The Airsoft reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Airsoft

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Airsoft is a military simulation sport somewhat similar in nature to Paintball, in which players participate in mock combat with authentic military-style weapons and tactics. Unlike Paintball, which uses paint-balls as projectiles, Airsoft guns usually use 6 mm spherical BBs made typically with injection-molded ABS plastic. The 'weapons' used in Airsoft are generally exact full size replicas of military weapons such as the Colt M16, H&K MP5.

The sport is extremely popular in eastern Asia, in Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, where real arms are difficult or impossible to obtain because of local laws. For this reason the vast majority of airsoft guns, accessories, and aftermarket upgrade parts are made in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea. Airsoft has been since made illegal in most parts of Mainland China (the Hong Kong SAR being apparently excepted). There is currently a growing interest in the West again, especially in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Denmark, bolstered by an active and expanding internet scene.


Airsoft "guns"

Modern airsoft weapons can be grouped into three general types by their operating mechanism:

Spring Powered

These weapons fire a BB using a simple spring that must be cocked by hand prior to the shot. Most spring weapons are for indoor playing as they have limited range and cycle rates (because they must be hand operated). Typically, spring airsoft weapons are inexpensive compared to similar models in gas or electric format. The most inexpensive and readily available of any of these are "springer" pistols, which generally operate by compressing a small piston/spring assembly and simultaneously chambering a BB from the magazine by pulling back the slide. Though these guns constitute the vast majority of spring guns, there is a large selection of mid-range spring powered rifle replicas on the market, and a handful of high-end precision bolt-action sniper rifles which employ manual cycling in order to drive extremely heavy springs (and hence produce higher
muzzle velocities).

Gas

These weapons fire BBs using some sort of gas. In modern gas guns, this is usually a diflourothane or tetraflourthane gas, similar in composition to freon. This is a liquid when inside its container, and remains in that state when injected into the magazine of an airsoft gun. When a valve on the top of the magazine is tripped, some of this liquid is ejected as a gas at high pressure and operates the specific cycling mechanism of the gas gun. Gas guns can typically be grouped into NBB (Non-Blow-Back) and GBB (Gas Blow-Back) categories. NBB guns do not feature a cycling bolt or slide while GBB guns have some sort of moving bolt that realistically chambers a BB from the magazine when cycled. Most NBB and GBB guns come in the form of pistols, with detachable magazines that contain both the BBs and the gas. Some rifles and machine gun replicas are gas operated as well, whether to take advantage of the realism afforded by bolt cycling or to allow adjustable muzzle velocities. The vast majority of all gas guns are produced in Japan and Taiwan. Modern airsoft guns typically can use both HFC134 and the more powerful green gas and HF22. It is usually recommended that the weaker HFC134 be used with Japanese guns and the stronger HF22 be used with Taiwanese models, for reasons of muzzle velocity limitations and because Taiwanese models are now often equiped with metal slides rather than plastic (which is universal for Japanese guns), meaning that they can take the higher pressure and may not even cycle with lower-pressured gases.

Many older gas guns, now out of production, use CO2 or HPA nitrogen through an external tank and regulator. With the advent of electric guns, this system has become very rare, due to the high cost and instability of gas operation. But the level of quality in construction has prompted many current collectors and players to continue to favour these "classic" airsoft guns.

Recently, players have begun to use propane as a power source, which produces similar results to Green Gas. Chemical composition of green gas has been suspected actually to be either propane or a fluoropropene. Additionally, new gas gun models have appeared that are powered by standard 12 g CO2 capsules, either on a regulated external rig or build into the magazine of the gun itself.

Gas guns generally require more maintenance than an AEG or Spring gun. This is becuase of all the seals and valves required to hold the gas, and keep the gun from leaking. They need to be lubricated frequently to keep the seals from drying up and cracking. A small solution to this is that Green Gas (HF22) has silicon lubricant in it, therefore it keeps the gun lubricated while using it. Gas guns also have certain weather restrictions, they can be used in just about any weather, however the colder it is outside the less efficiency the gas will provide. Also operating the gun in the cold could cause the valves on the gun and or magazine to freeze and not be able to work until thawed out again. That is typically why gas guns work much better in warmer climates. In the long run, gas guns are also more expensive than buying a spring gun or AEG becuase you must contiually buy more gas to power it, and lubricant to keep it working well. As opposed to AEG's which only require lubricant, and a battery which can be recharged many times.

