How does Superman fly?
Posted by Greta van der Rol
I used to love Superman when I was a kid. I enjoyed the TV series, when Superman wore what looked like woolen undies over his tights and I quite enjoyed the movies. The special effects were much better, of course. Chris Reeves didn’t look like he was standing, one fist out, in a wind tunnel.
I’ve no particular interest in seeing Man of Steel, but the release of this new movie, in which several of the core assumptions percolating through from the comics have been ignored, has got me to thinking.
What is Supe’s most amazing power? I have to tell you, for me it’s his ability to cause selective myopia in all humans. You know what I mean. He puts on a pair of clear glass specs and nobody seems to be able to work out that Clark Kent (mild mannered reporter) is really Superman. As an aside, I recall reading a comic where Superman insisted that the photo of him the Burmese government used for a stamp had to be side on, not facing the camera. And why was this? Because the stamp might be post marked ‘Rangoon’ and the double O might have formed glasses over his eyes. Gosh.
Anyway, back to Superman’s powers. How does he fly?
Think about it. What flies – or floats in the air? Gas rises in air if it has a lower density than the air. So hot air, helium, hydrogen, smoke, water vapour etc. Birds fly by flapping their wings, creating an area of lower pressure above their wings http://askabiologist.asu.edu/how-do-birds-fly. That’s what aircraft do, too. I guess magnetism is a contender if you don’t want to fly too high. Rockets have explosive propulsion at their rear, using brute force to overcome gravity. Of these, rockets are the only ones able to pass beyond the planetary atmosphere. As the atmosphere thins and becomes colder balloons burst, water vapour condenses, jet engines have nothing to push against. Yet Superman can ‘fly’ in space – without a protective suit or breathing apparatus. Unlike Ironman, who has the suit and jets and things.
So okay, let’s accept Supe can levitate. That current magician, Dynamo, claims to be able to do that and some mystics have been reported to be able to achieve the feat. But getting up there is only part of the deal. Then you have to move. Birds and planes can glide and change direction by changing directions. They can go faster by applying more energy. But balloons are at the mercy of the wind. And while winds can be brutally fast, they’re not as fast as Superman. (faster than a speeding bullet, in fact and with more power than a locomotive). So now somebody will trot out the Alien card. Sorry, it doesn’t work for me. Kal El looks just like us. I’ve never seen any suggestion he’s a shape change, like the Thing. But hey! Maybe that’s the deal! He can be anything he wants to be, yet we’ll all see this well built hunk of a man with a rippling cloak, even when he’s emulating a speeding bullet. Cool. Somebody whould write a story.
It’s a bit of fun, folks. Tell me who has your favourite super power. Or explain to me how YOU think Superman flies?