Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 2 (Fall '06) - Pistol Review: Rock Island Armory Tactical .45 ACP

Rock Island Armory Tactical .45 ACP 1911

"You never get a second chance to make a good first impression."

A Gun Test by Steve Clark (Rio Vista Slim, )

A great deal of anticipation and speculation has been brewing in the ranks of Rock Island Armory owners lately. Fans of the economical (but highly usable) RIA 1911s have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of that marquee's new Tactical 1911 in .45 ACP. When I first learned that the M1911.ORG. E-zine would be receiving one of the very first pistols, for evaluation and testing, I began following the various threads in the forums, in an effort to find out what all the hoopla was about. I've never owned, much less fired a 1911 pistol from Armscor. I am not, however, ignorant of how much the persons, who do own them, swear by them.

The new RIA Tactical model was to incorporate several modifications that the owners of RIA pistols wanted to see changed. Things like better sights, a target grade trigger and hammer, beavertail grip safety, and ambidextrous slide safety, just to name a few.

All the hyperbole surrounding the new pistol just seemed to grow with each additional hint from the powers at Armscor. When I least expected it, though, I was selected to receive that first RIA Tactical pistol from Rock Island Armory.

The Pistol

The Rock Island Tactical 1911 was delivered to James Belz's Great Guns in Burleson, Texas, wrapped in a semi-oily plastic bag within Rock Island's black, clam-shell pistol case.

Black clamshell Rock Island Armory Pistol Case

The inside of the RIA clamshell case

The interior of the case is lined in egg-crate foam padding. The RIA Tactical came equipped with two 8 round Novak blue-steel magazines. At least, that's what I thought. Lifting up the foam to inspect the case for other "goodies", I discovered two more 8 round Novak blue-steel magazines, in addition to a rather Spartan owner's manual, and an envelope containing a fired cartridge casing. I would surmise that the two spare magazines were sent along for the test.

The pistol itself is a full size, Parkerized 1911 with light colored wood stocks. The finish appears to be uniform over the entire weapon, and all exposed parts (with the exception of the full length guide rod) are similarly treated.

Rock Island Tactical 1911

The slide is embellished with Rock Island's logo and the words "Rock Island Armory" on the left side. The right side of the slide is devoid of any roll marks or lettering. As can be seen in the photograph, the slide also has fixed combat sights.

Front sight

The front sight is a higher profile design, without serrations or colored dots. The edges of this sight are not "blended" into the slide profile.

Rear sight

The rear sight is also a dovetail unit, similar in design to a Novak sight. It does not have serrations on its face, nor any type of colored highlights. The rear sight is not "blended" into the profile of the rear of the slide.

Rear of slide and frame, showing extractor fit and ambidextrous safety.

The fit of the slide to the frame is tight, without noticeable gaps, and the internal extractor fits flush with the rear of the slide. The ambidextrous slide safety is serrated on both sides of the unit, and does not protrude from the frame in a way that would readily snag on clothing or holsters. The hammer is of the current rounded shape, and there is a half-cock notch, in addition to the full-cock notch. The pistol is slightly dehorned, for a more user-friendly interface.

Right safety panel, showing sear pin retention

This photo shows how the right slide safety panel is retained by a longer sear pin, which has a cut to correspond with the flattened area of the panel. This photo also shows a close-up of the rear slide cocking serrations. These are small, vertical cuts, nineteen in number.

Left rear portion of slide, showing magazine catch, slide stop, trigger, and left side grip panel.

The nineteen vertical cocking serrations are apparent in this photo, as well as the checkered magazine catch and checkered slide stop extension. These two checkered controls are of standard size. The long trigger has three cut-outs, a serrated face, and is not equipped with an externally adjustable over-travel screw.

Trigger face

Repeated tests with a RCBS Trigger Pull Gauge showed an average of 5 pounds of pull to release the sear, out of the box. Very little take-up is followed by a crisp release. Dry firing confirmed that the trigger release was predictable and positive. The front strap is smooth.

Mainspring housing and rear of grip safety

The flat mainspring housing is serrated. The grip safety has a memory bump, and sits slightly askew in the cut-out of the frame. Grip safety disengagement and function testing was positive on the RIA Tactical.

Magazine well

The magazine well is slightly beveled and magazine insertion and extraction was positive, with no hang-ups in operation.

Left and right sides of magazines

Stainless steel follower

The eight round Novak magazines supplied with the RIA Tactical were easily loaded and functioned without incident during range tests. These magazines are provided with polymer base/floor plates, for easier tactical reloads and easier disassembly.

