A History of the Batplane

As Seen In Batman and Detective Comics, 1939 - 2005


The First Batplane, 1939
Batman made his very first appearance in Detective Comics No. 27 (May 1939). Only four issues later, in Detective Comics No. 31 (September 1939), his first vehicle was introduced. It wasn't the Batmobile. The distinctive automobile would not make it's first appearance until nearly two years later (see History of the Batmobile). Batman's first identifiable vehicle was a bat-shaped autogyro, as seen in the picture at right (as always, click on thumbnail pictures for larger versions and more information).
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Batman refers to his craft as the "Batgyro" in the first panel in which it appears, but that was the last time it would be called that. In the very next panel that features the bat-shaped craft, it is described as the "Batplane", the name that would be used for it's entire sixty year career. And it was already doing things impossible to ordinary aircraft. Despite their similar appearance to helicopters, autogyros cannot actually hover in one spot. Their rotors are unpowered so they rely on the forward motion of the craft to turn the rotors and generate lift. But technical details like that never hindered the operation of Batman's vehicles and weapons.
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The autogyro Batplane only lasted for a few issues, but it did fight an exciting air battle against the "Dirigible of Doom" (in Detective Comics No. 33, November 1939) before disappearing from the pages of Batman's stories.

The Batplane Evolves, the 1940's
The Batplane quickly evolved into an aircraft that was, outwardly, similar in design to the private airplanes of the day. It was a low wing monoplane with a tractor prop and fixed landing gear. The picture at right is from Detective Comics No. 59 (January 1942). Detective Comics No. 61 presents a number of different views of the '40s Batplane, while Batman No. 12 provides the two most common variations on the '40s Batplane in the same issue.
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Batman No. 9 provides some especially good views of the Batplane of the '40s.
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As an aircraft buff, I noticed that the Batplane in the '40s was often shown with no propeller and I wondered how the Batplane could fly with no visible means of propulsion.
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The First Jet-Propelled Batplane, 1946
Jet aircraft made their appearance during World War II, with the British Gloster Meteor and the German Me 262 being the most prominent examples, though the American P-80 Shooting Star did fly a few combat missions at the very end of the war. After the war, it was clear that jets were the future of military aircraft, at least. The creative team at DC made an early attempt to update the Batplane to the jet age in Detective Comics No. 108 (February 1946) by having Batman and Robin retrofit it with two jet engines slung under the wings. Although the slender tubes they are shown attaching to the Batplane look more like the pulse-jets used on the German V-1 buzz bomb than they do the bulky jet engines of the period, it was a step in the right direction. Unfortuantely, as far as I can tell, there was little follow through and this version of a jet-powered Batplane was not featured again.
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Batplane II, 1950
A more permanent change was made in Batman No. 61 (Oct-Nov 1950). When the old Batplane is lost in an accident, Batman and Robin undertake the construction of a brand new, sleek, jet aircraft dubbed the "Batplane II". The story includes panels that show the new Batplane being built from scratch right in the Batcave. Batplane II is equipped with an amazing array of gadgets and secret weapons, including the ability to convert to a submarine. Its overall design resembles the Navy's early jet fighter, the F9F Panther, but larger with slightly swept wings and a longer, more graceful fuselage. It was a good design and would, with minor variations, continue to be used through the 1950s and most of the '60s.
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CLICK HERE for some samples of the Batplane II's different interpretations over the decade plus of its career.
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Batplane III, 1964
By 1964, the sales of Batman comics had fallen drastically and DC considered cancelling the title. But editor Julius Schwartz, who had produced hits by modernizing and updating old characters like the Flash and Green Lantern, was given the task of doing the same with Batman. Detective Comics No. 327 (May 1964) announced a "New Look" for DC's second oldest superhero. Gone were the aliens and science fiction themed stories, as were most of the large supporting cast of characters like Batwoman and Batmite. The "New Look" returned Batman to his detective roots and focused stories on crime and mysteries. The Batmobile was revamped into a sports car and Batman's costume was refreshed with a yellow oval behind the bat symbol. Because of the move away from adventure stories, the Batplane was not used nearly as much as it had been before the editorial revamp. It did not appear again until November 1964 in Batman No. 167. But when it did, it had a new look, too.
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Unfortunately, the F-104 style Batplane only appeared in that one issue. The Batplane continued to be little used for the rest of the '60s. It made a few more appearances in Batman and Detective but those reverted to the classic design of the Batplane II, with the only indication of the "New Look" being the addition of a yellow oval Bat-emblem.
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Batplane IV, 1968
Four years after the appearance of the F-104 based Batplane, another design appeared that was also clearly derived from a USAF jet fighter. Batman No. 203 (July 1968) was an "80-Page Giant" that featured The Secrets of the Batcave. Inside, a two-page spread presented a cut-away drawing of the Batcave. Part of that diagram showed the hangars for the Batplane and Batcopter located in a mountain top behind Wayne Manor. The Batplane seen in the hangar was a new design, the inspiration for which was readily apparent to anyone familiar with the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo. As it turned out, the Voodoo-based Batplane's only appearance in the comics was in the "behind-the-scenes" diagrams in Batman #203. It never actually made it into a story.
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Batplane V, 1971
The decade of the '70s was slim pickings for Batplane sightings. The Batplane made only two appearances in the entire decade. The first was in Batman No. 231 (May 1971). That issue provides three large panels of well illustrated art that make the identification of the Batplane as a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II unmistakable. The Phantom was still a topline fighter for both the US Navy and Air Force in 1971 so it's use as a Batplane is very reasonable. Since over 5,000 were built, it's not difficult to imagine Bruce Wayne arranging for one to go off the books and into the Batcave. The Batplane V appears to be an unmodified, early model Phantom with only a paint job to distinquish it as the Dark Knight's ride.
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The only other appearance of the Batplane in the '70s was in Batman 305 (November 1978). Unfortunately, in this issue the Batplane is drawn very small and the artist did not exercise much imagination in depicting it. It appears to be another generic design similar to the Batplane II.

