By Todd Burgreen
Quick... name a high capacity 9mm handgun. For sure, models coming to mind are the double action only polymer ones. Many may think of the Browning Hi-Power design while others will come up with Smith & Wesson’s DA/SA models and some may reference the CZ 75. Few would think to name STI’s 2011 chambered in 9mm. The STI 2011 is a modernized rendition of the classic 1911. What is it about the 100+ year old 1911 that keeps it so adored and desired by so many shooters for personal defense, target, or competition? Surely, more modern designs featuring higher capacity and new materials have eclipsed it; do not bet on it. Discounting the 1911 design as only holding its position due to whimsical nostalgia or other forms of emotional attachment is not valid. The business of a fighting or competition handgun is too grim and serious to allow for emotion to sway so many. Yes, the 1911 has been superseded as a duty weapon in our military and police ranks, but take note that elite units and personnel with a vote often revert back to the 1911. Mr. Browning certainly got it right. Experience will show using various 1911 designs and modern double stack polymers, the 1911 points more natural and provides better accuracy in general terms. The STI VIP 9mm reviewed herein will appeal to many as the perfect blend of 1911 characteristics with polymer double stack ammunition capacity. This is in large part to STI’s modifications in terms of capacity and reliability in the form of their modular 2011 double stack rendition of the classic 1911.
From their beginning in the 1980s as a supplier of high-end 1911 components, STI has evolved into a manufacturer and now offers 1911 pistols to meet the needs of a wide range of users. What is now known as STI went through various traceable entities of ownership since its 1980s inception. One thing is certain; STI is at the forefront of modernizing and adapting the 1911 into forms not previously conceived. Competition was the initial drive for this with the inevitable adaptation into the tactical realm. The debate continually rages over derived benefits gained from participating in “gun games” as being relevant to real world situations with many respected figures found on both sides of the argument. As with most topics the truth lies in the middle, especially after the topic gets heated and polarizes into diehard camps. Most will accept the assertion that professional competition shooters are the highest skilled “pistoleers” in the world – after all that is what they do for a living – and get to expend time and money on improving skill levels that most just can not imagine. Accounts of certain Tier 1 Special Operation units inviting world class competition shooters to train with them in effort to wring out any kernels of knowledge possible in running a handgun more efficiently and ruthlessly in CQB environments support this. Based on the above, the STI VIP is a valid choice for real world use and not merely a competition weapon attempting cross over appeal in the tactical arena.
While the STI offers a myriad of models and calibers, the VIP chambered in 9mm was chosen for evaluation. It was figured that risking excommunication from the 1911 fraternity by utilizing a double stack version one might as well go all the way and fire it chambered in 9mm in lieu of .45 ACP. The intent of this article is not to rehash the 9mm versus .45 ACP debate. Lets leave it at modern 9mm loads have come a long way from FMJ bullets. Was it mentioned that the STI VIP 9mm features 17-, 20-, or 26-round magazines; interesting food for thought. Right or wrong, for most, the consideration of handguns chambered in 9mm becomes more feasible as capacity increases. The VIP’s near carbine like capacity is potent fire power and thus hard to resist as a major selling point. 9mm handguns were redefined by the Glock 17 in terms of capacity and polymer construction. Many debate steel versus polymer advantages/disadvantage. This article is not getting into that debate either. A case can be made that the STI VIP bridges all of these polarizing issues: cartridge and frame make. The VIP is also chambered in .40 S&W and .45 ACP as well. The STI VIP chambered in 9mm weighs in at a tad over 26 ounces with an empty magazine. A 4-inch stainless steel barrel with integral feed ramp contributes to an overall length of 7.5 inches as measured from the muzzle to beavertail grip.
One key element separating the VIP from competitors, both steel framed 1911s and polymer double action only handguns, is the use of the STI’s patented 2011 frame. When the first STI 2011 pistols arrived in 1994, the STI 2011 offered a unique twist on the 1911 in being the only high-capacity 1911 design featuring a modular two-piece bottom end consisting of a steel sub-frame and a detachable polymer grip. The VIP offers the benefits of STI’s modular design in a model featuring 15-, 17-, 20-, or 26-rounds of 9mm depending on what the customer desires to satisfy mission requirements. One magazine is the normal way STI handguns come equipped in terms of magazines.
The VIP is built on the company’s 2011 platform, which features a shortened frame made of hardened 4140 steel. The steel frame contains the slide rails, fire control mechanism, thumb and grip safeties, and slide stop. The VIP features a smooth dust cover with STI offering other models with railed dust covers for accommodation of lights, lasers, and other accessories. The steel frame serves as the bed for the barrel. The trigger pull is factory set for a nominal weight of 4.5 pounds. STI performance enhancing features include an oversized STI thumb safety and bobbed STI high-grip beavertail safety with a palm pad. The VIP’s grip is made of a proprietary glass filled polymer with molded checkered side panels. STI sagely decided to keep the 17 degree grip angle that the 1911 is renowned for. 30 lpi checkering on the front strap and flat polymer mainspring housing along with 25 lpi checkering on the squared-off trigger guard provides a user with a secure grip. A nuance of the polymer grip construction is a relatively thin front strap and sidewalls with a width of 1.28 inches and front to back measurement of 2.10 inches circumference is 5.69 inches. These measurements are comparable to a typical single stack 1911 while offering over twice the capacity. The VIP’s slide is CNC machined heat treated 4140 steel. The STI stainless steel slide features angled rear slide serrations and a lowered and fluted ejection port. A nice attention to detail touch is the slide and frame are thoroughly dehorned.
