What do arrows really do in flight? Many archery videos and pictures show arrows bending upon release, whipping back and forth like wet noodles as they leave the bow, and then spinning in flight toward the target. Is this real – or a camera’s tricks and illusions?
Arrow shafts do weird things in flight. First, the shaft (the arrow’s long, straight part) flexes when the bowstring is released. The amount of “flex” in an arrow is called its spine – which is a measurement of its stiffness.
When shot from a recurve bow – the Olympic-style bow – arrows generally flex side-to-side upon leaving the bow. That’s because recurve archers use their fingers to release the bowstring, and the bow’s arrow rest (the little arm that holds the arrow) promotes side-to-side movements.
Most compound archers, however, release their bowstring with a mechanical release aid, and their rest holds the arrow in the center of the bow’s riser (the middle part of the bow). This causes up-and-down movements as the bowstring propels the arrow into flight.
Whatever direction an arrow flexes, the movement is greatest when the arrow first leaves the bow, and then decreases and stabilizes as the arrow nears the target. The arrow’s trajectory – a high arc for recurve bows and flatter for compound bows – also straightens as the arrow hits the target. This flexing – and straightening – is known as the “archer’s paradox.”
Do arrows really spin while in flight? Absolutely! The arrow’s fletchings – feathers, plastic vanes or curled plastic wings – steer the arrow in flight, helping it catch the air and spin for a straight flight pattern.
So, now that you’ve seen arrows sent into flight by real archers, which movies get it right? “Brave” gets an A+ for archery in general and arrow flight in particular, making sure Princess Merida’s arrows fly true from release to their impact with her target.