Are you wondering how the sport you play on the weekends with your friends came to mainstream popularity? Many sports are born out of fun and necessity. Airsoft is certainly one of them. We will go over the history of airsoft and airsoft guns in this article.
The first airsoft guns were made in 1970’s Japan. Firearms were illegal for private citizens. People in Japan still wanted to own some kind of weapon or firearm and decided that using a 6 or 8mm plastic pellet was useful for their purposes.
Since the electronics you see today were not available yet, most of the original airsoft guns were spring powered. Rather than using an electric trigger, the trigger caused a spring to expand and contract, forcing the pellet out. The purpose was to create competitive play in a safe way.
Initially, airsoft guns were primarily popular in Asian countries that also had strict gun laws. Over the course of a decade, airsoft had spread to places like Vietnam and China, and the guns had changed too. They were now powered by “green gas” which is propane without the smell, and with silicone oil added. Gas made the average airsoft gun shoot significantly further with a higher rate of speed.
At the time, there wasn’t much of a need for additional body protection as the guns didn’t fire pellets fast enough to cause bodily harm. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, many people in Asia referred to Airsoft as “survival games” though the airsoft guns could be used in limited self defense - or at least to scare people off with realistic replicas.
Airsoft spreads to the UK
Once Airsoft spread to the United Kingdom, the game was ready to change. A company named LS sold airsoft gun parts, which were to be assembled by the airsoft player. LS began making more efficient airsoft parts to shoot faster and use less gas, while being lighter.
Airsoft manufacturers continued to use gas throughout the 80s.
More realistic-looking airsoft replicas started in the 1990s when making plastic molding became easier. Players would tote around an AR-15, AK-47, and a variety of simulations of real-life firearms into airsoft battles. To some, the only way to tell the difference was a red or orange tip at the end of the gun barrel.
The Electronic Age
As with any other sport or competition, adding electronics to an airsoft gun offered fair many changes to how airsoft guns work.
In the early 1990s, a Tokyo-based manufacturer developed the first Automatic Electric Gun. Tokyo Marui used their expertise with motors for remote control cars to develop gears that would work with an airsoft gun. Airsoft guns were about to get a lot faster and more accurate though they would remain safe.
Electronics and batteries made many things possible. Pulling the trigger sends an electronic signal for most electric airsoft guns, which starts the process of sending gas into the airsoft gun.
Now that this process could happen, it was also possible to electronically control it. Users with more automatic guns often have the ability to switch between a single-shot mode, a three pellet burst, and fully automatic. The three modes would then simply activate the electronics within the guns a specific number of times.
In addition to electric and gas mixtures, some airsoft guns are just electric. All-electric guns use a battery pack and a spring-loaded piston pump to power an internal motor that transmits power through a gearbox, which compressed the pump spring to force air out and help reload the next pellet.
You can find electric airsoft rifles here.
And traditional gas powered airsoft rifles here.
Electric vs Gas in the 21st century
Some players have preferences. The advantage to gas is a realistic look and feel - gas offers a bit of recoil or kickback that some players like, especially those attempting to do realistic simulations. Gas also has a higher muzzle velocity and the potential for a more accurate pellet on the first shot. Gas guns with lots of recoils could have lower accuracy after a couple of shots.
Electric guns use a battery pack. Electric guns typically don’t have kickback or recoil, but can also be less accurate with less pressure pushing the bullet out. One advantage to electric is the ability to carry around lighter battery packs and just recharge them as you go.
Accessories and Batteries
One major difference between airsoft in the 1970s and 1980s and the 21st century is the use of batteries for accessories. Want a scope with a red dot? You can get that - just throw a AA battery in and you are lit up. Want a different kind of trigger with a slightly different pull? You can add one just by adjusting a couple of plug-ins.
Gas-operated airsoft guns tend to be a bit more complicated and harder to adjust because they are designed precisely for their purpose. Electric airsoft guns can be adjusted on the gun itself, or by replacing a part easily.
Batteries have also changed significantly for airsoft guns. Airsoft players could rely on simple rechargeable AA batteries with a recharger, but now have a choice for longer-lasting lithium-ion battery packs. These are proprietary and meant for particular accessories, but last longer and are lighter than AA batteries.
Airsoft has come a long way from being a simple way for Japanese teens and adults to play a competitive game or have target practice when restrictive gun laws were present. Players discovered a love for realistic military simulation and becoming weekend warriors - and can now carry very realistic-looking plastic firearms that are designed for accuracy and usefulness, but not to intentionally harm another person.
Improvements to electronics have allowed airsoft weapons to shoot faster and have allowed for nearly all-day play. Some players also like sticking to the original roots of airsoft and using gas-powered and single shot weapons too.