Why manufacturers upgrade guns

Why manufacturers upgrade guns

Change is always questioned

By Dennis Adler

Change is inevitable in gun making. Manufacturers come up with improvements, some suggested by consumers, other created by factory designers. In CO2 pistols the best example of this is the Umarex Walther PPS and PPS M2, the same fundamental gun and firing system (blowback action, CO2 in the grip frame and stick magazine with a full size base pad), but otherwise an almost entirely new gun with improved sights, different triggerguard, slide and frame contours, grip design, and magazine release mechanism (the old PPS used the P99 based ambidextrous release from the P99, the M2 uses the frame mounted release, which is not ambidextrous, from the PPQ M2. The same has transpired with the 9mm centerfire guns with Umarex following suit, which makes sense since Umarex and Walther are the same company. Despite the use of a stick magazine, the PPS and now PPS M2 remains one of the very best blowback CO2 action pistols for shooting fun and fundamental CCW training. Change can be good.

“Why did they do that?” How many times have you said it in your life? And it’s not just firearms, it’s Oreos, it’s Coke, it’s your favorite brand of shoes, and it’s Colt, or Smith & Wesson, and the list goes on ad infinitum, just choose what item you want to debate. Change is always questioned and sometimes the answers are just not acceptable. Other times the answers are understandable, even if you don’t agree, and when it comes to firearms you need to have an open mind because change is inevitable. It is usually the result of improvements, something gunmakers have been doing since the beginning of gun making. Other times, change is to meet the demands of consumers, but that generally only satisfies a portion of customers, the other portion would have preferred things left as they were. (My personal one is Walther doing away with the ambidextrous triggerguard magazine release on the P99 in favor of a typical magazine release button on the frame. Why did they do that?) read more

When Centuries Collide – an adventure in CO2

When Centuries Collide – an adventure in CO2

By 1915 Texas Ranger’s were mixing .45s

By Dennis Adler

There was a period in the early 1900s when lawmen were carrying the Colt Peacemaker and the .45 ACP Model 1911. This was especially true in Texas where Rangers began carrying the .45 Auto around 1915. And while the “Old West” was fading away by then, throughout Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and in the Oklahoma oil fields, not that much was different when it came to crime. The semi-auto gave lawmen (and outlaws) another choice in guns, but the Peacemaker was still favored by those on both sides of the law.
When this picture of eight Texas Rangers was taken in 1915, only one of them had switched to carrying a 1911, the man standing second from the left in the top row. (Photo courtesy Former Texas Rangers Assoc.)

In the early 20th century, it was not unusual to see a Texas Ranger packing a .45 Colt and a .45 ACP.This seemingly incongruous pairing of Peacemaker and 1911 was an interesting part of Sam Peckinpah’s groundbreaking 1969 western, The Wild Bunch, which took place in 1913, and had an eclectic mix of Single Action Colts and Model 1911 semi-autos. This same mix was taking place in real life, at the same time, in Texas and throughout what remained of the American West. And these two legendary Colt models were still being carried during WWI, and well into the 1940s. But the period from around 1915, when the 1911 was first coming into the hands of civilians, lawmen, and outlaws alike, the choices of sidearms worn by Texas Rangers covered the entire last three decades of the 19th and first 15 years of the 20th centuries, along with a mix of smaller caliber Colt semi-autos, early S&W double action revolvers, and Winchester slide action shotguns from the 1890s.   read more

Dan Wesson Valor

Dan Wesson Valor

A 1911-style pellet slinger Part 1

By Dennis Adler

The Dan Wesson Valor 1911 is a mixed bag; it looks like it is going to be another fairly accurate-looking M1911 CO2 pistol, but doesn’t quite deliver what you’re expecting. The front and rear sights are early 1911-A1 style, as is the hammer, but the trigger is the DAO design used on other 1911 copies like the Crosman 1911 GI Model, and Crosman 1911 Black (or Silver) tactical models, the latter two using the same style self-contained CO2 pellet magazine. You can consider this a review of those models as well.

