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It flies! Writing a superhero story

  1. Mar 13, 2013 #1


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    I'm writing a superhero story. This fellow acquires superpowers, sort of like Superman. He has some pals that he lets in on his abilities, and of course they want him to ferry them around the world. Problem... it's impractical at jetliner speeds, eh?:confused:

    So I came up with this idea what to do about this. The guy [STRIKE]rips off[/STRIKE], er, borrows this old CT-39 Sabreliner sitting in a boneyard, and does the following surgery--
    He clips off the wings--leaving the landing wheel section--and tail section. He reinforces the pilot seat into a kind of clamshell of steel, kevlar, what-have-you, so he can belt-in, do his flight thing and take the plane with him. Good thing is, the airframe is built for ~600mph speeds, so his passengers travel along with him in style.

    Any comments? Or it's the lamest, most moronic idea you've heard all year?:tongue:

    Edit: here's what the little jet looks like whole
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2013
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  3. Mar 14, 2013 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Not bad - but he'd basically have to support the entire weight of the aircraft from the pilots seat right? So he'd not only have to reinforce the seat and the superstructure of the cockpit but also add struts to reinforce the fusilage so it doesn't sag and break.

    The strain will be amazing - try holding a beam from one end and see how soon your arm aches! He has to provide the upwards force to hold the aircraft aloft and a counter-torque to hold it level.

    A better plan would be to keep the wings and tail but construct a new control place behind the aircraft's center of gravity. He would basically be taking advantage of the engineering already in the aircraft to solve all the problems he would get under your plan. He becomes the engine - providing thrust. He could reroute the control systems to the new location if he wanted or have someone else drive while he concentrates on pushing/lifting.

    One of the way you make superpower stuff interesting is to allow the character a single thing that breaks the laws of physics and let the consequences follow. So if the guy flies by having a levitation field that encompasses everything then a lot of what came before does not matter and he may as well just fly everyone in a boat or a platform or inside a plexiglass bubble.
  4. Mar 14, 2013 #3
    Well that made me smile on a bad day - thank you.

    OK how about having him fly underneath it - upright - with his head sticking through the floor so he can talk to the other passengers ?

    Or - just to be really clever - why dont they all just get on a plane and fly together?
  5. Mar 14, 2013 #4


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  6. Mar 14, 2013 #5


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    For the same reason militaries and corporations have their own fleets--convenience and adaptability. What if you and your cohorts are needed, far away, for some feat of derring-do, and you have to buy tickets for a flight with 3 connections, and two hops with Mahatma's Cut-Rate Aviation & Aircraft Boneyard to get there?:wink:

    Hmm, cut a hole in the floor? What would happen at 600 mph? Passengers would get sucked out when they ventured too close to understand what he was saying over the wind blast.
  7. Mar 14, 2013 #6


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    Yeah, that's one good way to do it. However, with all the craziness, just having the basic brick abilities, flight, invulnerability, super-speed, and super-strength is enough. How someone could have all this and interact fairly realistically with his environment would be an interesting challenge for a writer, IMO. And fun too, I think.

    Take for instance the aircraft (engineers who read this are probably wincing with all the radical surgery to a finely tuned machine)--this is early in the novel, and basically the protag is trying to macguyver it without outside help. Yes, I thought of an alteration, moving the pilot's seat to closer to the CG would be ideal, but he doesn't have the know-how, and duct tape would not hold a bubble together at high sub-sonic speeds:eek:. Lopping off sections and maybe welding steel covers over open frames would be much easier. Come to think of it, what is the skin metal used on planes of that type? Not aluminum, right?

    Empty weight is about 9300 lbs; minus the aft section and jet engines, and those big wings it would weigh less than half that, eh? If he flew from the pilot's seat the stress would be great, you're correct. But the fella can bench Greenland--no problem from his end--he's strong enough to just say I'm flying this direction, and since he's firmly attached to the seat, which is securely attached to the plane, any counter-forces are overwhemed, and the whole unit goes his way or the highway--no need for lift or control surfaces! I'm guessing an airframe built to fly at those speeds would surely hold up, especially since its missing a lot of dead weight aft. He would go easy and be careful not to pull too many g's, or he loses the plane and the meat passengers too.

    Someone else driving at speeds near Mach 1? Chancy enough as it is.

    Another thing--any pilots out there--if the guy doesn't submit a flight plan, would he get in trouble with the FAA or something? Would he be reported to the authorities?

    Thanks for your help.
  8. Mar 14, 2013 #7

    Simon Bridge

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    Well - you can use the specs of the plane to work out how much counter-torque he'd need to apply. From the moment arm in which he can exert that torque (say: the length from shoulder to knee if he's braced right) you'd be able to quantify how strong he has to be to do that ... multiply by ten to make it effortless.

