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Three problems on projectile motion

Dahyeon Lee

June 8th , 2018

Problem 1
You are standing on flat ground and throwing a ball with intial velocity ~v0 , which forms an angle θ from
the ground. Find the maximum range Rmax .
y

~v0

R x

Figure 1: Problem 1

Remember the general strategy:

1. Separate x and y motions.

2. Solve 1d problems for x and y directions.

3. And combine them using T , the flight time, as a link.1

We can do this because 2d motion is just two 1d motions combined together. Let’s see how it’s done in
practice.
We want to use the equations for 1d motion:
x-motion y-motion
? vx = v0x + ax t vy = v0y + ay t
?? ∆x = v0x t + 21 ax t2 ∆y = v0y t + 21 ay t2
It may seem complicated because there are so many unkowns (ax , ay , v0x , and v0y ), but we can easily see
that their values are:

ax = 0 because there is no force in the x direction


ay = −g because the y-motion is just free fall
v0x = v0 cos θ from the diagram below
v0y = v0 sin θ also from the diagram

1I used tf in recitation, but here I’m using T , to be consistent with the notation used in lecture.

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~v0y ~v0

θ ~v0x

Figure 2: Decompositon of initial velocity

Plugging these values back into the ? and ?? equations,


x-motion y-motion
? vx = v0 cos θ vy = v0 sin θ − gt
?? ∆x = v0 cos θ t ∆y = v0 sin θ t − 21 gt2
Now that we have 1d equations for x and y motions, the last step is to link them via T , the flight time.
The key idea is this: At the end of the flight (i.e., when t = T ), ∆y = 0 because the ball starts its trip on
the ground (y = 0) and ends its trip when it hits the ground again (y = 0).2 So let’s plug this into the ??
equation for y-motion:
1
0 = v0 sin θ T − gT 2
 2 
1
0 = T v0 sin θ − gT
2
 
2v0
0=T T − sin θ
g
In the last step, I multiplied both sides by −2/g. It is clear from the form of the equation that the two
possible solutions for T are:
2v0
T = 0 or sin θ .
g
It is the second solution that we take. The first solution is trivial; when t = 0, ∆y is of course zero because
no time has passed.
The range can be calculated by using the ?? equation for x-motion because ∆x = R when t = T (in
other words, the horizontal displacement is R at the end of the trip):
2v02 v2
R = v0 cos θ T = sin θ cos θ = 0 sin 2θ ,
g g
where I used the trig identity sin 2θ = 2 sin θ cos θ in the last step. The maximum value of R is attained
when θ = 45◦ :
v2
Rmax = 0 .
g
But since this is a calculus-based calss, let’s use calculus! The maximum (or minimum) of a function can
be found by differentiating it and setting the result to zero:
dR v 2 d sin 2θ v2
= 0 = 0 2 cos 2θ = 0 ,
dθ g dθ g
which is satisfied when 2θ = 90◦ , or θ = 45◦ , as before.
2 You can also find T by noticing that the projectile motion is symmetric, and that the time it takes to reach the peak is
v0 sin θ/g, so the total flight time is 2v0 sin θ/g. This was the approach taken in the lecture.

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Problem 2: Modified from Wolfson Ch.3 problem 64


Derive a general formula for the horizontal distance covered by a projectile launched at speed v0 , angle
θ from height h.
y

~v0

R x

Figure 3: Launching from a height

Everything is the same as problem 1 up to here:

x-motion y-motion
? vx = v0 cos θ vy = v0 sin θ − gt
?? ∆x = v0 cos θ t ∆y = v0 sin θ t − 21 gt2
Remember that we got this set of equations by separating x and y motions and solving 1d problems separately.
We want to link them via T , the flight time.
The key idea is this: When the ball hits the ground, ∆y = −h because y = h when the ball is launched
and y = 0 at the end of the flight (in problem 1, we set ∆y = 0). Plugging this into the ?? equation for the
y-motion,
1
−h = v0 sin θ T − gT 2
2
This is a quadratic equation for T , which we know how to solve. Collecting everything to one side,
1 2
gT − v0 sin θ T − h = 0
2
2v0 sin θ 2h
T2 − T− =0
g g

You should never forget the quadratic formula:


If ax2 + bx + c = 0, the solutions are

−b ± b2 − 4ac
x= ,
2a
or equivalently, √
−b0 ± b02 − ac
x= ,
a
where b0 = b/2.

