In Batman Begins, the first film in director Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which is set to conclude with The Dark Knight Rises (opening July 20), Bruce Wayne amasses an arsenal of weapons and gadgets that includes a nifty cape made of "memory cloth." The cape stiffens into a hang glider when Batman emits an electrical current from his glove, which comes in handy when he descends on his enemies from tall buildings. But could he really survive a leap from a skyscraper? Four students from Britain's University of Leicester used science to answer the question, publishing their results — entitled "Trajectory of a falling Batman" — in the Journal of Physics Special Topics. Here, a guide to their findings:
How did the physicists conduct the study?
Using stills from Batman Begins, the students concluded that the cape had a wingspan of 15.4 feet when fully extended, about half the length of a normal glider. They then calculated how fast he would be going if he dropped off a 492-foot-high skyscraper in Gotham. According to their formula, Batman would glide for around 1,150 feet, with his velocity climbing to 68 miles per hour, before plateauing at a fairly rapid 50 miles per hour as he hit the ground.
What would happen to Batman on landing?
"He would likely end up getting a bit splattered," David Marshall, one of the physicists, tells the BBC. The study concludes that "gliding using a batcape is not a safe way to travel."
So a batcape isn't realistic?
There's hope yet. The team makes several recommendations for improving the cape, starting with its size: If it were as large as a normal hang glider, it would likely work as intended. The students also suggest that Batman figure out how to slow down rapidly, by using a parachute for example — though that "would surely diminish the impact of Batman's stylish flourish when he flicks the cape aside on landing," says Liat Clark at Wired. He could also take a page from Gary Connery, the team says in its paper, "who recently became the first person to glide to the ground from a helicopter using only a wingsuit." However, Connery had to cushion his fall to the ground with hundreds of cardboard boxes, which would be pretty unbecoming of a superhero.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Pope Francis' American problem
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Hey, bosses: Stop giving bonuses to your employees
- Are there dogs in heaven? Let's hope not.
- 10 things you need to know today: December 19, 2014
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
Subscribe to the Week