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Maximum Range of a Projectile Launched from a Height—C.E.

Mungan, Spring 2003


reference: TPT 41:132 (March 2003)

Find the launch angle q and maximum range R of a projectile launched from height h at speed u.

u
T

R
x

The basic equations of kinematics at the landing point after flight time T are
0 = h + u y T - 12 gT 2 (1)
vertically and
R = u xT (2)
horizontally. Substitute Eq. (2) for T into (1) and convert from rectangular to polar components
to get
gR 2
h (1 + cos 2q ) = - R sin 2q . (3)
u2
Maximize R by differentiating this expression with respect to q and putting dR / dq = 0 to obtain
an expression for the optimum launch angle,
R 1 R
tan 2q = fi q = tan -1 . (4)
h 2 h
This implies cos 2q = h ( h 2 + R 2 ) -1/ 2 and sin 2q = R ( h 2 + R 2 ) -1/ 2 . Substitute these into Eq. (3)
to obtain the maximum range,

gR 2 u 2 2u 2 Ê u2 ˆ
h= - fi R = Áh + ˜ . (5)
2u 2 2 g g Ë 2g ¯

Equations (4) and (5) can be normalized for plotting purposes in terms of
u2
R0 ∫ , (6)
g
the maximum range for a surface-to-surface projectile (i.e., when h = 0 ), to get the normalized
range
R h
= 1+ 2 (7)
R0 R0
at a launch angle of
1 Ê R ˆ
q = sec -1 1 + 0 . (8)
2 Ë h¯
These two equations are plotted below as a function of the normalized launch height h / R0 .

45 5

40
normalized
range
4
35

30
3
25

20
2
launch angle
15 (degrees)

10 1
0 2 4 6 8 10 12
normalized launch height
As expected, R = R0 and q = 45˚ when h = 0 . In the other limit, R µ h 1/ 2 and q Æ 0˚ as h Æ • .
More reasonably, notice that if you launch from a height equal to 1.5 times your surface range,
you can get the projectile to go twice as far, provided you launch it at 26.6˚ (half of a 3–4–5
triangle angle).