Using the second version of the quadratic formula (it is more convenient because we rearranged the equation
so that a = 1. I always use this trick whenever I have to solve a quadratic equation.),
s
v0 sin θ v02 sin2 θ 2h
T = ± + .
g g2 g

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Taking the minus sign gives T < 0, so the solution we are looking for is the one with the plus sign,
s
v0 sin θ v02 sin2 θ 2h
T = + + .
g g2 g

Although it is perfectly okay to stop here, we can make it look prettier:


s
v0 sin θ v02 sin2 θ 2h
T = + +
g g2 g
s
v02 sin2 θ
 
v0 sin θ 2gh
= + 1+ 2 2
g g2 v0 sin θ
s
v0 sin θ v0 sin θ 2gh
= + 1+ 2 2
g g v0 sin θ
s !
v0 sin θ 2gh
= 1+ 1+ 2 2 .
g v0 sin θ

Don’t be intimidated by the algebra! It may seem complicated, but when you look at it, all I’m doing is just
simple distributive law, ab + ac = a(b + c).
Finally, we find the range R by plugging T into the ?? equation for the x-motion:
s !
v02 sin θ cos θ 2gh
R = v0 cos θ T = 1+ 1+ 2 2 .
g v0 sin θ

This problem was a bit more involved than problem 1 computationally, but the general principle is the
same: solve x and y problems separately and link them together through T . The only difference is that the
expression for T is more complicated.

Related textbook problems for practice (Wolfson 3rd ed., Ch. 3): 63, 66, 76, 84, 85

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Problem 3: Wolfson Ch. 3 problem 66

Let’s define
d = 8.6 m ,
α = 39◦ .
Also define the angle θ as in the following figure:

~v0

θ
α

Figure 4: ~v0 is makes an angle θ from the ground

As before, we use the following equations:


x-motion y-motion
? vx = v0 cos θ vy = v0 sin θ − gt
?? ∆x = v0 cos θ t ∆y = v0 sin θ t − 21 gt2
What is T in this situation? The key idea is this: When the protein bar reaches your friend, vy = 0 because
it’s moving horizontally. Using the ? equation for the y-motion,
0 = v0 sin θ − gT ,
v0 sin θ
T = .
g
Now that we have T , we can use the ?? equations to find horizontal and vertical displacements. Notice that
when your friend receives the protein bar, ∆x = d cos α and ∆y = d sin α.
v02
∆x = d cos α = v0 cos θ T = sin θ cos θ ,
g
1 v2 v2 v2
∆y = d sin α = v0 sin θ T − gT 2 = 0 sin2 θ − 0 sin2 θ = 0 sin2 θ .
2 g 2g 2g

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Dividing the second equation by the first (∆y/∆x = d sin α/d cos α = tan α),

sin θ 1
tan α = = tan θ .
2 cos θ 2
Finally,
θ = tan−1 (2 tan α) = tan−1 [2 tan(39◦ )] = 58.3◦
To find v0 , use the fact that (∆x)2 + (∆y)2 = d2 :

v04 v4
(∆x)2 + (∆y)2 = 2
sin2 θ cos2 θ + 02 sin4 θ
g 4g
v04
 
1
= 2 sin2 θ cos2 θ + sin4 θ = d2 .
g 4

Rearranging,
!1/4
g 2 d2
v0 = = 12.1 m/s ,
sin2 θ cos2 θ + 1
4 sin4 θ

where I used g = 9.8 m/s2 , d = 8.6 m, and θ = 58.3◦ .


Again, we used T to link the x and y equations together. Two other key ideas were: ∆y/∆x = tan α and
(∆x)2 + (∆y)2 = d2 .