The RWA Nighthawk Custom GRP
17 Jan 2015
Nighthawk Custom was founded in 2003 and quickly earned the respect of most people in the 1911 community because they raised a 100 year old design to a whole new level --- the Nighthawk Custom Global Response Pistol Recon Version. This name is long as a name of a Spanish aristocrat, so no wonder they've shortened it down to GRP and it is a masterpiece aimed at the the military/law enforcement sector as a duty pistol, probably this is why RWA decided to create its first steel framed replica based on the GRP.
In my earlier review of the RWL Nighthawk Custom Recon, on the slide you could see an RWL logo, but this replica is manufactured by RWA which is a sister company of Redwolf Airsoft much like RWL. The main difference here is that RWL products are outsourced to an airsoft manufacturer and RWA products (like this one) are manufactured in-house. This doesn't mean RWA reinvented the wheel, more like they are creating something more realistic based on well thought out designs.
In this case RWA followed the Tokyo Marui 1911 internal design but the replica is propelled with CO2 instead of green gas. The CO2 is essential in this case because the additional weight of the slide and the stiff recoil spring. A regular green gas magazine barely cycles the replica a couple of times, maybe an extended TM single stack magazine with a high output valve and some red gas could do wonders but that would also render this piece ugly for sure. There is no such a thing as free lunch and on one side you got the FPS, recoil and realism (weight) and on the other side you got gas efficiency. If you improve one side then your improvement takes something away from the other side. Airsoft manufacturers are trying to find the perfect balance between the two sides and sometimes there comes a gun what you can just take out of the box and shoot. You don't have to buy a new slide, trigger, slide stop or none of that. Unfortunately not all manufacturers think this way and this is why the aftermarket parts segment of the airsoft market (for handguns) are blooming again. There is barely any handgun out there which doesn't have a custom made slide available, or a tune-up internal part. I think with this GRP we got to a point where you don't need to buy anything (even if you are the constantly upgrading type) except CO2 cartridges and BBs.
Before we go any further into the review I need to get one subject out of the way and that's the price. This replica costs nearly $1,300 and that's not cheap by any standard. But if you want to build your 1911 with a realistic look and feel you need to buy a couple of things: steel slide stop and slide safety, steel outer barrel, steel barrel bushing, stronger recoil spring, high output magazine valve, ported piston head, tight bore barrel, hop-up chamber, realistic slide and frame.
In the RWA Nighthawk Custom GRP you got all these but let's just say you got a base gun what you want to uggrade and you paid $200 for it, then add an average of $25 (if you're lucky) per upgrade part plus $400 for a nice frame and we're at $800 already with an aluminum framed gun. If you put it in this perspective then the GRP is not that expensive after all. Basically you pay RWA to build you a custom 1911 that not too many other people have and this exactly what Nighthawk Custom does in real life.
I've heard all the cons already: "I can buy a real one for that", "It's a lot cheaper to make a full steel gun out of a decommissioned real firearm", "Expensive wall hanger", "Only for collectors", "Why?" and I can go on for hours. Let me explain a few things the way I see it and I do not want to talk anyone into buying a GRP just trying to cover all angles and stay unbiased, after all we're not talking about an 80$ WE replica (no offence to WE).
In some countries buying a real firearm AND use it on a range regularly is close to impossible or waaaay too expensive. Shooting paper or plinking steel on the range is fun for a while but legally you cannot shoot at your friends with a real firearm. I've been on a range and used real firearms and the smell of the gunpowder is highly addictive, trust me I know but picking up a new hobby like competition shooting is expensive and on the end of the day all you can say that you shoot faster than your buddy, so thanks but I stay with airsoft as a hobby for now.
In countries where real steel Nighthawk Custom handguns can be easily obtained, this replica can be a training tool for example. Of course I do not have a Nighthawk Custom real steel but by looking at high resolution images it could be close enough for someone who does own a real piece and this replica can be perfect for him/her to practice the draw or reload and even plink around the house without going out to the range. Just to give you an idea how close this replica feels to a real firearm, three out of four professional shooters said WOW when they first pulled the trigger on the GRP and the fourth one said only OK instead of WOW because he was kind of a big deal.
