Springfield Armory Lightweight Champion Operator PX9115LP 45 ACP
We tested two Caracal 9mm handguns (which have since been recalled) against two 45 ACP handguns in a September 2012 showdown of self-defense pistols. The 45s were the Springfield Armory Lightweight Champion Operator PX9115LP 45 ACP, $1076, and the Dan Wesson ECO 01969 45 ACP, $1662. Here’s an excerpt of that report.
Springfield Armory Lightweight Champion Operator PX9115LP 45 ACP, $1076
Springfield Armory offers two lightweight 1911 45s, each with a 4-inch barrel. One is the $1031 Loaded Lightweight Champion PX9149LP, and the other is our test gun, the Lightweight Champion Operator. Visually, the primary difference is the OD Green-colored frame of the Loaded model and the addition of an accessory rail to the Operator. The Operator also comes with cocobolo wood grips instead of rubber grip panels.
We acquired the Operator because few 1911s (and even fewer compact models) offer an accessory rail. Two 7-round magazines were supplied, but the grip was long enough to consume 8-round magazines without the basepad protruding from the grip. In addition to regular testing, each of our test rounds was fired through the Operator via 8-round magazines from Wilson Combat and Chip McCormick. Despite being fired weak hand only, strong hand only, and from support, our Lightweight Champion Operator worked without malfunction throughout every aspect of our tests.
Sheathed in black Armory Kote, the frame of the Lightweight Champion Operator offered a Picatinny accessory rail along its 2.1-inch dustcover. The cocobolo grip panels were heavily checkered, save for the traditional diamond-pattern flats and the Springfield Armory logo. Held in place by Torx screws, their profile was very tall, and we could feel a large contrast with the tightly peaked radius of the front strap, which was smooth rather than checkered.
The lower portion of the backstrap consisted of a checkered mainspring housing with flat profile. The full-width beavertail grip safety offered a raised section for positive engagement. The interior of the magazine well was beveled to about a 45-degree angle. The hammer was skeletonized, and the aluminum trigger was ventilated with three holes. The natural color of the aluminum trigger contrasted with the otherwise shadowy appearance of the frame and grips. Trijicon-branded night sights were dovetailed into place front and rear. The front blade had score lines to absorb glare as well as the tritium module. The slide offered only rearward cocking serrations. Ambidextrous thumb safeties were in place. The right-side paddle was slightly smaller by about one line of serration in width. Overall, the only imperfection we found was the edge of the left thumb safety, which we thought was a little too sharp.
Both the Springfield and Dan Wesson ECO 1911s operated with a bull barrel, negating the need for a barrel bushing. This meant take down required capturing the spring action of the recoil system before the barrel could be removed. In the case of the Operator, the recoil system consisted of a plunger or shock-absorber style, requiring a special tool for disassembly found in the airline quality hard attaché case. (Also included in the case was a belt slide holster and a dual magazine pouch with Picatinny rails along the edges for securing a laser or weapons light. Both units were tension adjustable).
Step one of takedown was to lock back the slide. Then snap the takedown piece, a plastic half-radius bushing, over the exposed section of the recoil assembly. Due to the long dustcover, we had great difficulty getting the takedown piece past the front of the guide rod and into position. In addition, reassembly was hampered by the difficulty of then removing the takedown piece. A better takedown procedure was to first separate the entire top end from the frame. Next, push on the rear of the recoil assembly to compress the spring and expose the area where the takedown piece was snapped into place. With the recoil assembly secured, it was easily removed. The key to reassembly was to make sure the recoil unit was seated fully into position against the barrel feet so the slide could pass easily across the frame.
Bench shooting is supposed to be slow fire, but the gun’s ultra-clear sight picture and the precise 5.5-pound trigger made it hard to slow down. We had to resist the urge to let the trigger snap with each flash sight picture. The result was groups that ranged in size from 0.8 inches to 2.0 inches across for all shots fired. The Hornady Custom 185-grain JHP rounds were the most accurate, with five-shot groups averaging just 1.1 inches center to center. The most powerful ammunition was the Speer Gold Dot rounds, registering 377 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
In our action test we fired eight times over the course of two target exposures. All eight shots landed on target, scoring three 10s, three 9s, and two 8s. Shooter impression was somewhat of a shock after finishing up with the 9mm pistols. The nature of the recoil was different from the Caracals, presenting torque or twisting of the gun as well as muzzle flip. Remembering to switch off the safety made the shooter a little more self-conscious. During dry fire, it began as a distraction but may ultimately have provided a key moment focusing the shooter’s attention before firing. The high thumb position riding the safety opened the grip up, and the shooter felt that the relation to the wrist position was noticeably different than when holding the striker-fired pistols with the thumb wrapped around the grip.
But we think spreading out the hand made it easier to isolate the trigger finger from the rest of the grip. The sight picture was clearly keyed on the front-sight blade, which unlike the Quick Sight stood out like a pointer. The short snappy movement of the trigger was in great contrast to the Caracals, which seemed to demand a gathering rather than a pressing motion. At first, this tempted us to somewhat overpower the trigger during the action test and pull shots low.
Our Team Said: The Springfield Armory Lightweight Champion Operator proved as accommodating as a butler. It made every shooting chore ridiculously easy. We didn’t have to struggle with choice of ammunition, sight picture, loading, controlling the trigger, or recoil. We have to credit the recoil assembly for its soft shooting. We wish there was some method of toolless takedown. Still, this is one of the best compact 45s we’ve tested.