Pneumatic Antenna Launching Systems
Pneumatic Antenna Deployment Systems
My First Pneumatic Antenna Launcher - They are much smaller now, see below
News and Updates
FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
What is Pneumatic Antenna Launching?
Pneumatically Powered (Tennis Ball) Antenna Launching.
Pneumatic Line launching is perhaps a more apt description.
First we need a line in the trees, then we can pull up an antenna, which in
most cases is a long piece of wire.
In the launcher pictured above a Tennis Ball is propelled by compressed air,
towing a fishing line over the tree.
Then we pull up nylon mason twine with the fishline, and finally a wire
or heavier line as needed.
Why does anyone need to Launch an Antenna?
It is often more convenient to use existing trees than to erect supports for
wire or beam antennas, especially when these antennas are required for
temporary or emergency field use.
We set up antennas for disasters and drills, camping and contests,
practice and fun.
With all the applications for Homeland Security there are many potential
uses for rapid deployment.
If you have a need to quickly set up antennas in various field situations,
or you have some really nice trees in your backyard,
you may have a use for Antenna Launching.
What is a Pneumatic Antenna Launcher?
It is a very simple system that uses the energy in a pressurized volume of
gas (generally air), a valve to release the gas, and a projectile (tennis ball)
in a tube that is accelerated by the expanding gas giving it the requisite
velocity to pull a light line over the tree.
Why not use a ... (Slingshot, Bow, Rock, Stick, Crescent wrench, Blackpowder Cannon, 12 Gauge)?
We have used many different systems since the 70's to put lines up into trees.
Each system has advantages and disadvantages.
Throwing an object over a limb is the easiest, but will not reach very high,
and there is a significant chance of getting the object stuck.
Slingshots reach higher, and Bows reach higher yet.
The main problem with all these systems is the projectile.
A lead sinker, arrow or crescent wrench can do a lot of damage if it
lands in the wrong place.
If you are putting a line over a tree in your yard, there are often
local ordinances against using slingshots and bows.
What is needed is a really safe projectile, and a means for getting it
over the tree precisely for maximum safety and effectiveness.
If you have a really tall tree, then a Tennis Ball Launcher will allow
you to go higher than most slingshots or bows.
Even a small Pneumatic Tennis Ball launcher can reach up more than 150 feet,
and it is possible to go much higher with the more effective models.
No, We did not try the Black Powder Cannon.
I recall seeing an article about that in 73 magazine years ago.
I think we've found a safer solution...
And the 12 gauge - we've heard details, but we didn't and don't you try that one either...
My slingshot/bow works fine, why consider a Pneumatic Launcher?
You might consider a Pneumatic Launcher if you are interested in more
Performance or greater Safety. Slingshots and Bows work, but Pneumatics
work better. Eric's big launcher can put a tennis ball up over 600 feet
high (with no line). The small CSV19 reaches up to 200 feet towing line,
and the dimunitive CSV17 goes over 150 feet towing line. These
launchers are 19 and 17 inches long, respectively, and the heights
are measured length of line pulled out. Add about 9 or 10 feet to those
numbers to get the apogee, since the reel is about 10 feet off the ground
when launching upwards. You can make launchers go higher, and we have,
but the availability of trees that tall and feedlines that long makes
it rarely useful. So I scaled the pneumatics back to the smaller sizes.
Also be very careful with the slingshot and bow, there are many
injuries each year, especially with the slingshots.
If you are going to put up an antenna in the backyard the tennis ball is
a lot safer than a lead sinker, and much easier to explain to your neighbor.
Why use a Tennis Ball?
There are three primary reasons to use Tennis Balls.
Safety, Safety and finally, Safety.
I have read of so many accidents with slingshots each year that I cannot
A lead sinker flying through the air is potentially an accident waiting to happen.
They bounce off the tree, the line snags and the sinker returns on the line rebound,
or they get hung up and come sizzling down when the line is pulled, potentially at
higher velocity than even the slingshot can impart.
