July 03, 2023
Affiliate Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. We earn from qualifying purchases.
There’s a line from Stephen King “Sooner or later, everything old is new again” that I don’t think he coined. It may have been done earlier in the movie All That Jazz. Heck, for all I know, on one particularly boring day, Sargon the Great uttered those words. In any case, the counterpoint to that is “Sooner or later, cutting-edge becomes common.” And so it is with the latest advances that the internet firearms cognoscenti would have you believe they thought up just this week. Now, in this case, the combination comes to us from Nighthawk, who actually are cognoscenti, do not pretend to invent thing they hadn’t, and make drool-worthy pistols. The subject pistol in question: the Nighthawk Fire Hawk. What we have here is a single-stack 1911 that has both a red-dot optic mounted on it, and a compensator built into it. And, one that I took up north to The Pin Shoot (PinShoot.com), to use in the Space Gun Main Event, trying my best to slay five pins per table at max speed.
The Firehawk is an all-steel (although you can custom-build a lightweight Firehawk, on an aluminum frame, for a $200 upgrade) single stack 1911 in .45 ACP, built, as all Nighthawk pistols are, by one pistolsmith. I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I love to recount it, at Nighthawk in the course of building your pistol, the pistolsmith who gets that task collects the various parts needed to fulfill your custom order, and then does everything to make it a working pistol. Well, everything but do the test-firing, that is handled by a specialist, and that person reports back on the success. If your build passes the accuracy test, and final inspection, it gets shipped. If not, it gets sent back and re-worked until it passes.
The Firehawk is built in a government-sized frame, this one as a single-stack, but you can order a double-stack if you wish. That’s something you should keep in mind: while there are “standard” Nighthawk pistols, you really should keep in mind that each model can also be a starting point. There are some things they won’t do (mostly refusing because what you had in mind isn’t physically possible) but the iterations you can build or change on a named model are impressive. The basis around which all the custom details of the Firehawk are built is the barrel and compensator. The barrel is listed as five inches long, but that includes the comp, so the actual bore length (including the chamber, as is customary) is only four-and-a-half. So, while you have a government-length package, you have a commander, more-or-less, barrel and velocity. Not that the .45 needs velocity to do its work, it does the job like a V8, with bore diameter and mass. The comp is profiled to match the slide, so if you aren’t looking closely, you might think it is just another five-inch 1911. The front sight location would be a hint, since that has to be behind the port, the big clue. Now, as I’ve said, the Firehawk, as with all Nighthawk pistols, is built by one pistolsmith, and it is built to your order specs. So, a lot of what I’ll be describing here will be the specifics of the particular Nighthawk shipped to me. We’ll cover the details of this one and discuss the options as well.
The big deal here is the optics cut on the slide. The Nighthawk IOS (interchangeable optic system) sight upgrade gets you the option of mounting a red-dot optic on your 1911. The option means you get your rear sight mounted in a removable plate, a plate that indexes to return-to-zero, and lets you mount in its place a red-dot optic. The optic mount plate has its own steel rear sight, so you don’t lose the BUIS (back-up-iron sights) capability of sighting, and the optics plate and optic itself come separately. Now, when we’re talking custom guns, you must realize that you and your credit card are in for a ride. The coolest stuff does not come cheap, and the cheap “cool” stuff usually isn’t very good, nor cool. So, getting your slide machined for the IOS will add $350 to the invoice, and the optics plate and optic will add another $650–850. Like a Ferrari, being cool and high-performance costs. Now, you could mount something cheaper on your Firehawk than an Trijicon RMR or Holosun, but really? I mean, do you really want to be at the range with a pistol that starts at $5K, using an optic that retails for $125? Man up and show some class. Oh, and the machining and fitting of the IOS? First Class, as you’d expect. Unlike some installs that look like a goiter on your 1911, the Nighthawk IOS is slick.
OK, the “basic” specs of this Firehawk; it came with wide rear cocking serrations, a one-piece mainspring housing that was also a magazine funnel. (Expertly blended, by the way, I was jealous of the job done.) The iron sights are a Heinie Ledge and a black blade front with a gold bead insert. The Heinie Ledge allows you to do one-handed slide racking in an emergency, using a stiff belt, a holster or a convenient edge or ledge. The gold bead front sight is the pre-fiber-optic front blade that gives you both an edge in low light, and extra marks for class. The comp, as mentioned, is blended to fit the contours of the slide, and the front face of the comp is sculpted on the recoil spring part of it, so as to make the lines cleaner. Rather than a blunt end, the slight angle gives it a racier appearance. The edge of the slide and comp, where the top radius meets the side flats, is given a frenched border. The recoil spring cover is ball-end radius, in much the same way the original 1911s were, before Colt sped things up during production in The Great War. The bottom edge of the slide has been dehorned, with the edge milled at an angle so as to keep from abrading your hands, or slicing holsters. The front sight is fitted into a Novak dimension dovetail, and the base of the sight itself has been smoothed so it follows the flow of the slide radius.