The bottom of the dust cover reveals manufacturer and distributor markings.


The field stripping procedure to be followed with the RIA Tactical .45 ACP is different than for other, full length guide rod equipped full size 1911 type pistols. Making sure that the pistol is completely unloaded, and with the magazine removed, the slide must be moved to the rear (under tension from the recoil spring) so that the slide take-down notch is over the slide stop, at which time the right side of the slide stop pin is pushed, and the slide stop is removed. The slide is then moved forward, off the frame, taking care that the guide rod, recoil spring, and recoil spring plug remain in position with the slide. Allow the guide rod to move back slightly toward the rear of the barrel, so that the barrel bushing can be moved, carefully, clockwise, to release the recoil spring plug and spring, toward the muzzle. The recoil spring plug must be pushed in with a non-marring tool (such as the handle of a nylon toothbrush) in order to be able to turn the barrel bushing. Then the full length guide rod can be removed from the slide, toward the chamber end of the barrel. The barrel bushing is then moved counter-clockwise, lining up its notch with the recoil spring tunnel, and removing to the front. The barrel link can then be lowered onto the barrel, and the barrel can be removed from the slide, from back-to-front, toward the muzzle. (This rather complex disassembly procedure is required, because the FLGR is not compressible with the pistol in battery, or, with the slide slightly pushed to the rear.)

Rock Island Armory Tactical .45 ACP field stripped

Unusual design of the rear of the full length guide rod

Inside of slide, showing absence of firing pin safety mechanisms, and slight tool marks.

Reassembly is in reverse order, except for the fact that the FLGR must be positioned, and secured by hand, to facilitate reinstallation of the recoil spring plug. This is a difficult procedure, at best, because the plug must be pushed in with the non-marring tool, all the while securing the FLGR from movement toward the rear of the barrel. Once assembled, the slide is positioned back onto the frame, the slide stop inserted, then aligned with the take-down notch for final assembly. This is done (as in disassembly) with the recoil spring in tension.

The Firing Line

Old Man Winter decided to visit my part of the U.S.A. this week, which caused me to alter my usual evaluation practices. Three days of trying to get reliable readings from the Competitive Edge Dynamics chronograph with the RIA Tactical proved futile, because of the 30+ mph winds. So, I packed up the pistol, the chronograph, and my supply of ammo, and took the lot of it to work, so that I might use an indoor range that is on my way home. Unfortunately, they were having police qualifications that afternoon, so I gave up and made the best of the horrid conditions at my own range at my home. I set up the CED chronograph 10 feet from the muzzle, and targets (for accuracy) were set at 25 yards.

Trying my best to shoot between gusts of wind, I fired at least 20 rounds of each type of ammo tested, and averaged the best (and most representative) velocities that I obtained. The accuracy results were the best 5 shots of 25 shots taken with each of the factory loads tested. I consider the results to be skewed as a result of the weather conditions and my own reactions to those conditions. I do not hold the RIA Tactical at fault. I do admit that some white dots on the combat-style sights might have allowed me to shoot slightly tighter groups, but I also changed from NRA-type targets to paper plates, midway in the test, for improved visibility.

According to RIA, their pistols come set up from the factory to fire FMJ ammunition. Due to this, I didn't try any JHP with the pistol during my initial tests, a shooting session with JHP is planned and will be added at the end of this review shortly.

In all, I fired over 300 rounds through the Rock Island Armory Tactical .45 ACP 1911. During the test, I had 11 failures to return to battery. I discovered that I was using Remington ammunition from two sources, and that some of the rounds from one of those were out-of-spec. All failures were encountered with ammo from this batch. I experienced no difficulties with the remainder of the ammo tested. Ejection of spent casings was positive, though randomly scattered behind, and slightly to the right, of my firing position, most probably due to the fact that the firing pin was a loose fit to the extractor and allowed it to slightly rotate in its tunnel.

The Firing Line: an addendum

In my initial shooting test of the Rock Island Armory Tactical .45 ACP 1911, I made two erroneous statements. These were based on my misinterpretation of first, a line taken from the owner's manual, and second, a reply that Ivan Walcott had made in the M1911.ORG forums concerning the use of hollow point ammunition in RIA 1911 pistols. These errors caused me to re-evaluate how I had tested the Tactical pistol, and to come to the conclusion that I needed to try a variety of factory-fresh hollow point ammo in the gun.

The first brand that I shot through the RIA Tactical was Remington's 230 gr., brass jacketed hollow point. Forty rounds fed flawlessly!

Next, I shot 40 rounds of Speer 185 gr. Gold Dot Hollow Point ammunition. Absolutely NO malfunctions occurred.

