Air motors are widely used in the automation industry due to special requirements, such as spark-prohibited environments, the mining industry, chemical manufacturing plants, and so on. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the behavior of a vane-type air motor and to design a model reference adaptive control (MRAC) with a fuzzy friction compensation controller. It has been noted that the rotational speed of the air motor is closely related to the compressed air's pressure and flow rate, and due to the compressibility of air and the friction in the mechanism, the overall system is actually nonlinear with dead-zone behavior. The performance of the previous controllers implemented on an air motor system demonstrated a large overshoot, slow response and significant fluctuation errors around the setting points. It is important to eliminate the dead-zone to improve the control performance. By considering the effects of the dead-zone behavior, we have developed an MRAC with fuzzy friction compensation controller to overcome the effect of the dead-zone. The following experimental results are given to validate the proposed speed control strategy.