The optics plate has the BUIS blade fitted near the front edge, in front of the optic, and you can see it through the bottom edge of the optic. It is made to be upright and somewhat bluff, so it can be used as a cocking surface without putting the racking force onto the optic itself. The ejection port is lowered, flared, and the front edge is forward enough to live-eject a round, so when you are unloading you won’t have a round getting wedged in the ejection port. The sight plate not for optics has its own sight, the Heinie Ledge, and both plates are fitted to index pins. You can swap the irons and optics back and forth, and not lose your zero.
The barrel is a Nighthawk barrel (obviously) and it too has had some major trickery in its design, and excellent fitting in its assembly. First, there is no barrel bushing. The front of the barrel is machined to be a kind-of-a cone-shaped bearing surface. As the slide closes, it rides up on the cone on the barrel, and closes to a tight fit. But when it unlocks, once it has linked down, it moves off of that bearing surface, and has a no-contact cycle, to allow debris to blow clear, and to not provide places for gunk to impede function. The lack of a bushing means the recoil spring assembly has to be fitted in a non-traditional manner. So, Nighthawk has fitted a full-length guide rod, and uses a reverse recoil spring plug to hold things together. This requires a different disassembly method, but one that is commonly known. (We’ll get into that in a bit.)
The frontstrap is checkered, the rear of the slide serrated, and the grips are black G10. The pattern is Railscales Ascend, and how they machine the pattern into G10 is something of a mystery. The pattern is oriented with the big scales on the sides to grip your hand and reduce rotation, and the grooves at the rear to keep the frame from slipping down in your hand during recoil. Now, simply checkering a frontstrap is one thing, but Nighthawk also lifted the front top of it, to make a tighter radius to the trigger guard. This lets you get your hand a smidge higher on the gun and allows for better recoil control. This is becoming more and more common, and it is an outgrowth of competition shooting. Back in the really old days, when pistols were fired one-handed, getting your hand high on the gun was important, but actually modifying the frame just wasn’t done. Now it is. At the top of the checkering, there is a border, or gutter, to cleanly end the checkering, and begin the new radius.
Then, the extras just pile on. First listed on the invoice is the ambi safety setup. The lefthand paddle looks kinda Ed Brown-ish, but the curve of the Nighthawk paddle is more conducive to the way your thumb works. The smooth arc is comfortable and provides a solid lever to control recoil. On the right side, the paddle has been slimmed down a bit, but my hand would want it slimmed down a bit more. Old-time readers know about my peculiar grip, and I muckle onto a pistol higher than anyone who isn’t born with tentacles, and the right-hand paddle on an ambi safety usually is inoperative to me. The Nighthawk one is operative, but it still squishes my knuckle.
Behind it, on the frame, is a hi-rise beavertail complete with speed bump. The grip safety on a 1911 is something else I am peculiar about. My high grip makes a grip safety fit critical, and Nighthawk has the grip safety properly fit so it disengages at about one-third of its arc. The commander hammer has room in the grip safety pocket to cycle, and all of this is fitted to the Nighthawk fire control parts for a clean, crisp trigger pull at the three-and-a-half-pounds level. It falls at three and a half, but feels like two and a half. Lastly, the slide stop pin has been dressed short, and the frame tunnel for it has been beveled, so the slide stop tip is flush with the frame, but you can still press it across during disassembly.
I’ve been accused of being a trigger snob. I’m not nearly as snarky and critical as fellow gun writer Jim Tarr has been known to be, but I have had my moments. The simple truth is, if you want to know what a perfect trigger pull is supposed to be, you should have dry-fired this Firehawk. Then again, you can probably count on every Nighthawk to have the same level of trigger pull quality. I know that when I’ve been resting my feet at the SHOT show, loitering around the Nghthawk booth, I’ve dry-fired every gun within reach. They all have had superb triggers. Oh, and one last detail: the whole gun was done in stainless steel. You can have yours in stainless, or carbon steel and your choice of finishes.
