The past week has seen a number of trailers drop for some of 2017’s biggest blockbusters. We got our first look at the time hopping robots of Transformers: The Last Knight, the continuing struggle for primate supremacy in War for the Planet of the Apes, and the high school misadventures of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The latter of the three has dominated social media thanks to some amazing moments, like Michael Keaton in action as the Vulture and Spidey and Iron Man flying through the skies of New York together. But perhaps the most buzzed-about scene involves Spider-Man leaping from the Washington Monument over a helicopter full of snipers and unfurling his web wings to glide over the threat.
With a long history in the comics, the web wings were an aesthetic touch added by Spidey artist Steve Ditko. The specific flourish was never shown to be truly functional, but as Tom Holland’s costume in Captain America: Civil War borrowed a number of other design elements from Ditko, fans have been wondering if the wings would be included. We learned last week that Tony Stark has a number of surprises built into Peter’s suit that he’ll discover over the course of Homecoming, and it looks like the web wings will be among them. With the trailer proving Spider-Man’s underarm webs are actually utilitarian, many people are now wondering if this sort of Spidey gliding is even possible.
Luckily, Wired is on the case. The folks have taken their love of pop culture and science and combined them for an in-depth case study involving the physics of Spidey’s updated accessory.
“If Spider-Man jumps off a building, how far does he move while falling? How much of a difference would webbed arms make? It’s not so simple to model the motion of Spider-Man since the drag and lift forces would depend upon the speed. Really, the only way to get his trajectory would be with a numerical model in which the motion is broken into tiny steps.”
Basing their work off of a paper published in 2011 called Trajectory of a Falling Batman from the Journal of Physics Special Topics, the writer applies a number of models and equations to what we see during the brief scene in the trailer to determine how Spidey is able to get the lift and glide he’d need to coast on his wings. They also take into account the real-world example of skydivers who use wingsuits to achieve a similar result. These were likely an influence on the design for the film, as Spider-Man’s web wings in the trailer are considerably larger than they appear in the comics. While Wired doesn’t answer the question of believability, they do provide the tools to understand the forces at play for the mechanism to work.
This tech could come in handy when Squirrel Girl joins the MCU and is looking to further emulate her furry friends. Hopefully, Tony will have her back with a similar deal when that happens. Fingers crossed for a film starring Spider-Man, Squirrel Girl, and Iron Man in our future.