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I shall present myself: I am Alfara Gal Strid, proud leader of a clan of Arat'nie - what you would simply call "winged humans".

I come to you with a troublesome question. You see, for a long time we winged humans have faced war with your kind, effectively keeping your lot at bay using ranged weapons and dropping projectiles such as flechettes, arrows, bolts and darts using the ability to fly to our advantage.

Now, though, since some recent diplomatic incident between the clans, we need to fight one another, brother against brother. Of course, this changes everything, since both parties are able to fly. What weapons would be best to fight in this situation?

I'm especially concerned with melee weapons. As you might recall, our wings are connected to the body at out lower back, above the hipbone, and make us capable of vertical flight, along with some impressive aerial maneuvers. Our wingspan is quite wide - generally more than the length of our arms.

We need weapons able to fend off our enemies, without risking to injure our wings as they flap. I'm concerned that spears, or even swords, might be dangerous for this very reason.

Edit: As requested, I shall provide more details about my people, our body and our technology. Our wings are attached to our body at the hips, and we do have quite an impressive set of muscles at our lower back in order to operate them (You'll find a portrait of one of our youngsters at the end of this question). We can fly vertically, but our body can't - of course - just stay still; e.g. our torso leans forward if we are moving ahead, and so on. Wings can rise up to our shoulder level; this is necessary when needing good push or maneuvering. During normal flight they can be kept lower, but I don't think this could apply to the heat of combat.

Still, yes: our flight isn't sustained by muscular force and wingspan alone, at least not always. In our world there are some particular air currents - called Aer - that we are able to ride. Our innate sense allows us to understand and surf those currents according to our need. Aer-less flight is still possible, but it's extremely vexing for our body. Frankly, I hope that dirt-dwelling humans will never learn to build kites and such items to exploit aer-currents; the very idea disgusts me. But I suppose it could happen.

We are rather short compared to the average human (height going between 150 and 164 cm) and our bones are hollowed, making us more prone to suffer fractures.

Regarding our technology, I fear that the world "clan" as led you astray. We are more civilized than you thought: we have knowledge of most metals and can effectively forge them into shape. Our weapon of choice is the flechette that can be dropped on and fall into a straight line, or the light-crossbow when more precision is needed.

Of course, we can't carry infinite ammo with us; the common strategy is to have squires carrying up additional supplies or setting ammo stations on horses on the ground, usually reasonably far from the struggle. This way warriors can drop and reload efficiently, but as I said, this wouldn't work well with another of our species.

Our artisans give their best with tailoring. Being lightweight is paramount, as you can imagine; we mostly use cotton or silk, getting leather when a little more protection is necessary. We can craft more complex and sturdy types of armor - we don't lack the smiths to do that - but I fail to see how they could be used in flight; as someone noticed, our wings are mostly unprotected.

I understand there may not be a best weapon. My concerns about spears and swords lie in the human use of those tools, which often requires big slashes that would be troublesome mid-air. Again, though, I may be wrong. I have been trained in traditional combat—that is, aim-and-drop—and that's the very reason I need informed opinions on new tactics. winged human Picture source: Gwendolyn from Atlus' Odin Sphere

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    $\begingroup$ How do they actually fly? What's their anatomy? With so short wingspan and wings below hands their muscles must be pretty impressive, and pretty big, limiting usefulness of hands. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Apr 26 '18 at 23:36
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    $\begingroup$ wow, i like your impression of your character +1. $\endgroup$ – Efialtes Apr 27 '18 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Liquid could you tell us what tech level you winged clan is (iron age, stone) if you say you’re a clan then I would think your low level tech. what access to resources you have (iron, copper, wool, wood ect) and can they make/craft with these resources. If you guys are high up in the mountains then some items would be rarer than others, are they nomadic or even tribal. with no info to go on i could think you are flying around with sharp sticks for all i know, the devil is in the details $\endgroup$ – Creed Arcon Apr 27 '18 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ I'm imagining how battle between low tech humankind and your kind would turn out, we tie our brothers and sons on a giant kite and then wait for the breeze... everything works out fine until someone up there shouts "reload!" $\endgroup$ – user6760 Apr 27 '18 at 2:26
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    $\begingroup$ As an ex hang-glider pilot, we need more info on your body and your planet. Wings the length of your arms will not support an adult human with our body weight, gravity and air density. If gravity is light enough for those wings, then unwinged humans riding kites are a threat - how do you tackle them? If your wings are the size of a hang glider, your body probably does not allow you to bend at the waist, and your arms will have very different attachment points to human arms. You simply aren't human. Unless it's magic and not aerodynamics which hold you up. $\endgroup$ – Graham Apr 27 '18 at 7:03

25 Answers 25

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Combat with rapidly moving humans on horseback is done by ranged weapons, so similar factors apply to your battles.

Given the context in your question, it seems safe to assume firearms have not been invented in your world, so all weapons will be muscle powered. Throwing objects works well when fighting humans since gravity does most of the work, but when fighting aerial beings, the range of unassisted weapons like darts, javelins and so on will be very limited compared to the target, and the high degree of manoeuvrability also suggests you need some high velocity weapons to cover the distance before your target flies away.

