Review: KCI AR-15 100 Round Drum Magazine

I’ve tinkered with AR-15s for about 20 years, including both semi and fully automatic. I always wanted a Beta Magazine for my registered receiver M4, but they were insanely priced during the Assault Weapon Ban and didn’t go down too much when it ended, lingering in the $250 range.

In the last couple of years, however, Korean magazines from KCI (also marketed as PWA and Victory) have been available for $120-$150.  Casual searching provides both positive and negative reviews, though most of the negative ones seem to be both anecdotal and hearsay (“my cousin’s roommate had one and it was Korean junk!”).  I decided it was time to procure one and test it myself.

Non-descript box

The KCI drum magazine arrives.

The magazine arrived today in an unusually generic box. This is no doubt to facilitate marketing it under at least three different names in the United States (KCI, Victory, PWA). The manual was packed at the top of the box, probably to encourage customers to actually read it since this is not your father’s G.I. 30 round magazine.

Included with the magazine is a brief manual, a carrying case with military belt clips, a 5 round “personal” loader, and two bottles of graphite lubrication that fit into small pockets on the case.

Inspection

The case is perfectly adequate, but certainly not tough – the material seems very thin. I can’t see it lasting long term with a high level of abuse.  It has a high-speed buckle on it, which I find ironic since there’s nothing high-speed about attaching this behemoth underneath your rifle.

The speed loader holds five rounds and assists in the insertion into the magazine. The manual references a 10 round “speed” loader designed for stripper clips, but such a loader is not included.

The mag comes with accessories

The manual claims that the magazine is capable of being pre-loaded and stored indefinitely at the full 100 round capacity. In addition, it states that the estimated life of the drum is more than 50,000 rounds.  It also verifies that, as one would reasonably expect, the drum feeds alternately from the right and left drums, resulting in a fixed center of gravity while firing.

The drum appears to be quite sturdy.

The drum is made mostly of high-impact plastic with some metal reinforcement. It appears satisfyingly sturdy, I suspect I could beat someone unconscious with it.  Unfortunately, the plastic includes the entire tower. I’m concerned that the feed lips might wear prematurely. It is not light, tilting the scales at 2.2 lbs (1 kg) unloaded and 5 lbs (2.27 kg) loaded. That’s a pretty substantial boat anchor hanging on to the bottom of a lightweight carbine and a good bit of extra weight compared to an equivalent number of GI 30 round magazines weighing 1 lb (.45 kg) each.

Disassembly

Disassembly is simple enough. Will it work afterwards?

Disassembly for cleaning and lubrication is relatively simple. Remove the two strap screws, remove the strap and tower, then remove the two cover screws, pull the cover off, and you’re done. It has plenty of graphite inside, so be prepared for a bit of a mess.

The internal mechanism also appears to be largely very tough plastic. The tension arms and supports, however, are made of steel and appear reassuringly sturdy. There are two belts with fake cartridges to aid in feeding – care must be taken to reinsert these properly. I’ve already learned that you can reassemble the drum with a bind in the feed belts. The easy way to test for this is to push down on the artificial cartridges and make sure you can push it down a good ways. If it’s bound, you can only push it down enough to fit a couple of rounds in.

Loading

Loading with the “personal” loader is pretty simple and pretty fast.  Snap the loader on to the tower in the direction indicated by the cartridge-shaped pictogram.  Drop 5 rounds in, then push the top down firmly and you’ll hear a snapping sound as the rounds are fed into the drums.  This is a surprisingly light physical effort for the first 50 rounds or so. After that, it gets tougher.  However, I simply changed to place the magazine on a firm surface and reposition for better leverage and had no trouble topping off the magazine to a full 100 rounds.

Loading the drum

Loading my current favorite PMC X-TAC

The drum is sturdy enough I think you can safely use your body weight to load rounds. Smacking the cover side against a firm surface also appears to help smooth feeding, much like it can help position rounds in a GI magazine.

Next up… range trip!

 

 

Range Trials

I made it to the local range with the magazine already loaded. Now is probably a good time to mention that it is damn near impossible to seat this thing in the mag well with the bolt forward and all 100 rounds in it.  I had no other issues getting going – insertion with the bolt retracted is as expected.

I made it through about 60 rounds before I had a jam.  I disassembled the magazine and found one of the “fake belts” was jammed and I suspect in upside down.  One end of the two belts is different than the others; the rear of the fake cartridge is pointed. This goes on top.  This one was my fault; the magazine came assembled correctly as you can see in the pictures.

I reloaded the magazine and gave it another go and was pleasantly surprised to fire about 85 rounds semi-auto without any hiccups.  Since the range I go to strongly frowns upon full auto, I saved the fun for last and fired a 10-15 round burst to finish off the magazine. That too worked fine, and the bolt locked back as expected.   I’ll try to get the video posted here soon – I’m having issues with my DV camera. Finally, it’s available.

Conclusion

I think this magazine is worth the price if you desire the ability to put 100 rounds downrange without reloading and don’t mind lugging around the extra few pounds swinging from the bottom of your rifle.  It is well made, works fine, and unlike the $500 beta magazines during the ban, certainly doesn’t break the bank.

