|Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 2 (Fall '06) - Pistol Review: Springfield Armory LW MC Operator|
Springfield Armory LW MC Operator pistol (PX9116L)
Reviewed by Steve Shields (Wichaka, )
In the world of combat fighting handguns, the trend these days is for light or 'tac' rails to be on such guns. Just as much as most every maker these days is producing some kind of 1911, they are also producing models with light rails. It's a trend that is here to stay, and if you haven't been in a situation where you need an extra hand free, having the light attached to the gun instead of your fingers can be a plus.
A year or so ago Springfield came out with their MC Operator, which basically looks like a Loaded model with an integral light rail made into the frame. MC stands for 'Marine Corps.' Springfield's MC Operator meets all of the Marines' requirements for their MEU (SOC) (which stands for 'Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable.') pistol. Some of these requirements are as follow: cocking serrations, fixed front and rear sights, good accuracy, ambidextrous thumb safety, beavertail grip safety, long trigger with a pull weight of 4.5 to 6 lbs., integral rail on the dust cover for attaching a light or other accessories, rubber wrap around grips, and some kind of durable finish.
I had the pleasure to 'wring' one out earlier this year, at my state's L.E. firearms instructors' yearly three-gun shoot & seminar event. I was very impressed with the barrel fit, and the way the slide tightly matched the frame. Needless to say it was a tack driver. It handled very well in the hand and was fast for follow up shots.
I applaud Springfield for building 'pure' 1911's. There's no firing pin safety on any of their 1911 models they produce, or other gimmicks to detract from Browning's most famous design. The MC Operator is no different—no firing pin safety, no external extractor, nor any funky recoil system. Just a solid 1911 that's worthy of being a combat fighting pistol.
A few weeks ago I was informed that Springfield had a gun for the M1911 Pistols Organization to test and evaluate. I contacted Springfield and they said they had a new model, which is not available to the public yet, but they wanted our group to check it out and give an honest evaluation of it.
Enter the Light Weight (LW) MC Operator pistol, model number PX9116L.
Here's a photo of the new Lightweight MC Operator together with the steel framed version. As you can see, other than the color and wrap around grips, it's very hard to tell them apart … until you pick them up.
Looking over the Lightweight MC Operator, it has Springfield's 'Armory Kote' Teflon finish. It looks very durable, and should wear very well. Obviously I didn't have the pistol for long term, so it's unknown to me how the finish will hold up over time. But I did have it in a Kydex type tactical holster, and it came out without a mark.
There's no full-length guide rod, so no extra tools needed for disassembly. The wood grips appear to be cocobolo or the like, with pressed-in type checkering with Springfield logo on them. The diamonds that make up the checkering on the grips appear to be flattened, which gives an ok grip, but I like something with a bit more 'bite' to get and keep a good grip.
There's a Commander style hammer with the beavertail grip safety to keep hammer bite at bay. An ambi-safety, lightweight aluminum, 3-hole trigger with the all-familiar adjustment screw, which had a consistent pull of 4 1/2 lbs, and to round out the overall package; the whole gun has been given a light carry bevel treatment, with edges taken off slightly but not over done.
There are cocking serrations on the front and rear of the sides of the slide. They are very well done, not sharp as has been seen on other Springfield models. These are how I like them; functional yet won't tear into your fingers while doing malfunction drills.
There are Novak night sights dovetailed into the slide, front and rear. I have these on many of my 1911's, so am familiar with the sight picture they offer. Novak now offers the same rear sight in a 'wide notch' version. I have seen this model, and it greatly helps in picking up the front sight faster. Springfield should look at this version in the near future for a possible option for the Lightweight MC Operator.
The slide to frame fit is second to none in any production 1911 that I've looked at. There is absolutely no felt slop anywhere during the hand cycling of the slide.
The barrel and bushing are both stainless steel. The bushing has a very excellent fit of .0005' difference from the bushing to the barrel. The fit from the bushing to the slide is excellent as well; showing no signs of movement yet can be removed with your fingers.
Of course the first thing one notices is the weight difference compared to the steel framed version. The steel version is 42oz, compared to 31oz for the Lightweight MC Operator. While I was initially handling the pistol, two things immediately came to mind: First; what is recoil going to be like and, Second; this is a combat pistol, how is the alloy frame going to hold up to hard use? The first question will be answered later in this article, but for the second, and arguably more important, I called Springfield and asked them. They told me the frame has a lifetime guarantee, so go shoot it. I told them, 'Great, and I will!'
But the question about the frame holding up was still on my mind until I looked closely at the forward section. As you will see in the photos below, the frame is beefed up from the slide stop pin area forward. So much so that the slide stop itself is recessed into the frame a bit. The area around the recoil face is heavy duty as well. After examining this area, which takes the impact during firing, I'm convinced there's no need to worry anymore.
The light rail itself is made into the frame and is the standardized Picatinny style. This means there's no need for adapters, just slide your light right on.
