Created By: Ghilz on May 7, 2012 Last Edited By: Ghilz on March 14, 2013
Troped

Spaceship Slingshot Stunt

Using a Slingshot maneuver in a Cool Starship to escape.

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The Crew of the Cool Starship is on the verge of a planet's gravity well, or near an Unrealistic Black Hole. Perhaps they are too close for the engines to escape gravity's grasp. Perhaps an enemy ship is closing them. All seems lost...

Then the Ace Pilot makes a suggestion: Head straight for the planet / black hole! The rest of the crew look at him as if he was mad, but follow his plan, and like magic, they pick up speed and wind up shooting out of the gravity well at incredible speed using gravity to perform a slingshot maneuver (also called Gravity Assist or Gravitational Slingshot) and escape!

Of course, pulling a successful Slingshot maneuver would require some precise maneuvering and calculations, but often in fiction it's entirely possible for the Ace Pilot to just eyeball it. Because the pilot is just that good.

Invariably, when the move is first suggested, almost everyone is incredulous, and it always fools the enemy. Almost like no one has ever heard of a slingshot maneuver before, or is able to spot when the other side is about to perform one. And of course the maneuver is always used as a last ditch, desperation maneuver, rather than a standard tactic or move.

Often used as an Establishing Character Moment if it occurs early in the work, to show the Ace Pilot's skills. If calculations are made, it might act as such a moment for The Smart Guy too.

In Real Life, gravity assists are a well known and often used phenomenon and have far wider applications (and limitations) than those depicted in fiction. The Other Wiki does a good job explaining the ramification.

See also Gravity Sucks, Unrealistic Black Hole and Space Friction, which may factor into the maneuver. Sometimes combined with a Wronski Feint if the enemy is tricked into following and can't escape.

Examples:

Comic Books

Film
  • In the Lost in Space movie, time travel has taught Professor Robinson that they can't escape the gravity of the collapsing planet -- but he figures out that they can escape it by diving through it as it's breaking up. Another character (Major West) does the driving, tho.
  • Real Life: Apollo 13-the service module was too damaged to fire for a direct abort, and the lunar module engine didn't have enough power. Only a slingshot maneuver around the moon, assisted by the lunar module engines, could get them on a course for home. Granted, they were already on a semi-slingshot course, but since they'd left the 'free return trajectory' from earlier missions and would have missed Earth without it, it still likely counts. Depicted in the Apollo 13 movie.

Live-Action Television
  • Stargate SG-1
    • A Slingshot maneuver around Jupiter is attempted by O'Neill and Teal'c, but the attempt fails as the rockets they used lacked thrust.
    • The Odyssey successfully pulls one around a blackhole, after goading a Wraith Hive Ship to follow them, they make it, while the Hive Ship has no such luck due to the Odyssey using the fact that the black hole is messing their systems to beam a nuke inside the ship.
  • Stargate Universe, one of Destiny's shuttle attempts the maneuver around a planet to catch up to Destiny itself.
  • Star Trek:
    • Warp-powered gravitational slingshots are used a method of time travel in the franchise, especially in Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek IV.
    • Conventional slingshots without time travels feature in Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "Beyond the Farthest Star" and Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Booby Trap".
    • One episode of Star Trek: Voyager had Janeway attempting to drive an alien force that had been experimenting on her crew off by flying between a pair of pulsars. Tuvok remarks that it's a far more reckless course of action than he'd come to expect from her. The aliens leave rather than face the pulsars, but Voyager flies through, counting on their momentum to help them escape. Once they're safe on the other side, Janeway remarks she didn't know Tuvok thought she was reckless, to which he responds, "Poor choice of words, Captain. It was clearly an understatement."
  • Andromeda starts this way. They attempt to slingshot around a black hole but sabotage leaves them stranded in orbit so close to the black hole that from their point of view a few seconds went by, while a whole 300 years passed in the rest of the galaxy.
  • Integral to the plot of Farscape. Proving the feasability of this maneuver is the whole reason John went into space with Farscape One. By the conclusion of the pilot, he proves his theory using Moya, with Aeryn Sun piloting and him doing the calculations on the floor, using the maneuver to escape the Peacekeepers.

