Springfield Ultra Compact Operator (C.9 Airsoft Gun)

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It’s irritating when a replica fails to live up to your expectations either because of how it’s made, how it looks or how it shoots. It has happened to me more than once (I’m looking at you and your inability to shoot straight, Tanfoglio Witness!). Conversely, it’s great when something delivers more than you expect. That happened to me recently when I bought a Chinese C.9 replica for the equivalent of under $5. I wasn’t even sure what it was a replica of and I didn’t expect too much in the way of shooting ability. What I got was way better than I anticipated in every way.

As is often the case when I buy a Chinese replica, the first thing I had to do was to try and work out what this is supposed to be a replica of. In my experience, Chinese manufacturers seem to be pretty good and making accurate visual replicas of firearms. But they’re notably coy about explaining which firearm a particular replica is based on (probably to avoid potential licensing issues). This one is obviously some kind of compact 1911 and my first thought was that it was a replica of the Colt Defender. But there never was a railed version of the Defender so that didn’t quite seem right. After some head scratching, I decided that it’s almost certainly a replica of the Springfield Armory Ultra Compact Operator, a modern railed mini-1911. And it’s actually pretty good.

Real steel background

The Springfield Armory in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts was the centre for the production of US military weapons from 1777 until it closed in 1968 (the building is now a museum dedicated to US military weapons). In 1974 an Illinois-based firearms manufacturer adopted the name “Springfield Armory Inc.” claiming to be “The oldest name in American Firearms”, though there was no connection between the original armory and the new company. Springfield Armory Inc. is currently one of the largest US arms manufacturers.

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Springfield Armory Ultra Compact

In addition to producing a number of rifles, the company also offer several pistols based on venerable the 1911 design. In the early 2000s the company introduced the Micro Compact, a lightweight, single-action, short-butt version of the 1911 with a 3” barrel. The Micro Compact was chambered for the .45 ACP round and the magazine held up to six rounds. A similar Ultra Compact model was introduced later with a 3½” barrel. Versions of both the Micro and Ultra Compact with a short accessory rail under the barrel were marketed as the Operator. Production of the Ultra and Micro Compact ended in 2013 when this pistol was replaced by the similar Springfield EMP which is chambered for 9mm rounds.

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The C.9

There is nothing on the packaging or the gun itself to say who makes this replica.  On the box, it’s identified only as a “C.9 Airsoft Gun”.  The words “Super Power” are also printed prominently on the box, but whether this is a manufacturer’s name or an attribute, I have no idea. This is almost certainly Chinese in origin, but apart from that, I really can’t tell you anything about who makes it.

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Construction is mainly metal other than for the drop-out magazine, trigger, hammer and grips which are all plastic.  The ambidextrous manual safety, grip safety and slide release are moulded in place and have no function.  The hammer cocks and falls when you pull the trigger but it plays no part in shooting the pistol.   The pistol is cocked by racking the slide, exposing the chromed metal outer barrel.  There is no manual safety and once cocked, this replica cannot be de-cocked other than by firing. The frame incorporates a short under-barrel accessory rail.

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Packaging and presentation (2/5)

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The C.9 is supplied with a single magazine in a simple but sturdy card box with a plastic insert.  It comes with a small bag of unbranded, unidentified yellow 6mm BBs.  And that’s it.  No manual, nothing else.

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Visual accuracy 6/10

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C.9, left, Springfield Micro Compact Operator, right.

There are a bewildering number of different variations of the Micro and Ultra Compact pistol, but this generally seems as if it’s fairly close to the appearance of the original. The slide frame and grips are all a good replication and small details like the shape and style of the rear sight and manual safety and the even small half-moon cut-out on the right side of the slide behind the ejection port are all well done. The only notable differences are that the C.9 has a pivoting trigger rather than the sliding trigger found on the original and the grip safety tang on the replica is shorter and less curved.

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C.9, left, Springfield Micro Compact, right.

Initially I was puzzled by the markings on the slide of the C.9. The large, white text reads “OPS-M.R.P CAL.45”. It took me a while to work out that these are actually identical to the markings on another pistol. But not a firearm: these are copied from a Tokyo Marui blowback Hi-Capa 1911 5.1. This isn’t a copy of the TM replica – only the markings have been copied.

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Tokyo Marui Hi-Capa 1911

That makes the markings meaningless and a bit silly. Is this supposed to be a replica of a replica? I’m guessing that some Chinese stencil maker saw a photograph of the TM 1911, assumed it was a firearm and decided to copy the markings. Or something like that.

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Functional accuracy 7/15

As you’d expect of a spring pistol, functional realism is not particularly good.  The manual safety, the grip safety and the slide release are all moulded in place and have no function.  The hammer works but it plays no part in firing this replica. The slide must be retracted to cock, but there is no way of locking it open.  The magazine is full-size and drop-out with a large butt-plate and is released using the button on the left side of the frame.

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Shooting 34/40

Preparing the C.9 for shooting is simple. Load up to ten 6mm BBs in the magazine, insert the magazine which locks positively and then rack and release the slide to cock the pistol.  Racking does require a fair amount of effort but the shape and size of the slide allows you to get a good grip.