All of these STI enhancements mean little if the VIP feels like an unwieldy paperweight in ones hands instead of a natural pointing 1911. One immediate concern any time a double stack magazine is utilized is how it affects grip and trigger manipulation. One of the inherent 1911 advantages is the feel in the hand. The STI 2011 frame does not sacrifice this in its quest for capacity. Due to the VIP’s single action trigger the trigger reach from the grip safety to the trigger face is 2.59 inches. Individuals with average sized hands have no issue working the trigger or other controls. The STI VIP represents portability, capacity, reliability, controllability and lethality. These are poster child traits for a personal defense handgun. The Commander-length slide with 4-inch barrel provides the optimum mix of sight radius, concealment, weapon balance, and reliability in a 1911 pattern handgun. A 1911 pattern handgun such as the STI VIP can be characterized as an aficionado’s weapon. A 1911 should be trained with to ensure that functions are natural and instinctive if having to deploy in haste – same as any other personal defense weapon. No one can argue that there is a more instinctive handling weapon as the 1911 pattern handgun. The trigger and grip size/angle cause it to be most accurate handgun in most arsenals. Why do you think hostage rescue units and other special purpose military/LE teams use it? It is accurate and conducive to precise shot placement.
The 9mm VIP was evaluated using Federal Classic 115 grain JHP, Federal Premium 124 grain Hydra-Shok JHP, and various Black Hills Ammunition loads. Approximately 550 rounds were fired while compiling data for this article. A can of assorted 9mm ammunition – steel, aluminum, and brass – was purposely used as well. Magazines were loaded with these random loads and used for a majority of range time. T&Es rarely consist of bench testing pistols for accuracy due to reliability and quick engagement of targets being more paramount in a self defense/service handgun. The STI VIP was tested first by verifying sight zero and then firing several magazines rapidly at various steel man targets. This quickly shows if any reliability issues exist. Honestly, if a defensive pistol is not at the very least reliable what good is it? Further testing consisted of strings of fire against steel plate racks and popper targets at 7, 15, and 25 yards. The sights were found to be zeroed out of the box for 25 yards using the classic 6 o’clock hold. The STI VIP did not disappoint regularly producing 3 inch groups at 25 yards when fired from standing unsupported positions. Bench testing could not be resisted after witnessing the unsupported accuracy results. Sub 3-inch groups at 25 yard were not unusual and probably could/would have been smaller if not for rudimentary bag support and only cursory interest in bench testing. The advantages of the single action trigger were quickly evident during the bench testing where accuracy was the goal with its compact, minimal creep pull.
As can be expected, recoil impulse was minimal in a 26 ounce handgun chambered in 9mm, especially one with the ergonomics of the VIP. The VIP’s slide seemed to reciprocate on ball bearings it moved so smoothly with the sights tracking smoothly in between shots fired. The STI Recoil Master guide rod assembly must be given some credit for this. The dual springs of the Recoil Master assembly dampens recoil and more importantly muzzle flip allowing the shooter to reacquire the front sight when firing multiple shot strings. The STI Recoil Master is a good vehicle to use to explore how STI has improved the 1911 design. The dual spring Recoil Master is designed to last ten times longer than a single spring and allows the bulk of kinetic energy to be expended in the process of loading a new round from the magazine with the slide coming forward more gently and with a fraction of the force typical of a standard 12-18 pound single spring. This reduces the slide slamming forward creating muzzle dip.
It was decided to evaluate the VIP using drills experienced during training at firearms schools such as Graham Combat, Tactical Response, TMACS, etc. The natural pointability of the STI VIP was confirmed along with speed getting it into action. Drills included working around breaching facades, door entries, and other CQB activities typified by experiences encountered in shoot house environments. A premium is placed on a quick handling accurate handgun such as the VIP with multiple rounds fired in quick succession the norm to put a target down. The beavertail frame settles the weapon naturally into your hand and provided a point of reference when drawing the pistol from a holster. The VIP proved very capable of firing multiple shot strings with the utmost accuracy thanks to short trigger pull and reset. As a side note, it was a pleasant surprise the number of holsters that accommodated the STI VIP including both IWB and belt models. This is another blessing of using a 1911 pattern handgun.
It was a refreshing experience dealing with the STI VIP; a handgun that performed at a level justifying STI’s hard earned reputation. Successful handgun designs constantly evolve. This is for a variety of reasons stemming mainly from market and technological impulses/pressures magnified by ever changing mission requirements of end users. The STI 2011 model typified by VIP is the poster child of this design modification creep involving the classic 1911.
SITES OF INTEREST
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Black Hills Ammunition
PO Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709
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