Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Books: Rocket Men

Tomorrow NASA plans to launch people into space from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011 to demo SpaceX's Crew Dragon 2. Without taking anything away from the ingenuity of the Crew Dragon's engineers, the mission seems just a little humdrum since human beings left Earth orbit 50 years ago on Apollo 8, in an era with no CAD and no Internet. That daring feat is recounted in Robert Kurson's book, "Rocket Men."

Apollo 11 gets all the glory, but it's difficult to understate how risky Apollo 8 was at the time.  The Saturn V had only been flown twice before, and never with anyone onboard, so the next logical step would have been to test the rocket with crew in low Earth orbit. To beat the Soviets to the Moon, though, NASA decided to use the untested vehicle to send William Anders, Frank Borman, and James Lovell farther from Earth than any human being had ever been. To put it in perspective - Crew Dragon will be about 250 miles away from the Earth, while Apollo 8 went 250,000 miles away.

The book does a great job of portraying both the technical and human sides of spaceflight, including the anxiety suffered by the astronauts' families and the strain of preparing for almost a week in space (ironically, the Hong Kong flu pandemic was roiling the nation at the time). I hope tomorrow's flight goes just as well as Apollo 8 did, so long ago.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Miscellany: South Florida National Cemetery

COVID-19 stopped my usual Memorial Day trip to the South Florida National Cemetery, but at least someone was there to pay respects to the fallen:

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Guns: SIG P229 Legion review - rem ad Triarios redisse


In the legions of the early Roman Republic, the Triarii were the richest and most experienced soldiers. They were usually called upon to do battle only when the initial lines of poorer, younger troops failed. This led to the Roman saying "rem ad Triarios redisse" - "it has come to the Triarii" - for a desperate situation calling for a last resort.

The Sig P229 Legion takes after the Triarii in ways that Sig might not have intended. At an MSRP of about $1200, the Legion version of the P229 is several hundred dollars more expensive than a regular P229, and over five hundred dollars more expensive than the average polymer frame double-stack 9mm (including those from Sig). This is indeed a pistol for the wealthy - but would it serve in a last-ditch battle?

First Impressions

Sig's marketing department certainly would have you think the Legion line is worth the extra coin. The guns comes with some bells and whistles, such as a Legion-branded pistol case (too bulky to be functional) and a Legion challenge coin (downright silly). I could do without all the cool-guy fluff, but I will say I liked the Cerakote gray finish better than the run-of-the-mill P229s.

The P229 Legion does have meaningful upgrades, though. The frame has a subtle undercut and a contoured beavertail, allowing a slightly higher grip to help corral the notoriously top-heavy P-series slide. There is also useful checkering on the front strap, good G10 grips, and low-profile controls.

Sights and Trigger

Most of the extra cost of the P229 Legion comes from the two most important parts of the gun, the sights and trigger. Sig outfits the Legion guns with its X-Ray sights, which are worth about a hundred bucks all on their own. These are excellent day/night sights featuring a subdued serrated rear sight and bright front during daylight, and three-dot tritium lamps in low light.

The P229 Legion also sports a Grayguns-designed trigger. It's not as good as a custom trigger job by any stretch, and it's only slightly better than the standard P229 trigger, but it is better. I found that I could shoot faster DA/SA controlled pairs with the Legion than with any other gun, save a Beretta PX4 Compact Carry (which itself has a factory-lightened trigger).

Range Report

Sig's P-series guns are positively porky by 2020 standards - big thick backstraps, tall grips, heavy alloy frames. I can conceal the P229 Legion (in a Blackpoint Legion-branded Mini Wing IWB, natch), but it is definitely at the outer edge of what I feel comfortable carrying.

The upside is that the gun has negligible recoil with range ammo and shoots like a laser beam. The P229 was easily one of the best 9mm pistols I've ever shot in terms of practical, offhand accuracy.

Sellier and Bellot 124 gr FMJ, 15 rounds at 25 yards:

Federal HST 124 gr, 15 rounds at 25 yards

Speer Gold Dot 124 gr, 15 rounds at 25 yards

Perfecta 9mm, 15 rounds at 25 yards:

Remington UMC 115 gr. JHP, 15 rounds at 25 yards


Are all the Legion upgrades necessary if you just want a carry gun? No, but if you're going to buy what is already an old, expensive design, you might as well go all the way. In the same way I'd recommend a pricier 1911 over an entry-level model, I think the Sig P229 Legion actually represents a better long-term value. And if the marketing hype turns you off, you can safely ignore it and focus on what's left - a better-shooting, cool-looking P229.