The answer is to adapt light crossbows. The fighters carry several light crossbow already cocked and with a quarrel in place.

enter image description here

Light crossbow. Note no stirrup for drawing, in case you need to try to reload it in flight in an emergency

Upon encountering an enemy formation, they have several options:

  1. "Zoom and boom". If they have the hight advantage, or are coming out of the sun, they can simply dive on the unsuspecting enemy, fire a crossbow then change to a freshly loaded one as they leave the area and begin their climb. A head on pass is similar to a "zoom and boom", except you are either level or possibly even climbing. The head on aspect ensures closing is rapid and leaves the enemy little time to react, while you shoot then dive away. This can break the enemy formation so follow up groups of your fighters can then engage more closely.

enter image description here

Zoom and Boom. The "red" fighter is diving on the "blue" fighter, and will discharge the crossbow at closest approach

  1. "Turn and Burn". This is a manoeuvre in the horizontal aspect. If you are in a turning fight you can pull up during your turn to get inside his turn, then dive back down and discharge a crossbow bolt, switching weapons after discharging a bolt.

enter image description here

The sudden climb causes you to lose some energy, but puts you inside his turning radius, setting you up for a shot

  1. Wingman attacks. You are probably used to wild melees diving on human targets. Fighting in the air requires discipline, much like our cavalry. Every senior figure should have a more junior fighter as a wingman, so when closing with a broken enemy formation you can pick a target while the wingman protects you. This also gives you time to fire and switch crossbows for a second shot if needed

  2. If there are large enemy flocks, you can adapt a human cavalry tactic called the Caracole. Simply flying in a circular pattern and discharging crossbow bolts as you reach the closest approach, then switching to a new crossbow on the outbound leg of the circle will allow you to rapidly pepper the enemy with 2-3 crossbow bolts in quick succession (I doubt you would carry more than 3 light crossbows). Wingmen or other formations would provide top cover for the caracole.

These are the very basic ideas of aerial combat. Refinements like flying at night, nape of the Earth flying and so on can be tested by your clan as you gain experience.

Mastro Leonardo has been carefully studying the flight of birds (under the patronage of our Duke "Il Moro"), and has provided detailed observations on their flight. "Il Moro" has consulted with various philosophers to determine how these observations might apply to aerial contests such as you describe.

enter image description here

Mastro Leonardo would be interested in observing the activities of your clan

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for detail but the one problem i see is this tactic would be used by the enemy as well, if i remember the Byzantine Cataphract units had trouble dealing with units similar in nature like the Turks and later on themselves in civil wars. they are the same culture (i think) use the same weapons and the same tactics. unless the question is built like Alfara Gal Strid is asking an outsider for help in this regard but good job nevertheless $\endgroup$ – Creed Arcon Apr 27 '18 at 4:46
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    $\begingroup$ Well you can also point out that air combat has developed symmetrically since the introduction of combat aircraft early in the last century. The clan is simply going to have to do what every professional military does: train as hard as possible so their fighting members have the ability to do things faster, better and more competently than their enemy. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Apr 27 '18 at 4:53
  • $\begingroup$ and so the tactics of war must be homed and sharpened like art form till none can stand to it $\endgroup$ – Creed Arcon Apr 27 '18 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ A really well deserved plus one for the aerial tactics. $\endgroup$ – Liquid Apr 27 '18 at 21:01
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Ice skates.

Or more specifically, bladed boots. In aerial combat it would allow you to slash at enemies below you without compromising your flight stance while leaving your hands open to carry some sort of buckler to defend against the attacks from others.

With your arms free you could double the foot blades up with heavy darts to use as a thrown projectile. Your opponents have a big frame due to their wings, and you just need to damage the wings to make them plummet, so killing power isn't necessary. You can also drop the darts from overhead before engaging with the blades.

Combat would involve a lot of drops and swoops as the two fighters attempt to get on top of and behind their opponent to slash at the unarmored wings (placing armor on the wings might make them too heavy to fly). Because the blades are on your legs your wings won't be easily reached by your opponent to retaliate without them doing an awkward flip or carrying a spear that might bump into their flapping wings and make them fall, and you can answer the spear by dropping a dart on their head.

It might make landing more difficult, but not impossible. You'd just have to remove them after the battle is over similar to taking off your armor.

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    $\begingroup$ "The enemy is down!" The fact that you have different options as to what profile you show your opponent than in human combat is really significant, and presenting your feet is going to be by far one of the safest. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 27 '18 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ Defending from below might be awkward, but it will be necessary to do so since you won't always have the "high ground". Eagles and hawks have to do this constantly in order to take/defend territory for feeding and breeding. youtube.com/watch?v=uq15Whp8pDY I strongly suggest drilling for this often during combat training. $\endgroup$ – Ellesedil Apr 27 '18 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ I'd add that hand talons would also be effective, didn't put as a separate answer because I feel like it's the same vein as this one. $\endgroup$ – Schrodinger'sStat Apr 27 '18 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ While that's exactly what birds of prey do, they do it because they can't use anything else. If you have a choice, something with longer reach would provide decisive advantage. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Apr 27 '18 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ @JanHudec That may be true but the main advantage to bladed boots is that you still have your hands free to use a ranged weapon as well. This weapon set gives you a viable melee weapon using appendages that can't hold tools normally. Keale, feel free to post videos if you want. $\endgroup$ – MetalJimmor Apr 28 '18 at 2:40
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Long badminton racquets.

badminton racquet

  • Lightweight, easy to carry.
  • Large surface area to maximize chance of successfully hitting aerial target.
  • Low air resistance, and so minimal resistance to swing.
  • Proven efficacy at whacking birdies.
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    $\begingroup$ Lol maybe instead of making the raquet have mesh for the interior, you ould shrapen the edge and make it a solid metal disc. Maybe broaden the handle, and you have on of the most bizarre maces ever. $\endgroup$ – Efialtes Apr 27 '18 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Efialtes not a solid disk. Razor wire. Bizarre and wonderful. $\endgroup$ – MParm Apr 28 '18 at 0:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Efialtes A sharp-edged disc would be a weird kind of sword, and swords were expressly rejected. $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Apr 29 '18 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ add spikes to the rim. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Apr 29 '18 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ In this case, wouldn't a 1 handed battleaxe serve the same purpose? @MParm $\endgroup$ – Anoplexian Apr 30 '18 at 16:25
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Plummet your enemies to the death. Use bolas

enter image description here

  • They are light, you can carry several of them in a bag.
  • They are ranged weapons, because you don't want your wings cut from a hand-to-hand combat.
  • You can make them with metal chains and they won't break, no matter what the other ones try. Barbed wire and spiked weights are possible variations.
  • Your bones are hollow and brittle: humans have used bolas to break the legs of quadrupeds. Even if you don't entangle the wings, you will break at least one. Laugh while you see them flying with just one wing. Remember than maiming your enemies can be better than killing them.
  • They are thrown by making them spin over the head. If you had wings like those mythological beings the humans call angels, it would be a problem. But you don't and you can become excellent throwers.

