Airsoft is, as The Other Wiki
says, a "recreational activity" similar to paintball, where people eliminate their opponents by shooting them with plastic pellets fired from very realistic-looking toy guns. A typical airsoft game (or skirmish, as it's sometimes called) is similar to those played with paintball
or Nerf guns
, with the amount of necessary protection somewhere between the two. Airsoft guns are also used as props in movies and TV series, thanks to looking better than rubber stunt casts and being safer (and requiring no licenses to purchase and use) than real firearms.
Also, since airsoft guns are designed to look like real ones, most of Gun Accessories
can be installed on them without problems. And in case you want to know - Gatling Good
in airsoft is a real, commercially available thing. With a hefty price tag.
The history of airsoft
The activity itself, and most of the guns made for it, comes from Japan, where strict gun control laws forbid ordinary citizens from possessing real firearms, and became very popular in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Airsoft guns evolved from very realistic-looking model and cap guns, manufactured by companies like MGC (Model Gun Corporation
) - the first "classic" airsoft guns used either a manually cocked spring-loaded plunger (like Air Guns
) or an external compressed gas tank (like paintball guns). Some of them were a bit more complicated, like the Asahi Walther WA2000note
that used a solenoid valve assembly to control the amount of compressed gas used for near-perfect consistency in velocity and accuracy. In airsoft pistols, the gas tank was usually installed in the grip or magazine and refilled through a valve not unlike the ones used in propane lighters.
The first "revolutionary" change for airsoft guns came in 1992: Tokyo Marui company came up with a different solution to propel the pellets, a mechanism that used electric motor and a set of gears to draw the spring-loaded plunger back and release it. This made airsoft guns more popular, easier to manufacture and cheaper, thanks to Tokyo Marui using the same gears, plungers and cylinders in most of their airsoft electric guns (or AEGs for short) - only two guns being an exception (Uzi and PSG-1). Tokyo Marui also introduced "Boys" series of airsoft guns in 3/4 scale, using the same mechanism (commonly called a gearbox), but downscaled, made of plastic (instead of metal used in their full-sized guns) and fitted with a weaker spring. Those solutions caught on: Hong Kong and Taiwan-based companies started copying the full-sized guns, and Chinese ones focused on the cheaper, plastic mechanism of the "Boys" series. In 2004, Japanese company Systema Engineering came up with their own "Professional Training Weapon" line, based on Marui's AEG idea, but expanded on with some new features like working bolt catch and device that prevented firing the gun with no pellets loaded.
The second revolution happened in 2006, when a Chinese company named Well successfully copied the MP5 AEG with a metal gearbox - and sold it for a third of Tokyo Marui's usual price. Considering that manufacture of realistic-looking toy guns is pretty much illegal in China, this was no small feat - and the Chinese didn't stop at that. In 2007, they designed their first AEGs (as opposed to simply copying Tokyo Marui designs) and in 2008, they started copying gas-powered pistols. That mobilized Taiwanese and Hong Kong companies into competition - prices were cut, new models were designed, and everyone rejoiced.
Types of airsoft guns
- Spring-powered: commonly called "springers", not to be confused with the talk show host, range from the cheap pistols and shotguns (less commonly rifles) sold in sporting goods stores and Wal-Marts to wickedly accurate and powerful bolt-action sniper rifles fitted with precisely-machined aftermarket parts. While many cheap springers are poorly regarded as actual mock combat weapons, tri-shot shotguns (which have three barrels and partial mechanisms to allow for them to fire three BBs at once) are extremely popular for CQB (Close Quarters Battle) and are much less expensive than most semi-automatic pistols or any decent automatic weapon.
- Gas-powered: these airsoft guns use external or (more common today) internal gas tanks, most commonly tetrafluoroethane (HFC-134a or "duster gas"), propane (mixed with lubricants and sold as "green gas", also called "top gas" or HFC-22) or CO2. Gas-powered airsoft guns range from handguns (both pistols and revolvers), through submachine guns and assault rifles, to powerful sniper rifles. CO2 is most typified by cheap non-blowback pistols, but it has one important advantage: pressurized gases lose pressure as they get cold, while CO2 is held at a very high pressure. This allows for CO2 pistols to be used in cold weather where green gas and duster gas guns would fail to fire.
- Non-blowback (NBB) airsoft guns: non-blowback guns use the gas only to launch the pellet, not unlike some CO2-powered airguns. This kind of mechanism is used in revolvers and some cheap gas-powered pistols. Non-blowback weapons are simpler and allow for more gas to be directed to firing the BB (increasing the velocity), but they have a very stiff double-action trigger pull that lowers accuracy and some of them, especially the CO2-powered ones, have velocities too high for safe CQB usage.
- Gas blowback (GBB) airsoft guns: deemed the most realistic, gas blowback airsoft guns use the gas to launch the pellet and cycle the bolt or slide, loading another pellet from the magazine and providing recoil. Modern gas blowback airsoft guns have the gas tank in the magazine, as opposed to earlier designs:
- Classic airsoft guns: requiring an external tank and hose, those are usually replicas of automatic weapons like submachine guns and assault rifles, or semi-automatic sniper rifles like the Asahi Walther WA2000 mentioned above. Mostly went out of use after the introduction of AEGs.
