Say it with me: “Two World Wars! 2WW!” Ok, now that we got that out of the way…
Ask a couple dozen people to picture a 1911 pistol in their heads and have them tell you what they are picturing. When they are done telling you, you will probably hear nearly a couple dozen different designs. That is the legacy of the 1911.
Out of those people, you are of course going to hear the Colt Classic Govt. in .45 ACP with a blued finish, and Rosewood grips.
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Some will mention the shiny chrome model Colt they always saw in the movies or TV shows.
Someone will mention the Gucci-’levens, the ivory handled 1911s with the heavily engraved slides and frames or the gold plated with rare wood or stone grips that look like jewelry. Pistols that live out their lives in presentation cases.
Then you will get to the, tacticool gadget pistols that are wielded in shooter and operator movies. The 1911 exists in dozens if not hundreds of different styles.
1911’s are iconic. Initially made for the U.S. Military, as the M1911 and then in 1924, a redesign brought them to the M1911A1, they have been in existence for nearly 109 years and they even lasted in active military use through the early 1990s. It was even part of a project for upgrade consideration in 2004 as the M1911A2.
It is probably fair to say, 1911’s make up the majority of hammer-fired semi-autos in existence. Millions have been produced for our military alone. And over a dozen other countries field 1911 style pistols.
The popularity of the 1911 is undeniable. Many people consider it the perfect gun and nothing else need be invented after it. 1911’s have millions and millions of fans. Even the Internet Movie Firearms Database has hundreds and hundreds of movie, TV, and video game listings for the 1911.
A New 1911 is in Your Future
Maybe you are in the market for a new gun. You want a full-sized pistol for personal protection or need a pistol for competitive shooting.
Or perhaps you’re like me and have been on the fence about owning a 1911. A very long time on the fence for me. Before this Rock Island Armory pistol, I had shot a 1911, approximately 3 times. That’s not 3 trips to the range with a 1911. I mean 3 whole bullets. Why? I’ll chalk it up to being young and not having enough experience with guns, to understand the 1911.
Now if you want a traditional old school 1911, you should find yourself a used GI Colt. However, if nostalgia is not your thing, many gun companies have made their own version and in 109 years, improvements have been made.
There are some impressive pieces out there now, and I recently had the opportunity to test and evaluate one of those versions. This pistol that I reviewed from Rock Island Armory gave the 1911 one more fan, me.
I get it now why people love the 1911 so much. But I’m not sure I would be as impressed with an old, used, loose and rattly 1911 as I was with this fresh, tight-toleranced, precision target shooter.
I believe you would agree with me
If you need, “need” or NEED or a new pistol, this is one to seriously consider. If a full-sized, high capacity pistol suits your needs, put the Rock Island Armory TAC Ultra at the top of your list, and stop there.
Since the first time I took up my dad’s guns, I have always been an excellent shot. Give me something zeroed and I will hit whatever you want me to shoot. For that reason firearm selection for me, for the longest, boiled down to what I thought looked good and what I could afford, accuracy was up to me. Both of those factors have swung from one range to another in my life. Therefore, my choices in pistols and rifles varied wildly just the same.
Now that I am on this side of experience, I look at firearms completely different. I have become intimately familiar with what makes a firearm perform, I know what matters and most importantly, I can fire a weapon now and understand the result, mechanically, scientifically and terminally. I have been inside enough firearms; repaired and restored, built and tuned, that my observations now have merit beyond opinion.
If you like tuning guns, you will be disappointed
Tuning is really what caught my attention on this Rock Island Armory pistol. Usually when I get a new “toy”, my first thoughts are, “What can I replace on this to make it better?” That is part of the fun and enjoyment of collecting firearms.
Triggers, slides (bolts on rifles), barrels, and springs. The path that one takes with tuning is interesting. It is not linear. Each new iteration of a part, such as the next best trigger than what you currently have, nets smaller and smaller movement toward “perfection”.
Your first-level tune-up gets you the most change. The level after that, tweaks a lesser aspect, and the next level after that, is an even smaller change. The opposite is true for cost. Each new level of tuning is significantly more expensive than the previous.
Perfection is an asymptote. If you do not remember that word from High School, I don’t blame you. It is not often used, but it is the easiest way to refer to “a number that trends to a maximum or minimum, but never reaches it.”
Therefore, it is because of cost, and that asymptote, that I proclaim the RIA TAC Ultra 9mm is perfect. You will not get any closer to “perfect” without a considerably greater outlay of money.
