Assume the superhuman has no powers besides super strength, speed, durability and coordination.

What would be the optimal way for them to fly without any assistance?(no gadgets, suits and additional equipment besides their body).

I have thought about running on air like how speedsters and real life animals can step on water and run on it given high enough speed. But then I realized stepping on air would mean that you would be pushing against air with your feet and body at the same time so you wouldn't go anywhere.

The only option would be to swim in air which is different cause although you are pushing against water in front of you, you can still swim in water.

My question is would swimming in air work? Because I know air is different from water and is compressible.

If it works which swimming style would be best for swimming in air? I think its freestyle but only because its fastest in water.

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    $\begingroup$ Your question title doesn't quite match the body text. Do you want swimming in air, or suggestions of other mechanisms? Part of the problem is that "super speed" and "super strength" are ill-defined bordering on magic. I mean, the subject could drink a load of neat ethanol and high-test peroxide, and then blast themselves into the stratosphere on a pillar of incendiary diarrhea, and maybe that could be the most optimal? $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2022 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Thaspin at the risk of stating the obvious, flapping flight is known to work. With an arbitrary power-to-weight ratio and movement speed, your super could emulate it (though they'd probably look and sound extremely strange). Then again, with arbitrary strength, you could just jump into a ballistic arc and "fly" as far as you'd like without flapping like a loon... $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2022 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ Is it OK if we make them a bit on the short side? Like, two microns? $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2022 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime: I am not at all sure that human limbs can generate enough lift no matter how hard you flap them. They have entirely the wrong shape. I'm afraid they may well become supersonic (with all the consequential troubles) long before they generate enough lift. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 24, 2022 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ Freestyle swimming specifically works at the surface of the water. The whole reason the hand part works is that the reverse stroke is out of the water. Air doesn't have a surface. You'll need to copy a style of swimming that works underwater. $\endgroup$
    – dspeyer
    Apr 24, 2022 at 17:51

2 Answers 2


Not with ordinary swimming.

Let's picture breaststroking upward. Each hand can form a semi-sphere about 4 inches across, so both together are moving roughly a 2 inch radius sphere of air. This is 550ml of air, massing 670mg.

He accelerates this air from rest to mach 1 (any faster and he'll lose it) over a stroke of 1 meter. Average speed, mach 1/2. Stroke time: 5.8ms. Acceleration: 59km/s^2 (6000 gravities -- good thing he's go super durability!).

But applying this acceleration to a mere 670mg of air only requires 40 netwons. And he spends half his time in upstroke, so he only gets 20 newtons of average lift. He needs about 1000 newtons to hold off gravity.

This gets worse if the air above his head is already moving downward, which it will be as it races to fill the vacuum he left, albeit in hard-to-calculate ways. He can compensate for that some by not sticking his hands directly above him, so each stroke starts from somewhere far from where the last few did.

But it gets better if we include air not directly cupped by his hands. This is also hard to calculate.

If he gets himself some 15 inch flippers, then he's moving 29 liters = 35.5 grams of air using 2.1 kilonewtons, for slightly more than the kilonewton of lift he needed.

I think there's a native-body version of this that'll work, but it'll look weird. Then again, to anyone without super-sight, his arms will be a blur -- what does he care what it looks like?

Still, there's a reason flying animals in nature keep evolving wings.

  • $\begingroup$ + for math! And proposition to get flippers. Math and the proposition of flippers is a winning combo! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Apr 24, 2022 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ Flippers is a great idea, but mind your forward speed.. With flippers, the body will tend to stand upright, reducing forward speed. When using flippers, a (very fast) butterfly stroke may be appropriate, to shift the center of gravity forward and keep the body horizontal in the air.. The downward movement of the shoulders, arms and hands will yield extra lift. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Apr 24, 2022 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ Flippers are all well and good, but what flippers can hold up to the abuse of being snapped around like that? This isn't a nice, smooth motion like a propeller. And I thought we weren't supposed to be able to use tools/wings(?). $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Apr 24, 2022 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ If the superhuman can manage the 6000 G acceleration with their limbs then they can jump at >200 m/s (depending on exactly how deep a crouch they can straighten their legs from). Which means that even if they can't fly without wings and/or flippers, they can still leap (very) tall buildings in a single bound quite easily. $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2022 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus good point. Ordinary rubber flippers would fall apart. Still, this is considerably less than the forces inside a gun barrel, and ammunition is not restricted to simple metal lumps. Also, a linear increase in size means a cubic decrease the in needed acceleration and quadratic in pressure. I don't really want to do a bunch more math, but I bet thin sheet steel with a backing of thicker steel "fingers" would do the job. $\endgroup$
    – dspeyer
    Apr 25, 2022 at 1:17

In theory.

They calculate that by flapping your arms palms down and then pulling them up sideways and repeating you would need to flap your hands 223 times a second half a meter to fly.


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