The slingshot is not the problem, the projectile is the problem!
A Tennis ball is inherently a fairly safe projectile.
They are big so they slow down quickly, limiting the distance they
will travel and the velocity they impact with.
They are not hard, so they tend to do little damage when they land.
It is something familiar so people know what to expect.
It is big enough to see fairly well.
They are available and inexpensive.
How High will these Launchers reach?
130 to 200 feet of height is easily attained with a Pneumatic Tennis Ball
Antenna Launcher while towing a 50 pound test fishing line.
It is possible to go much higher with the more efficient or larger launchers,
but we have not found suitable antenna trees much over 130 feet tall.
So we consider 150 feet to be about optimal.
Are there other uses for these Launchers?
We have seen a number of other applications for these launchers:
- Cutting high tree branches using a pull-chain saw
- Deploying Safety Lines for roof, tree or tower work
- Putting climbing lines in place for treetop canopies
- Training dogs for fetching after a mild report
- Putting a temporary wire antenna part way up a tower without climbing
- Putting a line across a pond
- Fishing - Casting far out in the surf or lake
Are these Launchers Dangerous?
If you've played or watched tennis you know that the serve is (usually) one
of the harder hit strokes in tennis.
Well, a good serve has more velocity than is required for launching
a tennis ball over most tall trees.
The ball slows down quickly, and on the far side of the tree (towing the
fishing line) it comes down very slowly.
Our launchers use velocities lower than a fast serve.
The simplest material for building an Antenna Launcher is Schedule 40
pressure rated PVC.
This material is designed for working pressures in excess of 200 pounds per
square inch, and the pressures we use are up to 60 or 80 psi.
So while the pressures are within design parameters, the manufacturers
of PVC pipe and fittings RECOMMEND AGAINST its use with COMPRESSED AIR.
If PVC containing compressed air is fractured, it may result in high velocity
So avoid breaking it while it is pressurized, and wear safety glasses
when using launchers or any power tool. Low and high temperatures make PVC brittle or
soft so launchers should not be used in extreme temperatures
Note that in many years of making and using these launchers we have
seen a few broken in various ways and never have wee seen any shrapnel.
The low volume and pressure we use is not likely to produce any.
Are these Launchers Regulated? Aren't they Illegal??
Here in the US the Federal BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) has ruled that pneumatic
launchers are NOT firearms.
Some Municipalities have regulations that may affect the use or ownership of
Launchers. Such rules are not common, and the ones that do exist usually focus on
combustion type launchers rather than pneumatics.
Check with the local authorities to be sure.
Note that slingshots and bows are generally illegal to use in residential areas,
parks, campgrounds, etc.
Here is the letter from the US BATF on the subject
How much does a Pneumatic Antenna Launcher cost?
The materials for a launcher cost between anywhere from about $60 to $100 or more,
fishing reel, some line and a few tennis balls. If you have leftover parts
from a lawn sprinkler project it may be much less... Launcher Kits
are available starting at about $100, see the Product List.
How hard is it to build a Launcher?
It depends on the model, and it ranges from fairly simple to quite complex.
If you can cut and glue PVC and thread pipe fittings together you can
build the simple models.
Some require drilling and tapping a hole or two in the plastic,
some need a little soldering.
Kits are available for some models, so the hard parts are already done.
The time required varies from a few hours on up.
The more complex designs may require a friend with a lathe to machine some PVC.
Generally speaking, as size/weight/cost go up, so does performance.
A low performance design might require 80 psi to launch 150 feet
high, whereas a higher performance design might do the same job at
Choose a design that matches your construction ability,
budget, size requirements and the trees you need to launch over.
What kind of Pneumatic Antenna Launcher should I build?
Eric (WD6CMU) and I (Alan WB6ZQZ) have been experimenting with Tennis Ball Launchers
We have built nearly a dozen different models, and I have written software that
analyzes and predicts performance.
A couple had insufficient performance, and some others had
(Excess performance is not always a problem as it does allow
operating at lower pressures, but it may mean that the Launcher
is larger and heavier than it needs to be.)
