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What Is Airsoft?

"What is Airsoft?", is the most common question I get asked by people not familiar with the sport. When I started playing Airsoft fourteen years ago, it was difficult for me to describe what Airsoft is. In simple terms, it is a replica firearm that shoots six millimeter (6mm) plastic BBs. They shoot upwards to 200-300ft and have a muzzle velocity of 300 Feet Per Second (FPS) - 500fps. Airsoft guns can be used for target practice, varmint hunting, or simulation. Simulation, specifically Military Simulation (Milsim) is one of the most common formalities of Airsoft. Airsoft guns come in all shapes and sizes and have several different mechanisms of propelling the BB. The three main types of airsoft mechanisms available are: Automatic, Gas, and High Pressured Air (HPA). Each have advantages and disadvantages. Lets get into the grandfather of airsoft, the Electric Rifle.

The Auto Electric Rifle (AEG) is where airsoft started, as well as where most players start. AEGs have withstood the test of time and are still a viable option for new and experienced players. AEGs utilize batteries to power the internal gearbox that consists of a motor, gears, and a piston. The Motor inside the gearbox creates compression by pulling the piston back and releasing it. This is done by pulling on three sets of gears: Spur Gear, Sector Gear, and Bevel Gear. The release of the piston creates compression within the cylinder that propels the BB down the barrel.


Cheaper option(s)

Easy to use

Parts availability/Can be upgraded

Standalone system


Many small moving parts

Limited on battery life

Need to disassemble to adjust power (model dependent)

Upgrading parts is addicting

This brings us to the Gas blowbacks (GBBs). As the name entails, this system uses C02, Green Gas (propane with silicone oil), or straight propane gas. The gas is typically stored in the magazine. When the trigger is pulled the gas is released and fires the bb. The slide or bolt will recoil giving a similar feel to a real firearm. When you are out of ammo the bolt or slide will lock to the rear until you reload it and hit the slide release or bolt catch. (see animation below)


Most realistic system

Cool/fun factor off the charts

Higher build quality (typically)

Loud (intimidation factor)


Expensive (magazines, gas)

Works better in warm climates

Magazines need to be stored with a little green gas in them (keeps O-rings sealed)

High maintenance (prone to leaks)

Last but not least this brings us to High Pressure Air (HPA). As the name suggests you have a pressurized air tank to supply the replica with air. The HPA unit replaces the guts of the gearbox. The HPA unit can be electronically control or mechanically controlled. Electronically controlled systems rely on a chip (FCU/Fire Control Unit) to control solenoids releasing the air (need a small battery). Mechanical systems rely on a trigger valve no battery needed. Both systems require an external air tank, regulator and line. The system can be tuned on the fly with minimal tools. HPA has very minimal moving parts, overall more reliable.(see animation below)


Can tune power on the fly

High efficiency

Minimal moving parts



High sticker price

External air tank and line is annoying (airstock can fix that)

Tuning the FCU can be tricky (takes practice)

Limited by tank size (can be a con)

Having to find fill stations

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