Gear Review: Nighthawk Custom Interchangeable Optic System

The 1911 platform has been around for over a century. It has become one of the most venerable and longest serving pistol platforms in history. Love it or not, some say the 1911 is as American as apple pie. During the past 100 + years, there have been many talented individuals and firearms manufacturers who have contributed design improvements and enhancements to the 1911. One such firm is Nighthawk Custom of Berryville, Arkansas. Since 2004, Nighthawk Custom has brought its own unique flavor of excellence in design and craftsmanship to those discriminating individuals who appreciate the very best. The motto of Nighthawk Custom is “One Gun, One Gunsmith”, meaning the same gunsmith builds an individual gun from start to finish, and the finished product ultimately bares that craftsman’s initials.  In an era of modern CNC manufacturing and mass production assembly lines, that is something that is becoming very rare, even for “custom” firearms manufacturers. If you get a chance to handle, and even better yet shoot a Nighthawk Custom product, don’t be surprised if it changes your opinions and perceptions for what the ultimate 1911 pistol should be.

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With that said, Nighthawk Custom has just introduced one of the most interesting and innovative modifications to the 1911 platform in decades, and is called the Interchangeable Optics System or (IOS). Available as an option on most Nighthawk pistols, IOS allows you to use a fixed rear sight that can quickly and easily be swapped out for an RMR- type sight on the same slide, using only a single Allen wrench.

interchangeable optic system

People have different reasons for choosing RMR-type sights: Some people think they are better for faster target acquisition, others prefer them because their eyesight just isn’t what it used to be, and they can see the dot better than they can see fixed sights. Whatever your preference or reason, it’s pretty obvious that RMR–type sights on handguns are not just an industry fad, they are here to stay. These days we are seeing the full spectrum of all types and sizes pistols which come factory ready to use RMR-type sights. Most of the design modifications for use of RMR-type sights that I have seen over the last few years fall into two categories: 1.) The RMR is mounted to the rearmost portion of the slide, and it replaces the rear fixed sight, or 2.) The RMR is mounted in front of the rear sight to offer co-witness of the fixed sights when taller sights are utilized. Like anything, there are pros and cons to each set up. However, Nighthawk Custom has truly come up with a “world class” solution, giving you the best of both worlds, changing from fixed sights to RMR on the same slide, in less than 30 seconds.

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To change from a fixed rear sight to an RMR sight, all that is required is:

  1. Loosen a set screw on top of the fixed rear sight plate with an Allen wrench
  2. Push a retaining pin out on the port side of the slide
  3. Pull the rear fixed sight plate off the back of the slide
  4. Insert the desired RMR plate onto the tapered cut out on the rear of the slide
  5. Re-insert the retaining pin
  6. Tighten the set screw on the top of the slide.
interchangeable optic system

Again…the entire process can be done in less than 30 seconds with no loss of zero to either the fixed sights or the RMR sight. How bad-ass is that?!  This is accomplished by an excellent, well-conceived design which uses a tapered cutout on the back of the slide that holds the fixed rear sight in place. Nighthawk is currently offering the IOS for use with (3) different mounting plates for the following optics: Trijicon RMR, Vortex Viper and the RMSc Shield. The IOS option is available on most Nighthawk Custom pistols as a $350 option. If you want the flexibility of using an RMR-type sight but don’t want your gun to be a dedicated optics pistol… or if you are like me, and you still want the classic lines of the 1911, the IOS gives you some great options. Yet another reason why I am so impressed with the IOS system is that it also solves another problem when using a suppressors. When shooting most suppressor equipped pistols, either your sights are partially or completely obscured, or you are using special suppressor height sights, which are not that great when the suppressor is off the pistol. Using the IOS with the RMR sight plate allows you to be able to zero the dot sight for the difference in bullet impact with the suppressor attached, and then return to your low profile fixed sights when you remove the suppressor, all without loss of zero. How’s that for a modular system?

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