Everybody wants a full-sized gun, until it’s time to carry one. This is especially true when it comes to the 1911. For those who crave the feel of steel and the classic appeal of John Moses Browning’s design, it means carrying around an extra 2.5 pounds every day. And while that might not sound like a lot, it’s a very noticeable addition to your daily-carry loadout.
There have been efforts in the past to reduce the weight of the 1911, with varied results. Many people have opted to just go with a smaller-framed 1911 and call it good. Recently, however, I discovered a unique manufacturer doing something quite interesting.
The owner of Ultimate Arms, Rick Uselton, knows a thing or two about metal, and the company’s Magna T5 series pistols use magnesium-alloy frames for reduced weight. I spoke with Rick at length, and he shared the trials and tribulations of creating this special material.
Rick began working on a magnesium-based gun back in 2014. But after many disappointing failures, Rick finally pulled it off with an alloy blend using zirconium, which makes the magnesium noncorrosive. The official designation of this now-patent-pending material is ZK60A-T5. I mention this because I believe you’ll be seeing it in the materials lists of other firearms in the future. In fact, the last time I visited with Rick, he was in the process of making a .50-caliber barrel from this magnesium-zirconium blend.
For those who are still trying to get a feel for how light this material is, know that magnesium is just two-thirds as dense as aluminum. This means that a full-sized Magna T5 1911 from Ultimate Arms is about 22 ounces lighter than even a Commander-sized pistol.
I will leave you with one last comparison. The model I received for testing was the Ultimate Arms Magna T5 Commander. This gun weighs just 25 ounces unloaded, which is a breath heavier than a Glock 17. It’s also worth noting that Ultimate Arms has also built its own AR, the Ultra-Lightweight M4-AR Air Lite Black Widow, with upper and lower receivers made of the same ZK60A-T5 material. The entire rifle weighs about 5 pounds unloaded. But that’ll have to wait for another article!
The Magna T5 Commander is well thought out and strikes a good balance between performance and cost. My test sample had a good fit and finish. The machine work was solid and demonstrates patient attention to detail. There were no harsh edges, and the gun was obviously the product of people who actually shoot.
The slide and frame are both coated in a noncorrosive, ceramic-based UA Armor finish that looks like stainless steel and is as tough as nails. A byproduct of this finish is that it offers a lot of traction. For example, I could easily grasp and manipulate the slide without using the front and rear serrations.
The slide also has a lowered and flared ejection port for optimum reliability as well as three-dot Novak sights that are easy to acquire and align. Moving down the frame, you’ll find a beveled dust cover (an accessory rail can be ordered for another $100), a squared triggerguard and an upswept beavertail grip safety, which provides for a high hold. The frontstrap is smooth, with the flat mainspring housing has subtle texturing. The mainspring housing is nested within with grooved G10 grip panels that are longer than the frame, forming a sort of magazine well for fast and smooth reloads.
The single-sided safety, magazine release and slide stop are black like the sights, providing a nice contrast with the slide and frame. Finally, the match-grade, three-hole trigger is paired with a skeletonized hammer.
In terms of performance, the Magna T5 Commander ran very well. Like many of you, I was primarily concerned with the gun’s recoil. A lightweight gun pushing out 230-grain bullets could be interesting, to say the least. But the first magazine I ran put all my concerns to rest.
The gun is fitted with a 14-pound recoil spring, as opposed to a standard 16-pound version. This made a big difference, and the felt recoil was much lighter than anticipated. The Magna T5’s recoil was a little more noticeable than my well-worn, full-sized 1911’s, but it wasn’t significant. The muzzle rise is on par with that of a standard gun, and I had almost identical split times compared to my other handguns.
In the end, the Magna T5 was very easy to run, and I experienced no excessive recoil fatigue during my range session. The trigger on my test gun broke at 4 pounds and had a clean feel to it. And let me just say that I wish I could have held onto the test gun a little longer to see how much better the trigger would have been after a serious break-in period.
Running the Ultimate Arms Magna T5
The pistol also has good consistent extraction, with spent casings making a nice tidy pile in the same area. Ultimate Arms has done a good job here. I primarily ran ball ammunition, which ran flawlessly. I did experience a small hiccup when I transitioned to hollow-point defensive loads, however. Experience has taught me that downloading the magazines a bit would help, and it did. After several revolutions of this, the problem went away, and the gun ate whatever I fed it, full mags and all. For those dedicated to the 1911, this is nothing new or even problematic. Even super-expensive guns require a small break-in period. Feed it 500 rounds and call me in the morning.
Accuracy-wise, the gun was a decent shooter and produced 1.5-inch groups at 15 yards using Hornady Critical Defense ammunition. No, this isn’t a sniper rifle, but that 1.5-inch group turned into a ragged hole because of the gun’s consistency. And the gun was easy to draw and run thanks to its clean edges, which never hung up on my clothing when drawn from concealment. Which brings me to how the gun carried.
On The Hip
To get a feel for how the gun would work for concealed carry, I slapped on a nice Galco holster and tucked the Magna T5 away. I tested the gun in the middle of summer here in Arizona, where it can get hotter than 110 degrees outside. When you’re carrying for hours on end, you quickly learns what works and what doesn’t.
The Magna T5 Commander was as easy to carry as my regular Glock 17. The only real difference is that I packed two additional magazines along each day. It was dramatically easier to carry than another full-sized 1911 of mine that I carry from time to time. And I didn’t sigh when I took the holster and gun off at the end of the day. In fact, I’d say the gun and Galco rig were very comfortable.
My takeaway: The Ultimate Arms Magna T5 Commander is serious business. While the use of obviously space-age materials may catch your eye, this gun is built for shooting. Ultimate Arms has produced a top-end fighting gun markedly lighter than any other metal-framed 1911 on the market. And the company has done so without sacrificing quality or performance.
Magna T5 pistols are built like many high-end custom guns but carry production-level prices. So if the idea of packing around 40 ounces of steel has kept you from slapping on a 1911, it’s going to be worth your time to look long and hard at the Magna T5 pistols coming out of Ultimate Arms. You could very well find the perfect concealed-carry weapon for your needs.
For more information, visit uaarms.com.
Ultimate Arms Magna T5 Commander
- Caliber: .45 ACP
- Barrel: 4.25 inches
- Overall Length: 7.75 inches
- Overall Weight: 25 ounces (empty)
- Grips: G10
- Sights: Three-dot
- Action: SA
- Finish: UA Armor
- Capacity: 8+1
- MSRP: $1,999
Performance: ULTIMATE ARMS MAGNA T5 COMMANDER
Load Velocity Accuracy
Federal 230 HST 890 1.75
Hornady 185 Critical Defense 1,000 1.50
Remington 230 FMJ 835 2.00
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in fps by chronograph and accuracy in inches for best five-shot groups at 15 yards.