enter image description here

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I would like to point out that the weapons can’t be anything heavy (at all) and you would have to wear light Armour (Gambeson, or leather)not steel or iron to heavy to fly. Because being winged humans your bones would need to be hollow (making them brittle as well) and with air sacks inside your body keeping you afloat.

  • Long Claws or Bladed Gauntlets (long reach close melee, wont impact on your wings, good for stabbing and slashing)
  • Net Fighting (much like the gladiators, if your wings get tangled your gone or even a four man cell with a big net to trap whole units under it.)
  • Duel Blades (dive booming or glancing blow tactics to the wings would ether break the wings or cripple them, making it easier to finish off. in aerial combat you don't need to kill your opponent to take them out of the fight)
  • A Double Edged or Single Edged Guandao (the lighter version of this, they can weigh up to 70k. made out of wood and irons used by your most elite fighters to wield in combat. unlike the spear the guan-dao can use slicing motions better than the stabbing ones. they can dive down onto their enemy or slice up gutting them as they pass by, not to mentioning you can parry without an equal on the battle field)
  • Boomerangs (a weapon that is designed to return to the thrower it could also double as a blade if made out of iron with the handle in the middle)
  • All Forms of Missile Weapons (you seem to like close quarters fighting but bows and arrows are still you best friend, they open you battle tactics even more. Most if not all you troops should have a Missile Weapon of some sort, even a short crossbow would be fine. I have stated before you don't need to kill them to win, clip the wings and its over for them.
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  • $\begingroup$ As I understand it, any Guandao with a mass even approaching 70 kilos was meant only as an object for ceremony and tests of strength. No blade that heavy would have ever seen combat, because it's just not practical. Not intended to come across as a criticism, so much as a clarification. $\endgroup$ – Myrdden Wyllt Apr 27 '18 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Myrdden Wyllt i remember (some years ago) there was a Chinese museum that showed the best Chinese warriors that ever lived and one of them a giant of a man (sorry forgot his name) said that he used such weapon, and that it weighed up to 70k (funny he died when he used it in combat) they may have lied or fluffed up the legend. but i do know that's they said about the Guandao he used sorry if i am wrong i just wanted to point that out about it because it was so cool $\endgroup$ – Creed Arcon Apr 27 '18 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ Probably a figure named Guan Yu. (According to Wikipedia) His weapon weighed in at 82 jin. At the time he was alive, a jin equaled ~220 grams, at the time the most famous story in which he is a character was written, the jin had come to equal ~590 grams. This misinterpretation took a weapon that might have weighed as much as ~18 kilos, to one thought to weigh in at closer to fifty, which then, through story, became seventy. I'm not an expert though, just someone who likes poking around the internet and learning new things. $\endgroup$ – Myrdden Wyllt Apr 27 '18 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ Actually I believe piercing, with help of attacker's forward momentum, would be the most efficient killing blow with the guan-dao/glaive/halberd, though ability to slash against the wings would still make it preferable to pure spear. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Apr 27 '18 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ Note that weather can limit the options a lot. Imagine trying to hurl a net in heavy rain. $\endgroup$ – Sulthan Apr 28 '18 at 22:12
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I think in the end your still going to end up with a weapons like a spear or trident and here is why:

  • Long Reach so you can hit enemies from further away without physically flying into them
  • Only the pointy end hurts people, the stick end won't damage your wings but could get in the way if they aren't carried properly
  • Can be thrown to hit enemies even further away
  • Carried parallel to your body so they wont interfere with wings
  • Don't need to swing and rely on generating momentum while in mid air. Can be thrust to take advantage of your speed in the direction of travel
  • Can store some extra spears along your back, either under or between your wings depending on how you have them designed

Collisions in the air can be extremely deadly and air combat relies on speed and dexterity to hit the enemy where they can't hit you. In this case, shorter range and heavier weapons can't be used easily as they are hard to lift being mostly metal and have a long blade or require large swinging motions to utilize. Its pretty hard to cut through something then you only have your wings to stabilize yourself.

Spears can be thrust and won't bog down your movement as much when you engage an enemy. It would be similar to jousting but in the air. You hit the enemy and keep moving on without pausing.