Literature
  • Used a few times in the Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • Han Solo has the Millennium Falcon does this to escape the Genius Loci in Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear. He lampshades this by calling it the "oldest trick in the manual."
    • A semi-regular appearance during the Yuuzhan Vong War where the maneuver is called a Solo Slingshot. Implying Han Solo was the first to do it.
  • Combined with a Wronski Feint in The Privateer by James Doohan and S.M. Sterling. The damaged light carrier Invincible has a Mollie flotilla in hot pursuit, so it heads for a recently discovered system that has a pulsar perilously close to the jump point. Since they're expecting it, they're able to slingshot around the pulsar and back to the jump point to escape. The Mollies aren't so lucky; they end up smeared across its surface with their very atoms crushed into degenerate matter.

Music

Tabletop Games
  • Starfire, Nexus magazine #2 article "Incidents from the First Terran-Khanate War". When a Terran ship first encountered a ship of the Khanate of Orion, the Terran commander was under orders to obtain information about the other side before leaving. He altered course to make a tight high-speed parabolic course around a nearby Khanate planet so he could scan it and use the planet's gravity to return to the warp point at maximum speed. He had to fight (and destroy) a Khanate ship while performing this maneuver.

Video Games
  • The Star Control games features top-down 2D maps where two ships at a time duke it out, usually complete with a planet in the middle to act as a hazard and a gravity well. Using the planet's gravity to slingshot yourself across the map (or to trap an enemy ship) is a cornerstone of the game's combat style.

Western Animation
  • Used in Green Lantern: The Animated Series where Hal Pilots a ship Into a pinhole (miniature black hole), making it "skip" over the accretion disk like a stone over water which somehow lets the ship shoot out of the pinhole's event horizon towards safety. Made further confusing when earlier in the episode the gravity was strong enough to "spaghetti" the prow of the ship, yet when later they are much closer to The pinhole, skipping on its accretion disk, the ship suffers no structural damage.
Community Feedback Replies: 44
  • May 7, 2012
    chicagomel
    Real Life: Apollo 13-the service module was too damaged to fire for a direct abort,and the lunar module engine didn't have enough power. Only a slingshot maneuver around the moon, assisted by the lunar module engines, could get them on a course for home. Granted, they were already on a semi-slingshot course, but since they'd left the 'free return trajectory' from earlier missions and would have missed Earth without it, it still likely counts. Depicted in the Apollo 13 movie.
  • May 7, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    Literature
    • Han Solo has the Millennium Falcon does this to escape the Genius Loci in Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear. He lampshades this by calling it the "oldest trick in the manual."
  • May 16, 2012
    Omeganian
    Andromeda starts this way. Doesn't quite work as planned, but at least the ship survived.
  • May 17, 2012
    TheEvenPrime
    Psst: It's Cool Starship if it's about spaceships.
  • October 16, 2012
    StarSword
    Literature:

    • Combined with a Wronski Feint in The Privateer by James Doohan and S.M. Sterling. The damaged light carrier Invincible has a Mollie flotilla in hot pursuit, so it heads for a recently discovered system that has a pulsar perilously close to the jump point. Since they're expecting it, they're able to slingshot around the pulsar and back to the jump point to escape. The Mollies aren't so lucky; they end up smeared across its surface with their very atoms crushed into degenerate matter.

    Also, if the Odyssey-versus-Wraith example is the one I'm thinking of, the Wraith pulled off the maneuver, too. Only problem is, the Odyssey's crew teleported a nuke inside it.
  • October 17, 2012
    CobraPrime
    The wraith just approached the black hole IRC, they never explicitly attempted a slingshot before being nuked (Since they blew up by the gate and the gate was in a stable orbit near a black hole). Still the nuking should be noted in the example
  • October 17, 2012
    Ghilz
    Fixed
  • October 18, 2012
    CobraPrime
  • October 23, 2012
    Arivne
    Tabletop RPG
    • Starfire, Nexus magazine #2 article "Incidents from the First Terran-Khanate War". When a Terran ship first encountered a ship of the Khanate of Orion, the Terran commander was under orders to obtain information about the other side before leaving. He altered course to make a tight high-speed parabolic course around a nearby Khanate planet so he could scan it and use the planet's gravity to return to the warp point at maximum speed. He had to fight (and destroy) a Khanate ship while performing this maneuver.
  • November 16, 2012
    StarSword
    YKTTW Bump. This doesn't deserve to be lost in the shuffle.
  • November 16, 2012
    Quatic
    In the Lost In Space movie, time travel has taught Professor Robinson that they can't escape the gravity of the collapsing planet -- but he figures out that they can escape it by diving through it as it's breaking up. Another character (Major West) does the driving, tho.
  • November 17, 2012
    DracMonster
    Rename it Starship Slingshot or Slingshot Maneuver. It's a trope on its own regardless of the circumstances behind it.
  • November 17, 2012
    Xtifr
    Music
  • November 21, 2012
    Arivne
  • November 21, 2012
    m8e
    Starship Slingshot Stunt?

