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As we see during the movies Thor and The Avengers, Thor is capable of pseudo-flight when he has the use of Mjolnir. When he is without his trusty hammer, he can certainly use his increased agility and strength to leap great distances, but we have not seen him fly unaided.

When he flies with Mjolnir, he appears to spin the hammer to build momentum, and then releases the built momentum to throw himself extreme distances. Is that part of Mjolnir's magic? If it were a matter of the hammer's weight, merely spinning it should throw Thor around. Does Mjolnir only gain mass when Thor intends it to? Or is there other magic at work here?

How exactly does Mjolnir allow Thor to fly?

I'm okay with answers based on the MCU or any mainstream canonical Thor comics (for instance, most "What-If's" are widely considered to be extracanonical).

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I think the idea is that he throws it-- but holds on. Which is actually pretty plausible, for comic-book physics. The weight of Mjolnir is probably not a well-defined physical quantity. –  Beta Nov 2 '12 at 22:41
    
Well yes, that much is pretty clear. The issue is, if the hammer is heavy enough to pull a man sized object fast enough to emulate flight, just spinning it to gain the necessary momentum would have less than pleasant effects on whoever's spinning it. –  Gabe Willard Nov 2 '12 at 22:46
    
@GabeWillard Looks cooler than him just holding it though. –  NominSim Nov 2 '12 at 23:44
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5 Answers 5

up vote 20 down vote accepted

If you are seeking a purely physical reason for Thor's ability to fly, there isn't one. Thor's flight is inconsistently presented and has been so for his entire career. While the mechanism appears to be the whirling throw and release, this mechanism cannot hardly explain the inconsistency in his ability to fly.

In legends, Thor did not fly, he was drawn in a chariot by two goats (Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr) who had the power of flight and the secret ability to be eaten every night and would return to life by dawn if their bones were wrapped in their skin and were unbroken.

When Thor was re-created by Lee and Kirby, they were creating a Superman analog and the power of flight was considered necessary for the character. Their desire was to have his flight have a physical element and once rendered in the Kirby style, the whirling hammer flight was visually stunning.

Flying Thor, Jack Kirby Style

Flying Thor, Jack Kirby Style

There is no physical explanation capable of explaining it. Thor's flight is purely a magical effect. Depending on the writer, Thor's ability to fly was either:

  • Directly related to his throwing-release mechanism of flight or
  • A product of being held aloft by the strong winds in the storms he creates.

Neither of these has ever portrayed his method of flight accurately since:

  • Thor changes direction whenever it suits him to do so. There is no external mechanism beyond him wanting to. The power to change his direction is reputed to be within the hammer, Mjolnir.

  • He does not stop flying when he chooses to use Mjolnir in battle and he is flying. His flight continues uninterrupted. They have gotten better about this in recent years and instead have him attack at range using lightning or energy blasts from his hammer.

  • He hovers. He is not whirling the hammer like a helicopter, perhaps it can be said strong updrafts are holding him up, but he has done this when the sky is perfectly clear, so that explanation only works half the time.

Perhaps the best answer to this question can be found in this panel:

How Thor Flies

  • Many are the wonders of Mjolnir, the enchanted hammer of Thor and we'd like to take this opportunity to share a few of them with you.
  • Composed of Uru, a magical metallic substance which can only be found in Asgard, the hammer is two feet long and its handle is wrapped in leather.
  • Thor can propel himself through the air by hurling the hammer and holding on to its thong.
  • By means which are beyond mortal comprehension, Thor can always control the course of his flight.
  • We don't know the top speed or distance Thor can attain with a single throw...But it's probably much faster and farther than we'd ever want to travel.
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Excellent answer. +1 and the cigar. –  Gabe Willard Nov 3 '12 at 18:31
    
+1 for the answer, but I don't think I've ever seen Thor using the weather to enable him to fly. Can you back up the statement? Maybe you're mixing things up with Storm? –  Royal Flush Nov 3 '12 at 18:33
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No, I am not confused. I have been reading Thor for 40 years. There are plenty of instances where Thor used the wind to hold himself aloft. He was doing this long before Storm ever did. –  Thaddeus Nov 4 '12 at 0:51
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He appears to spin the hammer to build momentum, and then releases the built momentum to throw himself extreme distances

The explanation can vary from author to author. Thor used to launch himself by spinning the hammer, releasing it briefly and re-gripping, to give himself that initial propulsion as explained by Stan Lee in this video. (basically your interpretation).

But just this wouldn't give Thor any semblance of a controlled flight. Sachin Shekhar's answer is also incomplete, because we often see Thor flying without spinning his hammer and he's able to finely control his flight path.

enter image description here

The answer is magic. Basically the current explanation is that he wills Mjolnir into flight. From Marvel's official website:

Mjolnir obeys Thor’s commands as though it were alive [...]. Using this command over Mjolnir’s flight path, Thor is able to use the hammer to fly, achieving escape velocities.

It is what it is. After all, you have a hammer capable of magically making itself not liftable by some people, manipulating the weather, inter-dimensional travel, and more. Flight seems relatively realistic in comparison.

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+1 for a succinct summary, but I have to give the accept to Thaddeus, for his excellent report on the breadth of Thor's canon. –  Gabe Willard Nov 3 '12 at 18:31
    
+1 "It is what it is", so often, as it is so often on this site, that is the correct answer. –  Binary Worrier Nov 6 '12 at 16:41
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In my opinion, if Thor can induce momentum in his hammer to fly to his hand, I think it stands to reason he would be able to induce momentum away from his hands too and if he holds onto it he is taken with it. Just my 2 cents.

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When he flies with Mjolnir, he appears to spin the hammer to build momentum, and then releases the built momentum to throw himself extreme distances.

This can't be the case: it'd be something like you pushing a car from inside to propel yourself.

One plausible explanation: by spinning the hammer/Mjolnir, Thor creates a huge pressure difference (aerodynamic "lift" force) like a helicopter does. The explanation isn't valid for empty outer space, but it was never shown in the movies. We did see spinning hammer/Mjolnir actions only in the atmosphere.

Update:
Sorry for that epic fail sentence. I did forget about the magic, but even with the magic, that physics doesn't look good.

A simple explanation: Mjolnir obeys Thor (that's why it came from thousands of miles when he raise his hand to summon it). To fly, all he need is to command Mjolnir.

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In a world, where you've got a Magical Flying Bommerang Magic Hammer you're talking about physics being epic fail? Also: You CAN push a car from the inside. You just can't just "push" it, you have to use your momentum (it's easier if you're sitting on a chair with wheels and try to get it to move without touching the ground). With real cars your chances are next to nil though, simply due to your weight difference. –  Mario Nov 3 '12 at 0:41
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Spinning a hammer vertically would not create a pressure difference to propel him forward; it would propel him sideways. –  Gabe Willard Nov 3 '12 at 1:11
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Whether or not you think the proposed description of how Thor uses Mjolnir is accurate, there's no need to be rude about it. –  user366 Nov 3 '12 at 1:50
    
@Mario I admit that magic dominates physics, but OP did want physics based explanation. –  Sachin Shekhar Nov 3 '12 at 4:45
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@SachinShekhar Yes, you can push a car from the inside to proper yourself. Otherwise how would Fred Flintstone drive his? –  Mr Lister Nov 3 '12 at 15:07
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Thor does not induce the hammer to come to him... the hammer seeks him out if it can find where he is, it likely also knows where he wants to go.

In the movies he always whirls the hammer, so that would be the main method of flight for him.

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