How does Superman fly?

Osprey flyingI 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 the configuration of their wings and tails. 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 changer 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 should 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?

16 thoughts on “How does Superman fly?

  1. MonaKarel

    Remember in one of the comics, Superman flew against the earth’s rotation so he could go back in time? And how hard did YOU laugh when you read it?

  2. Paul Trembling

    Of course, Superman is much more fantasy than SF! But just for the fun of it… The unique radiation spectrum of our son triggers an inlaid genetic mechanism that enables him to tap into almost unlimited trans-dimensional power sources on the cellular level. These power sources are controlled and manipulated instinctively, enabling him to access his superpowers just by thinking about them.

    Of course, such a genetic mechanism is unlikely to have evolved naturally, especially in a species living under a different solar spectrum. So it seems likely that Superman is in fact the product of very advanced genetic engineering – a story line that (as far as I know!) has never been followed up on.

  3. MonaKarel

    I’ve been getting this picture all evening of Superman bouncing around Metropolis like he’s on an atomic powered pogo stick. Definitely bed time

  4. MonaKarel

    “Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound”
    Snerk
    My favorite super power. Hmmm. Probably mind control. Creepiest one, also

  5. The Masquerade Crew (@MasqCrew)

    Everyone has a double, someone who looks like them, so they say. Clark’s personality is so starkly different that even those who are semi-close to him see two different people. Of course, it’s more involved than that. In any case, I’ll never buy it that he can fool Lois, which is why I’m glad Lois knows in the new movie. That’s one thing (among few others) they got right. It didn’t feel like a Superman movie, but I still liked it. Of course, I like just about everything.

  6. Steven J Pemberton

    Superman is a *fictional* alien, who is allowed to look exactly like H. sapiens for budgetary reasons 🙂 I recall a comic where Clark went swimming and (being weak and mild-mannered) had to let Jimmy Olsen help him out of the pool. Jimmy looks at him and thinks, “Gee, without his glasses, Clark looks almost exactly like… nah, it couldn’t be. Not in a million years.”

    Maybe it’s what Terry Pratchett calls Zen disguise. With his famous black hat, he’s Terry Pratchett, bestselling author. Without it, he’s just another bald(ing) old bloke.

  7. Julia Rachel Barrett

    Superman doesn’t fly. He jumps. Seriously. The original Superman jumps. No fly. Although I do agree his super power is contagious myopia. Clark Kent looks just like Superman to me!

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