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The C.9 sights, with the addition of a little silver paint to make them more readable

I found the non-adjustable notch and post sights very difficult to read against anything but a white background. Happily, some silver paint on both back and front sights improved things greatly. And it’s worth getting a good sight picture on the C.9 because it shoots way better than it should. At 6m from a semi-rested position, I get groups of around 1 – 1½”. Even at just over 9m (the maximum range at which I can shoot indoors) groups are around 1½” – 2” and at this range I can still put all my shots inside the 3” centre ring on the target. Shots hit at about 1 – 1½” high at 6m and around ½” right of the point of aim. I don’t have a choronograph so I can’t tell what the power is, but it’s certainly more powerful than the other spring pistols I have tested – I’d guess somewhere in the region of 250 fps.

sp15  A full magazine of ten shots shot from 6m, semi-rested using ASG 0.25G BBs. Horizontal spread is 1½”, vertical spread is 1.25”. Excluding the single flyer, the main group is within 1”.

I have an unofficial test that I use with my BB replicas. If I can’t reliably hit a target the size of a coke can at 6m, then shooting isn’t going to be much fun. A surprising number of BB shooters fail this test (the Baikal MP-654, original Umarex Walther PPK/S and Umarex Ruger Superhawk for example). The C.9 can hit a coke can sized target 5 out of 6 times at 9m range. I have no idea why. Internal construction seems very similar to the other Chinese springers I have reviewed and it has a very short plastic inner barrel, but this one just shoots much better and with more power.  One thing that’s notable about the C.9 is that it seems to work best with 0.25g BBs. Most springers are low powered and are best suited to 0.2g or even 0.12g BBs, but not this one – it gives much better accuracy with the heavier BBs while still providing good power.

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Six shots from just over 9m, semi-rested and using the same BBs. Horizontal spread is 1½”, vertical spread is under 1”.

Like most springers, the C.9 is fun to shoot. However, it’s also powerful and accurate enough that you need to start thinking about things like stance and breathing. That’s not particularly common for any BB shooter and certainly not for a low-cost springer.  The lack of recoil and the need to re-cock for every shot is a little irritating compared to a blowback replica, but then not having to bother with CO2 or gas is great.

Quality and reliability 12/15

Construction of the C.9 is very simple.  The slide is cast in two halves which are secured by two crosshead screws.  Removing the slide halves reveals the main spring, slide return spring, barrel and the plastic loading nozzle.  The short, plastic inner barrel is retained inside a plastic housing onto which the chrome metal outer barrel is screwed.  The barrel assembly is fixed in place in the frame.  The lower frame is also cast in two halves retained by crosshead screws and houses the trigger and hammer assembly and magazine release.  All parts of the trigger assembly are plastic but the magazine catch is metal.  The plastic grips clip in place – what appear to be hex-headed retaining screws are moulded plastic.

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The sharpness and quality of castings and mouldings is very good

One thing that’s notable about this replica is the quality of the castings. These are very sharp indeed and every detail is nicely done. The slide release and manual safety are part of the frame casting, but you can’t easily tell that by looking at it. This looks and handles like a quality replica despite its miniscule price tag. There’s a lot of plastic inside the C.9, but so far nothing has broken or is showing signs of wear and I haven’t suffered a single mis-feed or failure to fire.

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The black finish is evenly applied and seems to be reasonably hard wearing.  It certainly seems to be thicker and more wear resistant than the coatings used on many much more expensive replicas.  The white markings haven’t shown any tendency to rub off yet, something that happens on a number of Chinese-made replicas.

Overall impression 13/15

The C.9 has good weight, which always helps to make a replica feel convincing.  It’s a good size too – compact, but not so small that it’s difficult to find a good grip. There is no play or wobble in the slide and the magazine inserts and releases cleanly and without any movement.  When you rack the slide to cock the pistol the action feels precise.  The trigger releases cleanly, smoothly and with very little movement.

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Despite its small size, low price and very simple internal construction, this actually looks and handles fairly well.  It shoots with a subdued crack rather than a bang, but it doesn’t feel as cheap and nasty as some other spring pistols I have tried. What really makes this replica stand out is that it’s such a great shooter – I have paid than ten times as much for replicas that didn’t shoot as well as this one. Because of that it’s easy to ignore its other shortcomings.

Conclusion

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I used to be fairly dismissive about spring powered replicas. Frankly, I thought they were all cheap and nasty. Some are, but this one isn’t and it shoots better than it has any right to. It’s a pity that there hasn’t been some attempt to replicate a 1911 style sliding trigger and the markings are just silly. But I have been having so much fun shooting with the C.9 that I haven’t even thought about these issues.

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I paid the equivalent of just under $5 (about £4) for my C.9 here in SE Asia but even in other parts of the world these don’t sell for much money. Add to that that the fact that you don’t need to buy CO2 or gas and replica shooting doesn’t come much cheaper or simpler than this. If you’re not sure about springers, see if you can find one of these. It won’t cost you much and you may just find that it changes your mind.

Happy shooting

Total score: 72/100

Related pages

Tokyo Marui Spring Powered replicas

Smart K17 – FN Model 1910

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