We seem to be settling on about sixteen inches of barrel length,
a 1" sprinkler or 3/4" pneumatic valve,
and approximately 60 to 100 cubic inches of air storage.
This produces a launcher that weighs in the neighborhood of
five to seven pounds,
and produces sufficient performance at about 40 to 60 psi for most launches.
The barrel material is 2.5" schedule 40 PVC, into which a tennis ball
fits very snugly, or 2.5" SDR21 PVC into they fit nearly perfectly.
To get specific I will mention some of our models,
- The CSV19 and its smaller sibling
the CSV17 are fairly simple to build,
and are available in kit form. This may
be the best compromise and we provide the most detailed information on building
this unit, as well as partial and full kits of prepared parts
on our Online Order Page.
- The U37 and DU36 U valve models are simple to build but
are a bit larger than some of the newer designs. The original QRP Quarterly
article describes building the first (electric) version of this model (U37)
in some detail and the pdf is available here. It was designed to fit between
the wheel wells of a Toyota 4Runner and is 37" long. I later modified this to
pneumatic triggering and it became the DU36.
It will not fit in the Rubbermaid(tm) tote boxes that we use for our newer designs.
- The Field Day 2003 special is not hard to build and does not require
exotic tools. It is a bit larger and heavier and more expensive
than the newer smaller models.
There are some pictures and info here for
the Field Day 2003 Special.
It also will not fit in the Rubbermaid tote due to the overall length.
- The QE19 Quick Exhaust Valve design is the simplest to
build and is fairly
lightweight and small but requires a bit more air pressure to operate.
The 3/4" Quick Exhaust valve limits the airflow somewhat, but it does reach
up to about 150 feet of height at 70 psi, and it can safely take 100 psi.
Due to all the brass parts the cost is somewhat higher as well, but there is no
need to bore, drill or tap PVC so construction is straightforward and few tools
- Eric's Trident design utilizing the soda bottle pressure chamber is the lightest
but has some difficult to make threads, and the pressure needs to be kept low to
protect the chamber.
- The DV19 Dual Valve is complicated to build but does not require exotic tools.
It has very high performance. Due to the high parts count the cost is on the high side
and the weight is high also. It still fits in the Rubbermaid tote, but
nearly fills it up. The high performance allows reaching tall heights at low air
pressures. I do not provide detailed instructions on building it, but there are
several photos in the Tale of
Two Launchers page.
- The DFTV19 Turbo Valve requires a
lathe to make the parts.
It also provides very high performance. Due to the custom made parts the weight is
quite low and the cost is low but the effort required is high.
A drawing and some photos are available there for those who have access to a lathe..
- The Spud Tech TB500LP is commercially available. It is a bit larger and
heavier than our current models but should do the job.
The PADS Pneumatic Antenna Deployment System with Accessories
What is a Pneumatic Antenna Deployment System?
This is the name for the Launcher-in-a-Toolcase shown above.
The CSV17 launcher fits nicely into this hard case.
It may be small but has been able to reach over 150 feet
The PADS launcher and hard case are available on the order page.
Also shown are a pair of Twine Reels containing 500 feet of
nylon twine. They are available in 270 foot lengths as well.
The grey cylinder near the bottom center of the photo is a
bicycle type CO2 tire inflator. It can be used
with a number of different capacity CO2 cylinders.
Using the low-cost 12 gram cylinders produces enough pressure
for one good launch per cylinder. Also in this case, but not
visible is a 12 oz Paintball CO2 cylinder stored
inside the barrel, along with two tennis balls. The CO2
pressure regulator is behind the right end of the ramrod.
There are a total of six tennis balls in this photo, two hidden
in the barrel and one hidden inside the reel on the lower left.
The Mini-Coaxial reel on the lower left is a special reel made for this launcher
to fit in the case. It is a scaled-down Zip-type reel with about
a one foot circumference.