One expects several things from a CO2 powered 1911, first is a self contained CO2 BB magazine, the other is fully operational controls, and last, but not least, blowback action. That’s just the basic requirements. This does not apply to the Dan Wesson Valor, because it is not a BB pistol, it is a pellet pistol. This is a non-blowback action air pistol, and unfortunately, has an inert grip safety and a dead hammer. By that I mean it does not cock because the Valor is a DAO, yes, a double action only design with a long-pull trigger blade. Don’t throw up your hands just yet…there’s more. read more

“One Gun, One Carry and Master it” Part 1

“One Gun, One Carry and Master it” Part 1

Lessons from the professionals

By Dennis Adler

Full-size guns vary in dimensions, take the Glock 17 Gen4 at left and the Model 1911 at right, the Glock is a much smaller footprint. All three guns pictured are CO2 models in the holsters used for their centerfire counterparts. The little Sig P365 at the bottom gives you a comparative relationship between a full-size handgun and a Micro-Compact.

“One gun, one carry and master it” is the principle taught by John Bianchi, the master of concealed carry and the world’s most famous holster maker. I wrote John’s Biography in 2009 (John Bianchi – An American Legend) and he taught me his rules for concealed carry, the first of which was to find one gun and master it from holster, to drawing, aiming, shooting and concealment. If your are in law enforcement, as Bianchi was early in his career when he first began designing and making holsters for fellow police officers, this is easier to achieve. For civilians it is a precept that is easier to embrace than actually accomplish, at least it has been for me, because I have made a profession out of testing guns, and aside from a few favorites, have never had one gun long enough to consider mastering it for CCW use. Over the years I have gone from one to another, from DA/SA revolvers to semi-autos, full-size duty guns to subcompacts, and as for reviewing guns, it is hundreds of guns in and out of my hands for more than 20 years. So for me, mastering one gun is still a personal goal because my carry guns have changed a dozen times over the years (one of the benefits and pitfalls of having so many options from testing new models). There’s a handful I am proficient with to the point that I have total confidence in carrying them, but to be totally honest, the older I get the smaller my EDC gun gets. Still, I have never narrowed it down to one gun or even one holster. But I’m getting closer; more about that later.   read more

Decades of change

Decades of change

What lies behind could be in the future

By Dennis Adler

I had a chance to test the Umarex Colt Commander at the Umarex factory in Germany six months before it was introduced to the U.S. market in 2014, leading a revolution in blowback action air pistols that changed the very face of the CO2 air pistol market in five years.

Here we are at the beginning of a new decade, a very special one to me. When I was young I had remarkable expectations for the far, far distant 21st century and the year 2020, which had seemed to me, would be something momentous, it was so far away in the future. When I was 20, I saw Arthur C. Clarke and Stanly Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey with wide-eyed optimism for a world that was still more than 50 years away from the mesmerizing images on the screen. As far off as 2001 seemed at the time, I believed Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of the future, at least from a standpoint of technology. I shared his vision of incredible possibilities; it was not implausible, we could do this, and a year later Neil Armstrong walked on the moon; it was a beginning, and that was 51 years ago this coming July 20. We have not reached Arthur C. Clarke’s predictions of the 21st century, but in spite of the difficulties, setbacks and politics, we are treading on the periphery of that future, stalled perhaps, by a world that is far different than Clarke envisioned so many decades ago. How does this relate to air pistols?

A little over 50 years ago, the air pistols we have today were just as implausible as Clarke’s space station and spacecraft, and honestly, compared to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the far distant future in Star Trek, Clarke’s reality wasn’t science fiction so much as was yet un-obtained science fact, and that future is no longer so distant.

Variations of the Umarex Colt Commander design were used over the next five years by Swiss Arms, Air Venturi, Tanfoglio, and most notably by Sig Sauer, which built matching CO2 and .45 ACP models of the Sig Sauer 1911 WE THE PEOPLE model making the Colt Model 1911 still the most revered pistol in any caliber.