Modifying a real firearm to fit airsoft internals only sounds simple. It is only an option for people with CNC machines in the barn and for everyone else you still have to pay for the time of the engineer, and the time what that actual CNC machine is missing out of manufacturing something boring but more desired. Obtaining a decommissioned Nighthawk Custom GRP ----- yeah, good luck with that.
Putting this GRP next to a real steel firearm made me realize that the 1911 is indeed a tool which looks better if it's used but if you're buying or building a $500 (or more) aluminum frame custom made replica after a year of skirmishing, it will look like any other worn down aluminum frame replica. If you are willing to take a custom built limited edition gun on an airsoft game then you are better off with a steel gun.
I think everyone with an expensive airsoft replica only remembers the first scratch on the receiver, after that they just accept the fact and continue using it. I'm the kind of guy who would wear a nice watch instead of keeping it in a box inside a glass display in a room where only I can enter, but I can understand the other type as well: the type of guy who collects airsoft guns. Some of these collections are quite funny including cheap guns but other times each gun is carefully upgraded and fitted with the right amount of accessories. For a collector, this gun is a goldmine, an airsoft gun made realistic out of the box with certification and shiny box. For a RealSim guy who spends enormous amount of money on a PTW and real steel optics/gear this could be the deal of the century, just think about that guy who puts an "eye-safe" civilian legal DBAL on an airsoft gun which costs about the same as this GRP replica. Not a lot of people are like this but not a lot of RWA GRPs are made either because this replica won't be mass produced.
Finally we got to the "Why?" I can tell you why: if everyone would just stop buying cheap handgun replicas for a month, believe me more manufacturers would think about releasing ultra realistic GBBs and maybe this GRP one day will cost only $400. First, there was Inokatsu only, then there was RA-Tech and now RWA (sorry if I forgot about anyone else who made one or two in a backyard shop) so clearly there is a market for this kind of realism. I am not a fortune teller but there will be more brands out there releasing steel handgun replicas soon and some might even come with a lower price tag, who knows?
Normally I don't waste too many words on packaging but opening this box is a treat. First, you have a plain matte back paper box which exactly looks like a shoe box without markings but this is only the first protective layer of the GRPs box. Inside the shoe box you have a very shiny black box under an extra protective layer. This box would deserve a separate review :) Joking aside, it is a very nice box with a white Nighthawk Customs logo on the top side, chromed hinges and lots of velvet. Exactly what you'd expect at this price range. Opening the box reveals three protective layers that ensure that you receive your GRP replica spotless. Other than those foam padding layers the box contains the gun with the magazine, a 6mm Allen key in a velvet bag and a certificate of authenticity.
The whole thing looks awesome in this stage: box opened, only the hinges and our replica's name plate shines. A CO2 magazine would ruin this image entirely so it's a good thing that the magazine is loaded in the gun which sits firmly in velvet covered foam padding. The gun sits a bit too deep in the foam but you can easily correct that by putting something under the gun if you planning to put the GRP on display instead of a holster. My certificate is only missing the serial number but other than that this is what you will see when you open a box like this.
Now that we got the box out of the way, let's look at the gun. I will not compare every little detail to the original because there are lots of variants out there and you can pretty much ask for anything (within certain limits of course) when Nighthawk Custom builds you a gun. The GRP is a very toned down gun and there is nothing radical in its looks other than the engravings and the rail under the barrel.
At first sight even the grip doesn't look special because it sits well into the overall design, surely this gun wouldn't be the same with a wooden grip installed or anything other than black panels. RWA decided to go with stainless grip panel screws which adds a little bling to the gun, at just the right amount. If you ask me, the less bling on the gun the more I like it plus the GRP is meant to be more like a service weapon and those don't shine too often. There are only three things (six if you count the screws separate) on this replica what doesn't have the nearly black tough Nitride coating: the barrel bushing, the trigger and the panel screws. The panels feature the striking eagle logo of Nighthawk Custom, both engravings and texture of the panels are perfect, no matter how badly I wanted to find any fault.
