In Back to the Future 3 Marty reads the letter from the Doc of 1985 (who is trapped in 1885) to the Doc of 1955. The letter states that:

The lightning strike blew out the flight circuits.

Which is why Doc wasn't able to get back to the future.

If the flight controls were shot, is there any mention of how Doc was able to land the Delorean safely and how he was able to reconfigure the wheels back into driving mode?

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    The flight circuits could have been something that could not be restarted after he landed, or something without which it is not SAFE but is possible to fly, or it could be that the flight conversion contains a safety measure (seems likely) in the event of a loss of power. Mar 3, 2014 at 3:08
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    I'd bet on the safety measure.
    – Xantec
    Mar 3, 2014 at 4:44
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    Either that or he just crashed the thing, rotated the wheels manually before pushing it to the disused mine.
    – Valorum
    Mar 3, 2014 at 7:31
  • Holy moley! I was just writing this Q out to ask too! Except I was wondering how it didn't drop like a rock and kill the Doc. I can only guess maybe it glided somehow or maybe the Delorean was able to land one final time and then the flying circuits finally stopped working.
    – sumbuddyx
    Mar 3, 2014 at 9:48
  • It is even conceivable that a single initiating circuit or something similar was damaged by the lighting, and that the flying mechanism(s) itself wasn't damaged at all. Thus, Doc could still fly and land the car in 1885, but once he turned off the flying mode he could not reactivate it.
    – Xantec
    Mar 3, 2014 at 21:55

1 Answer 1


UPDATE : The August 1989 draft script for BTTF II+III contains some additional info in the letter that the Doc (in 1888) sent to his future self in 1953

"Upon landing, I bottomed out the car, destroying the drive train and flying circuits, making it impossible to get the car up to 88 under its own power"

It seems that the car came in at a shallow angle and landed flat against the underside of the car before sliding along for some distance.

After studying the original footage for the DeLorean flying sequences, it's clear that the car actually has three main flight systems, not just one;

  • Anti-gravity - built into the underside of the car - presumably operating on a similar basis to that found in the hover-boards
  • Variable geometry thrusters - hidden inside the alloy wheels which visibly rotate

  • Forward-facing Boosters - with the output hidden inside the reactor vents.

Delorean wheel Flight Boosters

When the doc states that the lightning "blew out the flight circuits", its pretty likely that the anti-gravity was damaged (we don't see the DeLorean flying again) but that could have left the wheel thrusters relatively intact.

Assuming the flight systems were designed to 'fail safe' in the event of a catastrophic loss of power, these thrusters could then be used to pilot the car to a soft landing. Certainly when we see the DeLorean next (in the mine) it appears to be intact and undented.

As to how the Doc rotated the tyres back into their non-flight configuration, I think we can reasonably assume that that was simply a matter of jacking up the car and physically moving them.

Delorean in mine

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    Good answer. It seems that the wheel thrusters were installed into the existing rims. Compare the wheels to those in the original. But it does appear to align with why they might have had to replace the rims to send Marty to 1885 (assuming that it wasn't because the original ones had a uncommon diameter).
    – Xantec
    Mar 3, 2014 at 21:51
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    You would think if the boosters on the rear where still operational they would have also been used in drive mode to assist in achieving the 88mph faster than just the Delorean's drive train and combustion engine alone.
    – Monty129
    Mar 3, 2014 at 21:57
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    @Xantec - They replace the entire wheel, not just the rims. In the 1950s it was probably quite tricky to get hold of tyres exactly the right size (16 x 6 is an uncommon size even now) and easier to simply swap out the wheels.
    – Valorum
    Mar 3, 2014 at 21:59
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    There are a lot of ways the produce a hot gas, and not all of them need combustion.
    – Xantec
    Mar 3, 2014 at 22:11
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    @PaulD.Waite - Any landing you can walk away from isn't a dreadful landing...
    – Valorum
    Aug 9, 2017 at 15:15

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