    You also want to bear in mind that the counter-torque is also telling you the stress and strain the airframe has to cope with. Realistically reinforcing it would require (a) super-materials, or, (b) massively increasing the weight involved.

    Yes - it's often aluminium. It has to be light - but the actual skin can be a composite of polymer sheets. I don't know about that specific craft... presumably you can look it up.

    He'd need heavy steel I-beams boxing in the sheet and running the length of the air-frame at least to stop the whole passenger section from breaking off by the cockpit door. Airframes are designed to be lifted from the wing attachments.
    That's a bad guess - and you need to quantify "too many g's": how many?

    Depends on how high he flies and which country - and the alert status of their military.

    He won't want to go high since the cabin won't be pressurized ... he'd have to do something about power and amenities too.

    Why not just carry a railcar instead?
    Practically anything will be better than the plane.

    But hey - it's your story - it's fiction too: you can ignore as much of physics and engineering as you like. Maybe he also has the power to blow really big soap-bubbles and reinforce them with a thought and carry people like that?
  9. Mar 15, 2013 #8


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    Increasing the weight, that can be done... no problem from his end. He's Silver-Age-Superman powerful. Most of the weight forward of the wings is in the nose, so the monocoque construction is sufficient already for that purpose. May need a few tweaks easily done.

    Yeah, the wing area has the most stress. Because of slower speeds at takeoff and landing, the lift stresses are at their max, and that’s why the wings are so large and why everything is suitably reinforced. No problem--they're gone in my scenario. Yes, some reinforcing by tubular beams may be warranted at various locations around the lift-seat, but heavy steel I-beams?

    He not going to be doing any loop-de-loops, just flying like your average passenger hop, exactly what the Sabreliner was designed for, g-wise.

    Yep, though the ship does have batteries located near the aft chop-off end. Maybe a small diesel generator vented to the outside? To power the pressurization system and VHF Command radios--which BTW, are included. Might need some refurbishing :smile:

    Any bright ideas on that front?

    A railcar? At 600 mph? His lady friend and pals are aboard. He doesn't want to chance something that will break up in the lower atmosphere(which an un-pressurized car would have to fly) and turn them into chunky salsa. Don't see how that would work.

    The CT-39 Sabreliner is pressurized, has a ceiling of 40,000 feet and speeds of around 600 mph. It's aerodynamic. Speaking of torque and counter-torque, it would be hellacious on a railcar moving at high subsonic speeds a mile up.

    I chose the Sabreliner for several reasons. They built 800 of them for one. They're older, 1950s era aircraft; at the time of my story, ca 1990, there were dozens sitting in outside storage in the facility near Tucson, Arizona. Ideal to swipe, er, borrow with no one the wiser. As of 2012, almost all are gone, but their database says what happened to them is "unknown"!

    Or maybe a Lear 23. Some of them are scattered around the globe in boneyards. I first toyed with the T-33 training jet. They build 6500 of them, somewhere there's one which could be borrowed with little fuss, and they're built for those types of speed. But only a couple seats...

    Hmm. Pressurization would be ideal. The guy could use the same frame to carry passengers into orbit. It would be most handy if it could be used for transport throughout the solar system. Although it would probably be asking too much:devil:; a custom spaceship would be best.

    See above--the concept of a superhero is insane enough. My protag is like Supes, but the basics are it. No super-ventriloquism, X-ray vision, etc, just the standard flying brick FISS. He's the only super around, and naturally is looked upon a a freak. Many are suspicious of him, and I can't blame them. A young man barely out of high school with mind-boggling capabilities.:eek:

    You don't want to get me going on that later section of the book, where he hires on with the DOD, doing inserts and extracts of spec-ops teams, with flight parameters of Mach 5+:tongue:.
  10. Mar 15, 2013 #9
    You don't think a plane flying around without wings would draw a lot of unwanted attention to himself and his friends?
  11. Mar 15, 2013 #10


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    Come to think of it, yeah.

    Angel 99: Be informed, I just saw a gigantic cruise missile over downtown heading NNE, at about 550 knots.

    Tower: Right, so you're reporting another one of your UFOs, is that what you're trying to say, Angel 99?
  12. Mar 16, 2013 #11


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    Heh, come to think of it, a report like that from a pilot and an unidentified bogy that doesn't answer the tower may get the fighters scrambled from the nearest AF base. The super and his pals would have some explaining to do.

    If he wanted to haul his friends/cohorts on that plane/cruise missile, he'd have to plan ahead. In the US, identify airports on the way, avoid them. Follow interstates, unless they go through big towns, then circle around the town and rejoin the I-way.

