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Kelly Parks
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
There are four obvious questions that come to mind when you see Iron Man in action. My first was, "Where are his fuel tanks?" He flies half-way around the world and back and that takes lots of reaction mass. Where is it?
Answer: He doesn't use jets – he uses repulsor beams, which constitute magical handwaving but as long as the issue is addressed I'm fine.

Next question:
"Where does the power for the repulsor beams and all the other amazing technology come from?"
Answer: Arc reactors. More handwaving but also kind of cool, that the power of a nuclear reactor could be reduced to a glowing, hand-held gadget.

Third question: "How can he fly level?"
Answer: He can't.* Planes have wings for a reason and this is a mistake. When his propulsion system is directed backwards, thrusting him forwards, then nothing is fighting the pull of gravity (like the lift force created by wings) and he'd drop like a rock.

Final question: "I know his suit is super-bulletproof but how does he avoid being reduced to jelly by the high acceleration from impacting the ground?"
Answer: He can’t. I wish they'd done just a bit more handwaving, like mentioning that his suit included an "arc technology powered repulsor field" that absorbs inertia. Oh well.


Eddie McMullen Jr.
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
E.C.MCMULLEN JR.

* He can.

IRON MAN initially takes off like a freaking rocket, so he already has the speed necessary to provide for his level, stable, wingless flight.

V2s and other missiles can fly level because they are flying at 400mph or higher. For later missles, the fins that pop out upon launch do not act as wings for lift, but as guidance fins1.

We see this whenever we watch a slow motion video of a cruise missile in level flight. The missile is turning relative to its center point, the tip. Turning like this negates any lift the fins could possibly provide as the lift is being thrown away with every turn.

So the faster you go, the less wingspan you need. In fact, wingless aircraft were first invented and developed nearly a century ago in the 1930s, and successfully tested and flown nearly half a century ago in the 1960s. So the idea that Iron man's modern suit may incorporate the most advanced, latest wingless "lifting body" technology into its design is neither impossible or far-fetched.

Have you ever watched the opening sequence to the 1970s TV show, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN? If so you've seen the spectacular May 10, 1967 crash of an early wingless prototype: the Northrop M2-F2 using the "pregnant" Lifting Body technology.

The real NASA pilot - Bruce Peterson - lived through it and went back to testing more wingless aircraft. Other Lifting Body test pilots included Bill Dana, Peter Hoag, and John A. Manke.

Modern scramjet technology is one modern evolutionary path of the lifting body design.

Except a scramjet requires high speed before it can fly on its own.

The lifting body tech could achieve airborne flight at a consistent 100 an miles an hour.

Only 100mph! Can you believe it?!?

What was the tow vehicle for the M2F1? A souped-up Pontiac Bonneville convertible.

So while Tony Stark can achieve far faster flight speeds, Iron Man may only need around 100mph to maintain level flight.

Now I don't know if the writers knew about lifting bodies or if the Iron Man suit designers bothered to incorporate lifting body design into Tony Stark's suit. But reverse engineering futuristic tech is not what we're about here at THE SCIENCE MOMENT. We can accept that Star Trek can beam people from orbit to planet surface. We don't know how, but as described, it isn't so far fetched that it breaks every law - or any law of science - we know.

What we want to know at THE SCIENCE MOMENT is if what we are witnessing is scientifically feasible or not.

HARRY POTTER fantasy stories aren't scientifically feasible. Vampire stories can be feasible as science if they take that approach and do it accurately.

Does that seem vague? Let me give you some examples.

Bear in mind that in the 1960s when the Starship Enterprise was flying through the galaxy at FTL (Faster Than Light) warp factors, science was absolutely adamant that nothing can exceed the speed of light.

Robert A. Heinlein
THE GREEN HILLS OF EARTH
Isaac Asimov
FOUNDATION

Yet with that said, Science Fiction writers who were also actual accomplished scientists and prided themselves on writing "real" science, science fiction (Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov), frequently incorporated FTL concepts in their novels.

While many physicists hold to the Light speed ceiling today, the ironclad law is now more of a rule and as of August 7, 2017, NASA is entertaining, at least the concept, that FTL might be feasible.

In the 1970s when Jedis were fighting each other with Lightsabers, the idea was preposterous. Light simply cannot behave that way.

Then on December 14, 2015, Don Lincoln, Senior Scientist at the U.S. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and Adjunct Professor of Physics, University of Notre Dame, laid out what it would probably take to make a light saber. He didn't build one himself, mind you, but Light sabers could no longer be scientifically ruled out.

All we ask at THE SCIENCE MOMENT is that the story doesn't induce magic or reference it by throwing out the laws of physics, biology, etc., unless of course, it can give a damn good reason.

To that end we've lauded the science in time travel movies (THE TERMINATOR), space movies (ALIEN), alternate physics movies (FLASH GORDON), even. We don't have to know the science involved, but the movies addressed that the impossible required new discoveries, a working technology, and an infrastructure. It took the real world to make it happen. No one was reciting incantations or utterly ignoring physics.

So back to the problem of Tony Stark's suit being able to fly level for extended periods of time.

Did IRON MAN cover this?

Iron Man side
In IRON MAN, there is a swept back aerodynamic appearance to the suit.
Further, there are aileron type flaps that are constantly moving on IRON MAN's
suit as he propels, pitch and yaws in flight, as if adjusting to maintain
direction or altitude.

Iron Man side
From another angle we again see those back or shoulder plates in motion,
as if directing lift. We don't know how they serve their purpose when
IRON MAN is flying, but it is clear that, unlike Superman or Neo, or
Witches on broomsticks flying in any way that pleases them,
the movie makers addressed the issue of IRON MAN's stabilized flight.
They made it plausible.

Finally, while the main propulsion is clearly coming from Tony's gloves and boots, we also don't know how much his electromagnet arc reactor over his heart is providing vertical lift. We know it doesn't need to provide as much lift as his gloves and boots are providing thrust, so we wouldn't see a glowing blast coming from it. Not that he can't. We know, when Tony wants it to, the arc reactor in his suit chest (which is another reactor separate from the one in his actual chest) can blast his enemies.

Nobody ever goes into the minutia on how the suit works and we wouldn't want them to. We just want our disbelief reasonably suspended.

Tony's stable flight in the red and yellow versions of his suit achieve that.

Read Milton O. Thompson and Curtis Peebles', FLYING WITHOUT WINGS.
Another good book is Dale R. Reed and Darlene Lister's, WINGLESS FLIGHT: The Lifting Body Story. It features a forward by Chuck Yeager.

Northrop M2-F2
The wingless M2-F2. It's not ridiculous to accept that NASA technology,
from 42+ years ago, could be improved and implemented into IRONMAN'S suit.
Particularly since that's precisely the business that Tony Stark is in.

1 Later cruise missiles incorporated a jet engine intake which required it to stay in a relatively stable position in flight, so wings were also added to stop the missile from "spinning". With this added stability, the military then wanted cameras on or near the nose cone in order to watch a video feed of the missile in flight, as it reacted to ground control, which improved its targeting. The wings however, provided a sky and surface, Up and Down position relative to the missile. It wasn't necessary for level horizontal flight.

LIFTING BODY TECHNOLOGY
FLYING WITHOUT WINGS
BOOK
WINGLESS FLIGHT: The Lifting Body Story
BOOK
Iron Man (2008) on IMDb

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