half-Life: Opposing Force and then in Counter-Strike that forge the legacy of the Desert Eagle in video game. In Opposing Force, the Deagle is chambered in .357. When Counter-Strike was released in 2000, the Desert Eagle had a starring role in .50AE as the "Night Hawk 50C". It was there in that game that the Desert Eagle would acquire it nickname: "the Deagle". Appearing throughout the series of games, the Desert Eagle is still there, dealing digital death to those that stand near the weapon.
The Many, Many Desert Eagles from the Call of Duty Games...Dear God
The EM-33 Plasma Pistol from Star Trek: Enterprise
The Hidden Desert Eagles from Predator
Meryl's Desert Eagle from the Metal Gear Solid Universe
Early on in the video game career of the Desert Eagle, it would appear in one of the most famous video games of all times: 1998's Metal Gear Solid. In that game, Meryl Silverburgh takes an Desert Eagle .50AE from the armory instead of the Mark 23 SOCOM. There in the dialog between Snake and Meryl, she mentions that her Desert Eagle chambers the .50AE round. The character of Meryl would continue to use the Desert Eagle in other games. Given that this game came out in 1998, this would one of the earlier appearances in video games, especially given the popularity of game.
The Lasered Desert Eagle from Predator 2
In film, Danny Glover's character would carry as his service sidearm an chrome-brushed Mark VII .357 Magnum Desert Eagle complete with a early laser sight that maybe a LASERAIM, which is the models used on Jerryy's and Leona's SIGs (Danny uses an flashlight on his S&W .45ACP). Given the time period when the film was shot, pistols did not have rail systems yet and a great deal of customization was needed to fit the lasers and lights. There is some debate in my mind about if the device mounted to the top of the Desert Eagle is actually an early red dot sight rather than a laser sight.
The Desert Eagles of RoboCop
While he most famous for using a shotgun and the COBRA assault cannon, he used use an interesting Desert Eagle. When he terminates Bob Morton, he screws on a suppressor on an extended threaded barrel of the Desert Eagle, thus, making this the earliest example of a suppressed Deagle. During the abandoned foundry fight at the end of the movie, Clarence would use the Mark I without the suppressor and one can see the threaded barrel. However, during the cocaine warehouse battle, Clarence uses a normal Mark I Deagle. Some on IMFDB.com have reasoned that the threaded barrel Mark I used by Clarence is the abandoned Robocop sidearm. At first, the production wanted to use an Desert Eagle for Robocop's weapon, but it was found to be too small for the OCP cyborg, and the Auto-9 was developed. As far as I can research, I cannot find any images of the original Robocop Deagle. For many of my generation, this was maybe there first look at the Desert Eagle in all of its glory.
The Suppressed Desert Eagles in Universal Soldiers
In 1992, there was much hype given to the military sci-fi film "Universal Soldiers" that starred Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren as resurrected genetically engineered super soldiers in a special unit. While not a good film at all and a waste of the concept, it does feature a rarely seen suppressed Mark I .357 Magnum DE fitted with a Tasco laser point sight. During other missions, the suppressed come off.
The Agent's .50AE Desert Eagle from the Matrix Universe
The Desert Eagle from Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man
In 1991 one of the most unusual films that had a great deal of talent and had one of the oddest names: Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. Taking place in 1996, it has two outlaws that have an extensive history together banned together to save a friend's bar...only to uncover another conspiracy. In the beginning of the film. Harley Davidson disarms a robber of a Mark VII Desert Eagle. In the film dialog the pistol is identified as an .44 Magnum, but in actuality, it is chambering the familiar .357 Magnum. I guess .357 Magnum is not cowboy enough for the Marlboro Man. In the hands of Mr. Davidson is an .454 Casull Ruger Super Blackhawk. There is debate if the Ruger in the movie fires an .454 Casull or another more common caliber like .357 or .44.
The ISA M4 Semi-Auto Pistol from Killzone
The Mark I Desert Eagle .357 with 10inch Barrel from Slipstream
my article on it.
The UNSC M6 Magnum series of Sidearms from the HALO Universe
One of the most famous .50 pistols in science fiction is the M6 Magnum family of sidearms used by the UNSC for over 150 years. Throughout the HALO games, the variants of the M6 have been along side you or against you with deadly results. The Desert Eagle .50AE has been often cited as an influence for the M6 Magnum series. However, I am not sure about that. For example the .50 cartridges are different sizes: the .50AE is 12.7x33mm vs. 12.7x40mm used in the M6 series. One of the designers of the original game said the reason for the size of the weapon and its cartridge came from the size of the SPARTAN-II warriors.
The Desert Eagles of Space: Above & Beyond
The Desert Eagles of Ms. Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider universe
The Best Desert Eagle Videos on YouTube!
Next Time on FWS...