In 2001 when I wrote the First Edition Blue Book of Airguns (see, there is an analogy after all), back then we were treading on the periphery of the future of air pistols. I had used two words to describe the new models appearing in this first edition, “Authenticity” and “Performance” and everyone from Anschutz and Beretta to Daisy and Walther had something new for the dawning 21st century. At the top of my list in that book were Umarex models built in cooperation with Beretta and Walther, the 92FS and CP99 pellet pistols, which exuded authenticity and performance for the time, since blowback action models were all but non-existent, except for the then impressive (in concept) Walther PPK/S, an anemic but fun little pistol to shoot, because of the moving slide and some tangible sensation of recoil like a real handgun. But the important guns of that new decade were not blowback actions, they were the Beretta and Walther pellet models, and no other proof need be offered today, than that these guns are still being manufactured 20 years later.

A perspective on two decades of design, an Umarex Beretta 92FS pellet model, one of the earliest and most expensive of Umarex pellet models (and still being manufactured after 20 years) and the 2018 Sig Sauer P320 M17 blowback action pellet-firing model with self-contained CO2 pellet magazine. The groundbreaking Sig design won 2018’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year.

By 2010 (coincidentally, the year of Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey Two) the world of air pistols was advancing faster than Star Trek sequels and the very world of air pistols was about to change as new blowback action designs were being developed. I was fortunate to test the first of this new era of authentic blowback action pistols in Germany the summer before the Umarex Colt Commander was introduced. In 2014, the Combat Commander was the most realistic, mainstream brand name CO2 air pistol on the market (and it had coincided with .22 LR versions also manufactured for Colt by Umarex) putting the venerable Model 1911 center stage in two markets, entry-level .22 LR pistols and blowback action CO2 pistols. It was the CO2 pistols, however, that would capture an emerging audience of airgun enthusiasts who had grown up in the era of the 1911’s emergence as the most famous semi-auto pistol of an entire generation – postwar Baby boomers. I would have to say that a majority of Airgun Experience readers fall into that category of kids who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and by the time the Umarex Colt Commander had been introduced, were well-familiarized with the real thing, either through first hand experience, or through the voyeuristic experiences of television and film. Air pistols built to duplicate their centerfire counterparts would become the touchstones to our youth, whether we had handled the real guns or not. And that is where the past decade of air pistol design and technology has finally taken us; back to our own futures.

In a handful of years over the past decade we saw the development and introduction of such impressive CO2 models as the Umarex Mauser Model 712 select-fire Broomhandle, the remarkably authentic ASG CZ75 SP-01 Shadow (and modified Shadow Blue shown) the Sig WTP and various models of the Colt Peacemaker built by Umarex. Deluxe models like the hand engraved 7-1/2 inch version were a very limited edition aimed at airgun collectors.

The technology confined in the brief period between 2014 (actually 2012 and 2013 in Europe) to 2020 has eclipsed almost all the designs from the previous 50 years. The latest technology for modern air pistol design, particularly as pioneered by Sig Sauer, Umarex, and most recently Air Venturi’s partnership with Springfield Armory, is still breaking new ground as we head into the second decade of the 21st century.

The modern manufacturing of Umarex not only brought us new contemporary models, but impressively built pre- and WWII German handguns, including WWII models with aged finishes, like the Luger P.08 and M712 Broomhandle. The WWII Mauser was a limited edition.

Interestingly, over that same short span of time, this technology has also taken us back in time, through the efforts of Umarex and its deeply rooted history in Germany. The stars of that back story are pre-WWII and WWII-era blowback action models like the 1932 Model 712 Broomhandle Mauser, Luger P.08 and MP40 submachine gun, each a groundbreaking design for CO2 powered airguns. Conversely, pushing the limitations of modern handgun design, as it translates to air pistols, we have seen the evolution of impressively authentic models like the Glock 17 Gen4 and Springfield Armory XDM series. Their success as air pistols, however, is based in the realization that late 20th and early 21st century technology, as applied to cartridge-firing handguns, also moved into the future with the use of plastics (polymers) for frames and other parts. Once, air pistols that used plastics were regarded as mere toys. Today plastics are being used to duplicate centerfire pistols that are themselves made with polymer frames! The only person I can think of from my youth, who would not have found this a strange turn of events, would have been Gene Roddenberry.

This past year was another groundbreaking one for 1:1 authenticity with the Umarex Glock 17 Gen4, a CO2 pistol built to an almost uncompromising standard to match the 9mm model.