All the engravings are at the right place with the correct font type and size. Only one engraving is missing right above where the serial number should be on the real gun what says BERRYVILLE, AR USA. The eagle logo on the left side of the slide is also different from the current one and it features an earlier Nighthawk Custom logo. The caliber engraving on the barrel at the ejection port looks very nice especially with the barrel having a matte plain steel finish instead of chrome. In real life, GRPs are available with both barrel options and RWA got it right to go with this color. The ejection port's shape is correct. Serrations on the front and back of the slide are in the correct depth and angle.
Front and back sights are both made of nicely machined aluminum and they are nice replicas of the standard GRP sights. With a steel slide, every ounce counts and this is why RWA decided to use the toughest aluminum they found instead of steel.
I have yet to see a 1911 replica with the right extractor imitation which sits on the back of the slide next to the hammer. The extractor is responsible for pulling out the casing after the round left the chamber, most 1911 failures come from a badly fitted extractor and being an important part it could deserve a bit more attention. Manufacturers usually draw a circle looking thingy there to create the illusion of the extractor but welding a small piece of steel into a hole would create a lot better illusion. On the RWA GRP the extractor circle at least is a neat cut and it sits at the right place.
The hammer closely matches the shape and style of the one on the real GRP and it is made of steel. Just like the real one it features the passive safety or "half-cocked" position. This is probably the stiffest hammer I've seen on a 1911 so far and let's not forget the slide has to push back the hammer and carry its own weight in order to complete a full cycle, so there is something added to the side of realism again. With all these hard springs used it is hard to believe that the gun sends out a full mag let alone two with the same CO2 cartridge.
The slide safety is the right handed version and by default the real steel version looks the same. The length and curve of the safety lever follows the design of the real one very closely. What I like about this slide safety is that it has a decent amount of resistance when flipping up and you can only engage it when the hammer is fully cocked. This part is also made out of steel.
The slide stop is probably the most important thing of the 1911 (holding the gun together and keeping the slide at the rear when the last round was spent) and I love this slide stop better than the slimmer original version, easier to operate when wearing gloves. RWA even got the other side of the slide stop right: on the right side of the slide the rounded end of the slide stop axle sits in a small "crater" so it won't stick out that much but you still be able to push it out without using a tool.
Rail dimensions are perfect, but this rail was mainly designed for the X300 Surefire which I am not really a fan of. Instead I use M3X on handguns with standard switch but that won't fit this gun with its current backplate because the trigger guard touches the activation switch before the mount could engage the only rail slot under the barrel. My Insight M3X sits tight on the rails after I remove the backplate so I am guessing any non-replica tactical handgun light (what normally fits a 1911) will sit right on this rail.
The trigger is made out of aluminum but the real GRP also has an aluminum trigger by default. The trigger pull is a bit on the light side and its feel is closer to a competition gun than a service weapon. This is not unusual but preferred on the Asian market and a big chunk of the series indeed will be sold in Asia. This light trigger is not in the bothering category and trigger pull on the GRP can be mastered quickly once you get over the awesome recoil.
Grip safety and main spring housing are both made out of aluminum to keep the overall weight down. My replica came with a serrated main spring housing although most real ones are checkered here. Front side of the grip is checkered with nice machining work.
The magazine release button does its job well, it's been made out of steel and sits completely flush on the right side, sticking out just enough on the left side. The magwell is tight and the KJW magazines won't rattle in your gun. I have one magazine which came with the gun and two with the thicker baseplate and they all work without a bubble. If you hold the gun straight, magazines will drop free but at 45° degree the mag stops halfway. The main advantage of a steel magwell is that the fit of the magazines won't be any looser over time. The KJW mags with the thicker baseplate have better regulators so those are more gas efficient (only by a little) but they don't look as well when they are inserted into the GRP as the ones with a slim baseplate. It is good to know that the gun works with KJW mags because most retailers will have them in stock.
