Regular people are too big and heavy to fly on their own (i.e. without magic or internal combustion), but I'd like to have the fantasy equivalent of the Royal Flying Doctor Service so...

Could someone fly if they were smaller than a regular person, just how small would they actually need to be to fly on their own yet still look like a normal person?

[P.S. Gliding down from a tall tower and walking back would also be acceptable]

In response to comments:

worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/25466/… seems to be aimed more at full sized people and their evolution, and as one of the answers states

[The] biggest problem here is that a classical angel cannot fly with classical angelic wings. [The wings] are just too small...

Seeing as "classical angels aren't 3 feet tall, can we shrink the people to compensate? (after all, we have the square-cube law on our side for once)

https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/39736/... asked specifically:

What would humans wings need to be like to fly?

The response to which was:

On an Earth like planet (same atmospheric density & gravity) humans can not fly. Our configuration makes us too massive to fly given our skeletal-muscular structure.

So... smaller is better?

And as for https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/23145 well...

[Your] flying humans would have enormously over-long arms and clumsy few-fingered hands. They would have large massively muscled and protruding chests and thin fragile skulls.

Which is not the look I was going for and that's for a full sized person, as people get smaller (and lighter) I'm guessing there's more margin to have them look like regular people (I've added a note abut that to the question)

little flying doctors

  • $\begingroup$ Please clarify how this question differs from any of these: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/25466/… , worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/39736/… , worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/23145/… $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Mar 25, 2018 at 10:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T Those questions mainly deal with full sized people and most of the answers say "no, they can't fly, they're too big" or "they'll look like bird-people" or "this is how they could evolve" or that they'd have wingspans bigger than a Cessna... I'm just curious if making tne people smaller (and lighter) means I can have flying people that look like people and are realistic $\endgroup$
    – Samwise
    Mar 25, 2018 at 20:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There are full-grown humans 3-4 feet tall, so there is more to adapting the humanoid shape to flight than simply "be smaller". $\endgroup$
    – rek
    Mar 27, 2018 at 15:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Do your flying people need to have both arms and wings? The biggest problem I see with that is there are too many sets of shoulder blades locking up with each other. Unless of course, you stagger the limb placement, like, wings set just below armpit level. $\endgroup$
    – Peaches
    Mar 27, 2018 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ This reminds me of a sci-fi short story I read long ago, set aboard a rotating cylinder spaceship. The gravity was low enough that if you got close enough to the center, you could actually fly with human-scale wings, but just barely The story focused around the extreme anorexic efforts people would go to in order to make weight, staying thin enough to get to be recertified to keep flying. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Mar 27, 2018 at 20:01

2 Answers 2


This feels like a dangerous area to answer. There are far too many pre-assumed conditions for angels and their relationship with an Abrahamic diety for me to be comfortable making suggestions.

But... why not?

I enjoy the picture of the Flying Doctors. I see that the doctors have wings but the woman standing by the window, and perhaps the sick person, don't have wings. This suggests that either:

  1. they are genetically different, or
  2. they have been given different developmental stimuli to force different developmental paths (such as Royal Jelly in a bee colony to promote the development of a queen), or
  3. the wings are an addition to their original bodies.

As must have been discussed here, the difference between primarily flying and primarily walking creatures goes far deeper than wings. All of the body systems in fliers have adapted to reduce body mass and lower the energy required for flying. A partial list of examples:

  1. Bones are lighter, and not filled with marrow,
  2. Fat stores are minimized,
  3. Blood volume is reduced, and
  4. Digestion changes to reduce the storage time of feces.

These are structural changes, not simply changes of scale.

Other practical matters would include feet. Flying creatures have various ways of transitioning from air to ground. Waterbirds act more like airplanes, running along the surface of the water to take off, and gliding on the surface of the water when landing. Other birds typically come to an aerodynamic stall and grab onto the surface. Landing in a window would be difficult because at the moment of the stall the wings are extended fully, but the center of mass for human-style feet needs to be over the feet.

IMO, how you shape the flying doctors depends on the other constraints of the world. If it is a hard-science story, you could use something like:

  1. based on genetic engineering, with people having a more complex genome coding for many specialties, selected during development,
  2. based on symbiotic bio-engineering, where non-human creatures (such as wings) are added to humans to alter their adaptation,
  3. based on mechanical changes, mixing mechanical with biological,
  4. purely mechanical, like strapped on wings or gliding surfaces.

Soft-science or magic are easier because one doesn't need to have plausible equations.

Looking back at these paragraphs, I realize that I haven't answered your question at all.

Specifically as to size, yes, smaller is better. Unlike some of the discussions, you are not asking that the wings be formed from the arms. You have an additional set of appendages for lift. You also allow for gliding from a tower, so you don't have the problem of generating all the vertical potential energy from the wings. There is no specified a glide slope, so the amount of lift isn't determined, but you need enough lift for reasonable range, and enough lift to do a flare-to-stall at the end.

I'm still not answering the question. Thank you for the interesting diversion.


People in wing-suits can sort of fly (falling with style?) and a parachute effectively automates the flare-stall-landing process, so your winged humanoids could potentially fall-fly down from a high mountain peak or hot air balloon. They wouldn't need to be much shorter than regular humans indeed being light and lanky would be optimal if they're using wing-suits instead of or in addition to their wings.


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