Stealing the Glock’s thunder for 2019, the Air Venturi Springfield Armory XDM 3.8 became the most authentic blowback action air pistol ever made and Replica Air Pistol of the Year, raising the bar even higher for any new blowback action models to come in 2020.

And boldly going  

Of all the new models that were introduced in 2019, there is one that stands out in my mind as the air pistol that achieved the most technological breakthrough, and though it did not win 2019’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year title, it opened a door to what is possible when every accepted norm of design limitation is upended and reinvented, when the bottom line is a line that can be crossed, allowing designers to work with a clean sheet of paper. We have seen it in the recent past with the M712 Broomhandle (still a unique design that is unmatched), and we see today with the Micro Compact Sig Sauer P365. What remains now, is to remember where we were 10 years ago, and where designs like the P365 can take us in the new decade. It’s a lot to think about on the subject of air pistols, in a world that is as unpredictable as ours.

Oh, and lest we forget what significant improvements were made in double action revolvers over the last decade. Certainly the best of the best was the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 snub nose revolver with rifled barrel and pellet loading cartridges.

Innovation and authenticity can take more than one form. The gun that broke the rules by becoming the first Micro Compact to be built as a 1:1 blowback action CO2 pistol with a self-contained CO2 BB magazine came from Sig Sauer’s remarkable Sig Air division. For the 2020s, this one lays the groundwork for smaller air pistols with full operating features and self-conation CO2 BB magazines.

In terms of size, a pistol as small as the CO2 version of the 9mm Sig P365 was not possible until Sig Air designers figured out how to make a self-contained 12 gr. CO2 BB magazine and pistol firing system smaller than ever before. It may not have ended up being the Replica Air Pistol of the Year, but for technology, it is the air pistol of the decade.

If there is a message in my ramblings, it is that we, as air pistol and airgun (air rifle) enthusiasts and collectors, are the benefactors of technology that has not only given us a second chance at our past with CO2 air pistols and rifles that were simply unimaginable in our youth, but a present that is unrivaled in the history of airgun design with true 1:1 models for serious handgun training and the leisure of sports shooting. The subtext may appear to some to be on the wrong side of history at the moment, but history is what we make it.

2019 Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 6

2019 Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 6

Updating a timeless classic – Springfield Armory 1911 MIL-SPEC

By Dennis Adler

There’s a lot here to like that overrides what there is not to like, the white letter warning on the frame and the (Oh, is that how this works?”) S arrow F lettering on an otherwise very well designed early style 1911 thumb safety. Overlooking that, the slide with impressive MODEL 1911 – A1 and CAL 4.5 and matte Parkerized finish like the centerfire model, really sells the looks of this gun before you even get to the striking reproduction of Springfield’s crossed cannon diamond checkered grips.

There is no point in American firearms history since the 1911 was introduced that the Colt Model or some version of it has not been in production; it is an unbroken cycle that has lasted 108 years. Aside from the Colt Peacemaker (which actually did go out of production during WWII and until 1956) no American handgun has remained in production longer than the 1911. As an air pistol, the 1911 silhouette was the inspiration for classics old air pistols made by Marksman from the 1950s to the 1970s that shot BBs, pellets, or darts (in fact, they still make it). How many of you had one of those when your were a kid?

Not your father’s BB gun

Since 2014, we have been treated to an array of Model 1911 air pistols that duplicate the design and operation of the centerfire model in its many variations, from original pre-WWI designs to the pre-WWII 1911-A1, through today’s modern tactical and competition versions made by Colt’s (licensed through Umarex), Remington, Sig Sauer, Tanfoglio, and Swiss Arms, among others, and now by Springfield Armory, which built its reputation on .45 ACP Colt Model 1911 designs starting in the early 1980s. Today, Springfield has one of the largest and most popular lines of 1911 pistols that span the needs of law enforcement, civilian and competition shooting. This year they added a blowback action CO2 model to the Springfield Armory line (licensed through Air Venturi) that is solidly based on the company’s 1911-A1 MIL-SPEC .45 Auto series.

Take away the white lettering and Springfield Armory has done with the MIL-SPEC what Sig Sauer did with the WE THE PEOPLE 1911, made a near perfect centerfire understudy right down to the polished muzzle, barrel bushing and trademark grips.

