Model 1911 Variations Part 2

Model 1911 Variations Part 2

The shape of the past, present and future

By Dennis Adler

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, well you shouldn’t judge a 1911 (.45 ACP or CO2) by its very familiar profile, either. These four guns, the John Wayne WWII commemorative, Umarex Colt Commander, Swiss Arms TRS and Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE have little in common other than being based on the 1911. How many differences can you spot?

This is a familiar picture for me with four different 1911 models being compared, because I have done it several times in the past with .45 ACP models and the results are just as telling with centerfire guns as they are with CO2 pistols. Of course, consider that there is an entire industry out there that builds custom components for the centerfire Model 1911, virtually upgrading every part of the guns from the inside out, and for every conceivable purpose from military and law enforcement tactical use, to competition pistols that barely resemble a 1911, and everything in between, just to meet the demands of consumers devoted to the Model 1911. Within the handful of top end CO2 models you can actually get some of that, but it is almost entirely on the outside, with very little changed on the inside.

This is the end of the gun you want to be on, but take a look at these four, each has distinctive characteristics. For example, different hammers, sights, thumb safeties, backstrap styles, and grip safeties (there are three different types between the two 1911A1 models at the left and the two beavertail designs on TRS and Sig at right). Some of these parts are generic to 1911 CO2 pistols (and centerfire ones as well), others are specific to one make of gun.

The operating system used in all four blowback action models is fundamentally from the same design established by Umarex with the Colt Commander, but there are different price points, different fit and tolerances and differences in trigger and hammer designs among brand names, and specifically Sig Sauer, which has a dedicated design and model configuration different from the rest.

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Let’s begin with the obvious differences and what they mean to handling 1911 models, regardless of whether they are shooting .45 ACP rounds or steel BBs. [The 1911 is also commonly chambered in 10mm and .38 Super]. Looking at the four different style guns representing the CO2 models, you have a traditional c.1924 Model 1911 military design with the arched mainspring housing and the early small thumb safety. Later 1911A1 models switched over to the longer thumb safety. The Umarex Colt Commander has a small thumb safety (but should have the longer design by this period); the Swiss Arms TRS has extended ambidextrous thumb safeties, and the Sig has its own unique ambidextrous thumb safety design.

Something to shake up the mix is throwing in a real .45 ACP Sig model. If not for the small white lettering on the frame, it would be almost impossible to tell them apart. And the Sig 1911 isn’t apt to be mistaken for any other 1911.

Military-style models have small fixed sights as seen on the John Wayne WWII commemorative. All three of the remaining guns have versions of Novak-style combat sights, all with white dots. The Colt Commander and Swiss Arms TRS use the same front and rear sight, the Sig Sauer is copied from the sights on the .45 ACP Sig Sauer model. In fact, there is nothing on the exterior of the Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE that is the same as the other guns other than the shape of the frame and slide.

Looking over the top you get a better view of how the sights differ between the old military style on the far left, the white dot Novak-style combat sights on the second and third guns, and the Sig Sauer variation at far right. This also provides a good look at the different hammer styles, shapes, and use of checkering or grooving depending upon the hammer. This goes all the way back to Sam Colt’s first revolvers.

Slide release levers

This is a feature that has been modified and customized over the years. The John Wayne (which is the same as the standard Swiss Arms 1911A1 and the Tanfoglio Witness) accurately duplicates the 1911A1 slide release design and fine checkering. It is also unique among the remaining three. The Sig has its own design that is shaped differently, slightly up angled and grooved rather than checkered. The Colt Commander and Swiss Arms TRS use the same exact part which has a smaller profile than a military-style release. Is one easier than another to use? On the four CO2 models only the Sig feels different with a little more resistance and authority in the feel of the lever and its release of the slide after reloading.

Magazine releases

On centerfire 1911s this part is also upgraded and fine tuned for tactical and competition versions, either by the manufacturer or an aftermarket supplier. For the drop free magazines used with all four air pistol designs, the John Wayne WWII era 1911A1 has the lightest magazine release, almost too light as it takes very little pressure to work. You don’t want to draw your gun, accidentally brush the release and have the magazine fall out! The Colt Commander takes slightly more effort and there’s less chance of accidentally dropping a magazine. The Swiss Arms button looks the same as the Commander’s but the Sig’s release is slightly taller, easier to operate and has grooves rather than checkering.

No mistaking what is different here. Flat mainspring housings vs. arched mainspring housings, hammer profiles, beavertail grip safeties vs. earlier 1911A1 grip safety design, and most importantly, the difference in trigger designs. The Colt Commander and Swiss Arms TRS have the same style three hole combat trigger, the 1911A1 a period correct solid trigger, and the Sig its own Match trigger design.