I don’t mean perfect in the sense that there is nothing you could buy that isn’t “better”, yet at the same time, you would have to ask yourself, what am I really getting for that extra cash?
There are obviously $3000 1911s, and $5000, and higher and higher cost pistols out there, and if you have that kinda money for a pistol, you go right ahead. If you feel you need those extra milliseconds for high-level competition and you think a pistol that costs more than a used car will get you there, definitely look into one of those multi-thousand dollar pistols.
However, if you do not rely on a perfect score on a competition course for a livelihood… I believe the multi thousands more for those pistols over this RIA 9mm are potentially being wasted, when you could just buy ammo and gain proficiency with the more affordable alternative.
A Range Hero
As I said, I am a great shot. If I have a sighted in weapon, I will hit what I am targeting. And when I took this pistol to the range, it was very impressive. I looked like a master, with a gun I had never shot before. On the dueling tree and plate stand, I was hitting 6 of 6 with the first magazines. It took 25-yard targets to spread my shots out where they weren’t laying on top of each other. And honestly, that probably had more to do with my aging eyes and a bad shoulder than the gun.
You would not believe how little recoil this pistol has. There was so little barrel flip that the muzzle settled naturally back on target without requiring corrective input from me. It allowed me to get impressive split times between plates. That was using Armscor 9mm ball rounds.
I switched to some Liberty Ammunition, Civil Defense rounds, which if you have not heard of them before, you need to get a box to try out. The Civil Defense rounds are 50 gr, nope I didn’t forget a number… 50 grain machined copper monolithic (lead free) fragmenting hollow point bullets. They are +p and fly over 2100fps! Nope, I didn’t add a number. These bullets are FAST, like nothing else, and reduce the felt recoil by a noticeable amount. It was even noticeable on top of the already low recoil of the RIA TAC Pistol.
Firing the low recoil Liberty rounds in this pistol, you would not know you were shooting 9mm rounds, if you hadn’t loaded the gun yourself.
I let many people at the range fire this pistol and give me their first impressions, and it was always “low recoil” and “amazing trigger”. It made everyone look like pros.
Close to a thousand rounds were shot through this pistol, over two range trips. It hungrily ate whatever ammo I fed it. There was never a FTE or FTF. Just consistent accuracy and reliability. I would definitely depend on this pistol to protect me, or earn me a trophy.
If you want to hit the IDPA or USPSA circuit and don’t feel like taking out a 2nd mortgage on your home, this pistol is a perfect pistol to enter into the realm of competitive shooting. It is an excellent target pistol. You might get a snicker from a hoity-toity operator with a gadget-laden pistol when you draw your all black “basic” pistol, but that smile will melt off their face when you out-shoot them for a fraction of what they spent.
‘tis the season to drop hints on what you want under the Christmas tree.
The Rock Island Armory TAC ULTRA FS HC – 9MM (its full name) is based on the iconic 1911.
It has all the familiar dimensions and angles that make the 1911 instantly recognizable. This particular model as the name implies is in 9mm instead of .45 cal. (There is a .45 cal version of course and I will be reviewing it soon, in both FS and a nice micro/concealable size. There is also an extended threaded barrel 10mm that I might add to my collection as well.)
The TAC ULTRA is a FS, Full-sized frame pistol with a HC, High-capacity double-stacked magazine, holding 17 rounds +1 in the chamber.
The TAC stands for Tactical, which features a full length, 5-notch Picatinny rail under the button-rifled barrel, and a full length guide rod. There are front and rear, deep, slide serrations, a Dovetail Fiber-Optic Front Sight and LPA MPS1-Type White-dot Adjustable Windage and Elevation Rear Sight.
Completing the package is a skeletonized hammer, and skeletonized trigger that has an adjustable over-travel stop.
The grips are made of G10. G10 material is chosen over melamine/micarta, wood or bone because it is lightweight, has better Tensile strength, and it absorbs less moisture. This makes the G10 material ideal for high humidity areas.
On the Rockwell [R] scale of hardness, G10 is about a 140R. Bone, by contrast, is just over a 100R. Bone, wood and mother of pearl will eventually get chipped and break over time, these G10 grips, won’t.
Attention to non-slip detail
Every part of the pistol that you will manipulate, has received some type of machining to give you a positive and non-slip surface. All machining is deep and will not wear thin from use.
The G10 Grips are deeply grooved and checkered providing a solid grip on the pistol and help you maintain target against the recoil. My fingers overlap the checkering on the other side of the grip, which is a great way for me to index my grip perfectly every time.
