You are on page 1of 7

Projectile Motion

Dana J. Koczur
Trajectory with air resistance. This problem involves solving the equations of motion for a cannon ball
including air resistance.
New technology has led to many
developments in understanding physics concepts.
The use of computers to solve mathematical
problems has made it easier to understand and
visualize problems that used to be complicated.
One famous and long enduring scenario is Newtons Cannonball and the study of projectile motion.
These concepts are learned in basic physics courses to develop an understanding of the
importance of physics using only one force to figure out the distance the cannon ball travels1 . One
example of the forces that effects this distance drastically is drag force.
Understanding projectile motion enough to figure in drag force starts with understanding
Newtons Second Law,
F = M A


This equation shows the effect of a force on the acceleration of the cannon ball. The net force is equal
to mass time acceleration. This can be made into a simple differential equation,
m * ddt(r)
2 = g
This equation is used in a uniformly accelerated motion problem. The cannonball is affected by the air
resistance which is similar to fluid friction but in gas form2 .
This projectile motion of a spherical cannonball takes place in a two-dimensional plane. While
the cannon ball is sitting still the only one force of gravity acting on it are the combination of its
mass*gravity, or the weight of the cannonball.
Drag force is a big part of figuring out the trajectory of an object. Equation two works well
when drag force is minimal but this isnt usually the case. When the cannonball is launched there are
two forces that work on the ball while traveling through the air including gravity and air resistance or
drag force. Drag force slows down the cannon ball because it is moving through the air medium. The
equation for drag force is,
F drag = 12CAv2

Where C is the drag coefficient, A is cross sectional area

of the object, v is velocity, and
air density. Vertically in the y direction the cannonball will be slowing in both the upward and
downward motions due to gravity. The total forces acting on the cannonball are,
F total = F drag + F gravity


An example of these forces when the cannon ball in figure 1 is launched at angle beta to the x-axis.


This experiment will investigate how changes in the drag coefficient of a cannonball will affect
the distance it travels. This will look into an assumption that a larger drag coefficient means the
cannon ball will travel a shorter distance and smaller coefficient will allow the ball to travel further.
The second derivatives that are included in solving drag force complicate finding the acceleration over
time. Computers can help solve these with a few different methods.
With these details included there are several equations that need to be considered that
include air resistance (pg.352), as seen in equation 2.
As stated above, this project is in two dimensions so the position of the spherical cannonball
will be stated in two dimensions (x, y). The motion of the cannonball will be tracked through the
two-dimensional plane and the distance and time it travels. The two equations to represent this
motion is velocity and acceleration. These both represent the first and second derivatives for the
projectile motion and r is the displacement in terms of x and y.
x = d dt(x)
y =


The x and y values can be visually interpreted from figure 1. In the figure the drag force is
acting opposite of the velocity of the cannon ball. The magnitude of the air drag force is proportional
to the square of the projectiles speed relative to the air as seen in equation 2 above. When the forces
are opposite the velocity they can be written in both the

X direction,

F drag, xcos () = m ddtx2 = mx

Y direction,

mg F drag,ysin () = m ddty2 = my

Where D represent drag coefficient. The drag coefficient uses the dimensions of the cannon ball
included in the velocity. This velocity vector is split between the x and y dimensions seen below. The
force of drag including all dimensions is,
F drag = R CV

2 v
Before this is implemented the instantaneous velocity needs to be broken into the horizontal
component and vertical component of where velocity is represented,
v2 = x + y


x = vcos () = vx

y = vsin () = vy

Rearranging each of these for the instantaneous trigonometric functions in terms of speed of x and y,
cos () = vvx = (x2x+y2)
sin () =


= (x2y+y2)


With these components taken and drag force taken into account the x and y direction can be found by
rearranging the second order equations of motion and substituting in the trigonometric equations,
X direction,
x = R2mC v2cos()


Y direction,

* x + y * cos()
* x + y * (x2x+y2)


R C x(x
2m + y


y = g R2mC v2sin()


= g R2mC * x + y * sin()

= g R2mC * x + y * (x2y+y2)

= g R2mC y(x
+ y )


These components of x and y are constantly changing as the velocity components change. Over short
periods of time the acceleration can be considered constant.

These expressions for x and y are two second-order differential equations, which we can
convert into four first order differential equations,
(x), (), (y), ()
Where 11 and 12 become x dot and y dot,
x = vcos ()

x =

R2C x(x
2m + y


y = vsin ()


y = g R2mC y(x
+ y )


The numerical solutions of these differential equations must be used to get the position as a function
of time. The 4th
order Runge-Kutta (RK4) method is a stable numerical analysis which uses iterative
methods for differential equation approximation. This RK4 function was used where the new values of
the usually complicated derivatives were computed. RK4 iterates through the derivative values using
the old derivative values to compute the new calculated value. Using RK4 with gravity and drag forces
inputted into the equations this can be used to calculate the trajectory of a bowling ball.

The program has set initial parameters of an object being launched which include initial
velocity (m/s), initial launch angle (degrees), gravity (m/s), and mass of bowling ball (kg). The
components of drag that effect the trajectory of the cannon ball include, cross sectional are of
bowling ball (m), density of the air (kg/m^3), and drag coefficient. The initial parameters are seen in
figure 1. This code produces graphs showing how these parameters effect the trajectory of the
bowling ball. The trajectory with and without drag show how significant drag effects this path.
Changes in the drag coefficient will show how much it effects the trajectory of the cannon ball. As the
drag coefficient value approaches 0 the trajectory of the cannon ball matches closer and closer to the
no drag trajectory.

There are a couple of checks for the program besides just increasing the drag coefficient. If a few
other values are increased while keeping the drag coefficient the same there should be similar results
to the drag coefficient increasing. For example if the cross sectional area is increased for the sphere
but all other factors are kept the same, there will be more area fighting to slow down air as seen in
figure 4.

Testing these changes in the code when different variables are changed verifies the code is working
properly. As expected as the drag coefficient is increased, all other variables the same, the distance
the cannon ball travels shortens along with the time. As the cross-sectional are of the cannon ball is
increased, all other variables the same, the distance the cannon ball travels and the time decreases.
In conclusion, using Runge-Kutta for the trajectory of a bowling ball was a success. The results
are reasonable when compared to the trajectory of a cannonball without drag force. To make the
program more successful would be to add error in the code for concluding the positions. Changes in
the variables of the cannon ball cause expected changes in the distance it travels.

2 + 2a y
vy2 = v0y

v0y = v0sin()
ay = g

0 = (V 0sin())2 + 2gy

y =





R.D.H. Warburton, J. Wang, and J. Burgdrfer, J. Serv. Sci. Manag. 2010, 98 (2010).
G.W. Parker, Am. J. Phys. 45, 606 (1977).
Computational Physics, Mark Newman. 350 (2013)