Automatic Electric Guns

Also known as AEGs These weapons are powered by batteries and an electric motor, which cycles an internal piston/spring assembly in order to launch the BB projectile. These are by far the most common Airsoft weapons in "serious" competition use today. These guns were originally developed in Japan, and the Japanese model giant Tokyo Marui dominates the market today with many quality models. In a Marui AEG, the motor drives a series of 3 gears mounted inside a gearbox. The gears then compress a piston assemble against a spring. Once the piston is released, the spring drives it forward through the cylinder to push a BB into the chamber, through the barrel, and forward from the muzzle. Many manufacturers have now more or less replicated this basic model, adding reinforced parts or minor improvements. But it remains the general design common to almost all modern AEGs (with the exception of the TOP machine gun line).

In recent years, challengers to Tokyo Marui from Taiwan and Hong Kong have begun producing AEGs as well, emphasizing primarily on inexpensive metal parts. Classic Army of Hong Kong and ICS of Taiwan, who both have had long experience producing aftermarket accessories and reinforced parts for Marui AEGs, first began with versions of the Heckler and Koch MP5, a model which Marui had produced for some time. Both versions boasted metal recievers and parts, with essentially the same internal design as their Marui predesesor. And both initially suffered from quality control issues which marred their brand name for several product generations. Currently, both companies have begun to branch out in different directions from Tokyo Marui. The ICS M4/CAR-97 carbine features an innovative swing-open gearbox and reciever and an anti-reversal latch disengage built into the forward assist button. The Classic Army CA33E replcia of the HK33E is a rifle model which Marui does not produce at all. Quality control has appeared to have improved as well on current models for both brands.

BBs

The 6 mm BBs themselves are also produced in various masses. Typically .12g and 0.2 g BBs are used for spring pistols; 0.2, 0.23, or 0.25 g for AEGs and gas pistols; and 0.29 g, 0.3 g, 0.36 g, and 0.43 g for sniper rifles. Steel BBs weighing up to 0.88 g can also be used for target shooting, though they are not common. Recently, airsoft guns in Japan have been produced that are chambered for 8 mm diameter BBs. For the most part, these new guns are replicas of large caliber pistols and revolvers, partially for the reason that a 6mm muzzle on these weapons (ranging from .357 magnum and beyond) would be unrealistically small. 8 mm BBs and guns are still comparatively very rare.

There have also been products made which do shoot aspherical BBs. The best known of these is the Asahi "Blade Bullet" BB, which are now extremely difficult to find and quite expensive to buy. These were designed to be shot from the short-lived Asahi M700 and M40 premier grade rifles, which were produced in 1993. Compatibility with other airsoft guns is highly limited, especially due to their inability to be used with Hop-Up.

Performance

For the sake of a relative uniform standard, the usual BB mass used when determining muzzle velocity is 0.2 g. Airsoft guns shoot 0.2 g BBs at velocities from 100 ft/s (30 m/s) for a low-end spring pistol, to 550 ft/s (170 m/s) and beyond for heavily-upgraded customized sniper rifles. Most non-upgraded AEGs using the Tokyo Marui system are in the middle, producing velocities from 270 to 300 ft/s (82 to 91 m/s), but upgrades to the internal components can increase the muzzle velocity significantly. Because of their low mass, these BBs have very little kinetic energy on impact compared to paintballs, ranging from 0.5 to more than 6 Joules (a typical paintball at 300 ft/s (91 m/s) produces more than 12 Joules). This makes the sport arguably safer than Paintball although protective gear, especially for the eyes, is considered a requisite for safe play.