The best deal on this magazine is the PWA version from my favorite online gun store, Impact Guns where it’s $119 with free shipping. Another option is Botach for $129 shipped.

PWA 100 round drum magazine at Impact Guns

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15 Responses to Review: KCI AR-15 100 Round Drum Magazine

  1. surface warfare sailor says:

    Thanks for writing this i have been looking for a good review of this drum. Has there been any other long term issues with this magazine?

  2. Ellis Wyatt says:

    I’ve not had any problems with it, but I also haven’t used it that much, considering it’s $35 of ammunition per use. :)

    Perhaps some heavier users could comment.

    • Bill Lair says:

      Ellis,
      I bought 2 of these tonight, considerably higher now than when you got them,, Can you get a black back for these as mine came with teh see thru window? Any issues with yours after all thsi time,, ? When the Gvt comes a knocking at least youll have firepower to hold them back:)

      • Ellis Wyatt says:

        See through window sounds like fun for the kids! :)

        I have no idea about a replacement window. I haven’t had any issues, but I don’t shoot it too often – especially with it now being closer to $70-$100 worth of ammunition per magazine. Let’s hope this hysteria ends positively and soon.

  3. fred says:

    can you loaded it with rounds 223 0r dose it have to be 556

  4. OSOK says:

    Can’t speak for the KCI, but the Beta-C can be loaded and functions fine with either 5.56 or .223. Since this is a “knock off” of the Beta, and based on the same specs., one could assume either chambering would work in it as well.

  5. C Stout says:

    Recieved the PWA a few months ago From Midway. NO graphiter bottles or owners manual. Called them NO HELP.. Won’t help
    Thanks here, as I at least can now get it apart and checked and trouble shoot it..

  6. wolf says:

    Bought one a year ago, came with everything stated, kept loaded to capacity for a year, and fired 400 rounds through it with a bushmaster xm15 without one single problem. Yes, it’s a good 100 round drum capacity magazine in my opinion. For what my opinion is worth, and how the drum magazine functioned. But, yes, mine worked and performed just like they should.

  7. ShooterGavin says:

    Picked one of these up recently. Question: mine was already assembled, but had two strings of linked fake rounds in the pack. Are those extras or do they need to be installed before loading? It looks like there are already some in it, though they look a bit different. The instructions aren’t very helpful. Thanks!

  8. Ellis Wyatt says:

    Mine did not come with extra strings. I wonder if it could be a mistake?

    If you take yours out to check, just make sure you put them back in the right way. :)

  9. Pingback: .223 100ROUND DRUMS INSTOCK NORMAL PRICES

  10. jc says:

    What do you do with the dummy belts? Should they be removed before loading?

    Thanks.

  11. Grant says:

    For all to know: 5.56mm x 45 is a nato round,.223 is the civilian term for the same round. I had 9 years in the army and was a unit armor. Hope this helps clear things up.

    • Dustin says:

      5.56mmX45 and .223 are close to the same rounds its hard to tell the differance but they are different you dont want to put 5.56 in a rifle that shoots 223 and only specifys 223 and not 5.56 a 5.56 has a mor pressure in it then a 223 and could wreck the gun or worse you could get hurt.

  12. pman5kMO says:

    I have used the beta mags in Iraq. They are high maintenance and finnicky. When the feed they do it well… When they jam, they jam to all hell…

    Make sure the angled rear spacer “bullet” is on the right hand side when looking from above the tower (it pointing ‘bullets’ away from you)., they must go in that way as the positioning of the feed arms requires it (the right one is just slightly offset to accommodate the positions) or you will jam up to all hell.

    To clean, do not use any solvents. Rear covers and tower use soap and water. The main body use rubbing alcohol and a toothbrush. Once dry, graphite the springs, around the front of the ‘sprockets’, the linked spacer rounds (pay attention to around the links. Also if need be clean with alcohol and tooth brush) and the feed tower. Once assembled spray a little more graphite down the tower on the outside of the spacer links. Also do so after loading ~30-40 and again once full. This also helps keep the bullets lubed so they slide easily preventing sticking in the mag and against each other in the transition on each side.

    If you shoot it, load it and shoot again YOU MUST CLEAN it. Do not load it into a rifle until ready for use to avoid any oil contamination. You will get some oil going into the magazine just from shooting it which is why you should clean it after every outting with it.

    The reliability issue the military had with them was due to lack of proper maintenance of them. As I said they are VERY high maintenance compared to other offerings. However they are great for times you need a Mk 18 carbine with it’s 11.3″ bbl to serve in place of an Mk46 or M249. It is not as loud as a belt box for the aforementioned machine guns but it is still a loud magazine compared to others. Spacer links only need cleaned when oil gets on them or every other firing.

    One reliability upgrade with these cheaper mags, bevel the inside front edge of the magazine feed tower ever so slightly ensuring you keep the next round under the top one well under the bevel. If the front is 90 degrees make it like a 75° angle going upwards as you move towards the front of the magazine.

    Always load with bolt locked back. Do not try using a flat backed spacer on top to try to kick thebolt catch or act as a bokt catch… Thats how you end up with one potentially with the link itself still attached stuck in the chamber/barrel extension and possibly rensering your weapon to club status….

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