This is Springfield Armory’s modestly updated version of the original Colt Model 1911-A1 they began selling in 1984. Today there are two centerfire versions; the standard model with a matte Parkerized-like finish and the Stainless Steel MIL-SPEC with stainless steel construction and a polished finish on the flat surfaces and bead-blasted matte finish on the rounded areas. The mainspring housing on both models is the arched style found on GI issue 1911-A1s beginning in the mid 1920s, but they have an added safety design with Springfield Armory’s I.L.S. Internal Locking System (used on centerfire models, but not the CO2 version). Springfield models have a standard spur hammer, grip safety, left-side, non-extended thumb safety, and short military combat trigger true to the original 1911-A1. Springfield made exterior improvements to the original design as well, which include 3-dot fixed sights and a lowered and flared ejection port (again on the centerfire models). The MIL-SPEC centerfire models come with Springfield’s cross-cannon emblem on the checkered walnut grips. The grips for the CO2 model are duplicated with quality injection molded panels that have the same checkering and cross-cannon Springfield Armory logo. As plastic 1911 grips go, these are exceptional looking. The same can be said of the Parkerized-look finish on the CO2 model, and all of the Springfield Armory stampings on the slide. The only quick tell that instantly distinguishes the MIL-SPEC as an air pistol is the use of the same S F (SAFE FIRE) white lettering and a directional arrow on the thumb safety that is  used on the Umarex Colt Commander, and white lettering for the Springfield name and caliber stamping. Some of this is more than forgivable, as white lettering is occasionally used on centerfire guns. What is unforgivable for a brand new CO2 model, is that the typical white letter warnings are on the frame. Considering how far we have come with other new models, including Springfield Armory’s XDM CO2 models, it is unfortunate to see this step back, when the warnings could all be placed on the underside of the frame. In light of some of the competition this year, this has to be a 1 point deduction from Authenticity of Design.

Again the slide is a perfect copy of the centerfire gun, and the white lettering on the right side of the frame with the correct manufacturer’s info, serial number, and caliber, is almost all but forgivable. It’s really the left side of the frame that disappoints. Quite different from most CO2 models that use the right side for white letter warnings.

Facts on the ground

However nice this new model is, aside from the white lettering, and even with an authentically based Parkerized finish, this new gun is not unique, but rather the latest in a series of blowback action 1911 CO2 models that began in 2014 with the Umarex Colt Commander. They all share nearly identical internal designs and operation and the same self-contained CO2 BB magazines, and that’s the best part of this story, because all of the magazines are interchangeable even though Springfield now has spare MIL-SPEC mags for sale. The only distinct features that separate these guns are exterior aesthetics; the design of the trigger, hammer, thumb safeties, sights, grips, and finish. Otherwise, they are one and the same, and with very few exceptions, that’s pretty much the way it is in the world of centerfire 1911 models. Individual manufacturers and retailers, companies like Colt, Sig Sauer, Kimber, Wilson Combat, Les Baer, Springfield Armory and others, have their own sets of standards and features for their 1911 models, all based on the original John M. Browning design, but improved upon with time and technology. With the CO2 models, no matter what name is on the slide, they are no different except for finishes and features like sights and safeties, yet some do perform better than others.

The best comparisons for the Springfield MIL-SPEC come down to one of these four other variations of the 1911 as a CO2 model. From back to front, the first blowback action 1911, the Umarex Colt Commander, next the WWII-style of 1911 used for the Air Venturi John Wayne model, the most modern of the 1911 CO2 designs, the Swiss Arms 1911 TRS (Rail Gun), and the reigning top 1911 model, Sig Sauer’s 1911 WE THE PEOPLE, which, like the new Springfield, is directly copied from the brand’s centerfire model.

Like their centerfire counterparts, where certain manufacturers of frames, slides, barrels and other components that make up a 1911, offer different levels of quality and features to meet a specific price range, the airgun manufacturers also build like guns to meet a specific standard of performance, fit and finish for each individual retailer, be it Umarex, Sig Sauer or Springfield Armory. And in that, there are small differences because Springfield Armory set its standards high, Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE 1911 high.

