There are two types of blowback action 1911 CO2 models, those that follow the John Browning design and have fully functioning slide and barrel interfaces, removable (drop free) self-contained CO2 BB magazines, and true operating features such as thumb safeties, slide releases, grip safeties and correctly designed SAO triggers. And then there are those that don’t, and use what I call short, short-recoil designs, are not field strippable, have a separate CO2 compartment in the grip frame and load BBs with a stick magazine. However nice they may look from the outside, they are not in the same league with CO2 models like the new Springfield Armory 1911 A-1 MIL SPEC.
Among the top 1911 CO2 models today are the Swiss Arms lines, represented here by the top of the line TRS tactical Rail Gun model (top left) with ambidextrous extended thumb safeties, flat mainspring housing, Delta-style skeletonized hammer, skeletonized trigger, front and rear slide serrations, palmswell beavertail grip safety, and white dot combat sights. Facing that model is the Air Venturi John Wayne 1911 A-1 WWII commemorative signature model, which is the basic Tanfoglio (and Swiss Arms) design based on the early c.1924-1925 updates to the original J.M. Browning design, with spur hammer, short trigger, early short thumb safety, and military sights. The accented weathered finish is the final touch. But, like the Umarex Colt Commander (lower left) it uses the (use your own terms, mine is distracting and unnecessary) S F arrow on the safety, which is my personal vexation. Getting to the Colt Commander, this gun has combat sights similar to the Swiss Arms TRS, a Delta-style skeletonized hammer and skeletonized trigger, and in case you missed it, the same lanyard lop at the base of the grip frame. What it doesn’t have is an equally updated ambidextrous safety (instead using an old pre-WWII design), the flat mainspring housing, and palmswell beavertail safety. At lower right is the best built of the group, the Sig Sauer WTP 1911, which is based on Sig’s centerfire model of the same unique design. While some of the features seem to be taken from the Swiss Arms and Umarex models, Sig has put its own stamp on this gun with unique ambidextrous safeties, the unusual external extractor used on the centerfire models, a specific skeletonized hammer and trigger design matching the .45 ACP model, a more pronounced palmswell beavertail grip safety, and white dot combat sights that are larger than those used on other CO2 models. Like the exterior finish and markings, the WTP is the perfect example of how far a manufacturer can go to create a unique design while still working from the same platform. That brings us to the new Springfield Armory MIL SPEC, which, if you compare it to the others is closest to the Air Venturi John Wayne and the Tanfoglio Witness (not shown) models, and it has the S F arrow small thumb safety. What helps set it apart are the white dot sights, special grips, and plated barrel bushing. The question is what level of internal parts upgrades, accuracy, and overall quality will the Springfield bring to the table?
This Springfield MIL SPEC, however, is not unique, but rather the latest in a series of 1911 CO2 models dating back to 2014, that share nearly identical internal designs, CO2 operation, and the same design self-contained CO2 BB magazines (so yes, the magazines are all interchangeable between guns). The only things that separate the guns are exterior aesthetics, meaning the design of the trigger, hammer, thumb safeties, sights, and grips. Otherwise, they are all the same gun underneath. Rather than relate each of the guns and their features in the body of this article, I am going to show the differences and expand the photo captions to cover all the bases.
Everyone uses the same self-contained CO2 BB magazine. But, not all of the magazines are built the same way for each manufacturer! Swiss Arms, Umarex and Springfield Armory magazines have a slightly different design.
The best magazines for ease of loading BBS come from Swiss Arms, Umarex and Springfield, which all use a magazine with a locking follower. If you shoot a lot you know the value of that little catch.
Time and change
As I have noted in the past, Umarex was the first to introduce a Colt Model 1911 with blowback action and self-contained CO2 BB magazine. A Colt licensed product, Umarex named the full-size Government Model air pistol the Colt Commander, which was actually the name Colt gave to its post WWII design fitted with a shorter slide and 4.25 inch barrel. So it wasn’t exactly the right name for the air pistol. They also went with a more modern design for the hammer, trigger, and white dot sights, making it this CO2 offering more of an upgraded 1911 version. The finish was (and remains) a light gloss black. This gun, however, is the literal foundation for all the 1911 CO2 models that have come, and you will see parts of this gun in other CO2 models, as well as newer and older WWII era versions all based on the same platform and essentially made by the same manufacturers in Taiwan for Umarex, Sig Sauer, Swiss Arms, Tanfoglio, Remington, and other brand names, including the new Springfield Armory 1911 MIL SPEC.
