Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More on the Airsoft 1911.

So I have now had a few initial sessions with my new WE Airsoft "green gas" 1911 pistol, and wanted to document a bit. 

Let me say up front I am starting to get really, really excited about the possibilities here.  With this purchase I made an investment in an idea--that Airsoft might be a viable means of serious personal training--and I was both hopeful and cautious about what I might find in this experiment.  With a couple hundred rounds downrange now, I am starting to feel very much that the idea is sound and worth pursuing with vigor.

With that in mind...

Despite all my research (and I'm generally thorough about that), there were still a few surprises.  The most eye-rolling of these is that the pistol does not fit most of my leather.  You may notice that the slide at the muzzle is not scalloped forward of the dustcover, like it is on a regular Commander:

Well, great.  And guess who has high-quality holsters with impressive boning and fit?  Grumble...okay then, at least the old classic Yaqui Slide design doesn't care about such things.  But I'd hoped to be able to run the piece from several other designs, and now I'll have to re-assess that.  Okay, annoying, but ultimately pretty minor.

Another thing I wouldn't have expected is that the slide release does not cam down when the slide is pulled fully to the rear, like it does on the firearm.  This is actually a bigger deal than it might appear, as it negates the technique of attacking the slide to close the action after a slidelock reload:  effectively it forces you to use the slide release as a slide release.  (One might think "big deal" to that, but that technique has evolved to what it is because it engenders a consistent and uniform response to cycling the slide, not just on a 1911, but any auto pistol out there--whether or not it even has a slide release lever in the first place.  I haven't quite figured out how this is going to work yet.  (One thing I am hoping to get from Tom Gaylord's Airsoft "primer" series, is how 'smithing and modifications are done in the Airsoft world.  If they're easy, and if the metals are worth working on, I might take on some of these things myself.)

There are a few other things that I would want to improve, as well.  The ambi safety lever is nice, but it's not very positive (it's even come off, once, while in the holster, and while that may be as much because of the presence of the offside lever as because of its stiffness, that will nonetheless get your attention!), and I would prefer positive.  (Theoretically, a stronger spring in the plunger tube plus a well-executed detent could solve both the positive safety and the auto-cam-down-on-the-slide-stop-lever, at the same time.)  The front sight is not black, and can produce a muddled picture in some kinds of light.  (That, of course, should be an easy fix.)  I, of course, would also like to see a "slimline" version, and one that not only uses the Commander-length slide but also the "Officer's"-length frame, so that it would match the 1911 style I am most likely to carry.  And of course the orange tip is not only annoying, but can be a problem with closed-bottom holsters.

Magazines are excellent, although they seem to be ever-so-slightly larger than the firearm mags--just enough that their fit in my leather is either just-barely or just-barely-not.  They are weighted, and in fact seem like they are pretty similar to a magazine full of .45 ACP cartridges.  (I can't quite decide whether I'd want them this way, or whether I'd want it weighted to simulate an empty magazine instead.)

For those new to Airsoft and especially to the "gas blowback" guns, it is the magazine which holds the "powerplant":  via an adapter needle and a couple of drops of silicone oil, propane from a standard camping canister is forced into the base of the magazine (about four seconds seems to constitute a full charge, which has been giving me somewhere around thirty shots, or two full loads of the 15-shot magazine).  When the hammer falls, a striker knocks open the gas port on the rear of the magazine, releasing a charge of gas which both propels the BB out of the smoothbore barrel, and also provides the blowback that cycles the action and loads the next BB into the chamber.  It's a pretty slick system, actually.

The gun came with one magazine, and I ordered two additional ones.  Initially I thought one or both of these might have been defective, but when I took care to make sure the seals were nice and wet with silicone oil before charging, the leaking sounds stopped, and now the two spares seem to behave just about like the one that shipped with the gun.  I've now had several sessions wherein all three mags have been running 100%, even (especially) when left charged overnight.  I suspect I'll learn a number of quirks of this gas system, as I use it more and more.  The best part, of course, is that once you've got everything running smoothly, it really is the same manual of arms that you use to run the firearm (excepting that slide release behavior and of course the lighter springs), and that puts me in the position I want to be in.

So, with all that, what is shooting the piece like?  Pretty sweet, actually.  My last couple of sessions have seen me distinctly shift gears, away from focusing on simply ensuring that the piece functions, and more toward addressing the "what am I going to do with this?" question.  That is a Good Thing.

Today, for example, I got a short session, call it roughly 100 rounds, mostly consisting of singles and pairs, both from a ready position and presented from concealment.  This was almost entirely from about five yards' distance, against two .22 spinners (ram and chicken silhouettes), with their obvious auditory response to hits.  (As expected, ricochet was pretty impressive;  one of my projects will be trying to figure out the right way to do steel for Airsoft.)