The backstrap is checkered under the grip squeeze safety, which is also machined with horizontal grooves. Beneath the trigger guard, the grip has 5 V-grooves cut vertically down to the magwell.
An ambidextrous safety, the skeletonized hammer, and the magazine release are all nicely grooved. And even the face of the trigger shoe has vertical grooves. The slide release gets a checkered pattern.
Continuing attention to creating non-slip surfaces everywhere, the slide has 13, deep, angled serrations in it. 6 are front serrations, and 7 at the back.
A new way to do retention
While I do like using front serrations, they proved to be an encumbrance as I was getting used to the pistol and holster combo I was using.
I chose a Crossbreed SuperTuck holster. This is a Kydex and Leather hybrid IWB holster. Crossbreed does not specifically make holsters for this RIA pistol, and so I chose the Para Ordnance fitting holster as suggested by their support crew.
The RIA slide extended past the leather bottom of the holster allowing the front serrations to dig into the squared off edge of the leather. With the high quality, stiff leather that Crossbreed uses, that pistol did not go anywhere when I tried to draw. It was impressively locked in place.
Crossbreed being the conscientious company they are, got back to me within a day, having two solutions. A bevel on the bottom of the holster where the serrations are getting stuck, so there’s no more square edge of material to get stuck on, or I could swap out for a Light Defender holster that is longer in that area. Being inquisitive, I opted for BOTH solutions, so I could inform my readers of which is best.
Both methods worked great. So if you don’t want more material at the bottom of the holster with the Light Defender, you can get an edge beveled SuperTuck. Be sure to request that when you place your order.
I want to point out; I used CrossBreed’s customer service email to address the issue of the gun sticking. They had no idea I was reviewing their product. A+ Customer Support.
Once you have your holster rig sorted, drawing this pistol quickly and bringing it up to target is easy and fast. The fiber-optic front sight gets your attention and is easy to line up with the two white dots in the rear.
The front sight is a tall and generous sight, so be sure to get a holster with plenty of room for the sight, to draw snag free.
I do not have a short thumb, I promise
Back to the slide release, it is my only true dislike I have on this pistol. However, it is not a flaw, it’s the 1911 spec design that I dislike.
The release is far enough away from my thumb, that I either have to rotate the pistol slightly in my hand, to drop the slide, or hit the release with my weak-hand thumb as I am setting my grip. My fingers are pretty long, so this won’t be unique to me alone. With all the serrations on the slide, you may wish to rack the slide to unlock it. I am just used to hitting slide releases.
I do want to clarify, this is my first 1911 that I have had constantly in my possession and that I have shot more than once or twice. So if you’re familiar with 1911’s… that slide release is exactly where you will expect it, and where it’s supposed to be per 1911 spec.
Double-checking other non-1911 pistol types though, their releases are easily within reach of my thumb. I presume if this gets to be an issue for me, I can upgrade to an extended slide release.
Single Action Only
I am a pretty diehard DA/SA fan. This RIA TAC 9mm like its progenitor the 1911 is SAO. Which means, it needs its hammer cocked to be fired.
After handling this pistol on the range, SAO didn’t really bother me when I got used to it. I won’t lie, I fire my DA/SA from hammer cocked position anyways. So it’s really NBD, it was just something that I need to train myself to pay attention to, for personal protection. Cocked and locked, one in the chamber.
The safety is not a decocker. Which, being a DA/SA user, it took me a few times of putting the safety on to realize I wasn’t going to hear the hammer fall.
An amazing trigger
WOW!! That trigger is as close to perfect as you are going to get on this level of a gun. You would have to spend a couple hundred extra in labor at a gunsmith to eke out anything more from the trigger and sear.
I got a consistently low 3lb 11oz trigger pull, the highest was 4lb 1oz, but was probably something I did, since it was an outlier and most pulls were under 4lb. That is just a few ounces over what my Sig’s pull (3lb 7oz), is at now after a couple hours of stone-work and parts replacement.
The RIA TAC 9mm has less than ½ mm Take-up. It was fairly difficult to measure that small of a distance. I had to come up with a repeatable method, and I settled on a calibrated surface that I could isolate the pistol on, with a bright light and a hook to pull the trigger.
Wall and creep on this pistol are indistinguishable from each other since it is only another ½ mm of movement. The movement is likely all wall. There is a total of less than 1mm total trigger movement to the Break. That tiny amount of movement and consistent pull doesn’t point to anything meaningful that you could do as far as polishing or replacing components to get better numbers.