The decade of the '80s saw almost a dozen appearances of the Batplane, a big improvement over the '70s but still not much compared to the heyday of the '40s and '50s when the Batplane was featured in nearly every other issue. Batplane V made three more appearances, though in two of them it is slightly modified with scalloped wings and tail, as seen in Batman No. 400 (October 1986).
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Batplane VI, 1980
A new design for the Batplane appeared right at the beginning of the decade and was used often enough to justify calling it Batplane VI. As was often the case, the artists drawing it were not particularly consistent in its depiction, but it generally looked like a much shrunk Batplane IV, the one based on the F-101 Voodoo.
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Batplane VII, 1980
The creative folks at DC must not have been talking to each other much in 1980 because at about the same time the diminuative Batplane VI was introduced, another much larger Batplane was introduced in another Batman title. This one was again based on a real aircraft, if somewhat loosely, the F-15 Eagle. The F-15 based Batplane VII made about as many appearances through the '80s as did the little Batplane VI and even made it on to the cover of Detective Comics No. 541, the first time a Batplane had been on a cover in three decades. Unfortunately, it was exploding! More pictures of Batplane VII can be seen HERE.
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Batplane VIII, The Batwing
Incrediibly, no Batplane was used in either Batman or Detective Comics during the entire decade of the 1990's. That changed in the new millenium, sort of. Detective Comics No. 750 (November 2000) presented a vague (and small) depiction of what is probably supposed to be the Batplane. Every "Batplane" that appeared from then on was actually what has come to be known as a "Batwing." The term Batwing was first applied to the distinctive aircraft that appeared in the Tim Burton movie, Batman, in 1989. That ship's design obviously owed a lot more to the shape of the Bat-emblem than it did to aerodynamics. A Batwing of a different but similar design was used in Batman Forever (1995) and another Batwing design was used in the highly popular animated TV series of the 1990's. CLICK HERE to see more of the Batwing in the comics through 2005.
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A List of Every Appearance of the Batplane from 1960 to 2005.

Elseworld Appearances of the Batplane.




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The character of Batman, the emblems and the comic book panels on these pages are the property of DC Comics. All text and photographs are 2002-2007 Dan Thompson, except where otherwise noted. This website is not intended to infringe on the copyright of DC Comics to its characters, but was created out of gratitude to all the wonderful writers, artists, and editors who created the Batman.