What are airsoft guns used for? – Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

This one is for DSW, who was surprised by the high prices of certain airsoft models. He asks what these guns are used for.

The origins of airsoft
Airsoft, or soft air as it is also called, originated in Japan some time around 1980. Firearms are unavailable to most people in Japan, and those interested in guns were looking for a legal way to enjoy at least some of the attributes. I understand this entirely, as there are times when I take out a particular firearm, be it a Garand or my Trapdoor Springfield, just to hold and mentally connect with the gun. Many women cannot walk through a fabric store without feeling the various fabrics and many men have a need to connect to things mechanical. For me, it is firearms, even when I’m not engaged in shooting them, so I understand the need to just hold something in my hands and let my imagination wander where it will.

Very realistic!
The early guns were extremely realistic, to the point of fooling even avid shooters. But the wood and metal replicas were quite expensive, and soon a cheaper class of gun that was affordable to the masses was created. That’s when airsoft really took off. So, in the beginning, the guns were made as replicas of firearms that could not be owned legally. The fact that they happened to shoot small (6mm most of the time, but many other calibers have been created, as well) plastic balls that the Asian manufacturers called BBs, was secondary to the realism factor.

Airsoft development starts to branch
Once collectors were satisfied, airsoft manufacturers found a second market with shooters who actually used the guns to shoot at things – targets at first. A secondary branch of airsoft development began to improve the accuracy of the guns. That branch is still actively working, but it has now merged with a third branch that has taken over the lead – gaming or skirmishing.

Skirmishing
In Asia and later in Europe and last in the U.S., airsoft was employed as an alternative to the sport of paintball, which is only slightly older. It seems no matter what the culture, some people like shooting at other people. In England, the local law enforcement establishments and governments are using airsoft skirmishing to drain the energy from teenage gang members – setting the model for the world. In Asia and Europe, skirmishing with airsoft has taken the lead over paintball as the No. 1 combat sport. In the U.S., it’s growing rapidly toward that end – to the point that Nelson Technologies, the people who invented the paint marker for agricultural use only to see it grow a million times larger as a gaming sport, are now actively developing paintballs for airsoft guns. They see the future in airsoft, because the guns are more realistic and the “BBs” don’t hurt as much as a .50- or .68-caliber paintball.

Today, the guns are made primarily for those who want to shoot at targets with something very safe, and those who want to get into tactical games. The games will soon be a billion-dollar market, if they’re not there already. Secondary items like tactical clothing, field gear, radios, goggles, electronics, night vision and actual military vehicles, and even aircraft are entirely supporting some companies who don’t sell a single airsoft gun!

Law enforcement and military simulations
Law enforcement agencies and military units around the world are turning to airsoft guns to use as a safe and non-lethal simulation for tactical training. Unlike simunitions that work in real firearms, airsoft guns do not cause accidental deaths when someone mistakenly loads live ammo.

There are airsoft M16s and M4s that cost over $1,600 and are just as rugged as the firearms. They only hold 30 rounds, just like the firearm, so shooters are forced to play like the real world. These guns are sold only to the military and law enforcement, because they’re considered too realistic for civilians to own. Makes me glad to be an American, because the constitution guarantees me the right to own the real thing, unlike most people in the world!

Hollywood!
The film and theater industry turned to airsoft in the 1990s, after accidental deaths like the on-set shooting of Brandon Lee (Bruce Lee’s son) resulted when live ammo was loaded instead of blanks. Property masters no longer have to worry about securing actual firearms on set. For that reason, Hollywood lobbied long and hard to be allowed to possess airsoft guns without the blaze orange markings

DSW, I thought I could do this in one report, but there’s more to come; so stick around for part 2!

30 thoughts on “What are airsoft guns used for? – Part 1

  1. Back online already? I hope your Christmas went well…

    I knew that airsoft is getting more popular, but apparently it’s getting more so than I realized. Makes sense… airsoft ammo is much cheaper, and I suspect that games can be played in smaller areas. Plus, as you know, the guns are MUCH more realistic.

    Speaking of which, take a peak at the WE-Tech 1911A1 if you haven’t already. If you’ve got a soft spot for the old GI 45, this gun will tickle you!

    In any case, I soon expect howling and crying from the state legislature in NJ about the scourge of airsoft… with the predictable outcome. As usual, onerous regulation will likely be instituted by a bunch of ding-dongs who genuinely think (and I am not kidding) that somehow the appearance alone of a weapon is a threat to society.