It was, simply, valuable training time.  No, of course it's not the same recoil impulse as firing a .45, but the blowback is absolutely enough to disturb your sight picture, enough to make you work for your next shot--which is The Point Entire on multiple shots and/or multiple targets.  Even moreso than with a firearm, you can feel the piece cycling, and the sensation is authentic enough to be valuable.

The gun does have a slightly weird feel, in handling.  It's not "loose", specifically, but it doesn't feel nearly as solid as my .45, either.  Part of it, I'm sure, is the accumulation of the looser tolerances and lighter springs, but I think there's something more to it than just that, as well.  It doesn't at all feel like a plastic toy, but it does rattle a bit.  I'll keep on the lookout for this and if I figure out what it is, I'll document it here.

I treated today's session simply as though I were running my carry piece, and that practice worked well.  One item of interest:  at slidelock, my normal speed reload actually worked more often than not, despite the non-camming of the slide stop;  it may be that the violence with which I attack the slide simply drives the stop down in spite of itself.  Magazine changes are just like running a "real gun";  the only thing I notice is that the magazine release spring seems noticeably light on the Airsoft piece.  In practice, I didn't really notice the BB tower--which probably means I'm getting the correct angle for my changes.

Riding the disconnector is going to be possible, and that is one art I hope to get closer to again.  The trigger on this piece is actually very nice, and although the disconnect isn't quite as positive as it is on the better 1911s, you can feel it, and actually I will welcome the ability to train with a slightly subtler sensation than the one I'll have in hand on that horrible day I finally fail to avoid a fight.

All in all, I did okay, today.  Clearly I was feeling out a new system, but I was also wanting to see where my skills are, given that live-fire training is nearly impossible to afford in any quantity, and dry-fire training ends rather abruptly, for a single-action auto, at the drop of the hammer on the first shot.  This Airsoft experiment promises to change that balance dramatically.

And I think it's going to.  The sensation of triggering multiple shots, and engaging multiple targets, is indeed very much like live-fire;  even although the recoil impulse is "lighter" than with a centerfire cartridge, the gas blowback disturbs you enough to make you focus on the followup shot in just the same way--and if your grip technique is what it should be, performance should be highly interchangeable between the two formats.  So long as I resist any urge to hold the gun lightly just to game it to go faster, differences in recoil should be minimal.

And my word, the cost efficiency.  Five thousand rounds of (fancy, biodegradeable) ammunition costs $20;  today I spent less than 50 cents of that.  A single, full-price canister of camping propane costs about $5 and I've been using the same one for a half-dozen sessions so far.  Two drops of silicone oil every few magazines, and a little spray of the same on the gun innards every not-so-often, are my unit costs.  Anyone who shoots even a little live ammunition can see how the math is working out here--swimmingly.  Even a rimfire setup--for those who can find rimfire ammunition these days--can't compete with Airsoft for cost effectiveness.  Hell, just consider my 100-round day today:  I nearly made back the cost of the pistol itself, in comparison to .45ACP ammo.  Certainly I've already made back my whole initial investment, when I consider how many BBs have gone downrange in the last month.  Yes, more of this, please.

The most exciting promise, I think, is that this level of cost-savings will allow me really to try things out on their own merits, rather than have to compromise based on the amount of testing I could afford to apply to a given idea.  And the ability to run this system off my own porch, with three minutes' notice to go fetch the gun, gas and BBs, means I can reasonably test an idea out at any time, rather than only when the range jockeys decide they're going to be open. 

I was hoping that if the gun would really run, these sorts of things might be possible.  I'm still learning, for sure, but I think I can already see that it is very possible, and very attainable.

I'll document more here as I learn it!


The next step, provided this all continues down the same path, will be to try a CO2 gun;  I suspect that will either wind up being the Tanfoglio LTD Custom:

or possibly the SIG P226 "X-Five", which seems like it might be be closer to the P220 SAO than to a true P226:

Anyway, I'm curious about the CO2 powerplant because lots of experts tell me that CO2 is mostly useless below a certain temperature, which some would have you believe is as high as 70 degrees F.  Thing is, CO2 is apparently very popular up here, and nobody seems to note a serious performance problem despite the fact that it's a rare summer day that makes it up to 60, much less 70;  for most of the year, we're in the 40s or below.  So, I intends to gets me one of these CO2 jobbies and see just how it does.


Finally, I'll try to update soon, as well, on the spring pistol experiment, the Walther PPS.  That one is at once a different beast, and yet also potentially very valuable as a tool.

Happy range time!

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