Internally, the same design parts are used for the CO2 firing systems but there are subtle differences in the air nozzles and air nozzle restrictors, magazine valve releases and other parts. While barrel length has a lot to do with velocity, all of the 1911 CO2 models have approximately the same length smoothbore barrels.

A closer look at the trigger on the Springfield Armory 1911 MIL-SPEC shows the fine detail in the checkered trigger shoe just like the .45 ACP model. The Springfield Inc. address and the guns serial number are in white. This is sometimes done on centerfire guns as well, so not a big deal on this CO2 model.

The Springfield’s 1911 A-1 military-style short trigger has an average pull of 5 pounds, 9 ounces, which is in the ballpark for a centerfire 1911 A-1 and in keeping with Springfield’s claimed trigger resistance for the centerfire MIL-SPEC of 5 to 6 pounds.

The otherwise very traditionally-styled Springfield MIL-SPEC totally surpasses the fixed, low profile military sights on other 1911 A-1 CO2 models, and clearly challenges those with fixed combat style white dot sights. The difference with the Springfield is that the style of white dot sights is not a modern combat sight (most of which are based on Novak designs) but rather the older, more upright U-notch rear with white dots facing a white dot blade front sight found on the original Colt Series 70 Government models built in the 1970s and 1980s. What this translates too when shooting the air pistol is a difference in POA and POI from some other blowback action models. While the majority of CO2 pistols tend to hit low, requiring a hold over at 21 feet, the MIL-SPEC shoots high, about 3 inches over POA with a fresh CO2, and then settles down after the first 10 to 15 shots to hitting about 2-1/2 inches high; velocity with this gun is very consistent from shot to shot (unless you rapid fire the gun). You need to hold under the bullseye, more akin to a 6 o’clock hold but about an inch lower than normal.

Plastic never looked so good, the grips on the CO2 model are exceptional, the S F arrow, not so much. Some upgrades to Springfield’s centerfire models are also on the CO2 version of the MIL-SPEC, including the more upright U-notch rear sight with white dots facing a white dot blade front like those used on the original Colt Series 70 Government models (c.1970s-1980s).

Except for the Sig Sauer WTP, the Springfield has the highest average velocity. The Sig has consistently hit between 329 and 338 fps. The Springfield has a factory rating of 320 fps and tested at an average of 314 fps, but within a very tight variance of between 313 to 317 fps for 10 shots. Once you have your POA dialed in, the gun will hit just about dead center from there.

The Springfield CO2 models have the early standard Colt spur hammer, and 1911-A1 grip safety with arched mainspring, a left-side, non-extended thumb safety, and short military combat trigger based on the original 1911-A1 design.

With a fresh CO2 and Umarex steel BBs, my best 10-shot group with the Springfield MIL-SPEC measured 1.41 inches with a best 5-shot group at 0.68 inches, including three overlapping in the bullseye and the rest of the group a little high and right. It comes in as just about equal for accuracy (accounting for POA corrections) with the Sig WTP. Not as good, but still well in the ballpark for a 1911 with fixed sights.

The Springfield Armory MIL-SPEC, for its combination of features, fit and finish (and impressive grips), comes in second overall to the Sig. As a gun combing original Colt design, an upgrade in sights from military to white dot but still within Colt standards, and being a duplicate of a .45 ACP production gun (again just like the Sig Sauer WTP), the MIL-SPEC is as close to being all that it can be.

The next most accurate 1911 model to the Sig WTP, the MIL-SPEC shot a tight group in the bullseye with the rest a little high and right. Best 5-shot group from 21 feet measured 0.68 inches aiming just above the 7 ring at 6 o’clock.


Model: Air Venturi Springfield Armory 1911 MIL-SPEC

Authenticity 1 to 10:  9 (Excellent except white letter warnings on side and S F safety)

Ingenuity of the design 1 to 10: 9 (Superior fit and finish but old established design)

Ease of use 1 to 10: 10 (Easy to load BBs and CO2)

Performance 1 to 10: 10 (Average velocity better than most 1911 CO2 models)

Accuracy 1 to 10: 10 (Shoots tight groups, best group 0.68 inches)

Bonus points: read more