Magnum Research, based in the USA, developed and patented the original Desert Eagle design and this design was further refined by IMI. Manufacturing was moved to Saco Defense in the state of Maine from 1995 to 2000, but shifted back to Israel when Saco was acquired by General Dynamics.
The Desert Eagle is unusual in that it 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. In fact, the rotating bolt and locking mechanism bear a strong resemblance to that of the M16 series of rifles. The advantage of the gas-operation is that it allows the use of far more powerful cartridges than traditional semi-automatic pistol designs, and it allows the Desert Eagle to compete in an area that had previously been dominated by magnum revolvers. Due to, and in no small measure contributing to, its notoriety as a powerful firearm, the Desert Eagle has made frequent appearances in the action-adventure genres of books, movies, songs, TV shows, and video games. The Desert Eagle is not notably used in tactical combat by professionals; many units (including Marine Force Recon, LAPD SWAT, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team and 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, aka Delta Force) use .45 caliber pistols instead; typically the M1911.
There are three variants to the Desert Eagle.
Mark I and VIIEditThe Mark I, 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 was also 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.
Mark XIXEditThe most recent model, The Mark XIX, is available in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .50 Action Express (or .50 AE). Magnum Research also showed some models in .440 Cor-bon caliber, a .50 AE derived case, but no .440 Cor-Bon components are listed in their catalog and the .440 seems to have gone the way of the .41 Magnum. Mark XIX barrels are available in 6 and 10 inch lengths only.
DesignEditDrawings from patent 4,619,184 showing the Desert Eagle's gas operated mechanism
Switching a Desert Eagle to another chambering requires only that the correct barrel, bolt assembly, and magazine be installed. Thus, a conversion to shoot the other cartridges can be quickly accomplished in the field. The most popular barrel length is 6 in (152 mm), although 8, 10 and 14 in (202, 254 and 356 mm) barrels have been available but are uncommon. The Mark XIX barrels are machined with integral scope mounting bases, making adding a pistol scope a simple operation.
The Desert Eagle is fed with a detachable box magazine. Magazine capacity is nine 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 sport, target shooting, and hunting. The weapon remains constrained to this area due to its unwieldy size and weight, extreme muzzle flash, thunderous sound, high price, and unreliability. It is not uncommon for spent .50 AE casings to fly up and over partitions/dividers in indoor shooting ranges upon ejection, often traveling several feet at a time.
Baby EagleEditWhile IMI makes a cosmetically similar pistol, originally called the Jericho 941 and now marketed by Magnum Research as the "Baby Eagle", the guns bear no functional equivalence—the Jericho/Baby Eagle design is a standard double action, short recoil design. The one functional similarity is in the IMI developed cartridges. The .41 Action Express (or .41 AE) developed for the Jericho 941 used a rebated rim, so that the pistol could switch between 9 mm Luger and .41 AE with just the change of a barrel. This is because the .41 AE was based on a shortened .41 Magnum case with the rim and extractor groove cut to the same dimensions of the 9 mm Luger. This allowed the same extractor and ejector to work with both cartridges. The .50 AE has a similar rebated rim, cut to the same dimensions as the .44 Magnum. This is what allows caliber changes between .44 Magnum and .50 AE with just the change of the barrel and magazine.
The Jericho 941 was named so for the two cartridges it chambered with the conversion kit.