Okay, so, here's the deal: one of the characters in my story is a sort of crazy hermit with the power to magically manipulate wood. Just by touching it, he can alter the physical properties of wood in various ways, wholly independent of the laws of physics. He can alter its shape with his mind (though he can't make it larger or smaller, there has to be the mass there to make the shape, like with clay), and he can alter the weight and strength of wood to virtually any value within a certain range. For instance, he can make wood that is simultaneously as strong as steel and as light as hydrogen. He uses this power of his to build insane, physically-impossible alterations onto his humble house until it's this massive multi-story abomination of twists and turns and balconies and bridges that would make OSHA commit seppuku just from looking at it.

And then he makes this house float into the sky.

This becomes the base of operations of the main villain he works for. And since the various forces that brought these magical powers into the world have also made most forms of modern technology useless, they exploit the fact that they're the only faction capable of flight to elude and wreak havoc upon their earthbound enemies. But the problem is I'm trying to work out how they'd get to the ground and back.

The idea is that the house itself has very limited means of controlling where it moves through the sky, and is mostly at the mercy of the wind except for complicated procedures requiring the direct intervention of the woodbender that can be put into place when necessary. So ideally this woodbending hermit would create magical aircraft out of his specially altered wood that would let his allies travel through the skies and between the sky fort and the ground, without him actually needing to be on the ship to mess with the properties of the wood further.

But the problem is, like I said, their access to means of propulsion is limited. Electricity, explosive combustion and steam power do not work properly (and yes, I addressed why this would be the case and yet life is possible).

Given the supernatural material they have access to and the aforementioned restrictions on technology, is there a method of propulsion they could use to craft an aircraft capable of moving in all directions, without the woodbender needing to be on board to alter the properties of the ship on command?

  • $\begingroup$ We need clarity. You said electricity, combustion, and steam power (which I assume means you can't burn coal) don't work properly. Does that mean no solution using electricity or combustion is acceptable? What about chemical alternatives to combustion? Are the only acceptable solutions mechanical? $\endgroup$ Oct 4 '18 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Mechanical, or harnessing wind power or gravity, etc. Sorry about the confusion, but the nature of why non-mechanical forces don't work is a bit complicated and would probably needlessly bloat the question. Should I try to do it anyway? I'm trying to get a feel for how much information is too much when writing these questions. $\endgroup$ Oct 4 '18 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ Combustion and steam are, at the root purely mechanical. You heat stuff, it expands. If it tries to expand more than it's container, something gives. If these don't work then simple cook fires won't work either. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Oct 4 '18 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ No, we don't need to know why, only what the specific restrictions are. Please remember to edit your question with the clarifications. Never expect people to read through the comments. Cheers! $\endgroup$ Oct 4 '18 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. Sorry for the delay in updating it. I'm a bit tied up at the moment, so I'll be adding in the specific restrictions in an hour or so. $\endgroup$ Oct 4 '18 at 2:20

and is mostly at the mercy of the wind

So make a sailing ship that sails through the skies. Put glider wings on it, so it has some control and stability.

  • $\begingroup$ Throw in an anchor as well, that will drag and hopefully lock onto something on the ground so you can pull yourself in. $\endgroup$
    – Shadowzee
    Oct 4 '18 at 1:36

Human-powered-flight is definitely a thing, and would seem to be possible under the constraints you listed. A super light frame, with a seat and set of pedals connected to a propeller. Most human powered flying machines are basically glorified hang gliders, but they certainly are capable of sustained flight for periods of times.

It's your magic system, so I don't know the exact limits - but large vehicles such as a zeppelin or blimp may be possible. You stated that steam and combustion don't work, but I am assuming that something as simple as a hot air balloon would still function. A team of people could then man a propeller crank to provide some motive force against the wind. Depending on the level of scientific knowledge, chemical extraction of hydrogen may be possible, and increase the probability for dramatic explosions.

With only human power, it's going to stretch credibility that they'd been able to make any sort of headway against a storm or serious breeze, but they should be fine as long as skies are clear.

I also found this - it's not quite a duplicate, but may be some interesting reading

Another Approach:
The underside of the house has elevators and platforms that are raised and lowered by human powered winches. This way, access to the house can be controlled by those already inside.

Those wishing access travel to underneath the houses location and signal for a lift. Maybe the flash some sort of secret code using semaphore or a signal lantern. A basket gets lowered, they climb aboard, then it gets raised again. If the people in the house decide they don't like the look of the guests, they can always loose the ropes to one side of the platform/basket and tip 'em off.

For examples - the WarBoy powered car elevator from mad Max: Fury Road. Feel free to size up or down depending on requirements.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Good answer. Real world analogy - seafaring at the age of the vikings. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel
    Oct 4 '18 at 7:55

A Stirling Engine does not use steam or coal - any exsiting hot/cold reservoirs will work. Including, say, a cookfire (hot) and the outside air (cold).

It won't be powerful, and the reservoirs must be fairly close together.


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