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    $\begingroup$ If you have practiced fighting with a spear, you practice with both ends, not just thrusting but also using it like a quarterstaff. The pointy end penetrates flesh, but the blunt end breaks bones. For fun, check out the YouTube video of Jackie Chan singing "I'll make a man out of you" in chinese. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Apr 27 '18 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ But its going to be pretty hard to swing with any momentum and maintain it when you hit something. Your not supported in the air, so your going to suffer a little when your trying to move an entire body without being grounded and stable. Hence I mostly ignored that part of it. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Apr 27 '18 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ Good point - Any melee weapon for aerial combat will need to be either close enough quarters that brute strength can assist (daggers) or rapid enough that its energy is more meaningful than its momentum. You've got me really interested now - I wish I had time to do the math and rehearse the adaptations of technique. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Apr 27 '18 at 4:59
  • $\begingroup$ Considering the hollow bones, you probably don't need a ton of force to score a successful attack. Breaking an arm, wing, or rib is probably enough to defeat an opponent. If there's concern with the pointy end of the spear leading to damaging one's own wing, then you could probably go with with just a straight-up quarterstaff that is a bit thinner then what a typical human would utilize. You just need to score a good whack or two, and you could probably even see some results with a good thrust to the ribs. $\endgroup$ – Ellesedil Apr 27 '18 at 17:02
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Several suggestions come to mind immediately, depending on what sorts of devilry your armourers can devise:

  • Atlatl -- very effective!, but you need good aim. An atlatl is basically a light spear or javelin cast by using a throwing stick. The throwing stick (the atlatl itself) has at its distal end a small pointed peg (often of antler or bone) that fits into a depression in the butt of the javelin.

    This system is superior to merely throwing a javelin because a) the peg engages the very end of the javelin, allowing all casting force to be applied directly to the javelin without the negative effects of hand-on-javelin friction and the poorer transfer of energy and b), the length of the atlatl itself acts as a "third joint" for the thrower's arm, adding perhaps another eighteen to twenty-four inches of arm length and adding a fourth point of articulation. The effect here is increased power.

    Advantages for the Winged Humans in aerial combat: increased useful range. The record atlat cast is nearly 900ft, whereas the record javelin cast is almost 350ft. Both javelin & atlatl can be cast while aloft without concern for tangling the weapon in one's wings, though the distance advantage falls to the atlatl.

  • Blunderbuss -- when fired from above, you don't need to aim! (as carefully) A blunderbuss is basically a smallish handheld cannon, a relatively close range melee weapon. Technologies required to make one: wood working (stock), bronze & brass casting (barrel and parts), black powder (for explosive propellant). A blunderbuss can be preloaded before flight, fired while in flight and reloaded whilst in the air. Recoil is minimal and should not adversely affect the warrior in flight. Ammunition does not require specialist tools or manufactory technology to make. A charge of powder, a load of just about any small, sharp rubbish (bits of metal, pebbles, lead shot, nails), and some wadding to hold the load in the barrel are all that's needed.

    Advantages: packs a punch! At ten to twenty yards, a blunderbuss sends a crippling to deadly cloud of shrapnel towards a foe. Large shot can kill, smaller shot can cripple. A blunderbuss is fired forward and thus will not become tangled in the wings. The heated gas exhaust can be frightening for a first time shooter!, as it looks like the gout of flame might set the wings on fire. But have no fear! The flash is short lived and will not reach as far as the wings!

    Disadvantages: weight. A strong warrior with powerful wings can wield one with ease. Anyone smaller or weaker should stay clear.

    Second life: when a warrior has used up all his ammunition, the blunderbuss works very well as a close quarters melee bludgeon! Just drop down upon a foe and give him a strong whack on the crown! Guaranteed to send even the hardest of heads plummeting dead to the ground!

  • Molotov Cocktail -- simple, effective as no one likes to be set afire! A Molotov cocktail is a highly inflammable concoction of petrol and tar, mixed up and poured into a glass jar. Affixed to the jar, by tying it securely, is an oil soaked rag wick. A bombardier could carry a fair number of bombs, perhaps eight to twelve, packed and ready for use. When engaged in battle, the bombardier should position herself above the fray. Light the bomb's wick and throw it down upon a foeman's head or lower back. The trick is to hit something hard (like the head or equipment belt) which will cause the jar to break and its contents to ignite and splatter upon the foe's body. If his feathers are ignited, he will no longer be able to fly and will plummet to the earth. If any other part of him be ignited, the burning will drive him mad and he will dive, seeking for water in which to immerse himself.

    Advantages: Fire. Any weapon that burns will be a terrible thing to face for a foe on the wing.

    Disadvantages: Fire. Any weapon that burns is a great danger to the bombardier! A flaming arrow well aimed into her bomb pouch will spell her own doom.

General advantages of these three systems over others on offer:

  • Bolas & slings; Meteor Hammers; Whips --- these weapons require the warrior to swing them in a very hazardous arc around the body in order to cast them. A warrior on the wing will much more likely foul his own wings than those of an enemy! Clearly, whoever suggested these weapons to our winged cousins is a ground crawler whose sole purpose is to cause you mischief!

  • Claws, Gauntlets, Blades, Bootblades, etc. --- all are fine additions to the armamentarium, but all suffer the same disadvantage: need to fight at close range. As you know from watching birds fighting while on the wing, most of the time spent in combat is spent in lining up an attack and disengaging from attack & recovering an advantageous position. This kind of combat is very tiring and not very effective! A better use of time in flight is to fight with ranged weapons that can kill or disable with a single hit. Just remember: while boot blades and guandaos look spiffy on your warriors, your enemies will already be smart enough to come at your warriors with ranged weapons first!

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    $\begingroup$ um you realize though youd need some type of poweder charge to make to molotv cocktail explode in midair otherwise it will bounce off the target and fall onto the ground and not do anything. $\endgroup$ – Efialtes Apr 27 '18 at 10:29
  • $\begingroup$ The Atlatl is very interesting, I did not know of its existence. $\endgroup$ – Liquid Apr 27 '18 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Efialtes Apparently not. The whole point of a Molotov cocktail is that you don't need an explosive charge to make it work. It works by slathering the poor target with petrol sludge that then ignites on account of the pre-ignited cloth. Thin glass bottles will prevent them bouncing off an opponent. Also makes them more dangerous to handle, but, well, no one ever said being a bombardier first class was a safe job! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Apr 27 '18 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ This answer would be far better with some kind of description of the three within the answer itself. As it stands, you're providing suggestions for further research, but little in terms of why those particular avenues would be good options, or better options than the other alternatives mentioned in answers. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 29 '18 at 15:30
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Something I haven't seen in any of the other questions yet and that I think might prove to be useful.

manipulate and control the weather and environment as much as you can. Think smoke screens, toxic smoke jars and what not deployed under enemies.