Just behind the launcher's trigger is a bag of 12 gram CO2
cylinders for the bicycle inflator.
See the PADS Web Page.
What about a Ball-valve type launcher?
The simplest pneumatic launcher is a pressure storage chamber, a barrel, and a
ball valve in between.
These are not particularly suitable for antenna launching because the
performance is dependent on how quickly the valve is opened.
Additionally, opening the valve manually disturbs the aim, so it
will be difficult to make it go where desired.
What about a Combustion powered launcher?
Combustion type launchers use lighter fluid,
spray deoderant, propane or some other fuel
in a closed pipe chamber behind a projectile with an ignition source to light it off.
In addition to some safety concerns, combusion launchers may produce somewhat
inconsistent shot-to-shot performance, which makes them difficult to
use as a serious Antenna Launching tool.
They also misfire occasionally, require cleaning and maintenance and are more often regulated than pneumatic
Let's not use them for Antenna work!
How Small and Light can an Effective Pneumatic Antenna Launcher be?
First, I'll define 'effective' as any launcher that can toss a 4 ounce
tennis ball to a height of at least 150 feet towing a fishing line.
That is pretty adequate for our purposes.
The smallest launcher that meets this criterion that we have built is the
CSV17 shown above in the PADS kit. This is a 17 inch long model.
CSV19 Compact Low Cost Sprinkler Valve Antenna Launcher
and the Quick Exhaust Valve Launcher
are only a little larger.
At about six pounds, these are small enough to fit into a Rubbermaid
tote box, or less than 19 inches in length.
There is plenty of room left in the tote box for line, antennas, feedline,
and other equipment.
The CSV19 Compact Low Cost Sprinkler Valve Antenna Launcher
is assembled from plumbing parts most of which are available from local
plumbing or home improvement stores for under $100. Some machining is required to make them
fit together as shown above. The dark grey barrel is SDR21. Schedule 40
also works, but the ball is very tight. SDR21 fits better but is harder to find.
This is the lowest cost simple to construct launcher I have designed (the CSV17 variant is a little easier and even less costly).
The link above has fairly complete construction instructions.
The collection shown above is shown complete with
Saunders Zip Reel with yellow Spectra type synthetic line, and a couple of prepared
Tennis Balls sitting on a Rubbermaid 10 gallon tote. The gear fits into the tote
with room to spare.
The QE19 Quick Exhaust Valve Launcher
is the smallest and lightest of my launchers.
It is based on an industrial quick-exhaust air valve (the silver item in the photo, linked above).
This is an easy launcher to homebrew,
but due to the industrial and brass parts costs somewhat
more than the model above, about $100.
The link above has construction information.
This launcher is sitting on top of one of the Rubbermaid (tm) 10 gallon tote
boxes that I use to carry equipment to field.
There is room for lots of gear in there in addition to the launcher.
The lightest launcher we've done to date for Tennis Ball Antenna Line Launching
is Eric's Trident which uses soda bottles for the
air pressure reservoir and weighs a litte less than five pounds.
Eric also came up with a nice mount for an archery fishing line reel that fits around
the barrel and feeds line very smoothly.
Check out Eric's website at
wd6cmu.antennalaunchers.com for his Saunder's Zip-reel mount and Trident Launcher.
The Launcher on the left is the Quick Exhaust model, here shown in the 28 inch configuration with a spinning reel mounted just below the forward end of the barrel
(hard to see against the foliage in this photo).
This photo was taken before it was shortened to the 19" version shown above.
The two launchers in the photo were used on Field Day 2003 to put up numerous antennas.
Field Day is an Amateur Radio 'Emergency Drill' essentially, setting up and operating in field conditions for a couple of days.
It is a lot of fun and a good test of our equipment and technique, both radio and Antenna Launching.
More Pneumatic Antenna Launcher Examples
High Performance in a compact package: DV19
This model packs a pair of one inch sprinkler valves in to a Rubbermaid sized tote package.
It doesn't take much pressure for this unit to reach 150 feet of height!