Grip profiles

As for grip preferences, you have brown checkered plastic and either plain like the John Wayne or Colt diamond pattern like the Swiss Arms, black checkered plastic with the same Colt diamond pattern on the Commander, or the unique design of the Sig Sauer’s grips with 25 US stars on each panel. The real difference in grip feel is between guns with the arched mainspring housing vs. those with the flat mainspring housing. There is one other difference evolved from centerfire guns, frontstrap checkering to give the fingers a more secure hold around the grip. You won’t find any on the CO2 models except for the Sig Sauer which has the same 20 lpi design checkering as the centerfire Sig Sauer 1911 models.

Hammering the deal

Hammers are another great historic alteration on 1911s. There have been a number of different styles beginning with the long hammer spur on the 1911 and 1911A1 models, as duplicated by the John Wayne commemorative. Skeletonized hammers vary as well. Often referred to as a Commander or Delta-style hammer, there are different shapes but most conform to the hammer on the Umarex Colt Commander and Swiss Arms TRS. Naturally, the Sig uses a different style, sometimes referred to as a High Force Hammer, and this is identical to the design on the .45 ACP Sig versions.

Safety measures

The ever interesting grip safety used since the original Model 1911 design, adds yet another level of possibilities to centerfire and CO2 models. Here we have four different pistols with three different grip safety designs, beginning with the traditional flat grip safety used on the John Wayne and similar WWII era models, as well as the Umarex Colt Commander. The Swiss Arms TRS has an extended beavertail safety that better protects the hand on centerfire models by extending over the web of the hand. With centerfire 1911s this also lowers the pistol deeper into the hand for less felt recoil and a more comfortable grip. It does the same for the CO2 pistols but there is no recoil to be concerned with. There is also a raised contact pad at the bottom of the grip safety that presses into the palm of the hand to ensure solid engagement of the safety. The Swiss Arms model uses the popular Les Baer-style. The Sig has its own version of this design, again duplicated from their .45 ACP models.

All four models have slides that lock back on an empty magazine to duplicate one of the key features of a centerfire pistol, though not all centerfire semi-autos have slides that lock back on an empty magazine, the .380 Auto Ruger LCP for example. For training with a 1911 CO2 model this is nevertheless an important feature, and even just for shooting targets, it’s nice to know when the gun is empty before you pull the trigger on air. This perspective also shows the physical difference, and as you can imagine the difference in your hand, between guns with an arched mainspring housing (far left), and a flat mainspring housing. Also note that the fine detail of the Sig Sauer CO2 model duplicates the external extractor, (though it’s non-functional since there’s no spent shell case to extract), and lowered and flared ejection port.


For some, it all comes down to the trigger design and quality, and this varies from the traditional 1911A1 military trigger to the three skeletonized triggers shown on the remaining CO2 models. These are all based on actual combat and competition triggers used on 1911 pistols.

The military trigger for the 1911A1 was designed for the average soldier in the field, thus not light nor apt to be pulled by accident but requiring a deliberate trigger press. It was not a great trigger and often described as mediocre with an average resistance on military issue 1911A1s of 6 pounds, 8 ounces. The only military style 1911 I own has an average trigger pull of 5 pounds, 7 ounces. I have a modern 1911 with a skeletonized combat trigger that looks exactly like the one on the Umarex Colt Commander, and that pistol has an average trigger pull of 5 pounds, 8.0 ounces.

For the trigger tests of the CO2 models I am going to use 5 pounds, 7 ounces as a comparative baseline for a centerfire 1911. I would expect all four air pistols to come in well under that number, especially the Umarex Colt Commander, which generally has a trigger pull of less than 3 pounds. The test gun averaged 2 pounds, 8.4 ounces with 0.187 inches of take up, zero stacking and a break that is almost too light (certainly would be for a centerfire 1911A1, unless the gun was built for competition shooting).

A lot of Airgun Experience readers are familiar with my custom finished Swiss Arms 1911A1, which is the same gun as the Air Venturi John Wayne WWII commemorative 1911A1 with weathered finish. My grips are the plain brown seen on military Government models, and the custom hand finish shows the wear and faded blue approximating fair to good condition.

Going old school with the John Wayne, which duplicates the 1911A1-style trigger, the average pull for this gun is 4 pounds, 6.1 ounces with moderate stacking throughout and 0.125 inches of trigger take up. I pulled out my customized Swiss Arms 1911A1 and trigger pull on that gun (internally the same as the John Wayne) was slightly heavier at 4 pounds, 9.4 ounces with a little lighter stacking.

