It’s one of the most recognizable elements of Wonder Woman’s mythology, dating all the way back to 1942. Ask most people with only a casual knowledge of the Amazing Amazon, and one of the top five things they’ll tell you about her is that she flies in an invisible plane. And yet, it didn’t make it into her first solo movie. But thanks to Wonder Woman 1984, the invisible plane finally makes its big screen debut at last.
In the new film, Diana uses some of the same energy her father Zeus famously used to cloak her homeland of Themyscira with an invisible shield. In the new film, Diana uses some of that same energy on an airplane with Steve Trevor. It’s a unique explanation, and one that fits into the mythos established by the film. But this explanation for the plane’s existence doesn’t come from any comic book or previous media. But that’s okay! The Invisible Plane has a long and strange history, with many different origin points.
In William Marston’s original conception in the ’40s, the Amazons of Paradise Island had very advanced technology, miles ahead of anything in “Man’s World.” When Diana left her home to fight in World War II as Wonder Woman, her mother gifted her with a special plane that was invisible to the naked eye and all forms of radar. Wonder Woman could even use her tiara to control her Robot Plane (as she called it) to appear. She could also telepathically command the plane, and maneuver the vehicle with a thought.
In the ‘40s, the plane appeared as a propeller plane, as was standard in that era. But in the ‘50s, when high powered jets became the norm, it took on that appearance to keep with the times. Starting in the early ’60s, there was a brief period where the plane was explained as once having been a mythical Pegasus, transformed into an airplane by the Greek Goddess Athena. But that was quickly dropped. During the four-year period when Wonder Woman lost her powers, she didn’t use her iconic ride at all.
In the ‘70s, Diana Prince finally leapt off the printed page and onto television. First, with the Super Friends animated series, and then with the Lynda Carter live-action Wonder Woman show. Both versions featured the invisible plane, forever cementing it as part of Diana’s iconography to the masses. The live-action show only used it a handful of times, probably because it looked really goofy. But on Saturday mornings, Wonder Woman was never too far from her iconic aircraft.
Despite this newfound fame, by the mid ’80s, the plane would vanish. (Pun fully intended.) TV versions felt silly than in the comics, giving way to comments like, “Where does she find the plane once it’s parked?” By and large, the plane became a pop culture joke. So in DC Comics’ post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot of Wonder Woman, Diana would get a huge power upgrade. Rather than “gliding on air currents” as she once did, Diana now wielded the power of flight. This meant that she just didn’t need the plane anymore. And thus, the invisible plane went the way of the dinosaur for a whole decade.
In the late ’90s, writer/artist John Byrne reinvented the Invisible plane for the modern age, this time as a product of alien technology. It was an alien “morphing crystal”, which could change shape, and was actually sentient. The crystal was often a plane, but could transform into other transparent vehicles. This alien being was initially sheltered from the outside world by an underground race of creatures called the Lansinarians, who in turn gave it to Diana.
This new version of the invisible jet could communicate telepathically with Diana, and would eventually morph into her version of the Fortress of Solitude called the Wonder Dome. Saving Themyscria, the alien eventually died, leaving Wonder Woman once again without a cool vehicle of her own. Batman provided her with a stealth jet created by Wayne Enterprises, but it was decidedly not as cool. Wondy didn’t use it much; no one really loved the idea of Diana’s jet being a hand-me-down from Bruce Wayne.
2011’s big New 52 reboot of the DC Universe didn’t find much use for the invisible plane. But it did pop up, in a way, in a reinvented form. During this era of Diana’s history, the emphasis was less on her relationship with her Amazon sisters, and more on her relationship with her Olympian siblings. So the god Hephasteus built his sister an “invisible chariot,” similar to one he built for himself “to move freely around the world without Olympus watching him.” Presumably it could fly, so it was kind of an invisible jet? In any case, it didn’t make many appearances.
When Greg Rucka returned to writing Princess Diana in 2016 for the Wonder Woman: Year One reboot, he brought back the invisible jet proper in a new way. His explanation for the plane was that it was pilot Steve Trevor’s plane that crashed on Themyscira. It was destroyed in the crash, but the Amazons rebuilt it and added some of their own magical expertise. And presto—the plane was now invisible. Technically, it was Trevor’s plane, but Diana was the one flying it. The reasons for the invisibility was so it couldn’t be tracked leaving the secret island, thereby giving away its location.
Animation has continued to give the invisible plane even more wild explanations. In the Justice League animated film Crisis on Two Earths, the plane was a stealth jet with cloaking tech belonging to Owl Man, the evil alternate universe version of Batman. Wonder Woman bested him in battle and stole his plane as “the spoils of war,” and took it back to her own Earth. It’s kind of badass, but it’s always better when the plane doesn’t come from another character’s mythos.
Silly or not, the invisible plane has been a staple of Wonder Woman’s iconography since almost day one. Creators will continue to find a way to make it cool and relevant, despite public perception. Sure, the image of a woman just kind of sitting in the sky is weird, but all that aside, a supersonic stealth aircraft shouldn’t ever be not awesome. And as long as Wonder Woman is flying it, the Invisible Plane always will be.