    A lot of S. :)
  • November 21, 2012
    Ghilz
    I like ^
  • November 21, 2012
    Xtifr
    Technically it's not limited to starships. In fact, as an in-system maneuver, it may be more common for in-system spaceships. I'm pretty sure NASA has used it more than once, and they're a long way from building any actual starships. :)

  • November 21, 2012
    Tallens
    • One episode of Star Trek Voyager had Janeway attempting to drive an alien force that had been experimenting on her crew off by flying between a pair of pulsars. Tuvok remarks that it's a far more reckless course of action than he'd come to expect from her. The aliens leave rather than face the pulsars, but Voyager flies through, counting on their momentum to help them escape. Once they're safe on the other side, Janeway remarks she didn't know Tuvok thought she was reckless, to which he responds, "Poor choice of words, Captain. It was clearly an understatement."
  • November 22, 2012
    Arivne
  • November 22, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ I may be being too picky. I don't think Cool Starship is limited to actual starships, but I'm not sure. In any case, I'm not that impressed with pointless alliteration, but I don't hate the suggestion. I think Slingshot Maneuver is the standard term, though.
  • November 22, 2012
    m8e
    ^^Right, Spaceship Slingshot Stunt is better.

    I don't like Slingshot Maneuver as this isn't about any time someone use a Slingshot Maneuver(/Gravitational Slingshot). This trope is about the stunt someone does to save themself or to trick someone else.

    Oh. Probably related to Wronski Feint.
  • November 22, 2012
    CobraPrime
    ^^ Technically the standard term is "Gravity Assist", but never called such in fiction.
  • November 22, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ Gravity assist is broader (though it is the name you'd use to find this on The Other Wiki). And yes, I meant "standard in fiction". :)

    ^^ I don't see how using this to save yourself is a separate trope, which is why I suggested broadening it earlier. Spaceship Escape Maneuver might be a trope, but I don't see how using slingshot/gravity assist is distinct from, say, loop-de-loops when it comes to escape. On the other hand the slingshot maneuver itself could easily be seen as a trope.
  • November 22, 2012
    m8e
    ^??? Never said it was different tropes. What I meant was that this trope doesn't cover just anytime someone uses a gravity assist(=Slingshot Maneuver), and the title Slingshot Maneuver doesn't really show that.

    There has to be some desperation or something, otherwise it's PSOC.
  • November 23, 2012
    StarSword
    ^When was the last time you saw it used in fiction and it wasn't a desperate move? You're already mentioning how gravity assists are a standard maneuver in probes, so I don't see how Slingshot Maneuver is a bad name.
  • November 23, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
  • November 23, 2012
    CarrieVS
    Are we looking for a name that includes a reference to escaping? Slingshot To Safety? Slingshot Escape? Any good?

    'When was the last time you saw it used in fiction and it wasn't a desperate move?' Space Odyssey Voyage To The Planets. A planned manoeuvre on the ship's intended course, simply taking advantage of gravity.