The Break was very crisp and predictable. The TAC 9mm has an Overtravel reduction set-screw and it came set from the factory to ZERO Overtravel. The Reset is just a hair under the total Pre-Travel at less than 1mm.
No upgrades necessary
Another item I tune up on my pistols is the slide friction, fit and feel. And that’s another item on this pistol that needs no attention. It doesn’t take much effort to move the slide back. It glides effortlessly with no noticeable drag, or effort. Someone with weak hands or arms, or arthritic pain would be able to easily manipulate the slide on this pistol. However, there won’t be any tactical 1-handed racking. The rear sight is low and angled such that there is no edge to catch on anything.
As I mentioned, the front sight is a nice sized fiber-optic dovetail sight. Fluorescent red (reddish Orange) and highly visible.
The rear sight is dual adjustable, with white dots and is dovetailed. Unless you want night sights or you NEED to add a holo sight, there is no need to upgrade these sights; they are perfect for any shooting scenario, including competition.
The barrel is 9mm, 5 inch, 6 groove button-rifled, with a 1:16 twist. Under that is a full-length guide rod and full-length dust cover. Not many things you could do to that barrel to make it any better. It is as close to perfect at this price level as you are going to get.
Generously flared magwell, but can’t sit well
Overall length of the pistol is 8.75 inch, by 5.5 inch tall, and only 1.395 inch thick across the grips. Standard 0.915 inch thick across the slide, and 1.595 inch across the widely flared magwell.
The magwell was the only other encumbrance for me on this pistol. While sitting, with the pistol in my IWB holster, positioned at 5 o’clock, the well-flared magwell is kinda painful if you have to sit for a while with it holstered.
I have had this pistol strapped to me for up to 16 hours a day, over the course of many weeks now. I wanted to know what it was going to feel like, for someone that may have to all day carry. The magwell dug into my kidney any time I sat down. The solution was, I had to shift to a 4 o’clock position, which leaves me susceptible to flashing the gun if my coat or shirt moves too far. 4 o’clock also makes me hold my arm at a slightly weird, unnatural position.
This was only while being seated with a full-back chair. Standing, the magwell was unnoticeable and comfortable to wear, and it is a nice feature to have. The flared magwell provided plenty of room and guidance to quickly slap in a new magazine for timed events or tactical reloads. The serrated mag release dropped the double stack magazines smoothly. You won’t lose any time on reloading.
If the magwell became an issue for EDC, it looks like the magwell could be removed by driving out a pin and removing a hex screw. You should then be able to easily reverse this and reinstall the magwell, for the range and/or competing.
When you open it up
When you unbox your RIA TAC Ultra, you will notice it comes with a nice, lockable, hinged box; those are real hinges, not just creased plastic. I like having a good pistol case, even though my guns don’t sit in their cases, it’s a nice addition to have.
Inside the case, you will find the User’s Manual detailing the gun, safety features, technical specifications, basic parts list, and exploded parts view. Also maintenance info and the Warranty Registration. This pistol comes with a Lifetime Warranty, so you know RIA stands behind their product.
There is an inspection certificate, detailing when it was sighted in, inspected, and packed. It also comes with two proof shells from when this particular gun was proof fired.
You will also find a single double-stack mag, cable gunlock and a breech safety flag.
RIA used to have a rather large logo down the full side of the slide. Listening to their customers, they have changed that to a nice, small logo at the back of the slide, behind the back serrations.
This pistol is made from 4140 Ordnance steel, and the parts have been hand fitted to give it excellent fitment and no slop. It is a tight, well-made, nice feeling pistol.
It is finished in a matte black Parkerized finish.
I shoot a lot of guns, and this one was different, not 1911 different, which it was that too, but different because of minimal compromises. Every gun is a compromise, but the comps were minimal on this one.
Will you dislike anything on this pistol? I doubt it. Whether you have shot a lot of guns or only 1, you will be impressed with how this pistol operates and feels in your hand.
If I was really pressed on what you might not like, you might find the parkerized finish on the gun, “basic”. However, at this price, you will sacrifice something. You are getting maxxed out mechanicals, but that means less attention on finish. For me, that is my personal preference; performance over “bling”. It should be your preference too. I care less about flashy looks than precise operation.
If you like a flat black gun with a nice looking grip, you will love this gun. If flat black is not your thing, you have saved enough money by buying this pistol, to refinish it to your liking. If you’re using the gun like you should, you won’t notice that finish because it’ll be pointed downrange. Once you get a few hundred rounds through the pistol, you won’t even pay attention to the finish anymore.
