Friday, July 27, 2012

Inside the Batwing

V/STOL technology taken to 
a completely new level...

Dark Knight Rises

Lucius Fox: [as Batman flies The Bat] Nothing like a little air superiority, isn't it? 

I really like the new Batwing. 

The immediate question that ran through my mind during Dark Knight Rises, was -that as a military prototype - what function did it serve?

Was it a CTOL, a STOVL, or a CATOBAR (CV) aircraft? 

I decided that I don't care. It's cool, and that's what matters.

But still, the question nagged.

Since 1957, the air forces of America, Russia, Germany and Great Britain have chased the dream of jet attack aircraft with vertical take-off or Vertical/Short Take and Landing capability.

The reasoning was simple. Nuclear war would target airbases first, and everyone wanted a fighter that didn't need a base or runway.

England was the first to reliably accomplish this goal with a new Bristol-designed turbofan built especially to provide lift rather than thrust. The Harrier was born.

By 1970, the first BAe Harrier jets were tearing around the world, making a nuisance of themselves.

Germany's Fokker Vak 191 and Russia's Yakolov Yak-38 were utter failures. America adopted the Harrier and redesigned it, but now have the extremely capable F-35, built by Lockheed Martin.

But Nolan's vision for the Batwing went further than that...

The Boeing-built Apache ground-attack helicopter is a child of the 80s, but still a formidable weapons platform, even today. 

Now, let's combine these aircraft into something cool, shall we?

Chris Nolan's design for the new Batwing in Dark Knight Rises mixes together the best attributes of these military aircraft. 

An efficient, battle-proof ground-support craft that can operate in an urban environment if necessary.

At least, that was my take on Batman's new ride - the 'Bat'.

Like I've stated before with the Tumbler, I like a fictional vehicle that has a believable back-story. 

The military would very much like to have something that does what the Batwing can do - fly low, even between tight buildings, and provide support fire for troops on the ground.

Unlike the Tumbler, the Batwing doesn't actually work. 

But then, who really cares?


Catwoman: My mother warned me about getting into cars with strange men. 
Batman: This isn't a car. 

The Batwing was conceived by Nolan's design team, which I presume was headed by Nathan Crowley. (the genius behind the Tumbler)

The Batwing, like the Tumbler, is a movie prop. So, the fact that neither actually exists in our world makes absolutely no difference to me. 

Both are very cool, have a credible back-story as military prototypes, and both have an incredible screen presence.

And they both rock.


Lucius Fox: I call him The Bat, and yes Mr. Wayne it does come in black. 

I have given the Batwing a lot of thought. You see, there are four choices when it comes to vertical lift. By that, I mean vertical lift that is also fuel-efficient and can also be used for thrust.

The V-22 Osprey uses turbine-powered blades that lift the aircraft then tilt forward for thrust in flight. The Apache helicopter, of course, works just like a helicopter - the main blades providing lift, the blade mast tilting to provide thrust. The Harrier vectors jet thrust downward for take-off, then swivels the thrust for forward flight. 

Which leaves the Batwing...which seems to use ducted-fans powered by two or more jet engines. And I thought: Ingenious. The best of both worlds in lift capability.

I say this because during the movie, I could distinctly hear both the whine of a turbine and the whump-whump of high-speed blades.

Now, in combat, the helicopter's drawbacks are obvious, and the Osprey is extremely complicated. The Harrier works well, but uses huge amounts of fuel during take-off.

A ducted-fan, which has been around for a long time, seems like a very reasonable step. Ducted-fans are very efficient, but as far as I know, nobody has figured out how to couple the awesome power of a turbojet engine to the blades in a ducted-fan. 

The Batwing seems to have solved this. How cool is that? 


Special Note: I am well aware of the F35B program, as well as the Bell X-22A experimental VTOL aircraft. The Bell aircraft program ran from 1966 to 1988, and ultimately failed because of the common enemy that ruins nearly all VTOL planes....weight. The F35B has different issues, but mainly it's improperly balanced and overheats in VTOL operations....besides, the mission profile is entirely different than that of the Batwing.


To make flight believable in Dark Knight Rises, special rigs where built to move the Batwing through street scenes in Dark Knight Rises

Cable rigs and helicopter lifts were also used to move this massive model for the various shooting production scenes, then the rigs were removed digitally.

I don't care how they did it. 

I love the Batwing. It has a unique personality rooted in reality that pleases my senses. 

It's different, and a lot of thought went into the design. The end result is a hell of a lot better than if Nolan had just gone a cheaper route, like a Harrier, for instance.

Given the resources of Wayne Enterprises, it certainly would have been plausible for Bruce Wayne to have a steady supply of Harriers, but not nearly as satisfying.

Once again, my hat is off to Chris Nolan and the engineers behind the Batwing. They didn't cut corners, and it shows. 

Boy, does it show.

Details on the Bat-Pod can be seen here

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