Bruce Wayne has done some pretty cool things as the Batman, in both the comics and onscreen. Time travel? Check. Beat up Superman to a pulp? Check. Make a badass-looking costume that lets him glide as he jumps off buildings? Also, check.
As a superhero, Batman doesn’t have any powers. He’s just a man of gadgets — but he uses them well. The Batsuit is a rather impressive piece of technology and the most crucial element of Batman’s ensemble. Bruce rarely ever leaves the Batcave without his cape (he is the caped crusader, after all), and it’s not just any cape — Batman’s most precious piece of clothing has a built-in glider mode that lets him maneuver his way over the rooftops of Gotham without worrying for his safety. It can also be adapted into a bullet shield for protection, which proves that it serves more than, you know, aesthetic purposes.
However, scientists have thoroughly examined the Batsuit and discovered that it would never work the same way in real life as it does in comics, cartoons, and movies. The cape might complete his costume and give Bruce a superpower of his own, but from a real-world perspective, it is far from perfect. Using a cape to glide around isn’t safe (honestly, it’s a wonder it hasn’t cost Batman his life yet) and is an impractical element of his suit. If Batman existed in the real world, even with his mighty costume, he’d be better off taking the stairs instead.
The cape isn’t as efficient as you think
As we’ve established, Batman’s suit wouldn’t be the same if Bruce decided to lose the cape. It does more than just intimidate the criminals hiding in Gotham’s underbelly — it has defensive and aerodynamic capabilities that are essential to Batman’s survival. Batman’s superhero abilities have been built over the years with the support of comic book lore and an entire universe of Batman cartoons and movies. Still, it would be implausible for him to glide using the same cape, in reality, scientists believe.
“Clearly gliding using a Batcape is not a safe way to travel, unless a method to rapidly slow down is used, such as a parachute,” physicists at the University of Leicester wrote in the “Journal of Special Physics Topics” publication back in 2012 (via Wired). Using a parachute wouldn’t make Batman as intimidating to criminals now, would it? It would keep him alive, though.
The experts also likened the impact of Batman’s cape gliding to being hit by a car at 80 km/h, which would be disastrous if it were to happen. They also confirmed that after leaping from a Gotham City skyscraper that was 150 meters high, Batman could only glide for about 350 meters on a 4.7-meter wingspan before velocity would level off at 110 km/h. After this, an 80 km/h descent would begin, and the DC superhero would most likely fall to his death without any interruptions to save his life.
The memory cloth cape doesn’t have a place in the real world, either
In Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy, Batman’s cape is made from a fictional material described as “memory cloth,” which uses an electrical charge to stiffen the cape for gliding purposes, after which it returns to a standard, fabric-like state. Upon examination, the Leicester team of physicists confirmed the memory cloth material was rigid enough to mimic the aerofoil shape that is employed by other wing gliders. But as the study progressed, its limitations became clear as it presented newer problems.
“If Batman wanted to survive the flight, he would definitely need a bigger cape,” co-author David Marshall suggested. He also recommended that Batman use “active propulsion,” for instance, a jet to keep him aloft. I’m excited by seeing the prospect of Batman riding a jet — it’s still pretty badass looking, but negates the whole bat-like persona of the superhero. While a jet pack might make Batman’s flying a lot more realistic, it’s still a tricky alternative to navigate because of the challenges posed by Earth’s atmosphere, gravity and the restrictions that come with safeguarding the person wearing it.
Marshall further stated that Batman could adopt the method of Gary Connery, the first man to glide to the ground from a helicopter using only a wingsuit. But Connery used a significant number of cardboard boxes to make it safely to the ground. Where the Batman is concerned, using cardboard boxes to safely glide over buildings would make any mission highly problematic and put a dent in his reputation.
The Batsuit seems to be something of a mess where real-world standards are concerned, despite it being the ultimate suit of armor for the superhero. But hey, at least it looks cool!