How Christopher Reeve Saved Superman's Flight Scenes

Christopher Reeve is often referred to as the best on-screen Superman, and for good reason. The actor effortlessly conveyed the greatness within Kal-El, and maintained a perfect balance between the socially awkward Clark Kent and Superman, who radiated confidence and courage. Reeve played the Man of Steel in four films – "Superman," "Superman II," "Superman III," and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" — defining the character for a generation. Henry Cavill is a fantastic Superman, but as a young kid, Reeve charmed me unlike no other superhero had before.

In a way, it's as if Christopher Reeve was born to play the superhero. When he was a young kid in New York City, the actor would get a "whiplash" from watching the planes flying overhead. At one glance, Reeve knew he wanted to pursue flying. Little did the actor know that his immense passion for it would one day bring the role of Superman to him, and he'd be able to fly, without flying at all.

Christopher Reeve Was Passionate About Flying

Before the actor was supported by a crane hundreds of feet over Manhattan's East River, Reeve was a trained pilot, who had years of experience flying by himself. After the actor scored a role alongside legendary actress Katharine Hepburn in "A Matter of Gravity" (1976) on Broadway, the star was able to earn a flying license and buy a Piper Cherokee 140, his first plane. "I have 2,500 hours and a commercial license," the actor once told The Washington Post.

Reeve is known to have flown himself to public appearances across the country, and once his Man of Steel character brought him an abundance of wealth, Reeve purchased a glider in Switzerland. Although the "Superman" producers requested the actor not to fly during the filming of the movie, Reeve's flying skills were instrumental in saving the superhero's flight scenes. It's how Christopher Reeve successfully made us believe that a man could really fly.

How Reeve Sold The Flying Illusion

Have you ever wondered how Christopher Reeve's portrayal of Superman was convincing beyond belief? He never had the physique of Henry Cavill or the advanced CGI employed by the DCEU years later. However, Reeve's knowledge of aviation was a true asset to his role, not his bulging muscles.

When the actor was suspended from a wire, he would imagine himself in flight, and replicate his arm movements as Reeves would in a plane. He borrowed inspiration from his learning experiences while gliding over Switzerland, and stretched his arms while twisting his body left or right when suspended by a harness. He'd extend his toes and keep them pointed to make a "a streamlined fuselage," which is the main body of an aircraft. The actor's movements reflected that of a plane, as he continued to pursue his life's passion in movies. Reeve pursued both careers, although he suggested that he enjoyed the discipline of flying a lot more than the "undisciplined and chaotic" acting world.

Reeve Had Tremendous Discipline, Thanks To Flying

Years later, Christopher Reeve had to channel his treasure trove of discipline and determination once again, when an accident during an equestrian competition left him paralyzed from the neck down. The actor suffered from a spinal cord injury after being thrown down from his horse on May 27, 1995. He used a wheelchair and a ventilator until he died in 2004, but Reeve was unstoppable despite his injury.

The actor took on a new role in his life, and inspired people to work harder to find a cure for spinal cord injuries. He worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the importance of this research, while working hard to walk again. Reeve published two books following his injury, "Still Me" in 1999, and "Nothing is Impossible" in 2002.

In his former book, the actor wrote about how the definition of a hero had changed for him over the years. Reeve previously believed that any person "who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences" was a hero, but after learning from his own hardships and battles, the actor began to believe that any "ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles" was a real hero.

Throughout his life, Christopher Reeve mastered the art of making the impossible happen, with resilient courage. He might have portrayed a beloved superhero on-screen, but he also lived the life of one.