    That said, it's the only time I can remember seeing it used other than in an emergency. And including the impromptu do-it-on-pure-guesswork part of the description, it's never used except in desperation, nor should or would it be. So I'm in favour of something like Spaceship Slingshot Stunt, since 'stunt' implies the rash nature of the manoeuvre, which in turn implies the desperation. Also alliteration.
  • November 23, 2012
    CobraPrime
    I agree the Stunt part (or Escape or whatever) is needed. Because IRL this is routine. It's used for most rocket launches. But in fiction, it almost never is. It's treated as a desperate gamble despite the fact that it should not be. It's a big part of the trope IMHO, so the title should reflect that.
  • November 23, 2012
    Xtifr
    I disagree about the "only used for escape in fiction" part. My guess is that you guys read (or more likely watch) crappy SF (crappy in the science part, at least). It's very common in hard SF. (Something that's basically non-existent on television, but very common in literature.) And yes it is a trope even without the escape part. It's a way that the writer establishes that (s)he has done the research.
  • November 23, 2012
    Ghilz
    ^ I disagree. Then it's not a trope. It's simply using normal scientific facts correctly. It's no more a trope than Pythagoras' Theorem. Also, passively aggressively insulting other people (or at least their tastes) isn't something generally condoned.

    I'd like 1 - 3 more examples before launching. More Examples means more cross-wicking meaning more Wiki Magic.
  • November 23, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    ^^ "It's a way that the writer establishes that (s)he has done the research." = Shown Their Work
  • November 23, 2012
    Treblain
    ^^^ This is a trope precisely because it's based on a fictional version of slingshot maneuvers where it's somehow unexpected and cool. This is a science fiction trope, not a science trope. I don't see what your problem is; the description clearly acknowledges that it's not the actual way things would work in real life. On that note, even hard sci-fi literature treated the slingshot as impressive (translation, Infodump-worthy), before, say, the '70s, when it was a tested maneuver in spaceflight.
  • November 25, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^^^ I didn't insult anyone--I like plenty of SF that's crappy in the science. That's why I said "in the science".

    ^^ I can play that game too: Try And Follow. In any case, it's more Rule Of Cool than Shown Their Work.

    ^ Now there's a more convincing argument. But you're not arguing for this being an escape trope. You're suggesting that this is "treated...as impressive". My objection was to making this an escape trope. But "stunt" doesn't necessarily imply "escape", so I'm fine with the current name. I'm fine with making this a subtrope of Rule Of Cool. In fact, it's now my preferred solution. But I do think the description needs some tweaking.
  • November 25, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    No, ROC is "The limit of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to the element's awesomeness." STW is "when the creators tweak their stories to show the viewer/reader what they have learned [from doing their research]" (parenthetical part from two sentences previous).

    Wasn't playing a game. I can't say it any more clearly or concisely than that. "It's a way that the writer establishes that (s)he has done the research." = Shown Their Work. Are you just objecting to the boldface? If so you're misreading mine and using it wrong. It's shorthand for "this is <trope>".

    Description seems solid but would like to see STW (pothole?) worked into it somewhere, probably in the "In Real Life..." paragraph.
  • November 25, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ No, I mean that I now think this is/should be more of a subtrope of Rule Of Cool than a subtrope of Shown Their Work. Although I think it's related to both. Treblain convinced me on that point.

    My primary complaint about the description is that it seems too much like Example As Thesis. It's not as bad as it could be, because it lists multiple examples, but I'd still rather have it start with a description of the actual trope, and then mention some of the ways it can be played.
  • November 25, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Not a fan of the current name- too tongue-twisting. Slingshot Maneuver is what I would search for if I were trying to find an article about this trope online. That's what it's usually called, anyway, in fiction.
  • December 3, 2012
    Ghilz
    Bump for more examples
  • December 3, 2012
    Tallens
    ^^^I think I'll have to agree, the Example As Thesis should be redone.
  • January 24, 2013
    CarrieVS
    This has 5 hats now, but seems to have been forgotten about.
  • January 24, 2013
    Xtifr
    It's not old enough to be automatically up-for-grabs--Ghilz posted less than two months ago--but you could PM him and see if he's still interested.
  • January 24, 2013
    AFP
    A video game example:

    • The Star Control games features top-down 2D maps where two ships at a time duke it out, usually complete with a planet in the middle to act as a hazard and a gravity well. Using the planet's gravity to slingshot yourself across the map (or to trap an enemy ship) is a cornerstone of the game's combat style.
  • January 25, 2013
    toadking07
    Nice, this one is all over space themed adventures.
  • January 25, 2013
    zarpaulus
    • In one of the Futurama comics Leela did this with the Planet Express ship to avoid being late to class, unfortunately destabilizing the star she sling-shot around.
  • March 14, 2013
    StarSword
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=1ji7r4z2rel5pkfdagyq78b1