    In countries with no superhighways, follow rivers if possible. They're easily visible from 1-3 miles up. At that altitude you're probably above most traffic and just a speck in the sky.
  13. Mar 20, 2013 #12
    Hijack? Borrow? Charter? Keep one in his garden shed? Phone Tracy island?

    No problem - he just pushes himself tighter into the hole. His shoulders form a pressure seal.
    (In real terms of course there would be a false floor but we are talking cartoon here)
  14. Mar 20, 2013 #13


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    Not a bad idea. Kind of like a talking head sticking out of the floor.

    Maybe I've been joking around about the story, but actually it's on the serious side, or as serious as I can get within this genre. When I started writing the ms, yes, it was cartoonish, a comic book in prose form. Then, after talking to several people in the industry, I reconsidered.

    They said any superhero prose was a hard sell... recent books had not done well in the market. On the other hand, movies have been a real hit, so someone's interested in supers. I had put thousands of man-hours into the ms, and was reluctant to toss it, so I had an idea about doing it differently. One super-freak-guy (no teams flying around, employing really oddball capabilities), and what would happen if he were dropped into a real-life world. Or as close to reality that the genre allows. It has turned out to be more serious in tone, but it was fun researching and macguyvering things out. Whether it'll sell... I'm hopeful.

    Who or what is a Tracy island?
  15. Mar 20, 2013 #14
    I think he would more likely decide against flying his friends around. I, personally, wouldn't use my super powers to taxi my friends around the globe. I'd definitely fly them around a bit (y'know, bring them up in the air, fly around a bit, scare 'em a little), but there'd be better things I could be doing with my time...
  16. Mar 21, 2013 #15
    If you are going to sell it (and this is just my personal opinion - people saying things like I'm about to get egg on their faces every day...) I'd say you would be better off re-writing entirely.

    If it was me I'd turn it into science fiction rather than fantasy (super heroes are fantasy).

    By that I mean - don't make him a superhero as such - make him an ordinary guy
    (or girl) in the real world - who is either born with or reasonably acquires some for of single mutation. It would have to be something new and interesting but not absurd. Then tell the story of how that plays out. Make it character based (characters sell - explosions and flying cars don't) Just do some science research to establish some degree of possibility because that makes it far more interesting. never throw anything out but a focussed re-write can work wonders.

    I think the whole superhero thing is pretty much covered by stan L. (as an outside observer)

    Also remember that what is popular for 2-3 years will not be popular or saleable next year. Things move on. (The really smart thing though - is to spot the cycles - everything comes back eventually - predict that and be ready before the wave hits)

  17. Mar 22, 2013 #16


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    Reasonable advice. I spent a couple years writing the story, then changed 70,000 words in the rewrite I mentioned above, doing that over many, many hours. I don't know whether it's worth another re-write. The tack I have going now is a single, physics defying MC with some personal issues in a complex world. At least, that's the characterization I'm hoping will be interesting enough for readers. Exploding spaceships and flying cars, robots--that's a part of the scene and I think is important to include, too. Thinking about movie tie-in's, eh? You're right, the knack is not to overdo the finer points in the process.

    Yeah, Stan Lee and his people basically re-invented the genre in comic book form. It's very difficult to translate that success from the visual and written, to the novel form, and still retain the experience.

    Don't believe that show made it here across the pond.
  18. Mar 22, 2013 #17


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    Yeah, flying around at those speeds, a quick maneuver and your pals are smears on the bulkhead. Of course, that could make an interesting side-plot, since I have him getting a job inserting and extracting soldiers from hot spots (however, he himself is not a soldier). Typical dalliances in that genre.
  19. Mar 30, 2013 #18


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    Whoops, I inadvertingly deleted an image.

    If the protag excised the aircraft


    and he supplied a means of power (solar cells?) for the pressurization system, among other things, would any human passengers be able to survive a ride into outer space? The plot I have going now has the super and some pals trying to set up a lunar base. As well as trek throughout the globe here on earth.
  20. Aug 26, 2013 #19


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    With apologies for the necro, I have another related question which i thought would not need a separate thread.

    With this "modified" T-39

    how would you further modify it for interplanetary space? According to my plot, the protag(a superpowered being) needs a jury-rigged vehicle for carrying his cohorts to the moon and maybe Mars. This is early in the story; before he acquires funds for specialized purposes(so to speak :wink:).

    Standard pressurization requires compressed air from the engines, correct? Since they are excised, and there is no oxy in space, how would one go about the modifications needed? Would the MC have to consult NASA, or one of its contractors? [STRIKE]Steal[/STRIKE] borrow equipment from the ISS? What equipment would be needed, generally speaking?

    (Say, for a leisurely one gee trip to Mars lasting a couple weeks)
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2013
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