Nerd Labs: Issue #2 - Just What CAN Iron Man's Armor Do?
Hello True Believers!
Welcome to Nerd Labs, the subset of Marvel-ous where we explore the science behind our favorite comics! This week we are tackling Iron Man!
The Iron Man armor is a feat of scientific marvel (no pun intended) in the Marvel Universe, to the point where multiple villains over the years have tried to steal Tony Stark's plans and replicate it for themselves. But just what can this armor do? How advanced is it really?
These are tough questions to answer, with over 50 different versions of the armor existing at the time I am writing this, each with its own set of super abilities and feats. So, for the sake of this analysis, I will be using the Mark 42 armor used in Iron Man 3, the film known for destroying comic fans hopes of a decent depiction of Mandarin in film. I'm using this film because this is the most modern version of the armor in film, with exception to the Hulk Buster, as well as the version most people think of when they think of Iron Man. The film also has hard evidence based in reality for me to use in my calculations, of which there are MANY.
So without further ado, lets dig into Iron Man's armor!
This one is pretty easy. In a scene in the film, the HUD in Stark's helmet clearly states that he is going supersonic. Supersonic is a range of speeds topping out at five times faster than the speed of sound. If we assume that the suit can hit the upper most range of supersonic (which is a fair assumption, considering Tony Stark isn't known for doing anything halfway), this would mean that Iron Man can hit a top speed of approximately 5976km/hr (3713mph).
To put this into consideration, the faster aircraft ever created is the NASA X-43, which is recorded at hitting 11,000km/hr (6835mph), or 1.8 times the speed of Iron Man.
Next is range. This one was a little bit tougher. In the film, Iron Man is attacked in Malibu, and explicitly shown to have 22% power remaining, following which he flees. Lets assume that he used 2% of his power in the short fight, because this is realistic, and makes my math easier. This means that he flees with 20% power from Malibu, before crashing in Tennessee from power outage. This distance is 3336.65km (20732miles). Multiplying this by five to find his range on 100% power gives us 16683.25km (10366.5miles) as a max range. This is just using the necessary flight thrusters, HUD, autopilot, and vitals systems, and purely off electricity.
Again to put this in comparison, the Nissan LEAF the most fuel efficient electric car in America at the time of writing this, and it can drive 84km (52miles) on just a full battery.
There is a scene in the film, where Iron Man must save a group of people who fell from a plane. One woman, who appears to be average size and in her early 30s, is explicitly shown to fall for 16s before being caught by the hero. Using the average weight for a woman at age 30 (60kg/140lbs), and accounting for wind resistance, we can deduce that she has fallen 620m (2034ft) by the time she is caught. Iron Man is shown to be stationary in the air, calculating, before flying for 6s to catch the woman. Assuming he wasn't slacking off while flying (because time is of the essence) this puts his acceleration at 17.2m/s/s.
I don't want to talk about how many times I had to watch that scene for that short paragraph.
Comparison: The Porsche 918 Spyder accelerates from 0-100km/hr (0-60mph) in 2.5s, giving it an acceleration of 40m/s/s.
I'll admit, I had to bust open an old high school physics textbook for this one. The equation for energy that I used was Energy = (Mass*Velocity^2)/2. The mass is easy: Marvel has it stated on their site as 200lbs for the suit, and 250lbs for Stark (ignore any previous Marvel-ous issues that say otherwise - there was clearly a typo on their site). The max velocity is the number we used above: 5976km/hr (3713mph). Pumping these into the formula, we get 585565 kJ. We can then convert this to 58,300 Watts.
Comparison: The average Formula One car uses 730,000 Watts. This is 12.5 times the energy usage of Iron Man's suit.
So It's pretty safe to say that Iron Man's suit can hold its own against some of the best technology in the real world. But what really makes it amazing, is not the feats it can achieve, but the fact that it can achieve them while being a suit of armor, with a living person inside, and with no fuel other than electricity. This is incredible, and the real world as we know it today would still love to get its hands on that technology.
I cannot begin to explain the work that went into this post. I haven't done this much math since high school, and it took a lot of research to put this all together. Was it worth it? Do you guys want to see more posts like this? Let me know in the comics!
Until next time,