Mirrors are lightweight and can reflect the sunlight, negating the advantage one can have when attacking from above with the sun at their back.

Is Aer physical or magical? can you stop/ block/ change the flows? If so, do it to your advantage.

Make squads and teams and teach them how to fight like that. For large scale aerial combat like this chaos would soon erupt, it is far easier to organize combat as a small unit then hoping to keep order over two large armies smashing together.

That being said, before combat starts, use volley fire of projectiles. Use weapons aimed at disabling flight.

Fire arrows can burn feathers. Sticky thread and rope can bind wings, lace everything in toxins.

Another thing that could work is having two soldiers carry sticks between them. Have thin, sharp threads go between the sticks and have them fly at the enemy. If they fail to spot the thread, they'll get cut up. This won't keep working of course.

Use things like water balloons. But fill them with tar or sticky oil. Stuff that will make the wings not work anymore or work less efficient.

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    $\begingroup$ Really inventive solutions in this answer. We can't control Aer, but projectile and thin threads we have aplenty. $\endgroup$ – Liquid Apr 27 '18 at 21:04
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Human fighter pilots (including in helicopters and World War I vintage fighters) also use(d) "ranged and dropping weapons, as flechettes," "bolts and darts".

You can continue to use your existing weapons. You will need to adjust your aim and range to account for your opponents' velocities and maneuverability. You will also need to study aerial dog-fighting techniques to learn how to get into position to make an attack using your weapons, and avoid having such attacks made against you.

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Thanks for the extra info.

The first thing to mention is training. You say that you're worried about cutting yourself or your friends accidentally with your weapon? Training with all weapons (swords or ranged weapons) is aimed at this first and foremost. Until you can keep yourself safe, you aren't ready to use your weapons for actual fighting. If you've ever handled practise swords, you'll realise very quickly how ludicrously easy it would be to slice your own leg! This is why schools of swordsmanship train particular positions and cuts - they aren't just putting your blade on the opponent, they're putting it where it can't easily cut you or be driven into you by a parry or blade beat. I imagine it would be possible to work out a similar system for your species.

Your biggest problem though is not attack but defense. Humans can cover themselves reasonably well with their weapon, being a straight-up-and-down kind of body shape. You've got highly fragile wings, which are an easy target. Actual fighting manuals tend to favour attacking vulnerable extremities (arms or legs) with hand weapons, or aiming for centre mass with ranged weapons. For you, every attack will be aimed at wings, and it's basically impossible to defend them or avoid being got. You therefore have a basic problem that the first person to attack wins, but the victim can equally easily land a revenge blow before they fall. I simply can't see close quarters combat ever working for your species. Maybe carry a lightweight spear as a backup, but only in the way current soldiers carry a knife as a backup. The odds of actually using it on an open aerial battleground will be pretty damn low.

Given this, I see your warfare being almost entirely ranged. And as with aerial combat in WWI with low-powered planes, the advantage goes to whoever has altitude. For weapons, you're looking at crossbows (repeating?) or perhaps short cavalry bows. For tactics, you're looking at Von Richthofen and all the dogfight doctrines that grew up in WWI.

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    $\begingroup$ "Training with all weapons (swords or ranged weapons) is aimed at this first and foremost. Until you can keep yourself safe, you aren't ready to use your weapons for actual fighting." ...My point exactly. $\endgroup$ – Len Apr 27 '18 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if a backup spear would end being extra weight, but I like the general idea. $\endgroup$ – Liquid Apr 27 '18 at 21:03
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Go ranged. The ol' slingshot and rocks would be a decent weapon, capable of injuring any part of the body from afar without having to burden the user with too much weight and entangling their own wings and limbs with longer or unwieldy weapons.

If the opponent is lightly armored (can't be very heavy since the winged human would not even be able to fly", then you would need to just need to hit their wings to make them fall or "stagger" them. You can even use short bows if this makes more sense in your world, then you can have poisoned tipped arrows and such.

For the occasional melee fighting, use a "tari" or what they call "chicken knives" used on illegal cockfights. Basically a sharp hooked blade attached at the back of the ankles to to slashing attacks and since its on the legs, you can also use your arms to punch, slash, stab or any use other martial art or weapon you can think of. Makes for an interesting fighting style.

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Stage 1:

When the avian wars began we used whatever weapons came to hand. This meant heavy flechettes originally forged to combat armored ground-based troops. They were devastating under the right circumstances $-$ a direct hit would quickly take your enemy out of the sky. There were two drawbacks.

  1. Those things were heavy. Against ground troops we used to stash ammunition in high positions unreachable by foot before the battle. That meant no soldier had to carry more than a few shots at a time. This strategy fails against aerial foes who can easily raid our stashes. So it became a toss up between ammo and agility. Carry more shots and you have more shots; the advantage is obvious. Carry fewer shots and you can fly faster, dodge better, and better avoid enemy shots.

  2. We were vulnerable. Against ground troops we used to attack from a few hundred feet up. While human longbows were vastly more powerful than our missiles the extra height made us untargetable as long as we kept moving. This no longer applies when the enemy can fly up to meet you.

Stage 2: We started forging weapons and armor specifically to target aerial foes.

  1. Lighter flechettes. Nowhere near heavy enough to damage a ground-based foe. Or even harm an aerial foe if launched uphill. But light enough to carry for a protracted battle. During the skirmishes in Stage 1 we noticed most of our troops' injuries were on the wings rather than the head and body. Understandable since the wings present the largest surface area. With these lighter flechettes the wings become the main target. Even a fall from 20ish feet can break bones. In any case a damaged wing takes a soldier out of the fight.