Building this is quite a challenge with all the plumbing parts packed in tight.
There are the two 1" sprinkler valves, a quick exhaust valve trigger, two check valves, a paddle trigger valve,
and some specially adapted (shortened) PVC fittings. It was made with fairly minimal tools - a drill press and a belt sander, plus a radial arm saw. None of these tools are
absolutely required - this design can be made with hand tools.
It is a bit heavy, around 10 pounds. As shown below it includes the Saunders Zip Reel
and a removable barrel extension that improves the efficiency of the launcher.
For more info on this launcher see
A Tale of Two (Compact) Launchers.
Ultra Performance in a Compact Package: DFTV19
This six pound model packs a tremendous capability in a very lightweight package.
It fits in the Rubbermaid containers as well. The Darn Fast Turbo Valve is a 1.2" ported
homemade piston valve with a self-venting and turbo actuation features that
make it low cost, light weight, and incredibly effective. The only disadvantage
to this design is the requirement for precision machined parts in the valve.
I purchased a small lathe (www.Grizzly.com) and made them with no prior machine
shop experience, so it isn't all that hard.
More info is available in the The DFTV Story.
More Examples can be found via links in the "More Information" section below.
How is Launch Pressure developed?
The pressures and volumes involved are similar to a bicycle
tire, so automotive or bicycle air pumps are just about right.
The portable 12 volt electric ones are great.
They run from a car battery or are even more portable with a Gel Cell.
Hand or foot pumps work well also, and have the benefit of a good
Some folks use CO2 systems which are very convenient at greater cost.
I recently have been testing two CO2 systems - a Paintball cylinder
and regulator, and a Bicycle tire filler using 12 gram cylinders.
CO2 systems cost a bit more to own and operate, but they are pretty
amazingly effective and fast.
I tested a 6 gallon compressed air tank recently and starting with 100 to 110 psi
was able to get about 15 shots at 50 psi from it with the CSV19 launcher.
The smaller chambers on the CSV17 and QE19 would get even more launches per fill.
Here is a portable battery powered filling station similar to the one I have.
This has become a favorite for charging the launcher. It takes about one minute.
Mine has a 12 volt 17 amp gel battery and a compressor and was under 50 bucks
at Harbor Freight tools.
After you launch the antenna you can hook up to the 12 volt gel battery and
run the station!
Jumpstart Box Photo
Detailed Antenna Launcher Construction Articles
Compact Sprinkler Valve and
Quick Exhaust Valve models
have fairly construction details on their web pages.
I wrote a complete construction article on the TBL-U37
pictured above (lead-in photo and electric actuated above).
It was published in the QRP Quarterly magazine, Spring 2003.
A pdf version is available here.
Note that changing to pneumatic actuation makes a large
performance improvement in this launcher. A similar
launcher that has good performance is the Field Day Special.
Information on this model is available on the
Can I buy an Antenna Launcher already built?
We supply plans and kits and also build launchers, see www.AKBeng.com for details.
SpudGun Technology builds launchers:
The SpudGun Technology Center.
They sell components and complete units (without reels or launch balls).
Look under the "Launchers, Low Power Pneumatic" links.
UPDATE - the SpudTech business is open again.
The TBL500LP with a 24" barrel and 12" by 3" chamber is about the right
(Disclaimer - I have not used any of SpudTech's launchers.)
Where can I get More Information about Pneumatic Antenna Launchers?
There is a lot more info on the web.
Most of it is not directly Antenna Launching related, but much can be learned there that is applicable.
If you find the information on this website useful and have a website of your own,
please include a link to this page to help others find it.
If you have related information and want a link here on my page drop me an email!
Other Launcher Construction Websites (Not necessarily Antenna oriented)
Or Search the Web:
The following links perform Google web searches with various arguments that produce lots of hits for this topic.
(We have no control over the results of these searches).
Production News and Ordering Pages
Antenna Launching Home Page
Send e mail regarding this page to Alan via AKBiocca at AKBeng dot com