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Sandia physicist uses science to set world archery records

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

It’s one of the core tenets of physics: What goes up must come down.

In flight archery, the farther away the arrow comes down, the better.

“It’s really an ancient activity,” Jim Martin of Tijeras said at his home earlier this month. “It would be hard to say when the first time was that two friends decided to see who could shoot the farthest.”

Jim, 65, and his 21-year-old son, Kyle, a senior at the University of New Mexico, are the holders of five world records in the ancient sport.

The two garnered their records in 2017 and 2018 at the Flight Archery Championships, held each Labor Day at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats.

Jim and Kyle Martin display their medals that represent their five world records in flight archery.

The sport requires ample space; one of Kyle’s world record shots spanned more than five football field lengths at 629 yards.

At the upper echelons of most sports, it’s all about athleticism: how strong or how fast.

But Jim has a secret weapon.

Competitive flight archery includes a variety of categories, including one in which broadhead arrows, like the one shown here, must be used.

He works at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque as a research physicist and isn’t afraid to use that to his advantage.

“It’s not an accident that we’re shooting far,” Jim said. “Strength plus physics beats brute strength alone.”

In competition, there are a variety of categories requiring different types of bows, draw weights and arrows.

Using modeling, Jim is able to determine the optimal features an arrow should have to achieve maximum distance.

Then, he sets to work making the perfect arrow: not too long or short, heavy or light.

Jim Martin used Canada goose feathers he found in the bosque to fletch this arrow.

In certain competition categories, the arrows must be made of wood and fletched with feathers.

Hundreds of years ago in combat, the English used longbows that had draw weights of over 100 pounds, requiring a massive amount of strength.

Jim himself had one years ago with a 160-pound draw weight.

But a huge draw weight won’t necessarily yield more distance, he said.

“Shooting far is about 80 percent the arrow and 20 percent the bow,” he said. “The number one problem we’re faced with is figuring out the optimal mass for the arrow.”

Then, it’s lots of testing.

The two head out to pastures in Estancia to try out the arrows, much to the amusement of the ranchers there.

“We really enjoy doing this together,” Jim said.

As for Kyle, he says he enjoys shooting without the added task of hitting a target.

“Just blasting arrows away,” the biochemistry student said. “It’s a good way to get strong.”

Jim Martin demonstrates how to string a bow in his garage at his Tijeras home. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Jim said that next year he hopes to defend his records, which he shot in the unlimited draw weight American longbow categories using broadhead and flight arrows, against legendary Hungarian flight archer József Mónus.

Jim took both records from Mónus at this year’s competition.

“This is the first time Mónus has lost a world record to anyone and he is planning a great comeback next year,” he said.

But now, Jim said, he has more than Mónus to contend with, as Kyle will no longer be competing in the junior category.

“Next year,” he said, “I think my son will surpass me.”