  2. Armor. The obvious countermeasure against light flechettes is to tuck in the wings around your lower back. This leads to freefall so you need a height advantage first. Battles became about getting out of enemy range, taking the high ground, moving above the enemy, tucking in the wings and shooting from above. For extra protection we made light shields and collars to hold ahead of us and protect the narrow profile offered while diving. Again these were flimsy against ground-based weaponry. But they were angled and strong enough to deflect a light flechette thrown uphill.

Once or twice we experimented with what the humans called melee weapons. It was a disaster. With two swords/spears/tridents and four wings whirling about mid-air every soldier was as much a danger to themself as the enemy.

A few oddballs took advantage of this fact. "Since melee weapons are obviously such a bad idea," they said, "no one in their right mind will use them. So if we engage the enemy hand-to-hand they'll have no way to defend themselves". They were half right but, without special training, these commandoes still likely to break their wings against the enemy's wings in the bind. Plus we had no history of forging large weapons so, all in all, it was a specialised and expensive tactic that didn't see much use.

Battles were decided by whoever gets the high ground first. They attack from above and force the enemy to ground level, where they have no choice but to land and tuck in their wings and use their shields for protection. This is moderately effective since our weapons were so light. But since the enemy is not going anywhere, we take this opportunity to gather heavier ammo (rocks) to drop on them. They quickly surrender.

Stage 3: After being forced to the ground too many times our enemy realize if they give up on flying and wear proper land-based armor they are invulnerable against our piddly anti-air weapons. After devastating us in the first few skirmishes we start mixing heavier flechettes back into our squads. In response they reincorporate light flechettes among their ground based troops to defeat our heavy flechettes. A game of rock-paper scissors develops.

Ground troops > light flechettes > heavy flechettes > ground troops

Now every army has some mix of the three that move independently to counter each other. Warfare becomes complex. Weapons stashes return since enemy ground-based troops cannot use our stashes mid-battle. But the stashes must be hidden so they are not raided between battles. We can also use blocks of ground troops as mobile stashes if given the time to prepare.

Armor is also stashed since our ground troops have terrible mobility. Since we live on cliff sides, deep forests and other rugged areas that necessitate wings, a landlocked enemy army can safely be ignored. If we want to move our ground troops they need to disarm, stash their armor for later use, fly to the new location, and re-arm from a nearby stash. Finding and raiding enemy stashes between battles becomes vital.

We experiment with anti-ground ground troops: Non-flying combatants armed with melee weapons. There is some success but our light bones mean we can't put as much force behind our weapons as humans can. Spears and polearms are popular since the metal components are smaller and easier to forge. Also longer two-handed weapons don't need as quick of a swing to do good damage.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the effort you took in describing the possible evolution of warfare. $\endgroup$ – Liquid May 1 '18 at 15:26
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You want a weapon that is A) relatively light weight, B) is not too difficult to aim while moving, C) works at medium range, and (very importantly) D) works against mobile targets. For all these reasons, I recommend bolas! Ideally, you will have two weights, connected by a thin, strong wire, or rope, with padding near the weights, allowing you to spin or grip them comfortably.

Bolas have an advantage over arrows, sling-stones, and similar projectiles because their in-flight cross section is considerably larger, so they're much more likely to hit your target when both of you are actively maneuvering. This is a similar reason to why chain-shot or chain-and-ball shot was used against rigging and masts on ships.

Bolas were used in combat by the Inca and the Maya, and were used in hunting against large birds —which you more or less are!

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The two most important aspects will be:

  1. Reach: Being able to hit your opponent at longer range is always huge advantage. That's why most soldiers used spears, pikes, lances and other polearms as primary weapons. Swords were almost always secondary weapons for use if the primary weapon was lost or the fight became too close for the long polearm. Of course, ranged weapons have even longer range, but lower accuracy and limited ammunition.

  2. Weight: The effort required for sustaining flight, and for all manoeuvres, is directly proportional to your weight. Also, swinging anything heavy around would get you out of balance quickly as you don't have any solid support.

So what weapons come in consideration:

  • Bows: I am going to suggest bows rather than crossbows mentioned in the other answers due to their lower weight. Crossbows were mainly preferred as they required less training, but in trained hands a recurve composite bow is every bit as deadly.

  • Bolas: Shorter range than bows, but more likely to hit both due to their larger size and because you are targeting the wings with them—the wings are not all that vulnerable to arrows since most of their area is just feathers and piercing through them won't cause pain and very little damage. On the other hand bola will interfere with moving the wings, which is crippling.

  • Blowguns, for the low weight of their ammo, especially if you dare to dip it in a poison.

  • Lasso: Similar to the bolas. You'd probably have to let go of it if you score a hit and let it plummet to the ground with the opponent, but at least you'd get to keep it if you miss. The price is the limited range.

  • Lance: A long, rather thin (for low weight), spear would be most practical melee weapon. Attack would almost always involve flying with it outstretched forward and using your own momentum to impale the opponent from behind or other angle except head on (which would usually end in mutual kill) in a style rather similar to cavalry charge except with no shield you'd rely more on manoeuvring advantage.

    It should be long enough to reach beyond your wingtips so you can use it to deflect opponent's spears and also bolas and lassos.

  • Halberd: Adding a blade to the tip might be useful because as the wings are not that vulnerable to piercing attacks they are much more vulnerable to slashing ones (as that has higher chance of hitting the ‘arm’). However, the blade would make it heavier and swinging it around would make you turn the other way, which would be hard to compensate without the luxury of fixed support one has on the ground. Might be a thing for the strongest elite fighters.