  2. Vince,

    I have examined the WE-Tech 1911A1. It’s a good gun that is made for a number of different companies to put their name on.

    I am planning on doing a part 2, because I don’t think some people realize that modifying airsoft guns is an industry larger than the airgun industry as a whole.

    But I thought I’d take a break tomorrow and do something else.

    B.B.


  3. B.B, and everyone else.

    Remember that lovely bam b40 that B.B. reviewed? Well I had a friend that bought one, and it showed it’s true chinese engineering. At 8 yards, the gun wouldn’t penetrate 2 layers of cardboard. It kicked really hard, so hards it ripped the stop pin of the scope mount in half. This is like B.B. always talks about, with chinese guns being hit and miss. So this is just a warning to anyone wanting to buy a chinese rifle, you never know what your going to get.

    Hope you guys had a great christmas.



  4. That’s right, about the manufacturing defects. I had recently bought a Gamo 220 factory refurb that had a barrel pointing to the left. You could see it. My wife could see it. I sent the gun back to Gamo, who had the gun for 3 weeks and sent it back to me nicely packaged and untouched. So I had to send it back AGAIN, and they finally replaced it.

    That means that Gamo missed this obvious defect 3 times – when the gun was first built, when it was “refurbished”, and when I sent it back the first time.

    Let’s see if they make good.


  5. BB, I know I’ve been pestering you about .22 breakbarrels, and I know that you recommended the Baikal over the Mendoza, but I’m hoping you can give me one more quick opinion.

    Gamo Shadow in .22 as opposed to the MP513 – whaddya think?

    As always, your input is much appreciated.


  6. Well, he ordered fromy pyramyd. They’ve promised him a refund as soon as the gun gets to them. He’s not going to bother with another chinese gun and he’s getting a talon SS. It looks like he won’t have too much trouble so that’s a good thing.


  7. Vince,

    The 513-Shadow comparison is much harder to make.

    The Shadow is slimmer, lighter and just as powerful as the 513. It also lacks the hinkey safety cocking mechanism I showed.

    On the other hand, I think the 513 is slightly more accurate, but the difference is too small to really call.

    Remember, I haven’t tested a .22 in either gun.

    B.B.


  8. BB, thanks again.

    I have a Shadow I rebarrelled in .22, I was trying to sell it off and by the .22 cal MP513. I think I’ll just keep the Shadow, and maybe eventually get the Baikal in my usual plinking caliber (.177).


  9. Great post!

    Here’s a question for you. I have heard that the Hop-Up system found in various airsoft guns puts a backspin on the rounds in order to make them fly straight. I have often wondered what the physics are that makes this work.

    Is there a clear explanation of that anywhere?

    By the way, I just purchased the Crosman Pulse M72 as a Yuletide gift, and had a lovely afternoon yesterday putting holes in paper. It’s definitely a fun and inexpensive addition to my growing airsoft arsenal.


  10. Ever pitch a baseball? If you grip the ball so it coumes out of your hand with your fingers being the last thing that touch it on the top of the ball, you produce a ball that has a backspin. Thrown with force, this is called a fastball.

    Airsoft guns use a rubber bumper located on the top of the barrel near the breech to stop the top of the ball as it goes forward. That creates a backspin.

    B.B.


  11. I’ve often wondered about the physics of hop-up. Obviously, the backspin somehow manages to either build up a higher air pressure under the BB, lower pressure over the BB, or a lttle of both… which in turn would give it lift.

    Near as I can figure, Bernouli is out – with a symetrical shape, there is no real difference between the absolute air velocity over or under the BB.

    But there is a difference between the velocity differential between the air and the surface of the BB. I believe that the backspin is more effective with a non-smooth surface (like a golf ball) – and the BB starts to work like a paddle-wheel:

    The high pressure that builds up on the forward, upper face of the BB is somewhat alleviated because the spinning surface of the BB helps move the air out of the way.

    The low pressure that builds up on the forward, lower face of the BB is actually increased because the rough surface of the BB is trying to cram more air into that same space.

    The total effect between these two events is lift.

    Anyway, that’s the only way I can figure it. If someone can point out a flaw in my reasoning, I’m all ears…



  12. Its called the Magnus effect. Wiki has a quick explanation,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnus_effect

    Same reason a spinning bullet will drift up/down in a crosswind. Note that the dimples on the golf ball are not to induce this effect but to cause the airflow around the ball to become turbulent. Strangely enough, turbulent air is more resistant to flow separation giving rise to what we call a “Drag crisis”, ie. less drag. Some years ago, some guy even built a sailboat using the Magnus effect.

