Updated: Oct 4, 2022
The first question many might have is: what is AirShuttle?
The AirShuttle was launched as part of BWF's initiative to start an outdoor version of badminton, named AirBadminton. According to BWF, its aim is to allow more people to be able to play badminton without the need to have access to an indoor facility. With an AirShuttle, you can play AirBadminton in parks, gardens, streets, playgrounds etc., basically anywhere outdoors, thus reducing the barrier of entry into the game.
The AirShuttle is designed to withstand outdoor elements (up to 12kph wind tolerance!) better than a standard feather badminton shuttle does. The stem and skirt of the AirShuttle is significantly different compared to a traditional badminton shuttlecock --- there are gaps in between the stems of the AirShuttle to allow air to pass through with significantly less drag.
In addition, an AirShuttle is also shorter and significantly heavier than a normal feather shuttlecock. A normal feather shuttlecock typically weighs around 5.5g but an AirShuttle weighs around 8g. A lot of its weight is centered around the solid green dimpled plastic cork which helps with aerodynamic optimization for flight stability.
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"Overall, the aim is to inspire more people to play more badminton in more places."
BWF has recently introduced an improved version 2.0 of the AirShuttle. According to BWF, the new AirShuttle has improved durability and its neon red colour also increases its visibility in an outdoor environment.
Testing the AirShuttle
To get a clear comparison between the AirShuttle and a normal feather shuttlecock, I carried out a simple experiment using day-to-day tools such as an empty shuttlecock tube taped to the side of a workbench to act as a wind tunnel and a hairdryer to simulate wind.
A normal shuttlecock has a high drag but aerodynamically stable design. The weight at the top of the cork area enables the shuttlecock to always fly in a cork-first orientation regardless of what its initial orientation is.
In this experiment, I turned the hairdryer on to its lowest speed and have the shuttlecock turned upside down into the direction of the wind similar to how a shuttle would travel once it's been struck.
An initial observation was that I did not need to insert the hairdryer fully into the shuttle tube for the feather and plastic shuttle as the amount of drag from the shuttlecock was sufficiently high to allow it to lift itself off the shuttlecock tube.
A feather shuttlecock would lift off the tube slightly whilst trying to stabilize itself from the oncoming wind. In comparison, the AirShuttle continued to sit in the tube even when I completely shoved the hairdryer into the shuttlecock tube. This is due to the significantly lower drag design of the AirShuttle, which allows enough air to travel through the tube and escape. I had to turn the hairdryer fan speed up significantly before the AirShuttle would budge.
Playing with an AirShuttle
After conducting the experiment, I thought I had to have a proper outdoor badminton game with the AirShuttle to see how it performs as an outdoor shuttlecock. I invited my friend, Paul, a long-time badminton coach, for a game of outdoor badminton with me.
First up, a quick serve test showed that the feather shuttlecock would land closer to me while the AirShuttle would land further away.
We started by playing with a normal feather shuttlecock outdoors. Whilst a normal feather shuttlecock provides a more familiar feeling and flight path when hit, it was obvious that it was too easily influenced by even the slightest gust of wind. We had to adjust our prep, swing, and contact point and timing all the time and would still miss the shuttlecock from time to time. Overall, not a good experience.
We then went onto the AirShuttle. Right off the bat, the AirShuttle felt very fast and it didn't slow down anywhere near as much with the feather shuttlecock. Although getting into rallies wasn't a problem, we did feel that we had to adjust the way we played with AirShuttle. This was because the AirShuttle exhibited a slightly different in-flight trajectory compared to normal feather shuttlecocks. A feather shuttlecock slows down quickly after being hit whereas the AirShuttle didn't slow much at all.
Personally, I thought that lower-tensioned rackets (no more than 20lbs) played great with the AirShuttle. This was probably due to its cork being completely solid and its skirt and stem being a lot stiffer in comparison to the normal feather shuttlecocks. Lower string tensions helped provide me with more control over the AirShuttle.
We also discovered that the quality of the game improved significantly with a badminton net. Having a badminton net meant we could play around with more tactical moves instead of just aimlessly hitting the shuttlecock to each other. Although I must say that even with AirShuttle, we would still occasionally miss due to last-minute gusts of wind.
Durability-wise, we had no issues after playing for approximately two hours, rotating between three AirShuttles. There were small signs of wear and tear on the skirts of each of the AirShuttles but there were no major damages.
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Bearing in mind that we were playing with the older version of the AirShuttle. With the improved durability of the new version AirShuttle, I would expect it to be able to last longer (if the new AirShuttle is as advertised, of course).
As mentioned above, the new AirShuttle version 2.0 has improved durability and visibility with its new neon red design. I managed to get my hands on them recently and one obvious difference for me was that the skirt is softer compared to the previous generation. Apart from that, and of course the colour, the AirShuttle 2.0 is pretty much the same as its predecessor. Both versions played very similarly. I also never had too much of an issue with the durability of the previous generation so if this one offered better durability, all the better.
My overall experience
There has been plenty of negative grumbling online about the AirShuttle. I guess the main reason this is happening is that many players are used to playing in controlled conditions indoors with feather shuttlecocks and they expected the AirShuttle to behave EXACTLY like an indoor feather shuttlecock when it is played outdoors, but, in reality, it doesn't.
Personally, I think we need to look at the AirShuttle as a different type of shuttlecock and not as one which we assume would behave like a normal feather shuttlecock. They should be added to the types of shuttlecocks available to us as badminton players. Just as we have different shuttlecocks with different speeds for various conditions and temperatures, for regions that can't or don't have access to feather shuttlecocks, plastic shuttlecocks might be the solution, and the AirShuttle should be added to that list.
Paul raised a really good point at seeing the potential of the AirShuttles being used in schools. Imagine a situation where the school hall has been double-booked and you want your students to be doing badminton during PE lessons. The AirShuttle could be the solution on these unfortunate days, and the students can play badminton outdoors instead.
I think we should not be treating the AirShuttle as if it is a feather shuttlecock, it is not. It has a different design philosophy to begin with and its aim is to try and allow some form of badminton to be played outdoors. You will have fun with the AirShuttle if you manage your expectations your mindset about this product. I don't think it was designed for match play, although the BWF is already planning to run a series of AirBadminton Pilot Competitions in 2021.
One critique I have about the AirShuttle, if at all, is that if you don't play in a sufficiently big area, it is an incredibly fast shuttlecock. For absolute beginners, you might find AirShuttle too fast for you to be able to react in time.
One interesting point to note is that an AirBadminton court is 16m long; whereas a normal badminton court is only 13.41m. So if you are playing with an AirShuttle using a normal court's distance, you are losing almost 20% of the intended court length. Therefore, unsurprisingly, your reaction time will be reduced as well.
I feel that a significant porti