I personally like all black guns, so the looks of this pistol really works for me.
Specifications: Rock Island Armory TAC ULTRA FS HC – 9MM (as tested)
Part Number: 51679
Barrel Length: 5.31″
Overall Length: 8.75”
Weight (no magazine): 46 oz (2lb 14oz)/ 1.32 kg
Weight (full mag with HP rounds): 62 oz (3lb 14oz) / 1.61 kg
MSRP: $906 / Avg Store Price: ~$739, down into the $600’s on sale
Review Ratings (Based on Five Stars * * * * *)
Accuracy: * * * * *
Unbelievably accurate. Accuracy definitely limited by the user and the ammo. Sighted in from the factory and needed no adjustments when I popped my bore alignment laser in.
Ergonomics: * * * * ½
Built upon the 100+ year old design, this pistol feels great in your hand. Everything is very easy to operate. Slide racks smoothly and easily. Ambi-safety moves with a positive click. Grip safety is smooth and unnoticeable. A perfectly sized beaver tail protects you from hammer bite. Lots of attention was paid to make surfaces have positive grip, no matter the weather conditions.
Reliability: * * * * *
This pistol was tuned like a fine-running watch at the factory. Almost a thousand rounds and no failures. I shot the pistol between outside temperature extremes of nearly 90° and close to freezing and it did not affect performance.
Trigger: * * * * *
Amazing Trigger. To have a trigger like this on another pistol, you would definitely spend more money and either need to put some hours of labor in, or take it to a gunsmith.
Customization: * * * *
The saying goes, “There are no drop-in parts for a 1911”. You may have to file and fit custom parts for this pistol, but that holds true for pretty much all 1911s. You should not have any problems adding any of the aftermarket parts out there. Customization choices are endless on this pistol.
Overall: * * * * *
If you are looking to fill a gap in your collection, or you need a target pistol, or want a full-sized gun for protection, look no further. I cannot imagine you would be disappointed owning this pistol for whatever need you are wanting to satisfy. With no outstanding negatives, I enjoyed this pistol enough that I will probably buy it myself.
Many thanks to all of my sponsors
I would like to thank RIA/Armscor for sending me this pistol to try out. They also sent some Armscor ball FMJ rounds to use in the gun.
Crossbreed holsters set me up with a great hybrid, SuperTuck® IWB holster for the pistol, as well as their IWB mag holder and a beautiful all leather gun belt. Yeah, I didn’t know Crossbreed made gun belts either. Their gun belts are quality made, thick and don’t flex. They are perfect for holding a holster steady.
ConcealedCarry.com sent me a pack of their B29 Adhesive Self Defense Reactive Targets that are the size of an average human center mass. They are sized to fit the NRA Official Silhouette Targets, or you can use them standalone like I did.
MantisX sent their Mantis X10 Elite Smart Sensor, so I could get familiar with the pistol before I got out to the range. It was nice to have their Shooting Performance System since it’s over an hour drive to get to the range. I was able to practice dry fire, and draw and fire and get my trigger discipline down before I started using real ammo. I was skeptical on how much that little sensor could help, but considering I was hitting 6 of 6 on the steel targets with my first mags at the range, it really did help me get to know the pistol.
I wanted to add some video, but with the new YouTube TOS madness, I am not willing to have my entire 15-year-old Google account deleted/frozen or lose access. I am going to wait and see if secondary accounts put your primary account in jeopardy before I go that route.
I am also not interested in providing content for a company that treats its content providers so poorly. The alternatives are not great and all seem to have some sort of negative component, so I am weighing my options for the future.
*Please excuse dusty pistol images, I have worn this pistol nearly daily since I got it in preparation for my review.
**RIA sent me this pistol to test and evaluate, however, I am allowed to do my review and freely state the positives or negatives as I see fit.
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About the Author:
DarkStar (obvious pseudonym) has been an active humanitarian for the past decade, running a charity dedicated to helping the mentally challenged overcome life obstacles.
DarkStar left the corporate digital world working for Google and Chicago Tribune to seek more philanthropic pursuits, after becoming tired of helping the “elites” become richer while people were suffering.
With a degree in Computer Engineering and a background in Physics, DarkStar created and patented an Artificial Intelligence to take the place of mental health professionals and services, to help the mentally ill navigate their daily life.
An avid inventor, DarkStar hopes someday to connect with a similarly minded Angel Investor to create a company that can expand to help many more people around the world.
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