    As far as accuracy is concerned, hop-up serves to provide lift, creating a flatter trajectory. I believe it also serves to smooth out the vortical wake behind the sphere, making my Airsoft CP99 more accurate than my BB CP99 Compact!

    Bert



  13. Right – this makes sense, and I was wrong in chucking Bernouli out the window. I was thinking of the air velocity relative to the surface of the spinning BB… which is less on top, greater on the bottom, and would appear to want to make the BB go down.

    Instead, I shoulda been thinking of the velocity relative to the BB itself… in which case it is higher on top because the spin is helping to scoot the air along, and lower on the bottom because the spin is fighting it. So I don’t think my “paddle-wheel” analogy is completely pointless… but my inexperience in aerodynamics is showing…


  14. Also, I’m glad I’m not the only one noticing that some airsoft guns are more accurate than some that shoot steel BB’s. At least when there’s no wind.

    But I have also noticed this happening with some airsoft guns that do not have hop-up. In fact, unless the coefficient of friction between the BB and the hop-up nub is pretty consistent, the shots will walk up and down and accuracy goes to pot… a little excess lube in a hop-up gun will make it very hard to hit anything.


  15. B.B.

    Is there a pellet rifle that is better than the CFX in the same price range ($200-$250). I am getting the Avanti 747 for indoor plinking and the benji 392 for hunting, and i already have the benji 397, i like the CFX but if there is one that is more reliable and accurate in the same price range then can you tell me what it would be? THANKS!



  16. b.b. i received several tins of normal pointed crossman pellets. this isnt what I normally use but it made me wonder what the difference is between normal crossman pellets and crossman premieres that you buy in tins. thanks scopestop


  17. Hey BB!,

    Sorry I’m late to the blog, been on the road. Wow thanks for todays lesson! You know I was pretty reluctant to infer people shooting at eachother when I raised the question you answered so well here.

    Can’t wait for part deu! keep up the great stuff.

    Oh yeah, Santa thought I needed a laptop more than the PCP I’ve been obsessing over, so now I can keep up with your tuteledge!

    gonna get me the Talon SS first, then I’ll get an AR6 later.

    dsw





  18. Hello, i am just getting into the airsofting thing and i was wondering if you could shoot people wit airsoft guns with out like pads and stuff on but of course you would have googles on ^_^ so ya i would just like to know if you need to wear like pads when you are being shot with an airsoft gun

    ~ Thanks


  19. Kate,

    Airsoft is much safer than paintball, so usually players just wear their combat or tactical equipment. A full facemask should be worn instead of just goggles. And most players prefer long sleeves.

    Keep the velocity of the guns relevant to the engagement distances. Snipers can have up to 500 f.p.s. if they don’t shoot closer than 50 yards, but 400 f.p.s. if they engage closer.

    Only in CQB drills should armor be worn, but that supports the realism as well. And lower the velocities to around 300 f.p.s.

    B.B.


  20. How do I find part 2 of “What are airsoft guns used for?” The index at the top of my page does not show a link to part 2 either.



  21. Hi, My son whos 11 just received an airsoft for his b-day. I was wandering if there is someplace to buy ammo thats softer. He loves the gun and likes to shot the target that came with it, however I have 2 smaller children and am afriad one will get hurt. I have looked for sfter pellets and have been told i could find them on line but as of yet, havent had any luck. Please let me know if you know of anything,


  22. Tammy,

    The 0.12-gram BBs that came with your son’s gun are the softest BBs on the market. Airsoft guns are only soft in comparison to regular BB guns that shoot steel BBs.

    Please have your son take an NRA-sanctioned gun safety class, so he learns how to handle his new gun safely. And he should always be supervised whenever he shoots. While you are at it, you should attend the course, as well, so you know how best to supervise your young shooter as a responsible parent.

    You can find the location of such a class by contacting the NRA.

    http://www.nrahq.org

    While some people use airsoft guns to shoot at other people, they wear full safety equipment when they do it, and there are range safety officers watching everything that’s happening. Unsupervised shooting is what leads to accidents.

    Here is a link to a 2-part blog on teaching a person to shoot.

    http://www.pyramydair.com/blog/2006/07/teach-person-to-shoot-part-2.html

    The link to the first part is at the top of part 2.

    Remember to always have everyone in the vicinity of the shooter wearing safety glasses! This is most important.

    B.B.


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