I had access to Streamlight's M3 and Surefire's X200B model weapons lights. Both lights were bit loose fitting on the Lightweight MC Operator but the usual snug fit on the steel version. I checked the rails for variances and found the steel frame slots measured out at .205" and he LW at .212", which would account for the sloppy fit.
The Lightweight MC Operator comes with an extended ejector;
A very well done beveled magwell, which is every bit of combat functional for speed reloads. Better than the ones Springfield has done in the past.
A main spring housing that has the checkering cut at 30lpi, which offers a good balance of grip without leaving a crosshatch pattern in your palm. This model has the ILS (Integral Locking System) that comes standard on most Springfield 1911's. I didn't think this particular model should have this feature on it, as it's a touted as an extreme duty firearm not an every so often range gun.
Every barrel in Springfield's lightweight pistols line-up is ramped and fully supported. This does a couple things: 1) It keeps the frame wear at zero, 2) One doesn't have to worry about using magazines where the follower may contact the feed ramp.
Overall I liked the quality of the Lightweight MC Operator, the fit and finish are second to none. The pistol is all business, with very few frills added. The only downside I can see is the use of MIM parts at some of the high stress areas. For a gun that will MSRP at a tad over $1,200 I think there should be solid steel throughout, especially for one that is built for extreme duty.
How it Shoots
I obtained the steel framed version of the MC Operator from Springfield as well, to report to our readers the difference in felt recoil, and overall handling characteristics.
I want to pause here and say that we at The M1911 Pistols Organization are indebted to Springfield for sending us the steel framed version to conduct a more thorough test, evaluation and comparison of the light weight version.
I took both pistols apart and cleaned them of the manufacturers packing oil, lubed and reassembled them before doing any firing tests. M1911.ORG forum members swampertwo and jazor joined me in putting these pistols through their paces.
We experienced no malfunctions of any kind during the firing of 10 different kinds of ammunition, which consisted of Speer's Gold Dot and 'Flying Ashtray,' Remington Golden Sabre, Federal's Hydra-Shok, Tactical L.E., and HST, Winchester white box full metal jacket 'ball,' Rangemaster's 200gr lswc and their 230gr fmj, and my old standby reloads which are a 230gr rnl bullet over 4.5gr. of bullseye powder. All the above loads were run through our CED chronograph, and showed to be within the advertised ballistic information. No major variations of velocity were found.
Also put into the Lightweight MC Operator were 6 different types of magazines, including Wilson, Metalform (8 & 10 rounders), Mec-Gar, ACT, and the stock mags that came with the gun. We did get failures to lock the slides back with both guns with every magazine, except those made by ACT. I've had Springfield's on the bench before with this same problem. Usually it takes a little reshaping of the slide stop and the problem goes away.
You can definitely feel the difference in the recoil and handling between the two versions. The Lightweight MC Operator had more felt recoil and, especially when shooting +P ammo, torqued a bit in the hand. When not shooting the +P stuff, the gun was still very controllable for follow up shots. What was interesting to note, is when I pulled out my dueling tree to get into some friendly competition, we all commented that you really don't feel the difference in the handling, even when firing +P stuff. You're so focused on placing your shots and winning, you don't notice anything else.
The gun shot very well as you can see from the accompanying photos. All shots were done at 7 &10 yards at combat speed, about 1-2 shots per second in a controlled cadence. The largest group was 3', the smallest being a tad over an inch.
Both pistols were taken to the last USPSA match of the year in my area. Since I didn't have a tac type holster that would fit a rail gun with a light, I had jazor run the match with both pistols. He mentioned again that he couldn't really tell the felt difference in recoil, as he was so involved in shooting the stage.
Look at the following pics and see if you can tell which MC Operator he's firing.
The top two photos are the steel framed version, and the bottom two are the Lightweight MC Operator. Notice how both look pretty close to the same in recoil, as well as seeing the spent casing in each of the photos. The LW is very controllable in combat shooting, where speed and accuracy is a must.
The MC Operator pistols are very well put together, I was assured that these two pistols were pulled from the assembly line and what I had, the public would also receive. Other than the slide not locking back consistently, the LW again had no malfunctions even when every round in the magazine was different.
The Lightweight MC Operator is accurate and very well built. I see nothing on it that falls into the category of 'bells & whistles.' It has all the features a serious combat shooter and/or tactical member would want on this type of gun.
I've shot a lot of different types of 1911's over the years, and have come to find one thing … you get what you pay for. I work in Law Enforcement and am very picky about the gear I use. It can make or break a bad situation on the street, or on a team type operation. I have no reservations about carrying one of these on duty. I would suggest that one 'wring' the gun out to make sure it will run with your type of ammunition and magazines you choose for your defensive pistol package.
I have seen other production 1911 rail guns, and think this is the best of those I've looked over. Plus it has a lifetime guarantee—what more could you want out of a rail gun?
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|Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 2 (Fall '06) - Pistol Review: Springfield Armory LW MC Operator|