The American love affair with the 1911 supports a number of custom gunsmithing operations producing very high quality, and very expensive, variants of John Moses Browning’s classic design. Buying one of these handcrafted beauties will set you back a huge chunk of change, but the appearance and performance of these custom guns is well worth it to some buyers. One of the most extreme examples of the full custom 1911 and advertised as being able to hit a man-sized target at an incredible 400-yard rand is the Karl Lippard Designs 1911a2 Combat NCO.
Karl Lippard was the general manager of Pachmayr Gun Works of Los Angeles, California when the Marine Corps came calling in the late 1980s. The shop’s assistance helped the Marines jump-start a 1911 modernization program that produced the MEUSOC 1911s, custom-built super tough pistols still used by Marine Corps Special Forces to this day. After the death of Frank Pachmayr and the closing of his Gun Works many of his former employees, including Lippard, went their separate ways and followed their own ideas of building the ultimate 1911. Earlier this year, Lippard began offering the Combat NCO for sale after receiving around 15 patents covering all its parts. Constructed entirely from S7 tool steel (usually used in making drill bits), the Combat NCO is machined to only three thousandths of an inch, or .003 inches, tolerances throughout. To keep the gun functioning in harsh environments such as mud, various parts have relief cuts added as a dumping ground for accumulating debris. The close-fitting parts sweep the debris into the relief cut areas like a broom. The link between the barrel and the slide stop is a wider, beefier design requiring a frame modification (and two patents to protect Lippard from pesky copycats). Lippard claims the combination of the barrel link and his massively oversized barrel bushing, which looks like a compensator but solid, prevents the barrel from yawing sideways to the left upon firing, a major cause of accuracy loss and premature wear in the 1911 design. Lippard also changes the design and execution of the grip safety and thumb safety to improve reliability and feel, and uses a patented sight system with two extra notches cut in the front sight. The lowest notch, near the very base of the front sight, is the aiming point for the advertised 400-yard shot.
Despite Lippard’s impressive personal history, and the amazing design and execution of his pistol, many in the pistol shooting community have met his 400-yard claim with skepticism and outright disbelief. There are a few reasons for this. The mathematics of making such a shot using a pistol with open iron sights are daunting. The sight radius on this pistol is only seven inches, after all. A 230-grain .45 ACP round traveling at 850 feet per second at the muzzle will drop an astounding 39.5 feet before impacting a target 400 yards away. Bullet travel time is almost four seconds to get there. The 1911 will be lobbing shots at the target like a howitzer! Assuming that the man-sized target is a standard E-Silhouette torso measuring 36 x 24 inches, the Lippard Combat NCO would have to shoot within six minutes of angle at that distance to score a hit. Six MOA at 400 yards is laughable for a sniper rifle, and even the relatively inaccurate AK-47 assault rifle can do noticeably better. However, 6 MOA accuracy from a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol with a five-inch barrel, no matter how well built, is a tall order indeed.
Lippard also hurt his credibility with some of the other claims found on his Web site. Now with the release of the A2 Combat NCO, he claims to be working on an A3 gun using ammunition exceeding 4,000 feet per second. It’s a gas-operated A4 variant of the 1911 and an A5 machine pistol “slated for military use in 2100” firing the hypervelocity ammo at over 400 rounds a minute. “Slated for military use in 2100?” By whom—the United Federation of Planets? He also claims to have patents pending on a project called SolidRifle, a fully automatic sniper rifle of fantastic accuracy yet capable of changing caliber and configuration in seconds. This SolidRifle stuff belongs in sci-fi video games featuring grim super soldiers using invisible camouflage—you gamers know what I mean—and seems pretty out of place on a 1911 gunsmith’s Web page. Lippard’s boast of a 400-yard 1911 looks tame compared to these other projects, of which nobody else has seen any evidence. Finally, speaking of evidence, neither Lippard nor any of his customers have taken a photo or posted a video on YouTube showing a 400-yard shot made on a target of any size by one of these guns.
Is a 400-yard, 6-MOA shot from a custom-built .45 possible? If any 1911 can do it, the Combat NCO is the one. Why not just buy one and try it for myself? Well, you see, this is a bit embarrassing. Honestly, I don’t have the $3,500 that it costs to get your hands on one of these beauties. So until one of you buys one and posts a video online of the shot, I guess we’ll all be waiting, wondering, and arguing over whether Lippard’s gun really does what he says it can do.