OK, disassembly. Here’s the ugly truth: having spent almost as much for your Firehawk as the down payment on a brand-new Lincoln Navigator, you are going to be depending on a penny paper clip for disassembly. That’s the way it has been since the early 1980s, and nothing has changed. Take the paperclip (medium sized, not one of the tiny ones) and bend the tip, a quarter inch or so, at a ninety-degree angle. Nighthawk includes a short section of wire stock that is already bent to be used for disassembly, but based on decades of experience, mine and others, you’ll lose this pretty quickly, and it would be wise to keep a stock of paperclips on hand anyway. Unload your Firehawk and lock the slide to the rear. On the guide rod, you’ll see a small hole drilled through the rod. Stick the bent end of the paperclip into the hole, and then ease the slide forward until it stops on the paperclip. With the slide now free of spring tension, line the disassembly notch on the slide with the tip of the slide stop, and then press the slide stop out of the frame. You can now run the slide and parts off of the frame. Pull the recoil spring guide rod assembly out the back of the slide, making sure you get the paperclip cleanly through. If you bind the clip, and force it, you risk breaking the tip off, and the spring and its retaining cup will be hurled across the room.
Murphy’s law being what it is (it is not a suggestion, by the way) you know that the flying steel cup will impact something delicate, expensive, difficult to replace, or a combination of some or all of those. So don’t force things. With the Firehawk disassembled, you can do the normal cleaning, lubrication and inspection. Reassembly is the reverse order. Once you have the recoil spring assembly in the slide, and the slide on the frame, then fish the slide stop pin through the barrel link. Once everything is together properly, pull the slide back and lock it in place. You can now remove (if it hasn’t fallen off) the paperclip and store it for the next time.
Comps work by means of gas pressure. In the old days, we’d load as much of the slowest-burning powder we could burn cleanly, to feed as much residual pressure to the comp as we could. In .45 that process didn’t have a slow end. In .38 Super, it was possible with some bullets to actually get a too-slow powder, and throw off the recoil dynamics, actually making it less fun to shoot. The Firehawk is not offered in .38 Super, but it is offered in 9mm. The 9mm case does not offer enough volume to get into that .38 Super trouble. I did not have any of my old .45 ACP comp load ammo on hand (it has been a couple of decades since I needed it, and I long-ago used it all up.) So, my standard .45 ACP Pin load, with WW231 (in the guise of HP38) under a 250-grain flat-nosed Blue Bullets coated bullet was what I fed the Firehawk. It worked just fine.
Now, when it comes to bowling pins, a subject I’ve written up, but some of you might not know of, there is no major/minor scoring. The only score is “Did your pins go off of the table?” And: “If so, did they go off faster than anyone else’s?” Pins require a Power Factor of about 195 to reliably get them off the table, so the 250-grain flat points were steaming along at a comfortable 801 fps, as averaged past my Labradar chronograph. I’d like to report that I swept all competitors before me, but that, alas, was not the case, I was just off the prize table (maybe too much coffee that day, or I shot too much 12-gauge buckshot in other events) but others who borrowed the Firehawk did make it onto the prize table. And yes, I did test it with regular .45 ACP ammo, which after practicing with pin loads, was almost soft in comparison. And, brilliantly accurate as well, which you’d expect from a Nighthawk pistol.
The Firehawk comes in a rigid-sided but zippered case with the Nighthawk name and logo on it. Inside was the Firehawk, a pair of magazines, (Nighthawk sent me two extras for use at The Pin Shoot, they run $32 each) the iron sight plate (the Firehawk came with the Holosun installed and zeroed) and all the usual paperwork.
Parsing out the invoice, with gun-writer discounts for this or that, and extra charges for the, well, extras, is not easy. This particular model, as near as I can figure, without discounts, would be just over the $5,900 figure. Going for an RMR instead of the Holosun might add another $200 to that. That is without going even more upscale with finer-count checkering, an aluminum frame, a double stack frame, a recon rail or trigger guard checkering or stippling. It would be easy to add another $1,500 to the bill. I know some of you might be asking “Do you really need a 1911 that costs that much?” We’ll leave aside the fact that I’ve seen plastic fantastics that have been overhauled that cost more than half what a Nighthawk Firehawk can run you, and answer with “No, but if you can afford it, why wouldn’t you want to own one?” I have heard that Millennials aren’t into cars. But the rest of us who are would gladly own and drive a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or a classic Detroit muscle car, and not feel the need to compare the price of it to a Nissan Sentra.
For goodness’ sake, live a little. Indulge yourself. And it isn’t like you are ever going to be able to afford enough ammunition to wear one of these out. A well-built 1911 like this will last you or your heirs something like 100,000 rounds before it needs an overhaul. At current ammunition prices, that is $47,000 worth of ammo. That makes the invoice price of $5,900 and change seem pretty much not a big deal.
About the Author
Patrick Sweeney is a life-long shooter, with more than half a century of trigger time, four decades of reloading, 25 years of competition (4 IPSC World Shoots, 50 USPSA Nationals, 500+ club matches, and 18 Pin Shoots, as well as Masters, Steel Challenge and Handgunner Shootoff entries). He spent two decades as a professional gunsmith, and two decades as the President of his gun club. A State-Certified law Enforcement Firearms Instructor, he is also a Court-recognized Expert Witness.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.