I had a chance to compare the GRP to a Tisas 1911 and a Remington 1911. The Tisas has an extremely hard recoil and other than that its loud bang was the only thing where it did better than the GRP. Poor thing couldn't even finish a full magazine. Nice quality compared to its price which is about $400. At a different range a police officer kindly agreed to provide his Remington that he carries off duty every day. This gun was extremely well manufactured but I couldn't shoot it so I can't judge anything other than its looks. Here are all the comparison pictures, judge for yourself, but if you want to know my opinion, the GRP would look better with the same amount of wear marks as what the Remington has in these images.
Normally you break down a real 1911 by removing the recoil spring plug and recoil spring first but right now there is no airsoft version to my knowledge that truly breaks down like a real one. With an airsoft 1911 you first remove the slide stop then take off the entire slide. RWA admittedly made this part a bit tight on the GRP but with a little practice this move can be mastered. In Redwolf Airsoft's video review of the GRP this is shown well: you are better off pushing the slide stop out through the ejection port.
Let's deal with the lower frame first: removing the slide reveals the slide guide which is an aluminum frame inside the steel lower frame and this is common practice with the steel and polymer framed 1911 replicas. During my test period I did not notice any excessive wear on the guide rails. The most of the wear marks come from the BBU housing on the top of the rails and not on the side where the steel slides meet the aluminum rails. This unit was tested at RWA, the Redwolf Airsoft's showroom and finally I put nearly 100 magazines worth of BBs through this gun and let's not talk about all my friends racking the slide like a gazillion times. I certainly couldn't sell the replica as brand new but I don't think this GRP will have any serious slide wobble anytime soon. Some minimal "play" of the slide is present but that's required so the slide can move freely at various temperatures. The elements of the trigger group including the valve knocker are made of steel with the exception of the trigger itself. Inside the lower frame we can find the RWA logo and next to that will be the serial number of the actual production model.
Inside the slide I found lots of interesting things. The GRP's internals can be accessed like any other 1911's internal parts: pushing the recoil spring guide towards the front until it comes off the Hop-Up chamber then remove the spring with its guide; pull the spring plug out towards the back; rotate the barrel bushing; then take it out along with the extra recoil spring; and finally pull out the barrel assembly towards the front.
The GRP's recoil spring is closely matching a TM spring in length but it is made out of a thicker and harder wire. It is even harder than the ones inside KWC CO2 replicas. The combined strength of the two recoil springs provides 70% of the strength of a real 1911 which sounds truly impressive for a "toy" gun. The spring guide is made of steel with a rubber bumper on it just like a TM spring guide. The recoil spring is not standard Marui part, it is noticeably thicker and longer than a TM spring plug and it is made out of aluminum to save weight inside the slide. On these images you can see the internal parts pictured next to TM parts (with the exception of the barrel/chamber combo).
My favorite part of this GRP is the barrel assembly which starts with the awesome stainless steel barrel bushing. This bushing is one of the key parts of the replica: it has to reduce barrel wobble to the minimum but it has to provide smooth ride for the barrel at the same time and it does both jobs perfectly. Some 1911s like the TM for example use plastic bushing inside the barrel bushing to provide smooth glide and avoid the steel bushing eating up the plastic outer barrel. By the way I found that the gun works completely normal with a standard Marui barrel bushing and I even had to re-shoot lots of photos because I forgot to switch back to the original after trying the Marui barrel bushing.
The barrel assembly includes a secondary recoil spring which also helps in reducing the barrel wobble but the gun is completely functional without it, only it becomes a bit softer in recoil and will be easier to rack the slide if you remove it. I've watched a few 1911 break down videos and the sound you hear when someone removes the barrel out of a real 1911 is the sound you hear when you remove the barrel of the GRP. I am not saying this sound alone is worth the price of the GRP but it certainly puts a huge grin on my face every time I do it. The outer barrel is beautiful, even when the Hop-Up chamber is sticking out on the end. There aren't too many attractive 1911 Chambers out there but now there's one more. This chamber reminds me of the one made by Nova with the difference of that being made out of brass while this chamber is made out of steel, at first it looks like a cheap pot-metal chamber but it is a very nicely casted steel chamber and it comes out the outer barrel very easy. It holds a brass 6.05mm inner diameter standard 1911 length barrel which could rather be hard chromed black if you ask me and then the inner barrel won't be as visible on the front. Looking through the barrel reveals the fairly nice Hop-Up rubber with very straight bucking part.