Hop-up

A significant development that has since been incorporated into almost all good quality mainstream airsoft guns has been "hop-up." This is a simple rubber piece around the chamber or rear of the barrel that is thicker on the top in order to provide a backspin on the BB as it exits. Consistant with Bernoulli's principle, this causes air above the BB to move slightly faster than the air below it, creating a measure of lift. The practical effect of this mechanism is immediately visible and quite effective. Using it can extend the range of an airsoft gun by up to 50%. Some guns feature an adjustment mechanism to increase or decrease the amount of backspin, which allows fine tuning of the lift generate to accommodate various BB masses. Hop-up also means that certain BB masses will not shoot in a relatively straight trajectory from certain guns - the hop-up produces either too much lift (causing the BB to "float" as it flies forward) or too little (causing a premature end to its flight).

Early History

Airsoft had its origins in several abortive attempts by the Daisy BB gun company of the USA to market a BB gun that could be safely shot by opposing players at each other. It was known then as "soft air," a name which airsoft is still sometimes known by. The products did not prove popular in the U.S. market. However the sport was transplanted to Asia and gained significant popularity. Most modern airsoft technology developments were created in 20 years of expanding interest in Japan.

Import Restrictions


Barrel Markings

Due to extreme similarity between these replicas and real firearms, combined with lobbying efforts from U.S. BB gun manufacturers, some U.S. states and local regulations may prohibit the ownership or use of Airsoft guns. Federal importation laws require all Airsoft gun barrels to be painted with a blaze orange stripe, as must all "toy guns". This measure is intended to avoid confusion with actual
firearms.

Importation to USA

Many Asian manufacturers of airsoft guns disregard US and international trademark and intellectual property laws when creating their replicas. This is usually manifested as illegally-reproduced trademarks on guns and gun accessories. Some companies have worked hard to work out licensing deals with Western gunmakers, but it does not seem to be a high priority, especially in the reclusive Japanese market. Notable instances to this include Japanese manufacturer Western Arms's licensing deal with the Beretta company of Italy and Hong Kong company Classic Army's deal with Armalite to use their trademarks on CA AEGs.

US customs routinely checks for illegal trademarks and even certain patented features, so many airsoft guns imported into the states have trademarks covered by plastic putty or destroyed outright by vulcanization in addition to the application of the blaze orange marking. Many distributers have begun to specifically market "clean" airsoft guns in the US, completely without troublesome trademarks or certain features which have caused legal controversy, such as the "safe action" trigger design employed by Glock in their line of pistols and copied on many gas gun models.

Local Ordinances

Recently, (as of Fall/Winter 2003) the State of California has declared that the Airsoft replica is not legally a toy, but is classed similarly to an Air or BB gun, and subject to the same restrictions. Blaze Orange paint is mandated by federal law (Dept. of Commerce, 1986, 15 USC Sec. 5001), and Airsoft replicas may neither be used by nor sold to minors. Airsoft replica use is currently banned by the State of New Jersey, the Municipality of New York City, and portions of the State of Michigan. As Airsoft becomes more popular, many reported incidents have occurred where generally younger players have come into contact in public areas with local law enforcement unsure of the nature of the airsoft weapons involved. In the future, these incidents will certainly increase, perhaps with problematic consequences, as airsoft rapidly proliferates in the United States.

The United Kingdom's Home Office advocates a limit of 1 Joule on all Airsoft weapons, and a maximum muzzle velocity of 100 m/s (328 ft/s). In accordance with reports from the Forensic Science Service, use of a more powerful weapon constitutes assault with a deadly weapon, since the "lethal" threshold is approximately 1.35 Joule (1 foot pound).

Growth in the West

Starting with early 2003, Daisy has once again begun marketing airsoft guns for sale in the US, under their "Powerstrike" brand name. This and other models have begun appearing en mass in major brick and mortor distributers, expanding what in the US was traditionally a generally internet based operation. US-based manufacturers of tactical gear and equipment have also begun to recognize the sport, some marketing products specifically for use in airsoft. On the internet, the online auction site eBay has noticed airsoft as well, and has created several categories specifically for the thousands of listings of airsoft gear and guns. Popularity in the UK has grown with similar measures.

External links