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I have seen people saying that humans can't fly even with wings because our arm muscles aren't strong enough.

Given that one of the uses of powered exoskeletons is to increase strength, would this be able to provide the strength needed to fly?

By "fly" I mean bird-like with flapping wings.

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    $\begingroup$ Please explain why already existing ways of flying (jetpack, microlight plane, hang glider) do not match your requirements. Anyway, given enough power anything can fly. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Mar 18 '18 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ In a way a helicopter or the things mentioned above are a powered exoskeleton. When it comes to things like these, the question is always : why has nobody done this yet. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Mar 18 '18 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ technically a jetpack would be a powered exoskeleton.... $\endgroup$ – Journeyman Geek Mar 18 '18 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ What we're saying is that from a technical point of view an e.g. microlight is a power exoskeleton. They may not be human-shaped extensions, but they're extensions designed to function with the human body (and not without it). $\endgroup$ – StephenG Mar 18 '18 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ Technically, big birds don't do much wing-flapping. Instead, for the most part they glide, relying on hot air currents to carry them up. Much like a hang glider. So you could regard a hang glider as an exoskeleton enabling people to fly. $\endgroup$ – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Mar 18 '18 at 13:25
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No, because:

  1. Things that fly must be light, because of gravity. (That's why bird bones are so much lighter than mammal bones, and airplanes are made of very thin aluminum.)
  2. Powered exoskeletons are heavy, and designed to enhance the legs and arms.
  3. Flapping wings use chest muscles (the Pectoralis for pulling down, and the Supracoracoideus -- who's tendons wrap over the shoulder -- to pull the wing up).
  4. The chest bone structure of birds is different from humans.
  5. Bird on the ground are tilted forward, and fly in an almost prone position. Contrast that with the human vertical stature.

Powered exoskeletons would change none of that.

enter image description here https://askabiologist.asu.edu/sites/default/files/resources/articles/bats/human-bird-bone-comparison-540.gif

enter image description here http://yourniskayuna24.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Powered-Exoskeleton-214x300.jpg

enter image description here https://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/muscle-bound_660x745.jpg

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  • $\begingroup$ Please consider properly attributing any used images or, even better, link them to their original source. $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Mar 18 '18 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ I find this answer lacking. Current generation of exo-skeletons are extremely primitive, more of a proof of concept than actual practical pieces of equipment. Assuming technology advances exo-skeletons can become practicle. At that point you build highly specific exo-skeletons for only a few purposes. An exo-skeleton for flying would use light materials, such as Graphene-enhanced metamaterials for lightweight but strong materials and some massive wingspans. The biggest problem would be a lightweight powersource with enough storage and output to fly for extended periods. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Mar 18 '18 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan even with all that... look how the bird is oriented in flight. Humans would have to be similarly oriented. But we're not. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 18 '18 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T too bad the img tag dialog box doesn't do that automatically. I'll try and find the pics again, though. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 18 '18 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan reason #5 added. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 18 '18 at 17:23
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Not alone. Humans are too heavy to fly on their own, adding anything which increases their weight would only make things worse.

Also keep in mind that the body has to be able to withstand the forces exerted during the act of fly, thus the muscles and the bones have to be strengthened.

If instead of flying by flapping wings you aim to have sort of reaction fly then the problem becomes how to control the arms during the flight.

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    $\begingroup$ A powered exoskeleton could well increase the power-to-mass ratio of a human though, making flight more possible. $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer Mar 18 '18 at 15:22
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Answer in two parts:

1) Yes. What you're looking for is called an ornithopter (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ornithopter) and powered models have been made - albeit not very successfully. Given light enough materials and powerplants you could certainly create a machine capable of flight.

2) Why? As above, ornithopters are not particularly successful (as in human-carrying ones are currently flying a few metres at a time, whilst conventional aircraft are happily cruising for thousands of miles). Humanity has been refining powered flight for the last 100+ years and has basically narrowed it down to either (a) thrust engines and a lifting surface or (b) powered rotors as these give by far the most successful results. If you want flying soldiers, you're most likely to get success using one of those two methods.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the right answer. Re human bones cannot withstand forces - a machine does not exert leverage against the human bones. Re humans are too big - the machine is as large as it needs to be. The only difference between a machine you sit in and a powered suit is the control interface, which is arbitrary. If powered flapping flight is possible for humans (and it is; see link) a powered flapping flight suit is possible. $\endgroup$ – Willk Mar 18 '18 at 19:42
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I don't think it could be done by blindly increasing power. Even with a good sized wing and low weight, flapping is surprisingly complicated. You're going to want an AI to help you as well.

We have made vehicles that flap their wings, like this dragon fly robot. However, those simple wings are quite a lot different than bird wings are. Bird wings have feathers, and they can often be controlled with remarkable precision. Just take a look at this video from Smarter Every Day on parrots. You can see all the motion that goes into it. Some of this motion simply come from the topology of the feathers and doens't require thought. The wingtips and tail, however, are heavily controlled by small muscles. This dramatically improves the efficiency of the bird, letting it be light enough weight to function.

Your ornthopter would likely have to do similar, to cut the weight down. You would want an AI onboard which is constantly optimizing the feathers, and somehow relaying information about that to the user to help them guide their path.

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  • $\begingroup$ If it's an exoskeleton, there shouldn't be any need for an AI - there's a perfectly good I that can learn movement patterns with incredible dexterity. $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer Mar 19 '18 at 14:12
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Yes, if technology could build them to work like a bird. But due to the weight it would need wingspans of 40 feet and more and take off would be a huge problem.

Flight control and all the rest would have to be worked out.

But assuming you could build an exoskeleton to do the muscle work then there is nothing stopping it being possible. It's just not the most efficient way of flying for humans.

Takeoff is a big problem, large birds either drop into the air from a height or run along flapping to gain enough speed to get lift for take off eg, swan. It's unlikely that a human could run fast enough even without balancing a 40 foot wingspan, so they would need to drop from a height.

This is all pretty dangerous, as recently as 2006 Yves Roussea was severely injured in a flight attempt under controlled conditions. A fixed wing is a lot safer for obvious reasons.

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