Airsoft is a recreational activity in which participants fire spherical non-metallic pellets launched via replica firearms.
Gameplay varies in style and composition but often range from target shooting to short-term skirmishes, organized scenarios or historical re-enactments. Participants typically emulate the tactical equipment and accessories used by modern military and police organizations.
Airsoft originated in Japan, then spread to Hong Kong and China in the late 1970s. Airsoft guns spread to the UK and Ireland in the 1980s. They were in kit form and had to be built before you were able to fire BBs. Airsoft equipment was designed to closely emulate real guns. Since the mid 1980s, airsoft guns have been adapted with a purely recreational application in mind, and the hobby is enjoyed by all ages. Most Airsoft guns are produced in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, while some are also produced in Japan, South Korea, the United States, and Canada.
The guns used in airsoft are typically imitation firearms. They have a mechanism for shooting projectiles 6 mm in diameter. Airsoft guns are classified according to their operating principle, which can be spring (generally called “springers”), electric (battery powered Automatic Electric Guns, or “AEGs”), or gas-powered (if these have a blowback feature they’re known as “GBBs”). Some companies produce full replicas of counterpart grenade launchers which fire a projectile spray of 6mm pellets by use of a high-powered spring mechanism or a compressed gas propellant (i.e. green gas, propane, or CO2).
Newer guns, especially those made in Taiwan and China, have metal internal and external parts. Japan has specific rules about producing airsoft guns with metal parts. A typical airsoft gun is noticeably lighter than its “real steel” counterpart due to the use of aluminum, alloy, and plastic, though some have weights in them for a more realistic feel.
In Ireland, Italy, and Japan the energy limit for Airsoft guns is one joule (100 m/s with a 0.20 g, 6 mm BB) regardless of the type of game play.
Kinetic energy is the energy that is in the pellet while it moves, and it is transferred to its target upon impact. One joule of energy will be transferred by a 0.20 g BB traveling at 100 metres per second (328 ft/s).
The ballistics of spring or electric powered airsoft guns differ from real firearms in that a longer barrel will not always result in better accuracy. In spring/electric airsoft weapons, barrel length does not have a significant effect on accuracy. The “sweet spot” for barrel length in a spring/electric powered airsoft gun is around 400-500mm. Past that length, added barrel length will not improve accuracy. However, added barrel length will result in slightly increased velocity if the cylinder size and compression are appropriate for the barrel length. Gas powered replicas function more like real firearms. In gas powered guns, added barrel length (to an appropriate degree) will result in significantly increased velocity, and increased accuracy to a degree.
The minimum safe level of gear required to participate in most games includes a pair of ANSI Z87.1 (impact-rated) goggles to protect participants’ eyes. If shot from at least ten feet away by a gun with typical muzzle velocity, there will be minimal damage to other body parts. Traditional prescription glasses and sunglasses, or goggles not designed specifically for use with airsoft or paintball guns, may break or shatter upon being struck causing damage to the eye. The largest review of airsoft eye injuries found no case of loss of vision from an airsoft eye injury. The same review found that only one of the 59 cases was wearing anything over their eye, in which that one patient was just wearing sunglasses as eye protection.