I’ve carried one 1911 or another on a regular basis for more than a decade. Like most gun guys with limited budgets, I’ve bought some guns I shouldn’t have, and I’ve parted with more than a few I regret selling. One such pistol was a limited-production model Springfield Armory marketed as the Night Light.
The moniker Night Light was sort of a play on words. Its black slide was festooned with a crescent moon logo, and it had night sights, but the “light” also referred to its weight, which was greatly reduced by building the full-size 1911 on an alloy frame.
That was the first full-size, lightweight 1911 I had ever seen, and it struck me as a wonderful idea. After all, it is generally accepted that 5-inch guns are the most reliable of the 1911 clan. Further, the longer sight radius aids in accuracy, and the longer slide just seems to point and balance better than a shorter slide. I haven’t found 3- or 4-inch guns to conceal much easier in the trim 1911 package, but they do have an advantage in the weight department. So in my opinion, the Night Light, with its 5-inch slide and weight-saving alloy frame, was a perfect concept. I don’t know what I was thinking when I traded it away so many years ago, but I’ve regretted that bit of foolishness ever since.
Springfield was one of the first–if not the first–manufacturer to offer a 1913-spec rail as an integral part of the dustcover. Light rail-equipped pistols caught on fast in the SWAT community. Today, weapon-mounted lights are de rigueur–not just for SWAT cops, but for armed citizens and patrol officers, too.
|ACTION:||Short-recoil semiautomatic pistol|
|BARREL LENGTH.:||5 inches|
|OVERALL LENGTH:||8.7 inches|
|SIGHTS:||Fixed, low-profile combat rear; dovetail front; tritium 3-dot inserts|
|FINISH:||Black hard-coat anodizing; black Armory Kote|
The Operator has improved a great deal since the first iteration, which featured a full-length dustcover that made the pistol a bit on the heavy side. But the current, improved Operator has a smaller, lighter dustcover that adds only 2 ounces to a standard 1911 and retains the classic 1911 look. SWAT operators and folks whose 1911s reside on a bedside table would, doubtless, not notice the extra bit of weight, but street cops and armed citizens surely would. So Springfield Armory introduced a new lightweight version of the Operator that will certainly appeal to those who carry a gun every day.
The Lightweight Operator is a full-size 1911 with an integral Picatinny rail. As previously noted, adding a dustcover-mounted rail increases the weight of a 1911 by approximately 2 ounces. However, by using an alloy frame, Springfield is able to reduce the empty weight of the newest Operator to 34 ounces–5 ounces lighter than the Springfield Mil-Spec. While it is still heavier than any of the popular polymer pieces, the Operator gives 1911-devotees a full-size, light rail-equipped gun in a package that is light enough to wear for extended periods.
The Lightweight Operator’s frame is forged from a durable 7075-T6 aluminum alloy that is hard anodized in an attractive black. The dustcover has three cross slots for mounting a light or laser. Unlike earlier versions, the 1913-spec rail does not add to the length of the dustcover. However, instead of the usual right-angle profile, the front of the dustcover features a rearward rake that matches the angle of the slide’s forward cocking serrations.
I tried several accessories on the rail, including a light/laser combo from Insight Technologies and a SureFire X200 light. They all fit perfectly, but I chose to test the pistol with the SureFire because it has the DG switch I prefer. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the DG switch is a polymer arm that runs from the light along the bottom of the trigger guard then onto the frontstrap. The part that rides the frontstrap contains a rubberized pressure switch that is much easier for small-handed shooters like me to operate than the conventional switch.
Other than the alloy frame and light rail, the Lightweight Operator is built largely to the same specs as most of Springfield’s Loaded line. The frame is devoid of sharp edges to ensure snag-free operation and features a beveled magazine well to facilitate speedy reloads. The frontstrap is smooth, but the mainspring housing is checkered at 20-lines-per-inch for added traction. As with all Springfield 1911s, the Lightweight Operator has Springfield’s Internal Locking System (ILS), which blocks the mainspring cap if the hammer is down with a turn of the key and prevents the pistol from being cocked.
The ILS is unobtrusive as far as internal locks go, but I do not care for it or any other internal pistol lock. The more complicated a pistol becomes, the more potential for failure. For end-users who are so inclined, removal of the ILS is a fairly simple and straightforward affair.
The Operator’s slide has grasping grooves fore and aft. Its ejection port is lowered and flared, and Novak-style sights with tritium inserts are dovetailed neatly into the slide. The sights are nice and bright, and they come with white outlines, which I prefer over plain tritium inserts because they give me a better sight picture in all lighting conditions.
The Lightweight Operator comes with a 5-inch, match-grade, stainless-steel barrel and a matched stainless-steel bushing. The barrel also has a small loaded-chamber cutout, which eliminates the need to press check the pistol given enough light. A two-piece, full-length guide rod is also standard.
The test pistol’s controls work very well. The high-rise beavertail grip safety is fitted perfectly, with no unsightly gaps or uneven points. The speed bump makes activation of the safety a sure thing, even with a less-than-perfect grip.
