Flying Batman Is A Load Of Bull

Batman’s ability to fly is a falsehood. Or at least so says science. We didn’t know science was into disproving super-hero movies (that’s a deep well to drink from) but to each his own. But back in December the Journal of Physics Special Topics took on the subject with their scholarly paper entitledĀ Trajectory of a Falling Batman. The equations presented in the two-page white paper may be above your head, but the concepts are not.

It’s not that Batman can’t fly in the way explained in the film. It’s that he can’t land without great bodily harm. By analyzing the cape in this frame of the film, researchers used Batman’s body height to establish wing span and area. The numbers aren’t good. Top speed will reach about 110 km/h with a sustained velocity of 80 km/h. That’s 80 mph at top speed and just under 50 mph when he comes in for a landing.

Oh Batman, how you’ve let us all down. If you liked this paper, you should dig through the archives. We always wondered if [Bruce Willis] could have actually saved the world from an asteroid.

[via Dvice]

36 thoughts on “Flying Batman Is A Load Of Bull

  1. Could he _maybe_ have had some additional supports built into his suit to allow the human body to survive such and impact? Maybe some sort of thin carbon fibre exoskeleton?

    1. Good point. Batman certainly uses an exoskeleton, it’s well documented in the modern comics and movies. Still, he obviously moves quite slowly sometimes dropping from a building in an almost parachute-clad manner, and landing softly.

      Hollywood isn’t reality? Imagine that :).

    2. I don’t know that such lengths are necessary. You can survive rolling out of a car at 50+mph. If you can limit your downward velocity by flairing up before hitting the ground you could survive the landing with little or no injury with practice – even better wearing full body armor. Of course if you mess up that flair you’re going to be in trouble – especially in that orientation.

  2. What about landing stall? Airplanes generally pull up and land rear-wheels first, because they can achieve a lower velocity by sacrificing lift, which they don’t need because they’re trying to land anyway. Batman could stall just before landing and slow down that way.

  3. Surely with the flair, and the exoskeleton he could land ok – i mean he is Batman… and a bloke called Gary can glide from 2400 feet with a very small wing suit and land safely in a few cardboard boxes in the real world ;-)

  4. I always thought it had something to do with the molded rubber nipples. Perhaps they ejected jets of air that slowed his descent. No man would include such a feature in his costume, unless they served some essential functional purpose.

    Seriously though. If you enjoy this kind of thing, I highly recommend reading The Biology of B-Movie Monsters.

    1. Back when armor was made out of metal, a sergeant’s breastplate would be hammered out into the shape of a muscled human chest and torso, complete with nipples — so there’s some precedent to it, at least. (And I’d like to see you tell a sergeant, from back in the days when wars were fought with swords, that no man would have nipples on his breastplate.)

  5. This is why you shouldn’t let physicist near the real world.

    The authors assume batman can be modeled by a time-invariant system, but he’s not. Birds and planes (and presumably, the batman) pitch steeply just before landing to slow down, which means they’re time-variant and can’t be modeled by these equations.

    Enigneers > Physicist

  6. The study paper ends with Clearly gliding using a batcape is not a safe way to travel, unless a method to rapidly slow down is used such as a parachute. If the cape can go from hanging loosely to rigid like an aerofoil, it can also curl in to cause a parachute-like effect at landing.

    1. You’re opening up another can of worms with this one. Though, it should be noted that he has dealt with beings that have super powers and came from it relatively unscathed… as well as whupping them back to hell. :D

    2. Same can be said for Ironman if you just consider physical abilities. Just a guy in an exoskeleton. But considering the mental powers both these guys have puts them in the superhero class. The original Batman developed and made all his toys breaking known physical laws sometimes. Maybe for his cape he came up with a fabric or mechanism with greater than normal air resistance (vortex effects maybe?).

  7. Last I checked, any acceleration of an object due to gravity is independent of its mass. As such, they have already botched their initial equation which led to errors in the results in the other equations that they use. Yes, air resistance is in effect, but this -and only this- is actually dependent on the mass of the object as well as its surface area in the direction of travel in the x:y axises. In other words, the order of precedence was ignored. SMH

      1. Acceleration of an object due to gravity is independent of its mass”. Which is true, but only when you can neglect air resistance.

        But clearly they botched the analysis anyway. I’ve seen the movie and it obviously doesn’t hurt batman to land, therefore their analysis MUST be wrong. QED

        Maybe they accounted for air friction, but I suspect they left out the fiction component.

      2. I don’t think you can read. If you could you would notice what I was talking about. You would notice that the direction of travel for a falling object would be down along the y axis and not laterally along the x axis.

        How fast it moves along the y axis is determined more by its surface area than its mass. Air resistance would help to tell us how fast its “decelerating.” Going along the x axis is the same.

        Now, when the ratio changes in favor of surface area for the x axis, the y axis changes in favor for the mass and vice versa. With that, he may glide at high speed forward but slow downward. Then he can change direction at the last minute to slow down in a forward direction and “fall faster” in a downward direction. Which, if he knows what he’s doing, wouldn’t matter much because he would be coming in at the same momentum as most parachutist. Those guys just assumed that his mass with respect to gravity wouldn’t change, but it does due to air resistance and lift.

      3. there are no errors in the analysis. The only error is in assuming that batman’s flight parameters are time-invariant (as if he had a rigid airfoil) when they would actually be time-variant (like a bird or airplane). Things like pitch, drag and lift would change with time in addition to the common components of velocity/position/acceleration.

        That leads to an entirely different type of analysis that’s way beyond you if you’re having trouble understanding Newtonian fluid dynamics (hint: you are.)

    1. Air resistance is mostly dependent on cross sectional surface area (mostly…).

      Upward LIFT counteracts downward WEIGHT (lift and weight act in different directions, so the angles become important as well!). That’s why the mass is VERY important.

      Definitely stay in school =D

  8. He is a ninja.

    Ancient Shaolin monks had the ability to focus their chi, and land safely after falling great distances; so obviously, this secret martial-arts technique was taught to the ninjas. (not all ninjas. Just the best ones with super-secret ninja powers) – and passed on to Batman through Ra’s Al Gul.

    1. Actually not SO rediculous as all that. There is some (?) Discovery channel program (don’t remember the name) where they were examining some of the supposed powers of the Ninja. Jumps and falls were one of the things discussed. They put sensors on the feet and ankles of a Parkour practitioner, and had him land after a jump & fall of about 17 feet (~5.5 m). He landed with less impact than most people do walking down stairs.

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