I wanted to dig my fingers a bit deeper into the GRP's slide and take a look at the BBU housing which can be removed by undoing a screw on the back of the slide where the hammer strikes, basically that's the imitation of the firing pin. Once that screw and the BBU housing comes out the nozzle slides out as well towards the front and the piston head becomes visible. The BBU housing looks pretty much the same as a Marui housing, not CNC machined but it's a quality part. The loading nozzle looks decent, made out of hard polymer. Inside the cylinder there is a clear polycarbonate piston head with an O-ring. All parts look Marui compatible so if someone wants to experiment then there are many aftermarket parts out there to choose from but any part you install in this slide need to be tough as nails.
Shooting a CO2 single stack is always fun but shooting one with a steel slide is a whole new level. Sometimes I am afraid to pull the trigger on my KWC 1911 because I have no idea what will fly off the gun like a piece of the hammer or the slide safety, for example, whose parts are already broke off my replica during regular use. While shooting the RWA GRP I felt for the first time that an airsoft gun actually has recoil instead of imitation of recoil by an aluminum piece. Please check out the video comparison where you can see a TM with plastic slide, a CO2 1911. It is winter now so it's not the peak season of any GBB replica but I still managed to get close enough to what RWA claims the gun does. The lots of realism is not great for gas efficiency and the GRP does around 40 BBs on a 12g CO2 cartridge and the magazine capacity is 26. For the tests I figured I will load only 20 BBs per mag so the gun will be able to finish two magazines as long as I won't do rapid fire (RWA recommends double taps with 10 sec intervals and this way you minimize cooldown but still keep the replica useful in a CQB situation).
Higher power screams for heavier BBs as well so in all the accuracy tests, I used 0.25g Blaster Devil BBs. If you seen my other reviews you know what's coming: a bunch of images of cardboard full of holes, but since I have this special guest on my workbench I figured I will get some "proper" targets instead of plain cardboard. First you see the 10m targets, then the 20m which are bigger in diameter. Because of the cold weather I only shot 20 out of each mag and waited approximately 5 seconds between each shots. With the strong kick of the GRP it was difficult to build a stand where the replica won't move between shots and the stand won't damage the coating or grip panels, but finally I managed to come up with something which was a polymer forward grip by CAA and this grip was attached to the rail of the GRP and the stand itself. It was impossible to highlight each shots on the small targets because the shots fell close to each other giving me 3.5 inches (9cm) of average grouping, the tightest group being 2.5 inches (6.5cm). At 20m the grouping was about double and with the distance being double I think the results are fair. The last three target images show how professional shooters handled the gun without even practicing with the GRP. Distance to target 10m and they all shot rapid fire like they would do with a real gun (approx one second between shots).
Here you can see the chrono results, measured with a UFC chrono. Both magazine types loaded with 20 BBs at a time, again at 5 second intervals between shots. Ambient temperature 15C, Gunfire Rockets Professional 0.20g BBs and Umarex 12g cartridges were used for these tests. The CO2 cartridges were warmed in my pocket, this I had to do if I wanted to finish two magazines in cold weather.
At the end of this lengthy article I can only say: if you can afford this replica then you won't regret purchasing whatever your reason might be. It's hard to get across your feeling about this gun without being childish and when I first looked at Redwolf Airsoft's video of the GRP I thought that Tim is overplaying his role a little, but after handling the replica myself I realized that this was his only way to get his feelings across, and so far all airsofters who shot the GRP, they all kind of reacted the same way like Tim did in that video. Of course lot of people are put off by the price but you've heard my reasoning about that already. After reviewing the GRP it will be difficult to review any other GBB handgun and I don't even look at my TM 1911 the same way, I might file for divorce from it.
Thanks to everyone who helped me with this review and not just the review, in the past month I've learned a lot about shooting and handling real firearms. Big thanks to Bence and everyone at Gepard Range Budapest.