by Tom Gaylord, The Godfather of Airguns™
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Colt Limited Edition NRA 1911 BB Pistol right

Colt WWII Commemorative looks like it went through the war.

This report covers:

• Differences between 1911 and 1911A1
• Closer look at the Colt CO2 BB pistol
• No, you can’t disassemble it
• Why call them 1911s?

Today I have something special for you. I’m reviewing the Colt WWII Commemorative from Umarex that was sold at the 2014 SHOT Show. Only 500 of them were made and they all sold at the show. They’re all gone, and you can only find one on the used market now; but you can buy the very similar Colt Limited Edition NRA 1911 BB Pistol that’s still available.

Here’s the funny thing. Neither of these pistols is a Colt 1911. Both are, in fact, 1911A1 pistols, so today I thought I’d explain the differences between these two closely related models.

Differences between 1911 and 1911A1
Right after the 1911 pistol was accepted by the Army, the world was plunged into war — and hundreds of thousands of new soldiers had to be trained to shoot the new service pistol. During and after the war, the Army discovered several things they felt they needed to change on the basic handgun, though the reliability and man-stopping power were exactly what they wanted. These changes were adopted in 1926, and the 1911A1 was born. It consisted of several changes.

Colt 1911 pistol
This is a Colt 1911 firearm.

The pistol shot too low for some soldiers, so an arched mainspring housing replaced the flat mainspring housing. This pushed the pistol up in the hand.

Colt Limited Edition NRA 1911 BB Pistol arched housing
The arched mainspring housing on the left is a 1911A1 feature. The 1911 (right) has a flat housing.

The sights were too fine for most shooters. So the front sight was widened and the rear sight notch was opened to accommodate it.

Colt Limited Edition NRA 1911 BB Pistol front sights
The 1911 front sight (right) was too thin to be of use. The 1911A1 changes widened it.

Colt Limited Edition NRA 1911 BB Pistol rear sight
The 1911 rear sight notch (left) is narrow because of the narrow front sight blade. In the 1911A1, the notch was widened to work with the wider front sight blade.

Shooters with small hands complained the trigger was too far forward — so a new, shorter blade was installed. Also, two scallops — one on either side of the gun — were machined out of the frame behind the trigger, to give the trigger finger greater reach.

Colt Limited Edition NRA 1911 BB Pistol trigger
The 1911A1 trigger (left) was shorter and has scallops cut on either side of the frame for better finger clearance.

A new hammer and grip safety were also installed. They protected shooters with large hands from getting pinched between these two parts when the slide came back to cock the gun. The grip frame was also made a little longer, but the spur on the grip safety sticks so far past it that it really makes little difference. It’s a slight difference that only a collector will notice.

Colt Limited Edition NRA 1911 BB Pistol grip safety
Here you can see the 1911 frame (left) doesn’t extend out as far as the 1911A1 frame on the right. Both pistols have a 1911A1 grip safety installed, which was an Army expedient to keep the 1911s operating in the field.

But here’s the important part. Most of these changes are parts that can be swapped by soldiers in the field, with the exception of the sights, which require some machine work to change. Only two changes are permanent and mark the absolute difference between the two models. The scallops in the frame behind the trigger and the extended grip frame (where the grip safety spur extends) are found only on 1911A1s, while 1911s do not have them.

Closer look at the Colt CO2 BB pistol
The airgun I’m reviewing for you is marked “Model of 1911 U.S. Army” though you can now see the frame scallops and know it’s really a 1911A1. It also has the arched mainspring housing and wide sights of the A1. So the labeling is misleading, though I suppose only a collector would notice.

Let’s not worry about that for now, because this is a very cool BB pistol and so is the NRA Special Edition that’s still available. Instead of producing a shiny new air pistol, Umarex has taken a page from the Cowboy Action Shooter’s book and produced a gun that appears to have suffered the ravages of war. I’ve had thousands of 1911 and 1911A1 firearms in my hands (Army service), and these two air pistols do justice to the distressed, yet completely functional look the sidearms have.

I’ll tell you how taken I am with the gun. When I saw it at the SHOT Show this past January, I didn’t need to think about it. It’s a BB pistol that’s also a connection with the history of our country. I have many lookalike airguns, but this is one of the most realistic.

This gun is a CO2-powered BB repeater. The cartridge fits in what would be the magazine on a firearm, and the BBs are in a single stack in the front of that magazine. Up to 18 BBs can be loaded at one time.

The trigger is single-action, only. In the firearm, the hammer is cocked by the slide recoiling rearward to eject the spent cartridge. Of course, the shooter has to cock the hammer the first time.

The air pistol has blowback action, meaning that the slide comes back with each shot. So, the hammer gets cocked this way and the trigger retains a light, crisp single-action pull.

The velocity is given as 325 f.p.s., but of course we’ll test this. Since some of the gas is used to operate the blowback action, I find this number reasonable.

The pistol is all metal outside and feels like the genuine firearm. The grip panels are interchangeable with those from a firearm. All the controls work exactly as they do on the firearm, which weighs 38 oz. empty. The air pistol weighs 33 oz. without CO2 or BBs.

So, to recap, this air pistol is really a model 1911A1. It has the A1 frame, sights, trigger, grip safety, and high arched mainspring housing. But it does have the 1911-style hammer with the wide beavertail thumb piece.

No, you can’t disassemble it
I looked at the possibility of disassembling this pistol, like the firearm, but it appears not to be made for that. Yes, it comes apart, but you probably don’t want to try it.

Why call them 1911s?
The model number 1911 has become a more generic term for the entire class of pistol. This is similar to the AK47 title being used incorrectly on the far more numerous AKM rifles that number in the tens of millions. People still call them all AK47s, despite the fact that the true AK47 is a very specialized early design made from all milled parts and is rather rare.

I guess we have to live with the term, knowing that it isn’t entirely accurate; and we may need to switch gears when the conversation becomes more technical and specific.