  • Spear: A shorter spear as side-arm for ranged fighters so they don't feel completely helpless when they are out of ammunition. Not much actual value though.

In either case:

  • Shields are not practical as they are heavy, cause a lot of drag and can't protect the outer wings anyway. So you'd need to rely on manoeuvring for defense.

  • Since you are very vulnerable from behind, you should be flying with wingmen to cover your back. Flights of 3 or 4 may be an option.

  • You need certain speed to fly efficiently (there is a speed with minimum drag; flying slower produces more drag and thus takes more effort to sustain) and manoeuvre well (at lower speed your wings can't generate as much lift and you need that for accelerating sideways to turn). You are rather large for flying creatures, so the practical speed would be quite high. Say about at least 30 knots (55 km/h).

    That's pretty fast. Faster than horses. At that speed, there can't be much parrying. The fight will be series of charges and evasive manoeuvres. However flight will be usually quite smooth (subject to weather), so aiming the bows is not as hard as from horseback.

  • Most of the time you'll have critical shortage of cover. However, sometimes clouds will be usable and surprise take-offs from under cover may be an option.

    But don't underestimate the dangers of flying through clouds—while being able to feel the wind around your wings does give you some advantage over aircraft pilots, you are far from immune from spatial disorientation.

Also, many encounters will be fights for some resource and that will obviously be on the ground, whether it is a city, fortress, mine, factory, etc.:

  • You'll have some ground-based artillery, shooting from larger ballistas. Instead of big bolts, they are likely to shoot nets or some variants of bolas.

  • You still get to do bombardment, with various things. Flechettes may be effective against personnel, but to take out the defense weapons, fire will most likely come in handy.

(Update) Oh, and one more thing: an otherwise non-fatal injury might cause you to fatally crash to the ground. Therefore for all the weight savings a parachute might actually be well worth it!

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice and in-depth on some aspects not wholly covered by other answers. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Liquid Apr 27 '18 at 22:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Liquid, one more idea: for all the weight savings, your fighters may want to actually carry parachutes, because broken wing bones can heal, but not if they die when they hit the ground. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Apr 27 '18 at 23:15
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Pole arms

The whole reason your people prefer missile weapons is because they want to keep hostile people far from their wings. The same desire would apply to melee weapons, so they'd pick a weapon that has reach that is longer than their wing span.

They'd also want the weapon to be light weight compared to its length and easy to keep away from their own wings. This suggests long rigid pole made from wood or a hollow metal tube.

They'd also want the weapon to be capable of strafing attacks converting their flying speed to increased damage from slashes. And obviously it should be effective against wings so swinging cuts should be relatively easy and effective to do.

These suggest a pole arm with a long light weight, and thus probably springy, pole and a relatively light cutting blade at the end. It would be used in wide swinging cuts and slashes boosted by rapid movement.

I doubt such weapon actually exists as humans generally fail to understand the importance of not accidentally damaging their wings. Stupid humans.

EDIT:

It occurred to me while reading other answers that I failed to fully explain my rationale. Specifically the physics of it.

While flying you basically have no leverage to power either swings or thrusts. A thrusting weapon relying on sharpness such as a dagger or fencing weapon might work but those are not really (apart from early rapiers) practical as primary military weapons. And for a flier any weapon that requires you to stop relative to the enemy due to either close range or need to avoid direct collision is a bad idea.

These factors disqualify all thrusting weapons and any swinging weapon that relies on the momentum of the swing or is short enough to require stopping to protect your wings.

Thus basically all melee weapons used by humans have been disqualified. The weapon must be something that uses the one special quality, flight, that humans do not have.

Basically instead of generating force by swinging the weapon, which as mentioned does not work, the fliers will generate force by flying rapidly. The weapon will accelerate with them thus gaining energy and momentum. Then the flier flies at the target, avoids the collision themselves but lets the weapon collide with the full speed of their flight.

The weapon does not swing, the flier turns.

The description of the weapon that follows from this is as mentioned in my answer before. But one thing I cut from the answer before but am adding now that I am making this excessively long anyway is chain weapons.

I also neglected to properly explain why the pole should be springy. Basically you do not want the weapon to transfer the impact back to its wielder. A springy weapon with proper technique gets close enough. A chain weapon is even better.

The two alternatives are a chain hanging below the flier and then flying over the target or a light weight chain in a relatively long pole. Either keeps the chain from messing your wings while you use it to hit the target.

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The problem with ranged weapons is carrying enough ammunition to stay in a fight for any length of time.

On the ground or on horseback, its easy enough to resupply yourself. But in the air, you could really only carry a few shots at most. So your battles may begin with a skirmish-like feeling where we lob things at each other, testing our resolve to actually fight each other. But once we run out, I think we will engage in a more birdlike fight sequence.

There's basically two ways birds fight to kill:

  1. Lock talons and freefall. This is like a game of chicken, you try to knock-out, scratch, whatever your opponent as much as possible while you both fall and try to disengage before you hit the ground in a way that your oppnent can't disengage in time.

  2. Dive on your opponent and punch. Falcons' use this to great effect. They will gain altitude above their victim, then enter a steep dive. They will then strike their prey with their claws as they fly by at high speed.

So I would imagine a human 'bird' would carry a weapon like the Patu. Short, heavy, somewhat-sharp. It would be excellent for extended battles, being that you don't throw it away at each use, it's highly maneuverable and packs quite a punch. It would be ideal for both types of attacks I outlined above.

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I'd suggest a ranged weapon not mentioned here, but quite widespread in this lowly human world. It can also be fanservice-y enough for you people having wings at their hips with no additional scapulae or carina. Because come on, girls with guns!

