SCIENCE: Taking to the Sky… sort of

Flight is a common power in the world of comics but there are many different modes by which flight is accomplished. Some of these modes make more sense than others. Some of them aren’t even based in science, if you can believe such a thing. But I’m here to tackle the ones on the fringe. Odd ways humanoids launch themselves skyward in defiance of biology and gravity, cause maybe they might just work. (For a discussion on rocket boots and stabilization see my article for on Iron Man's flight.)

He built this in the 60's!1) The Vulture

Method: Anti-graviton electromagnetic flight suit with wings.
Thoughts: I only want to talk about the first part of Adrian’s overly complex flight mechanism: anti-graviton. In the world of quantum field theory (yay! Quantum’s back!) the four fundamental forces of the universe are controlled by subatomic particles. From the potentially familiar to the ridiculously obscure; we have photons, electrons, muons, and gluons. There are still more theoretically particles like tachyons, Higgs bosons, and yes, gravitons. We know from the macroscopic world that gravity works, in fact it works really well, and while the graviton probably does exist we haven’t observed any yet. The other weird thing about gravity that separates it from the other fundamental forces is there appears to be as yet no discovered negative version of the force. Gravity is always attractive, never repellant. It’s logical that there would be an opposing force, but so far we haven’t seen it, making the existence of anything like an “anti-graviton” even more hypothetical than the graviton itself. If Toomes really has a backpack (sort of, more like just a hump, an old man science hump) that could create anit-gravitons he wouldn’t need to rob banks because he’d be swimming in Nobel Prizes. So I guess the mechanism of how he flies isn’t that crazy, because assuming there are anti-gravitons and he can create them, then yeah, this would work great. The problem lies more in the extreme technological jump required to make the suit, and yet another great example of a villain changing the face of modern science only to fly around New York City with briefcases full of money waiting to get jumped on by Spider-Man. *Sigh* such potential…


Here's the windup!2) Thor

Method: Spinning a (magic) hammer, throwing it, and then holding on to it.
Thoughts: I know Thor is all magic and junk, but he lives in Midgard now and we got a little thing called PHYSICS that's he's gonna have to deal with one way or another. Let's think about this one for a minute. It just can’t work. If you’re having a hard time with the concept then try it yourself. Take something heavy, like a hammer, and if you’re feeling really authentic then tie some string or rope to it, then spin it around in a circle. If you’re ambitious you can spin your whole body in a circle like those athletes who compete in the “hammer toss” then let go. But wait! Don’t really let go cause otherwise you’ve just lost your hammer and you’re going nowhere. So let go and hang on it. At the same time. And do it hard enough that you’re launched into the air. I’ll wait…. Any luck? I suspect not.








Always remember to wear your goggles.3) Rocket Racer

Method: Rocket powered hoverboard.
Thoughts: The iFanbase is a diverse crowd, I’m sure some of you are skaters, wherein you are able to balance on a board and roll from place to place. This is an impressive thing to those who are unable. Now put a rocket on it, and make it so it also acheives lift. Those who are more familiar with the character will probably explain how his feet attach to the board somehow, but glancing at a few covers I see no mechanism. Not even Marty McFly could handle this thing. 'Nuff said.




4) Storm

Method: Like, wind and stuff?
Thoughts: Have you ever dealt with strong gusts of wind powerful enough to maybe knock you off your feet? Probably not, it’s kind of rare. Wind like that is left to the realm of the intrepid journalists standing in gale force winds along the Gulf Coast for no more than a good story. Now if you’re the kind of person who likes to jump out of planes (and good on ya, one day I WILL join your ranks) you can always put on a squirrel suit which actually will give you a degree of control over your euphemistically-termed “descent.” The average terminal velocity (the fastest speed you can fall in an atmosphere due to wind resistance) is about 125 miles per hour. If you practice and are insane you can increase your aerodynamic profile to hit over 300 miles per hour, but remember, that’s just straight down without much control. Storm is doing this in reverse, using winds so power as to lift her straight up, even hovering so that she may dramatically gesture while lightning strikes nearby.  Storm must be really good to pull all of this off, and I suspect that she is. After all, she does have like, flaps on her costume to keep her aloft? Maybe just stay on the ground whilst you’re chucking around thunderbolts. [For more discussion on everyone's favorite Weather Witch be sure to read the always amazing Stormantic blog!]

