February 1998

Smith & Wesson Model 317 AirLite: Reliable, Expensive

Some outdoorsmen prefer a rimfire handgun they can carry in their pocket or tackle box. For this, you need a .22 LR revolver that is smaller and lighter than those covered in this issue. One such revolver is the Smith & Wesson Model 317 AirLite.

As its name suggests, the Model 317 AirLite is extremely lightweight and compact. When equipped with a two-inch barrel, this small-frame double action revolver weighs in at 9.5 ounces with wood grips or 10.5 ounces with a rubber grip.

Why does this 8-shot model weigh so little? It has an aluminum alloy frame, barrel and cylinder. The cylinderís chambers are reinforced with steel inserts. The barrel has a steel liner and forcing cone.

Retailing for $441, the Model 317 AirLite we acquired for this test was by no means inexpensive. However, in our opinion, its metal work was only average. Alloy parts had a uniform silver-white matte finish, while the steel trigger and low-profile trigger were color case hardened. The front end of the stainless steel ejector rod had some dents and dings. There was a large gap between the frame and the cylinder yoke.

This Smith & Wesson came with an Uncle Mikeís black rubber boot grip. It had molded checkering, dual palm swells and two fingers grooves. The grip wrapped around the front of the frame, but didnít covered the backstrap. Grip-to-metal mating was excellent.

During firing, the Model 317 AirLite didnít malfunction with the three types of .22 LR ammunition we tried. However, the ejector rod had a short, gritty throw that didnít provide full-length extraction. The hammer had so much spring tension that it was hard to cock. The cylinder release, located at the rear of the cylinder on left side of the frame, worked smoothly.

We felt this very lightweight revolver was well balanced. It pointed dead-on, making target acquisition extremely quick. Shooters with large hands felt the rubber grip was too small, but it afforded a solid non-slip hold. Felt recoil was much milder than expected, making the gun easy to control.

In our opinion, the ungrooved 5/16-inch-wide triggerís double action pull was much too heavy for this very lightweight revolver. It let off at 14 pounds. After a minor amount of creep, the single action pull released at 3 1/2 pounds.

Our shooters said the Model 317 AirLiteís fixed sights were hard to acquire quickly due to their light coloring and lack of contrast. The front was a serrated 1/8-inch-wide ramp that was integral to the top of the barrel. The non-adjustable rear was a groove in the top of the frame with a notched face.

This Smith & Wessonís accuracy was acceptable for short range work. We obtained the smallest five-shot average groups, 1.10 inches at 21 feet, with CCI Stinger ammunition. Winchester T-22s were good for 1.29-inch groups. Remington High Velocity ammunition finished last with 1.43-inch groups.

Muzzle velocities averaged from 732 feet per second with the Remington ammunition to 1,146 feet per second with CCI Stingers.

Bottom Line: The Smith & Wesson Model 317 AirLite was amazing light, reliable and reasonably accurate. However, we didnít think this .22 LR revolverís workmanship was good enough to justify its $441 price.