Firearms

You people are advanced enough for the flight, diplomacy, flechettes, and zettai ryoiki. You should have gunpowder. Smokeless gunpowder. Many will tell me that recoil and ammo limitations make it impossible. Below, I prove them wrong.

The recoil, weight of the automatic reloading system, weight of ammo – they all depend on calibre. While other mechanical flies preferred increasing munition calibres during the dogfight era, the reason for this was how much easier is to shatter a lowly human flying mechanism (also known as an airplane) with larger projectiles.

Humans have successfully developed and almost deployed warfare firearms with calibre less than 5 mm. There were automatic weapons with fire range around 1000 metres. You wouldn't need this much, at least initially. This allows to reduce the amount of gunpowder, and hence the weight and recoil even more. So, take calibre 2-3 mm, shorter barrels, a lot of rounds – this would be my idea for your armament. To counter small calibre I'd suggest elongated or arrow-formed projectiles.

First idea would be pistols, or, better said, sub-machine guns. Uzi might be a good source of inspiration. You'd need a rechambered version for your freshly-designed ammunition and larger magazines.

In the later onset, the fire distance would increase steadily. So, as a future weapon design I'd outline known Gast gun designs, notorious for their airborne use by some humans. You'd need to scale them down, of course. But this scheme has apparently some benefits to the Gatling scheme in regard of the gun weight.

Notice, that you need to hit your target, hence you need a lot of ammunition. As aerial combat making precise aiming hard. But your target is barely armoured and is a human, albeit a winged human. A single hit would suffice, as it mostly will render a combatant incapable. Even worse, they might as well loose the concentration needed for the flight and fall down.

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  • $\begingroup$ This kind of begs the question of how the flying people fight humans? If modern firearms are available, humans can target incoming flyers with rapid fire cannon and machine guns, or even "Flack" cannon with the ability to shoot 8000m or more vertically..... $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Apr 29 '18 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ The mighty and glorious flying people might be more advanced than lowly creeping savages of a man. We don't know this for sure, however. $\endgroup$ – Oleg Lobachev Apr 30 '18 at 0:22
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The weapon that in my opinion would be most effective is the katar sword.enter image description here

It would be a weapon designed to act as an extension of the hand. It can be used for slashing, but it is primarily a stabbing weapon that is designed to penetrate gaps in armor, it is short enough so as not to interfere with the wings and can take momentum from divebombing and such.

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    $\begingroup$ The close range required to use this makes it very dangerous for the wielder! A skilled opponent will be able to execute a blocking manoeuvre that can send that blade straight into the attacker's own wing. The injury will almost certainly cause a calamitous fall! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Apr 27 '18 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas That's the curse of knife fighting whether earth bound or in the air - knife fights don't last long. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Apr 27 '18 at 5:01
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Honestly with wings that low (around the hips, from the picture you provided), you could use anything. Also, it looks like defending from below is actually easier, since you wings are beating around your legs. Keep any weapon above your hips and you're good.

I'd probably recommend daggers, both to wield in melee, and also to throw. You're flying, so you can turn 180º both vertically and horizontally very quickly, so you don't want a heavy weapon that would take time to swing around and follow your body.

Daggers are simple, can be coated in poison, you can carry a lot of them. To make things more custom/interesting, I'd recommend tying a string and feather to the handle, to make it fly point-first when thrown.

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So you want to fend off flying enemies, without using blades?

Sounds like you want a big cudgel. Maybe with a few studs and a hook for grappling.

Here, try one of these:

enter image description here

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I'm reminded of the aerial combat described in the book Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. The flying characters use very long spears.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding.SE. When you have a moment, please take our tour and visit our help center to learn more about us. While your answer technically answers the OP's question (what weapons...), it would be substantially improved by an explanation of what made the spears so useful in Sanderson's book, or how the spear would not get in the way of wings (your picture suggests there weren't any, but the OP says there are). That added info would make this a much better question. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 27 '18 at 19:16
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A bolas may be efficient, as it may be possible to throw in turn with wing-strokes. The distance of a longer wingspan may allow more torque than a 'ground-dwelling' biped, as well as the ability to swing the weapon in rhythm with timely wing flaps.

Or how about a penny? Dropped from great heights (especially with extra force from a flap) could be effective, no?

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Nets are deadly in air combat. Even more so if used with a crossbow like launch mechanism for moderate reach.

enter image description here

You'll also need some long sticks (e.g. shortspears) to defend from the nets.

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Create aerodynamic kites with long wings, like this:
enter image description here

The only difference would be to put large spikes on the tip of the nose, that look somewhat like this:
enter image description here

On a day where the Aer is in the direction of your enemies, release these gliders. Upon hitting your enemy, the steel will slide along the flint spike as it plunges into their flesh, generating sparks and setting the rest of the spike on fire. For a bonus, make the entire kite out of wood to prevent sabotage (unmanned kite, for clarification).

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  • $\begingroup$ These gliders could in turn be made out of canvas stretched across wooden frames with a vertically flat fuselage for easier takeoff. These could also be used as a siege weapon to burn enemy supplies. $\endgroup$ – sss May 3 '18 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ They also would work better in direct combat if they were small enough to be thrown by a single person. $\endgroup$ – sss May 3 '18 at 5:24
  • $\begingroup$ As I suggested on one of my other answers, if you sign up for a proper StackExchange account, you'll be able to edit your own answers instead of having to post clarifications in comments. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy May 3 '18 at 8:15
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Is the goal to kill each other, or is it more like a knight fight in the middle ages where yeilding (and thus shaming the enemy) was just as acceptable?

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  • $\begingroup$ Both scenarios should be considered, but the main focus is on killing. Anyway, for your information, you can ask clarification as comment under the question $\endgroup$ – Liquid May 3 '18 at 18:03

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