There are a lot of Freudian notions about what the power of flight means for your psyche, I wonder if anyone has expanded the models to show if what kind of flying you wish for says anything about you. I could make some stuff up right now, but I’m not a trained psychoanalyst (kids, don’t psychoanalyze at home without adult supervision). It’s one of the great things about modern comics, as bolstered by past comics too, that I can even have enough material to write an article like this. These characters are a ton of fun and flight is hardly their single defining characteristic (ok, maybe it is for Rocket Racer) and I love getting to turn my science stink-eye on their abilities and hold their feet to the fire, even if they could always just fly those feet away…


Ryan Haupt wishes he could get through one week without half a dozen (or more) links to quantum physics articles on Wikipedia. His podcast, Science… sort of, rarely bothers with quatum (cause no one really understands it anyways).


  1. I had always wondered about Storm’s ability to fly on gusts of wind… And don’t get me started on Magneto.

    Another great article!

  2. Ah, but Thor has super strength! Would that not increase his ability to throw a heavy thing and be propelled with it? That, by the way, was my best "science talk" impression.

  3. Magic having to deal with physics?  BAH!  Bah, I say!

    As far as Storm goes, having localized winds be able to lift you is just as plausible as controlling any other kind of weather.  And I have visited ‘hover chambers’  with friends who were avid skydivers (but never went in, sadly) so it is at least possible in theory.  The only question that I have is how is she able to talk to others while there is that much wind rushing by her when flying?

  4. @MisterJ – Apparently word balloons transcend gusts of wind? 

  5. But if Thor’s mass is significantly less than the mass of Mjollnir, wouldn’t it work… sort of? If I throw a hammer with a Thor action figure "hanging on" to the end of it, Thor will fly with the hammer. Of course it’s completely uncontrolable flight, but he does get some air time.

  6. @WonderAli – Good question.

  7. Kinda like a bowling ball pulling you with it if your finger gets stuck. (I have never had a physics class [and I regret it daily.])

  8. @WonderAli – I’m not sure I agree with the premise that his hammer has more mass than he does. It exerts magical force when not held by him to keep it on the ground, but that’s distinct from mass. Plus Thor is pretty hefty. Sexy Nordic Heft.

  9. @Haupt – I’m a big fan of Thor’s Sexy Nordic Heft! But is magic is unexplaned science, isn’t it possible that the magical force that keeps his hammer on the ground is the force of gravity on a deceivingly dense object?

  10. Magic transcends science. 

  11. Yeah, and I’ve never read Thor’s flying as him being dragged behind the hammer he just threw on his might alone, I always took it as Thor’s will guiding the hammer’s magic-based propulsion. That explained why Thor can bank, stop in mid-air, etc. 

  12. Newton’s Third Law is a real bitch on Throwing Hammers that then pull you. Every Force has an equal and opposite reaction. So when Thor throws his Hammer, the hammer pushes back on him just as hard as he throws it. By catching the strap you have just added those two opposite force vectors back together and gone nowhere fast.

    Of course if Magic allows you to change Newton’s third law, so the force of throwing the hammer is equal and in the same direction, then suddenly you have doubled the force of your throw and might really get somewhere. And if we are changing laws, let make it Force is Ten times and in the same direction. Great for hammer travel, probably a bitch if everything worked like that. Every footstep would drive you into the ground like a pile driver. 


  13. @PaulMontgomer – I will fight you! You can only use magic, I’m allowed to use science. 🙂

  14. Thought 1: Newton’s Third Law.  To build on JimBilly4’s comment: if Thor tossed his hammer then caught onto the strap, Newton’s Third Law would make what happened next hilarious.  As in, "Asgard’s Funniest Home Videos" hilarious.  The comedy is not limited to whether or not he throws over- or under- handed, but I guarantee that overhanded gets more hits on YouTube.

    Thought 2: Thor’s hammer was made by Odin, who knows everything.  He is the All Seeing, after all.  Thus, Odin watched the Vulture make his anti-graviton hump, and used that knowledge to build Mjolnir.  That’s why it works.  Later that day, Loki convinced Thor that it would work even better if it were spun around in a circle first.