The standard materials used in the J-frames include blue- and stainless steel, the light-weight aluminum alloy and the ultra light-weight rare earth alloys. Of the tree; the steel (blue- and stainless) frames, the aluminum alloy “Airweight” frames and the ultra light-weight alloy “AirLite” frames my preference In order is: The Airweight, then blue steel (unless corrosion resistance is a priority – then stainless steel) and then AirLite.
The Airweight snubs are light enough to be a comfortable all day carry option. The Airweight also offers enough frame mass so that rounds will not pull apart in the cylinders under recoil – something that does happen with annoying frequency with the AirLites. Some shooters worry about the round count life of the Airweight snubs. I don’t. Many years ago, when the New York City police department still authorized the small five shot Airweight snub as an off duty gun, they conducted a five thousand round reliability test on the Airweight snubs. After the test the test snub showed no sign of frame stretch. Also when Tom Campbell, now with Safariland, worked for Smith & Wesson during the same period he ran the identical test with the same results. I have little fear of the life expectancy of the Airweight frames.
My second choice, the steel frame snubs can work for the shooter who either plans to shoot a great deal in training and worries about recoil induced shooting hand nerve damage (not unheard of), or for the for infrequent shooter who is noticeably recoil sensitive. It may be worth pointing out that given the few ounce only weight difference between the steel frame and aluminum frame guns, especially after each is loaded, there is a large population of snub shooters who dismiss the steel frame snub’s weight disadvantage entirely. Some years ago David Kenik, author of Armed Response, conducted an experiment where he carried a Ruger SP101 (one of the heaviest small frame snubs available) in one pocket and an Airweight J-frame in the other. Each was carried in a pocket holster and David reported that within a few days the difference in the weight of one compared to the other was nearly indistinguishable. I have conducted the same experiment with the snubs on the waist band and in ankle holsters and have found the weight noticeable between the snubs on the belt line but indistinguishable in the ankle holsters. A second J-frame in steel makes a great under study to your Airweight snub. When fitted with identical features, stocks and sight the shooter can train with more rounds and for longer periods while reducing shooting hand fatigue.
On the bottom of my recommend list is the AirLites. While a joy to carry they occasionally offer atrocious accuracy, especially with the ultra light scandium and titanium models (See below.) Minimal acceptable accuracy will produce a six inch or better group at twenty-five yards. Some models of the AirLite snubs will not produce six inch groups at twenty-five feet. The AirLites’ poor accuracy may be due to the use of a sleeve within a barrel setup, used in an effort to minimize the weight of the snub’s every component. Trading the AirLite’s two piece barrel for an older (and heavier) style solid barrel might correct this. That would still leave the issue of ammunition disassembling under recoil. This too might be minimized with the proper choice of ammunition. Unfortunately I have seen both crimped and non-crimped ammo come apart under recoil. The goal would be to identify ammunition that would hold together for five rounds and hope for the best.