A Teacher's Guide To The New Arbor Precision Air Powered Projectile

A Teacher's Guide To The New Arbor Precision Air Powered Projectile

The New Precision Air-Powered Projectile is Ready for Liftoff

Introduction: In With The New

Like many teachers, Arbor Scientific's Precision Air Powered Projectile has been a staple of my physics curriculum for almost 20 years. That red rocket body is iconic, recognizable in so many of our classrooms across the country. There is not a lot of equipment that I can reliably grab moments before use. We all have equipment that you have to take out to restring, remount, recenter or potentially even rebuild, the day before and cross your fingers it still works when the time comes. As the old saying goes, “If it moves, its Biology; if it stinks, its Chemistry; and if it doesn’t work, its Physics.”

When I heard the original Air Powered Projectile was going to be replaced I’ll admit, I may have packed away my classroom sets a bit more gingerly that year, fearing the replacement wouldn’t hold up to the classic. (Bubble wrap might have been involved.) You’ve probably experienced an equipment upgrade that was “new and improved,” that in fact wasn’t. I’m happy to say, after testing the new Air Powered Projectile kit it is even easier to use and more versatile than the original.

Engaging, Safe, and easy to use, the new Precision Air-Powered Projectile will launch consistently time and time again.

Safety & Control Features That Are Ideal For Students

Still powered by any hand operated bike pump, the new model has a slide valve which means you can control when the rocket launches. This was always a variable with the old model, since we were never sure when the plastic gaskets would release and the rocket was going to launch. That uncertainty in student timing often meant the collected data didn’t reinforce the physics concepts I was trying to teach. There’s nothing like getting an incorrect answer, waving your hands and saying, “nevermind your data, just trust me, this physics is real!”

Other upgrades include the ability to adjust the angle of each launcher, right out of the box, without purchasing additional equipment. As much as I love my old set and its proud display position on top of my cabinets (because it doesn’t fit anywhere else) the fact that these new launchers compactly fold away to actually fit inside my classroom storage is a definite improvement. An air pressure regulator was added that shows the air pressure in the holding tank. This allows you to launch multiple, consistent trials without guesswork (or trying your best to count how many times you’ve pumped the bike pump). Students can launch and relaunch the rocket at the same pressure as quickly as they want, or at least as quickly as they can recover their rocket. Scrubbing a launch can also be done easily by pulling the safety release valve on the pressure tank.

The air is held in a tank that can be safely released by pulling the safety release pin.

The new rocket fuselages are very light so that they go quite high but are still sturdy enough to bounce up from our grass field with no damage. Since the air is held in a tank that is not the launch tube, the rocket doesn’t have to be forced down to make a good seal like it used to. In the case of a scrubbed launch, (maybe you lost track of time and the bell rang, not that that has happened to me), before you would be forced to still launch or unsafely try to remove the rocket hoping it wouldn’t release while you did. Now you simply remove the rocket and release a harmless puff of air through the tube when you’re clear of the launcher.

Promoting Inclusivity and Collaboration in STEM

While the set-up can easily be operated by one person, there are now more opportunities for student involvement if each group has a set. Being intentional about supporting our students during group activities helps women and other marginalized groups to be involved in hands-on physics experiments and collaborative problem solving.

The STEP UP Program’s Everyday Actions Guide, a collection of inclusive strategies for teachers, includes suggestions for scaffolding student group work. Just as important as the STEM content we teach, interpersonal and cooperation skills are an essential part of our courses and preparing our students for how real scientists work together. While using the Air Powered Projectile, students can have multiple roles, including: pumping the air pressure up, watching the air pressure gauge, releasing the valve, timing the rocket’s flight time, measuring the range or altitude, recording the data, etc. Determining how many and which roles for your group and assigning these roles before your class takes to the launching area ensures everyone’s involvement.

Take your classroom outside to study Projectile Motion and confirm concepts learned in class.

A New Way Of Viewing Physics

From a physics first class to AP Physics with seniors, launching rockets to reinforce the computations they do in class never ceases to amaze my students. They are often still surprised that the calculations based on their data does in fact confirm the concepts we learned in class. There is a great sense of accomplishment and class community from this shared experience and you’d better believe your later periods get to class on time once they hear from the other students what they did that day.

In fact, everyone will hear about what you did that day. If you are hoping to grow your physics program, to improve public opinion on what physics is, encourage more students to continue into your advanced courses, etc., then outside experiments like these are a great way to do it. Another Everyday Actions Guide suggestion is to do some physics out of the classroom for others to see. Students without friends or family that have taken physics may not know what it is and are less likely to enroll in the course. Giving all students on campus an opportunity to learn more about physics might help a student consider enrolling in the class who wouldn’t have before. You can invite your school administrators or guidance counselors as well. Our counselors and administrators don’t get to come to our classrooms as often as they’d like, this is a great opportunity to see the students engaged with learning. Seeing activities like this might encourage them to suggest physics to some students they might not have before.


The new Air Powered Projectile offers all that we loved about the classic design, and more features that make using it safer, more reliable and easier for students. It also gives me the opportunity to put more of the experiment directly in the hands of my students, helping them all to feel like true experimental physicists. All while having a lot of fun.


This work is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 2300607,1720810, 1720869, 1720917, and 1721021 and the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation DOI: doi.org/10.37807/GBMF11451

About the author

Bree Barnett Dreyfuss has been teaching Physics and AP Physics at Amador Valley High School for almost 20 years. She has been involved with the STEP UP program since 2018, helping to increase the number of undergraduate women in physics and supporting inclusivity in high school physics classrooms.

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February 20, 2024 Bree Barnett Dreyfuss

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