Considering the fact that I am a lover of polymer, the absence of manual safeties and my ammo choice starts and ends with the number nine, I’m not exactly sure that I am the best choice to review a 1911 pistol. On the one hand, although I can appreciate the elegance and the history of Browning’s design, I couldn’t imagine carrying a single stack pistol for any sort of serious work. On the other hand, I will try to bring an outsider’s point of view to a pair of guns that are both beautifully crafted and function as described. Today we will be taking a look at the Springfield Armory Range Officer Elite 1911 pistols in both the full size ‘Operator’ and ‘Compact’ versions.
If you all don’t mind, I’d like to handle this “review” a bit differently than my normal format. Instead of focusing on every minutiae of each gun’s function, I wanted to compare the original 1911 design with one of the newest market offerings. In the first section I’ll go through the basics, specifications, features and accessories. In the second section I will field strip the Operator alongside an original Colt 1911 manufactured in Hartford, Connecticut in 1912. From there we can compare parts and the overall designs of each gun.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t experience a single malfunction during my time with these two guns. Using Aguila 230 grain Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) rounds, each pistol fed, chambered and extracted on command – the basic requirements of any defensive handgun. I’d also like to point out that I’d refer to these guns as being “combat accurate”. I only shot steel plates out to 25 yards (no paper punching for groups) and each pistol is accurate enough for government work (see what I did there?).
A short-term “fit and finish” non-scientific study revealed no blemishes, premature wear or any aesthetic issues. Obviously the ergonomics are classic 1911 form, with the addition of oversized, ambidextrous thumb safeties and a pronounced beaver tail blackstrap/grip safety. In addition, the full sized Operator includes a light/laser accessory rail which I believe is a necessity on a true defensive handgun.
Both pistols feature skeletonized triggers and hammers, a characteristic I assume reduces weight while increasing strength. Which I find somewhat amusing since neither gun could be considered “light”. Die hard 1911 fans can chime in on the importance of these features in the comments section below.
The trigger pull is crisp, clean and consistent – what you would expect from a mid to high-end production 1911. Hammer-fired guns are so much different from striker-fired guns; it’s nice to be reminded of what a match-style trigger feels like from time to time.
Each gun comes with four magazines. Sure, capacities are no where near what the modern day double stack pistols offer. However, each mag is slim enough that two of them take up roughly the same space as one Glock magazine.
Both pistols come complete with a range bag, cleaning kit, holster, double mag pouch, replacement fiber optic rods for the front sights and a cable lock. The holster and magazine carrier are made from injection molded plastic, not Kydex or leather, but I still consider it a nice edition for anyone who picks up their new gun at the shop and wants to head right to the range witchout shopping or waiting for a new holster. The bag is of average quality, good enough for light or infrequent use.
The front sight is an orange fiber optic dot that is fairly bright in lower light levels. Obviously, in full darkness they completely disappear. The rear sights are a classic ‘two white dot’ setup. I do like the full cantilever position that brings the dots back as far as possible for maximum sight radius. At this price point, however, I was hoping for tritium night sights.
Designed for easy carry and heavy use, the RO® Elite Compact features a lightweight forged alloy frame and forged steel slide coated in corrosion-resistant Black-T® finish. The 4-inch stainless steel match grade bull barrel with fully-supported ramp is coupled with a flat wire captive recoil system for ultimate reliability. The tactical rack white-dot rear sight and fiber optic front sight speeds targeting, an ambidextrous safety adds security, and crisp Gen 2 trigger and thin-line G-10 grips provide the smooth action and secure hold of a quick, accurate and imposing defensive weapon. Available in 9mm and .45 ACP.
The RO® Elite Operator® is a multi-threat athlete, combining trophy-level accuracy with do-it-all versatility. Match grade frame and slide are forged steel, Black-T™ finished to withstand corrosion, abrasion and extremes. The slide features slanted front and rear serrations for easy racking. The 5 inch stainless steel, match grade barrel delivers on-target rounds with repeatable precision, aided by a tactical rack white-dot rear sight and fiber optic front sight. The Operator sports a crisp Gen 2 trigger and GI recoil system. An accessory rail and ambidextrous safety add flexibility, and thin-line G-10 grips provide a solid, hand-pleasing fit. Available in 9mm and .45ACP.
Old Versus New – 1912 Colt & 2017 Springfield Armory
After 105 years, very little has changed in terms of overall 1911 parts design. And I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since that was one of Browning’s goals in developing the 1911 – guns that can be repaired with parts that don’t require hand fitting (for the the most part). Sure, manufacturing processes have changed and material science has evolved, but in the end, interchangeability remains.
Basic research on the Colt’s serial number shows that it was part of a lot of 2000 guns that went into service in the later part of WWI. At some point it was sent into storage where it waited for three decades to be reissued in WWII.
I love these wood grips, and I’d like to say the G-10 panels on the Springfield are more durable, however if these are the originals, they still look good for being over a hundred years old and surviving two world wars.
The original Colt recoil spring was replaced about 10 years ago. I did keep the original, or at least the one that had been in it since ~1945.
Finishings and coatings have advanced in the last 100 years. Although, for spending most of its life in a tanned leather holster in a variety of climates, I think the slide and frame of the Colt look fairly decent.
If this barrel could talk. What I wouldn’t give to have a camera ride-along since it left the factory.
Range officer Elite – CONCLUSIONS:
The Range Officer Elite series of pistols from Springfield Armory is a good value for the mid to upper level range of production 1911s currently offered in today’s market. Do they do anything exciting or special over other pistols in their price range? Not really. However, they are both well made and are solid performers that would be good for range use or every day carry spending on your needs.
I’d like to thank Aguila Ammunition for supplying quality rounds for our reviews. Consider Aguila the next time you are buying ammo.