The Airsoft pistols are in reality complex air guns. They use a gas to propel their projectiles, just like your father's airguns did, but in a more complicated way. Here is how they work.

The shooter removes the magazine from the gun and proceeds to load it with as many BBs as the magazine will hold (just like any real pistol). Then he uses a gas can, to fill the gas reservoir of the magazine with the proper gas.

The magazine is inserted in the pistol, and the slide is racked, just as you usually do. This accomplishes two things, first a BB is loaded into the chamber and second the hammer is cocked. When the shooter presses the trigger, the falling hammer releases a quantity of gas, from the gas reservoir, which propells the BB out of the pistols barrel. At the same time, part of that quantity of gas is used to recoil the slide, which cocks the hammer again, and strips a new BB from the magazine, just like in the real pistols.

When all BBs are fired, the magazine activates the slide release, which locks the slide in its rear-most position, as usually. The shooter can remove that magazine, insert another loaded one (with BBs and gas) and continue shooting.

What we have to remember, is that not all pistols are designed to use the same gas. There are basically two type of pistols and two type of gases. The pistols made by Japanese companies, usually use the HFC134a gas, while the pistols made by Taiwanese companies (and others) use what is known as the "green gas". HFC134a is less capable than the green gas, so normally if you use the two gases in the same pistol, the green gas will produce higher BB velocities, at the same temperature, than the HDC134a gas.

It is recommended (but not always followed) that you use the type of gas suggested by the manufacturer of your pistol, or else you may damage the various seals that are critical for its operation. The two gas types differ also as far as their lubricating ability is concerned, so follow the manufacturers recommendations. If you want to take advantage of the green gas higher efficiency while still not causing too much damage to your HFC134a pistol, you may fill it up with 50% green gas, 50% HDC134a, in order to maintain the lubricating abilities of the second gas.

As far as maintenance is concerned, most of these pistols require the usage of silicone-based lubricants, so read the manufacturers instructions carefully.

Based on the description so far, it is clear that these pistols operate very much like the normal 1911s (or other models) we use. One thing that should be mentioned here, is that of course Airsoft pistols do not produce any significant recoil or muzzle jump. This is the only significant difference when using an airsoft gun, compared to a normal gun.

A couple more things. There are several types of Airsoft pistols, as shown below:

- Spring operated : This is the cheaper category, you can find pistols in this category for as little as 20$. They are still like the original pistol as far as the appearance, dimensions and weight are concerned, but they are not semi-automatic. The action has to be cocked manually for each shot.
- Gas Non-Blowback pistols : This is the next category, where pistols use the power of a stored gas, to propel their projectile, but their action does not recycle by that gas. Typical examples of these pistols, are the CO2 powered pistols of the past years, some of which are still with us today, and can produce excellent results.
- Gas blowback pistols : In these pistols the stored gas not only propels the projectile downrange, but also cocks the action preparing the pistol for the next shot.

We should note here, that there is another category of Airsoft firearms, the ones which are powered by electric energy, however most of the firearms in that category are not pistols but rifles etc. There are however a few electrically powered pistols too.

The above should give you a good understanding of how the Airsoft pistols operate. A question that you probably will ask:

How do Airsoft pistols differ from BB guns and paintball guns?

Airsoft is different from the traditional "BB guns" common in Europe and in the United States, which often fire 0.177 caliber metal BBs (round or pellet shaped) at speeds of 350fps to 1000fps. Power is usually by way of CO2 cartridges or through hand-cocking air power. Some of these BB guns resemble real weapons in their general shape, but in almost all cases they are modified somewhat in terms of details or in the way their switches function. They will also never carry the trademarks or names of their real counterparts. As such, close inspection will always allow you to distinguish between a BB gun and a real gun. BB guns can be used for sport shooting or hunting, but are not suited for indoor shooting or war-gaming due to their high power. These BB guns are incapable of shooting full auto.

Airsoft is different from paintball guns, which is designed specifically for war-game purposes. These "guns" do not resemble real weapons at all and are usually quite simple in design. Power is by way of a compressed air gas tank that is in its smallest form as big as a coke bottle, that is mounted externally on the paintball gun. Paintball guns shoot plastic balls that are filled with paint, which break up and splatter on the opponent's body upon impact. Given the relatively large size of paintballs, the projectile of each shot is a slight arc rather than a pure straight-line. However when shot at close range, these paintballs can really hurt and cause bruising. The beauty of paintball is your opponent cannot deny being hit due to the visible paint marks that are delivered by the paintball. The only thing that leaves something to be desired is the look of the gun, which is burdened by the huge container for the paintballs, and the external gas tank. Paintball guns are mostly incapable of shooting full-auto.

(the above information is kindly provided by Red Wolf AirSoft)