The only Rail Gun in the group is the Swiss Arms TRS which has a trigger that looks identical to the Umarex Colt Commander’s but average trigger pull on this gun is 4 pounds, 12.7 ounces, the heaviest trigger so far and nothing like the Commander except in appearance. There is light but very consistent stacking as the Swiss Arms trigger comes back to about as smooth of a break as you can ask for. Overall, it is heavier but smoother, and a little more balanced than the almost hair pin trigger of the Commander. So far, this is the most realistic feeling of the 1911 triggers tested.

The Swiss Arms TRS has one distinction even the Sig Sauer can’t match; there are no white warnings on the gun. It does have the word AIRGUN stamped on the slide along with the caliber but it is the most tastefully done of any 1911 CO2 model.

Now, it is time for the folks who not only think outside of the box but use the box as a target, Sig Sauer. Aside from being a 1911 configuration, the Sig Sauer model feels entirely different than the rest of the guns. First there is the weight and balance of the gun, which is the heaviest at 35 ounces and closest to an actual 1911. The John Wayne weighs in at 29.5 ounces, the Swiss Arms TRS at 32 ounces even, and the Commander at 29.5 ounces. Heavier in the right way, the Sig has a trigger pull that averages 5 pounds, 2.5 ounces with 0.125 inches of take up, light stacking and a seamless break (about equal to the Swiss Arms TRS). However, if you were to overlay the Commander, the TRS and the Sig, looking straight down at the triggers, you would see that the shape of the Sig’s trigger shoe is slightly more vertical and that the trigger sits slightly further back in the triggerguard than the other two. This changes the trigger pull in ways that cannot be measured in take up distance or resistance, but rather in how the trigger breaks the shot and feels to the shooter. In design, the Sig is closest to a Match trigger like the Caspian TRIK or STI Match Grade, vs. the 3-hole trigger design used on the Commander and TRS.

There are more differences than outside appearance alone, the choices made in triggers, resistance settings, recoil springs tension, and the varying quality of those parts to meet a specific manufacturer or brand name retailer’s standards, are different from Umarex to Sig Sauer, Swiss Arms, and other brand names. They are all 1911 designs, and from a parts standpoint when disassembled they all look the same, but the small details, choices in parts (part quality and price), sights, fit and finish all play a role in making one 1911 CO2 model better than another and in different ways. When you add up all those differences, one gun will surely rise to the top but there are two more factors to consider. All four use the same CO2 systems and CO2 BB magazines, and thus one expects they will have about the same average velocity, and given for differences in sight design, commensurate accuracy. But just like the world of centerfire 1911s, all things are not equal.

In Part 3 velocity and accuracy will be added into the mix to determine the best overall 1911 blowback action CO2 model.

4 thoughts on “Model 1911 Variations Part 2”

  1. All four are very good air pistols. I have all four, but I am treating the John Wayne and Sig Sauer models as collectibles not to be used. When I want to shoot a 1911 model air pistol, I choose either the Swiss Arms or the Colt Commander. Sometimes I even go back to the Umarex Colt Government 1911 pellet pistol even though it’s not a blow back pistol.

    I saw Pyramyd Air has the new Beretta M9A3 pistols in stock already. My order is confirmed and includes a LaserMax Spartan Green laser. I’m hoping the production gun shoots better than your test gun, but if not, the laser will fix that.

  2. No airgun collection , like a firearm collection is complete without a 1911. Accurate and reliable. The 1911 airguns have magazine compatibility as well . I am not a fan of rails on the 1911 . For that reason the stock 1911 with minimal add ons is my favorite. My first was the Colt Commander, which actually more closely resembles a Combat Government.Umarex should do actual shortbarrel Commanders. My favorite is the limitededitionColt Combat Vet. Next up would be the standard sight Remington , ruinedby the large white billboard white markings . For realistic duplication of an actual firearm the Sig We thePeople takes the prize. Of note is that in Europe Umarex markets a WW2 Colt 1911 and a dead ringer of aColt stainless Series 70 1911. We get the close but not Colt marked stainlesslooking stock Swiss 1911. It would be interesting to see if Dennis could get a pantograph to apply Colt 1911 markings to the excellent defarb Tanfogio

  3. I just compared my WWII Commemorative 1911 and NRA Limited Edition 1911 airguns with the John Wayne Commemorative. All three are virtually identical. All made in Taiwan. No surprise there.

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