Federal 230 gr. Hydra-Shok was the next ammo tested. Forty rounds later, the pistol had not hiccupped a single time.

Federal's 165 gr. Hydra-Shok was approached with some trepidation, as I feared the lighter bullet weight might affect the functional reliability of the firearm. I was mistaken, and 40 rounds fed through the Tactical most easily.

Finally, Winchester 185 gr. Silver Tips were tried, just to see if there was something in my ammo collection that would not feed correctly in the RIA pistol. After 40 rounds, the only discernable problem was a handgun that was getting rather warm, from all the shooting.

That represents two hundred rounds, of various types and weights of hollow point ammunition that I fed through the RIA Tactical .45 ACP 1911 with no failures, and no visible problems with the weapon.

I stand chastised, humbled, and most of all, Impressed!


The Rock Island Tactical .45 ACP 1911 Pistol has a suggested retail price in the $500 range. This is considerably less than some pistols having similar features that come standard with this gun.

Muzzle of the RIA Tactical, showing the recoil spring plug and the FLGR

My major complaint about this weapon is in the use of a full length guide rod, and reverse recoil spring plug. The length of the guide rod makes disassembly difficult, and this could have easily been avoided by the use of standard plugs and a short guide rod. I realize that short guide rods, regular recoil spring plugs, and recoil springs are relatively cheap items, and easily acquired. Unfortunately, a new-to-the-1911 buyer is not familiar with these things, and some of these pistols might be going back to the retailer in frustration. Hopefully, this situation will be rectified in future production runs of this pistol.

Wood stocks on RIA frame

Wood stocks on Colt frame

In addition, the grip/stock panels do not fill the grip area of the frame, making for an unusually unfamiliar feel when holding and firing the pistol. I realize that stocks are one of the first things that get changed on 1911 type guns, but the "feel" of a weapon, at the retail supply level, does make a difference in a sale or a pass.

The sights of any given pistol have caused more than a few models to be returned to either the manufacturer, or the retailer. A little more attention to detail, in the fitting of the sights, would improve the gun's performance and appearance. I would also encourage Rock Island/Armscor to consider white dot sights on these guns.

With those "nits" picked, I'll move on to the positive side of things. I approve the use of the smaller cocking serrations on the rear of the slide, and applaud Armscor's decision to forego front cocking serrations.

The slide to frame fit is good, and the fact that the internal extractor does not protrude from the rear of the slide is a good thing that has been previously noted. The trigger pull was acceptable, and even improved, to around four and one-half pounds by the completion of my shooting tests.

I have owned several pistols that have a Parkerized finish, and the finish on the Tactical 1911 is durable and looks particularly great when properly oiled. When fired using a different set of stocks, the pistol feels as good in my hand as any I've ever encountered.

My first impression of the pistol was quite positive. It is tight, and does not rattle when shaken. This can sometimes mean too tight, but that was not the case in my shooting tests. Other than the disassembly woes, clean-up was easy, and the pistol showed no signs of abnormal wear.

I believe that this pistol can be successful in the marketplace. The accoutrements included in this package are well carried out. The gun is inherently accurate, and with a few small changes, would be a welcome addition to my collection of 1911s.


I would like to thank the fine folks at Competitive Edge Dynamics for the use of their donated chronograph, used in this and all of M1911.ORG gun tests. It is an enjoyable piece of technology that allows us writers to see what the best combination of ammunition and guns can be.

James Belz, of Great Guns in Burleson, Texas, consistently goes above and beyond in his efforts to make sure that I get the test guns in a timely manner, as well as the ammunition and other variables necessary for these tests. Thank you, James.

Last, but far from least, I would like to personally thank Martin Tuason, President of API/RIA and Ivan Walcott, chief guru of customer service, for the honor of being the first to test this new offering from Rock Island Armory. Both of you gentlemen are, indeed, a credit to your profession.

You may discuss about this pistol, ask questions or in general discuss about this review, in this thread in our Forums Site:




Advanced Tactical Firearms
150 N. Smartway
Pahrump, Nevada 89060

Phone: 775-537-1444
Fax: 775-537-1446
Web Site: http://www.advancedtactical.com


Competitive Edge Dynamics USA
P.O. Box 486,
Orefield, PA 18069-0486

Orders: (1) 888-628-3233
Phone: (1) 610-366-9752
Fax: (1) 610-366-9680

Email: info@CEDhk.com
Web site: http://www.CEDhk.com

Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 2 (Fall '06) - Pistol Review: Rock Island Armory Tactical .45 ACP 1911