This is where a lot of difference between guns becomes evident. From left to right, your basic design as used for the Air Venturi John Wayne, as well as the Tanfoglio Witness and Swiss Arms 1911 A-1 models, with traditional checkered arched mainspring housing, original grip safety, and military sights. To the right, is the new Springfield Armory model which has the same grip frame design, spur hammer, and grip safety, but is fitted with white dot sights, which will unquestionably improve accuracy. The Umarex Colt Commander in the middle is the same basic grip frame but with a later style grip safety, smaller Delta-style skeletonized hammer, and larger white dot combat sights. The Umarex is well known for its accuracy. Upgrade the design with the more popular flat mainspring housing, palmswell grip safety, ambidextrous extended thumb safeties, and white dot sights that are again unique to this model, compared to the Springfield or Umarex, and you have the Swiss Arms TRS. Last, kick everything up another notch with even better white dot combat sights, unique ambidextrous thumb safeties, flat mainspring housing and a more aggressive palmswell grip safety, and you have the Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE. They all start with the same platforms yet each is unique in its final design.
That being the facts, there are specific exceptions to everything I have just written because individual retailers, companies like Sig Sauer, Colt, Swiss Arms, Tanfoglio, Springfield Armory and others have their own set of standards and features for their guns, so they are different not only in finishes and features, but sometimes in how well they perform. This is also true in the centerfire market 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.
Is it window dressing or is there a tangible difference in how the guns work. Except for the Swiss Arms TRS (second from left) these CO2 models use the same frame, the Swiss Arms and Sig Sauer with flat mainspring housings. The rest are 1911 A-1 versions with the arched mainspring housings. They all have identical blowback actions that lock back on an empty magazine and all have some style of white lettering for safety warnings and manufacturer’s marks. Swiss Arms, Umarex and Springfield use polished and plated external barrels with the .177 caliber steel CO2 barrel recessed from the muzzle. The aesthetics of the individual guns are what make them different; one more or less desirable than another. For a basic WWII-era gun, the Air Venturi John Wayne as well as the Tanfoglio Witness, Swiss Arms 1911 A-1 and Remington 1911RAC (not shown) are the closest to a military style but all have distracting graphics. Except for bands and markings all three are the exact same gun made from the same parts. The most highly detailed of the group is the Sig Sauer WTP followed by the new Air Venturi Springfield Armory MIL SPEC. The details of fit, finish and construction are what separate these guns and some have proven to be more accurate and easier to handle than the others. Where the Springfield fits into this group is what we will explore in the next articles. But you can tell a lot from the pictures when you begin doing visual comparisons.
Inside out the CO2 models all fieldstrip the same as a centerfire pistol (though with a lot less effort against the recoil spring’s resistance. Rather than utilizing the original J.M. Browning designed toggle link to anchor the barrel to the frame with the slide release pin, the pin passes through a fixed barrel lug hole that is screwed to the barrel.
Some 1911 CO2 brands, and we will use Tanfoglio and Swiss Arms as an example, want early-style 1911 designs as well as updated 1911 A-1 versions, and completely updated 21st century Rail Gun variations, while others, like Umarex, tend to stay with one model plus an occasional Limited Edition version. This is truer of companies that are licensed to produce a brand name like Colt. But the 1911 design is not protected by any patent today, just the Colt name, so anyone can build a 1911-style model. And just about everyone does, whether it is a centerfire gun or a blowback action air pistol.
Authenticity to a point; can you use actual 1911 grips on the CO2 models? The answer is no. This pair of Colt 1911 A-1 diamond pattern grips line up perfectly with the frame and screw holes but cannot fit flush to the grip frame because of the added contour to fit the CO2.
There is a bowed shape to the lower third of the grip frame to accommodate the round CO2 cylinder. This is easily disguised by the plastic grips that come with the guns that are molded to fit over the rise up the center. Depending upon the wood grips chosen, it is possible to reshape the inside of the wood panel to fit over the rise and onto the grip frame. Everything else is the same as a centerfire model and the panels will fit the CO2 model once modified.
The number of 1911 manufacturers today is too long to list here, but suffice to say you can find a 1911 from almost every American armsmaker covering original 1911-era designs, 1911 A-1 designs, models that combine 1911 and 1911 A-1 features, as well as more modern Rail Guns and tactical models. Today it is the same with the CO2 models and, like the centerfire semi-autos, they all begin with a common platform.
As the latest addition to the group, the Springfield Armory MIL SPEC is one of the best looking with an extremely well done slide, and modest white letter warnings on the frame. Well copied from the .45 ACP MIL SPEC model, the grips are a standout feature. And since the centerfire model has the same Parkerized finish, the matte black look on the CO2 model is as right as can be, and the same for the white dot sights. Overall, it is a very authentic looking airgun.
Next week, we’ll get into the performance and handing of the Springfield Armory model.
A word about safety
Blowback action airguns provide the look, feel and operation of their cartridge-firing counterparts and this is one reason why they have become so popular. Airguns in general all look like guns, blowback action models more so, and it is important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t tell an airgun from a cartridge gun. Never brandish an airgun in public. Always, and I can never stress this enough, always treat an airgun as you would a cartridge gun. The same manual of operation and safety should always apply.