- HPA guns: Most typified by the PolarStar series, these guns are similar to Classic guns in that they use an external tank (full of high-pressure air) and a hose connected to the gun. PolarStar weapons are well known for their very high cost, often $700 or more for a complete gun, as well as a programmable rate of fire, velocity, and burst limiter through their onboard computer. Such guns are typically subject to extra regulation at respectable fields (such as tournament locks) to prevent unscrupulous players from ramping up their velocity and rate of fire to illegal levels after passing inspection.
- Airsoft Electric Guns (AEG): popular and versatile, AEGs replicate all sorts of automatic weapons, from small submachine guns like Heckler & Koch MP7 to machine guns like the M249 and M240. Thanks to Tokyo Marui setting up a de facto standard of their construction, AEGs can be modified with countless aftermarket internal parts, from higher-voltage batteries, through padded piston and cylinder heads, harder springs and gears with different ratios, to electronic trigger assemblies allowing programmable burst-firing instead of uncontrolled More Dakka. AEGs are often fed by hi-cap magazines, which have a reservoir of BBs and require some method of winding to fill a feed chute. Mid-caps are a popular alternative, which simply have a track with a coiled spring (not unlike a real firearm magazine) that holds all of the BBs ready to fire; they have a lower capacity than hi-caps (think 120 rather than 500), but they never need to be rewound after firing enough BBs and they're generally more reliable, as well as lacking a distinctive rattle. There are even lo-cap or "real cap" magazines, which are intentionally identical in capacity to real firearm magazines and are meant for training or strict simulation.
- Airsoft Electric Pistols (AEP): electrically operated sidearms, popular albeit not very varied in their design (they're pretty much either Glock 18 or Beretta 93R replicas). AEPs are usually a third less powerful than normal AEGs, and have a selector switch, allowing them to fire in fully automatic mode. AEPs are mostly used either by very young or very casual players who spend $50 or less on a gun, or by players in cold weather who want something that won't fail to function like most gas guns.
- Low Power Electric Guns (LPEG): Cheap AEGs, typically with a plastic gearbox and body. These guns are very inexpensive, but also very underpowered and have the durability of a wet napkin (don't fall on them if you want your gun to stay in one piece). They're typically sold at sporting goods stores and Walmart and are almost entirely purchased by youths who are unwilling to spend more than $100 on a gun (or are ignorant to their flaws).
Airsoft gun laws
- One very common restriction regards muzzle velocity and/or energy. This can vary from 0.99 Joule in Japan and Ireland, through 2 Joules in Hong Kong, to 7.5 Joules in Germany and 17 Joules in Poland.
- Another one are red or orange tips, used to visually distinguish airsoft guns from real ones. This sort of regulation exists in the US, Italy, Brazil, Portugal (where "tip" is legally defined as the first 10 cm of the barrel and, additionally, the whole stock or grip has to be painted red too) and, in certain cases, the United Kingdom (where possession of a "realistic imitation firearm" that cannot be distinguished from a real one is illegal without a "defense", like using it for movie production or having an airsoft site membership).
- Club membership is required in Malaysia, Malta and the United Kingdom.
- Automatic airsoft guns are illegal in New Zealand and, over 0.5 Joule of muzzle energy, in Germany.
- In Japan, manufacturing airsoft guns that can be easily converted to fire real ammunition is illegal as well. Until now, there was one confirmed case (Asahi M40A1 sniper rifle), and one unconfirmed one that arose from a rumor (Tanaka Works Casyopea-system revolvers that used miniature gas tanks in cartridges). Nonetheless, the companies were fined in both cases, and all the replicas in question destroyed.
Notable appearances of airsoft
- Tokurei Sochi Dantai Stella Jogakuin Koutouka C 3 Bu - anime about an airsoft club in a Japanese high school, sponsored by the aforementioned Tokyo Marui.
- Liang Qi from Canaan enjoys shooting her assistant Cummings with an airsoft pistol.
- The protagonists' custom Samurai Edge handguns from Resident Evil series have been made into airsoft guns, as was the custom Desert Eagle and the Umbrella Magnum revolver. Additionally, Tokyo Marui released an "inspired by Resident Evil" "Sentinel Nine" SIG P226 pistol.
- Naked Snake's custom Colt M1911 pistol from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was made into an airsoft gun by Western Arms. Additionally, Hideo Kojima is an airsofter himself.
- In Torchwood, Torchwood agents' sidearm is a modified airsoft gas blowback pistol, the Tokyo Marui Hi-Capa (itself based on race guns like Strayer-Voigt Infinity).
- Continuum features the Thunder Maul AEG, based on Shirow Masamune's designs for Japanese model maker Poseidon Models.
- Any video by Freddie Wong or Corridor Digital will have airsoft guns used as props, with muzzle flare and such added in post. The guys also play airsoft a lot and videos of their games (mostly recorded from head-mounted cameras) can be found on their separate channel, Node.