2.5.2 Height and Range

When people launch projectiles, they often obsess over how high H they reach and how far R they land.


Remember that a projectile motion is like a vertical throw that happens to move side way too. So the maximum height of a projectile H has nothing to do with the horizontal motion. In fact, it is dependent only on its initial vertical component of velocity uy, (and g, if you insist) and can be calculated in just one equation.


Time of flight

How long the projectile stay in the air before landing has nothing to do with the horizontal motion. In fact, the time-of-flight tf is dependent only on the initial vertical component of velocity uy. Using the fact that the vertical velocity merely switches direction upon landing, we can do


Alternatively, you can mentally figure out that the time to reach the peak is {{t}_{p}}=\frac{{{{u}_{y}}}}{g}. And since it takes as long to go up as come down, \displaystyle {{t}_{f}}=2{{t}_{p}}=\frac{{2{{u}_{y}}}}{g}


The horizontal range,

\displaystyle \begin{aligned}R&=\text{horizontal speed  }\!\!\times\!\!\text{  time of flight}\\&={{u}_{x}}\times {{t}_{f}}\\&={{u}_{x}}\times \frac{{2{{u}_{y}}}}{g}\end{aligned}

Notice that the horizontal range is dependent on both the vertical and horizontal initial velocities ux and uy. While uy decides how much time is available to the projectile to move forward, ux decides how fast it is moving forward during that time.

Too high a launch angle θ is no good because ux will be too small. Too low a launch angle θ is also no good because uy (and thus tf) will be too small. So, what is the optimal angle?

Let’s expand the terms and let the math show us.

\begin{aligned}R&=\frac{{2{{u}_{x}}{{u}_{y}}}}{g}\\&=\frac{{2(u\cos \theta )(u\sin \theta )}}{g}\\&=\frac{{{{u}^{2}}\sin 2\theta }}{g}\end{aligned}

Since \sin 2\theta ranges from 0 to 1 (for 0{}^\circ \le \theta \le 90{}^\circ ), the maximum horizontal range is

\displaystyle {{R}_{{\max }}}=\frac{{{{u}^{2}}}}{g}

This occurs when \sin 2\theta =1, which occurs when \theta =45{}^\circ . So for a projectile with a fixed launch speed u, 45° is the optimal angle to launch it at, if maximum range is desired.


A cannon ball is fired at 120 m s-1 at an inclination angle of 25°. Ignoring the effect of air resistance, calculate

a) the speed of the cannon ball 8.0 seconds later,

b) the distance between the cannon ball from the launch position 8.0 seconds later,

c) the maximum height reached,

d) the landing position of the cannon.


\begin{aligned}{{u}_{x}}&=120\cos 25{}^\circ &=108.8\text{ m }{{\text{s}}^{{-1}}}\\{{u}_{y}}&=120\sin 25{}^\circ &=50.71\text{ m }{{\text{s}}^{{-1}}}\end{aligned}


\displaystyle \begin{aligned}({{v}_{y}}&={{u}_{y}}+{{a}_{y}}t)\\{{v}_{y}}&=50.71-(9.81)(8.0)&=-27.77\text{ m }{{\text{s}}^{{\text{-1}}}}\end{aligned}

\begin{aligned}\left| v \right|&=\sqrt{{{{{108.8}}^{2}}+{{{27.77}}^{2}}}}\\&=112\,\text{m }{{\text{s}}^{{-1}}}\end{aligned}


\begin{aligned}({{s}_{x}}&={{u}_{x}}t)\\{{s}_{x}}&=(108.8)(8.0)&=870.4\text{ m}\end{aligned}

\begin{aligned}({{s}_{y}}&={{u}_{y}}t+\frac{1}{2}{{a}_{y}}{{t}^{2}})\\{{s}_{y}}&=(50.71)(8.0)+\frac{1}{2}(-9.81){{(8.0)}^{2}}&=91.76\text{ m}\end{aligned}

\begin{aligned}\left| s \right|&=\sqrt{{{{{870.4}}^{2}}+{{{91.76}}^{2}}}}\\&=875\text{ m}\end{aligned}


Vertical velocity is zero at the peak.

\begin{aligned}({{v}_{y}}^{2}&={{u}_{y}}^{2}+2{{a}_{y}}{{s}_{y}})\\0&={{50.71}^{2}}-2(9.81)H\\H&=131\text{ m}\end{aligned}


Vertical velocity is zero at the peak.

\begin{aligned}({{v}_{y}}&={{u}_{y}}+{{a}_{y}}t)\\0&=50.71-(9.81){{t}_{p}}\\{{t}_{p}}&=5.169\text{ s}\end{aligned}

Time of flight =2{{t}_{p}}=10.34\,\text{s}

Range \begin{aligned}&=108.8\times 10.34\\&=1125\text{ m}\end{aligned}

Video Explanation 

Vertical Throw plus Horizontal Cruise 

Trajectory Comparison


Why they don’t throw at 45° at the Olympics?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s