How Fast Does A Longbow Arrow Fly?

by | Oct 5, 2022

Longbows are famed for their power as well as their speed. But how fast does a Longbow arrow fly? The only way to accurately test a Longbow arrow’s speed is by using a chronograph. This works by measuring the speed in feet per second (fps) it takes an arrow to pass through its sensors.

Master Bowyer Joe Gibbs performed a speed test with 3 different arrows and 5 Longbows. The arrows weighed between 60 and 75 grams, whereas the bows varied in draw weights from 110-160lbs. The test results recorded Longbow arrow speeds of between 175fps – 214fps.

The chronograph will give absolute results for the arrow speed but we also need to take into consideration each test variable to see what affects the arrow’s speed and why.

What Determines Arrow Speed?

There are several factors that can determine an arrow’s speed:

  • Weight of the arrow / Spine of the arrow
  • The material used to make the arrow
  • The draw weight of the bow
  • The material used for the bow limbs
  • The fletchings of the arrow
  • The bow’s draw length
  • The string material
  • Wind speed
  • Humidity

One other factor that warrants consideration is the archer themselves. How well are they drawing the bow on the day of the test will also have an effect on arrow speed and trajectory.

What Makes An Arrow Faster?

Simply put – energy. The more potential energy that is put into the bow at full draw, the more kinetic energy there will be transferred into the arrow. This also calls into question how efficiently the bow limbs transfer that energy into the arrow.

Heavier arrows make for higher bow efficiencies. This means that we need to find that coveted sweet spot between a light arrow and a heavy arrow.

It must be noted that as you increase the draw length, you’ll also need to increase the spine and length of the arrow, otherwise, the energy transfer will be too much for a weaker arrow spine and it will badly affect the overall release of the arrow.

How Do You Test A Longbow Arrow’s Speed?

The most efficient way of testing a Longbow arrow’s speed is to use a device called a chronograph.

A chronograph or chronometer works by measuring the speed of an arrow as it passes between its two sensors. This gives a reading for speed in feet per second (fps).

Set up is very simple. Just make sure that you’re lined up perfectly with your target and on a flat surface. Switch the chronograph on, then fire your shot through the sensor gates without touching them.

Make sure that you are standing at least an arrow’s distance away from the chronograph for every shot to ensure proper consistency.

Longbow Arrow Speed Test

To get a clearer picture of how different draw weights and arrow weights affect speed, for the purpose of the Mary Rose replica speed test, the following 5 Longbows were used:

Draw Weight (lbs)Draw Length (in)Material
11030Pacific Yew
12528English Yew
14530Swiss Yew
15030Pacific Yew
16030Swiss Yew

3 oak arrows of different weights were shot from each bow, giving a total of 15 test arrows. Each arrow had 4 x five-inch fletchings:

Arrow Length (in)Arrow Weight (grams)
2860
3063
3075

During the test, each bow shoots all three arrows in succession. I think you’ll agree that the results speak for themselves.

Arrow Weight110lb Pacific (30″)125 English (30″)145lb Swiss (30″)150lb Pacific (30″)160lb Swiss (30″)
60g 187 fps201 fps213 fps207 fps214 fps
63g 185 fps195 fps211 fps206 fps210 fps
75g175f ps179 fps194 fps193.5 fps199.5 fps
*The 30″ arrows were all drawn at 28″

As you can see, not surprisingly, the heavier draw weights combined with the lighter 60g arrow clocked up the bigger numbers.

As the arrow’s weight increases, the deficit in speed becomes more apparent.

What Are The Limits Of A Longbow Arrow’s Speed?

The limits on a Longbow arrow’s speed have to be linked to how heavy a draw weight an archer can pull. The heaviest bows on The Mary Rose have been recorded at 200lbs, so we can assume that if a 60g arrow was shot from a 200lb Longbow, then arrow speeds in excess of 220 fps would be highly likely.

Related: How Far Can A Longbow Shoot An Arrow?

How Fast Did A Medieval Arrow Shoot?

As each Longbow produced in the Middle Ages would have been different, it’s hard to give an accurate answer. No two staves of wood are ever the same, so the end result would be a different bow every single time.

The replicas used in this test are as close to the actual bows as you’re likely to find today, so we can assume that the speeds would also be similar.

Looking at the results from the above test, however, will give an average indication as to how fast medieval arrows travelled.

How Does a Longbow Arrow’s Speed Compare With a Modern Arrow?

Modern bows like the compound and recurve bows are not shackled by the materials of the Middle Ages. They can utilize the most up-to-date materials specifically designed for speed, precision and accuracy.

Modern bows use carbon or aluminium arrows and are capable of achieving speeds that can easily eclipse that of the Longbow.

Compound arrow speeds have been recorded between 245 – 300fps, whereas Recurve arrows have been clocked at 177 – 225fps, so very similar to the heavier Longbows.

The fastest arrow shot on record was from a PSE Expedite Compound bow. It recorded a speed of 354fps!

Conclusion

Using the chronograph and testing different Longbow variables gives us the most accurate results for arrow speed.

Longbows were a force to reckon with during the Middle Ages and are still considered a unique bow to shoot with. Achieving the speeds recorded with bows that have essentially been 600 years in the making is an amazing achievement when stacked up against the modern materials of today.

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