The ambidextrous thumb safety is a nice, trim number, with just enough of a shelf for those who like to ride the safety but not so much that it digs into your side when holstered. It engages smoothly and positively, with an audible and tactile “click.” The standard-sized, serrated magazine release works perfectly, as does the serrated slide stop.
The hammer is skeletonized, and the trigger is an aluminum, three-hole model that is adjustable for overtravel. The sample pistol’s trigger breaks at 4 pounds, 5 ounces according to my Timney trigger-pull gauge. It has a bit of creep, but overall, it is pretty darn clean for a factory trigger.
I am quite impressed with the Lightweight Operator’s fit and finish, too. The pistol is free of sharp edges, save a small spot at the front of the magazine well. Slide-to-frame fit is nice and tight, and the slide reciprocates smoothly. The barrel and bushing are fitted perfectly, with just the right amount of engagement of the lugs, although the bushing is just tight enough to require a bushing wrench for disassembly. Given the obvious quality of the new Springfield 1911, I was anxious to start running rounds through it. So I packed up a dozen Chip McCormick and Wilson Combat magazines and 500 rounds of ammunition from Black Hills, CorBon, Federal, Hornady, and Winchester and headed out to the local sheriff’s department shooting range.
I started out on the 7-yard line to get a feel for the Lightweight Operator. The trigger had a bit more take-up than I like, but it was crisp and clean with minimal overtravel. The sights were dead-on with the first ammo I fired–Federal’s 230-grain American Eagle FMJ.
|LOAD||BULLET||AVERAGE VELOCITY (fps)||AVERAGE ACCURACY (in.)|
|Black Hills||185-gr. JHP||912||1.69|
|Federal American Eagle||230-gr. FMJ||829||2.15|
|Winchester USA||230-gr. JHP||866||2.96|
|Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups at 25 yards fired from a Caldwell HAMMR rest. Velocity is the average of 20 rounds measured 10 feet from the gun’s muzzle.|
When I tried rapid-fire drills from the low ready out of a Blade Tech belt scabbard, I found the Lightweight Operator to be quite controllable. Double-taps and triples with the Lightweight Operator came fast and easy, with less muzzle flip than my Custom Garthwaite Titanium Commander. The Springfield 1911 fed perfectly no matter how fast I ran it, and it extracted and ejected spent cases smartly, well clear of the gun.
I fired several box drills and rapid-fire strings from the holster without a bobble, despite coming up with a less-than-perfect grip several times. I am not a fan of limp-wrist testing. In my opinion, it is not a fair assessment because a gun should not be asked to make up for the shortcomings of an unskilled operator, but the Lightweight Operator was unwaveringly reliable even during such testing.
The Lightweight Operator was as accurate as it was reliable. At 15 yards from a sandbag rest, it produced tight, ragged holes with Black Hills 185-grain HP, CorBon 230-grain Match, and Federal 230-grain Hydra-Shok. The five-shot, 15-yard groups were inspiring, but the true test, at least according to our editorial guidelines here at Shooting Times, is 25 yards. So I moved down the line with my Caldwell HAMMR rest to see how the new Springfield fared.
Hornady’s 200-grain XTP load was a pleasant surprise, with the first of my five groups falling into a nice cluster that measured right at 2 inches. Subsequent groups were pretty close to that, with a five-group average of 2.17 inches. Federal’s 230-grain Hydra-Shok load did well, but the accuracy champ was CorBon’s 230-grain Match load. It turned in a best group of just 0.85 inch and a five-group average of 1.13 inches. The other loads also shot very well at 25 yards. In fact, even the cheapest FMJ loads shot less than 3 inches.
The Lightweight Operator was phenomenally accurate at 25 yards, but I got a chance to test it a bit more when I took it to the ranch a few weeks later. I was shooting rifles with a few friends, but I was wearing the Operator on my hip. When my friend asked to shoot it, I let him, and soon our plinking session turned into a 100-yard rock-breaking contest. The Operator did very well, breaking more than its fair share of softball-sized rocks and hanging clay pigeons when we did our part. Bigger rocks didn’t stand a chance.
The next night, my tracking dog, Tuffy, and I followed a friend’s wounded hog. We jumped it up in some brush, which sent the irate porker running towards a nasty mesquite thicket. I raised the Operator, found the hog in the beam of the rail-mounted SureFire X200, and touched the trigger. The 230-grain Hydra-Shok dropped the hog in its tracks.
I had to run up and finish the job, but thanks to the Lightweight Operator and the X200, that hog didn’t have to suffer, and my friend had some good meat for the freezer. It probably wasn’t the scenario the wise folks who envisioned the first light rail had in mind when they designed it, but the ease with which I was able to identify my target in the dark and pull off a difficult shot certainly validates the concept.
Whether you are a police officer looking for a duty gun or a civilian in search of the perfect packin’ pistol, Springfield’s Lightweight Operator would be pretty tough to beat. If you’re in the market for a quality pistol that combines the ability to mount high-tech, low-light tools with .45 ACP power and 1911 reliability, this is the pistol for you.