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Blunders in the Pursuit of Performance

The number one most common essential function of an airsoft replica is usually to hit the target. There are other roles, such as laying down beaten zones for area denial or suppression purposes, but the primary function, is to tag enemies with a 6mm flying plastic pellet.

The stock entry level (or even intermediate, and sometimes advanced) replica often under-performs in terms of power and accuracy. To the uninitiated, it would appear that the airsoft gun lacks 'range' as they have difficulty hitting targets over distance, and almost as if with a knee-jerk reaction, the first thing they change on their gun is the spring, turning the power up to maximum level in an attempt to reach further.

I will bluntly say now that this is a misguided, foolish and potentially hurtful mistake, and it is a trend that runs deep like a cancer throughout many airsoft communities. The only things increasing power achieves is how fast your BBs get to their destination and how much it will hurt the player on the receiving end. Only rarely, and in specific circumstances does an increase in power result in a noticeable increase in effective range. In addition; far too often it changes the balance of the internal parts in such a way as to decrease precision, worsen consistency, and bring about a critical failure of a part of the gearbox in a premature fashion.
 
Where does this leave the owner of the newly-upgraded replica what is failing to perform and/or now broken? I'd wager he'd be pretty frustrated around this time. There are lessons to be learned from this blunder; the first, I have already stated. Power does not, in the vast majority of cases, increase range. This is one of the uncommon cases in life that the simplest and most obvious solution isn't the one that is necessarily the most correct.

Over the 15 years I have considered myself an airsofter, I have made this mistake several times in my early builds. But after watching those around me, though trial and (mostly) error, and through tips, suggestions and guides from various sources, I like to think I am closer to understanding what makes an airsoft replica perform at greater ranges.

It begins with the first technological leap in airsoft that dramatically extended the range of the replicas that today we consider 'classic'. I am talking about the hop-up unit. When hop-up was first introduced to airsoft it took the 20-30 meter ranges of the top performing replicas of the age and put them to shame. The simple effect of a backspin on the plastic Ball Bearing pellet, coined 'the Magnus Effect' that allows a spherical projectile to apply a force to itself mid-flight, let BBs defy gravity and float to their targets with much greater precision.
 
However, this technology complicated the mechanics of balancing the performance of airsoft guns. Everything from the pressure distribution behind the pellet and the minute alignments of the Hop-Up nub, to the power of the replica would now affect the straightness of the BB's path. Herein lays the root of why power doesn't translate to range or accuracy. The difference in the force applied behind the BB to accelerate it down the barrel has massive consequences on the stability of the projectile and its backspin. The greater gas or air pressures caused by upgrading the power on an airsoft platform are harder to control and therefore, through insufficient air-seal strength, and general turbulent eddying of the air, reduce the consistency of the dynamics between every shot fired.

My point then is this: Do not expect a simple increase in power from a spring swap or upgraded valve to directly translate to range as getting BBs to travel far means nothing if you cannot guarantee that they will be going straight, as it fails to meet the primary purpose of the airsoft gun; to hit the target.

In order to achieve range, the power must indeed be upgraded, but unlike what many airsofters believe to be true, having a platform with a long inner barrel that fires at 450+ fps will not have them hitting targets efficiently at ranges greater than, say, a stock Tokyo Marui M4 SOPMOD, due to the way that the parts of the airsoft replica work together. In order to tag players at greater distances, a plethora of upgrades and maintenance passes must be done to the gun. Hop-up alignment, O-ring condition and quality, air-seal, power consistency, correct type of Hop-Rubber, good quality piston, spring-guide and spring, correct gear to piston engagement angle, these are all things that will have an effect on the consistency and therefore range of your airsoft replicas.

The obsession with higher power airsoft guns (I believe) stems from the desire to hit targets from greater distances. With this article, I hope that people have reconsidered the importance of power in relation to other upgrades that will have a greater effect on the performance of their rifle, and lead to less people getting hurt by unnecessarily high-powered airsoft guns.