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Heraldic Dragons

Heraldic dragons are the creations of a mad god, called Anon, designed after the classical six-limbed ones.

Measurements:

  • Head+neck length: 180 cm
  • Body length: 180 cm
  • Height at shoulders: 180 cm
  • Tail length: 280 cm
  • Wingspan: 11 m
  • Wing area: 22 m^2

Context of their creation

Anon was a maximalist and borderline sadomasochist, using cat for text-editing and such, and really wanted to make dragons the way he imagined. Since he was also immortal and had access to nanomachines, a quantum supercomputer, and considerable resources, only the laws of physics were meaningful obstacles.

Dragons are native to the setting of Neverwhere, a and world.

Adaptation for flight

Dragons make extensive use of graphene in their bodies, as well as microscopic scale engineering, maximalizing their tissues' strength-weight ratio.

Flight appendages

The wings and flight muscles are located between the fore and hind limbs. They're almost completely anaerobic, just like the flight muscles of the Quetzalcoatlus northropi. However, the Quetzalcoatlus had a torso length of about 65 cm, so there should be enough space in a dragon to fit an extra pair of wings there. Instead of having the wings separate, however, they're connected to the same membrane and flap it synchronously.

Flight style

Due to the nature of anaerobic muscles, dragons only use them during a ~90-second climbout. After that, they switch to thermal soaring, with glide ratios of 11, it shouldn't be hard.

Since heraldic dragons have twice the wing area and anaerobic flight muscles of the Quetzalcoatlus, but the same wingspan, they should be able to attain masses of 400-500 kg, twice the upper-estimates of Quetzy.

But, I don't know if it could work out like that. So, would this tandem setup for the wings allow dragons to attain masses of 400-500 kg and still remain volant?

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Apr 16 at 5:21
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    $\begingroup$ After extensive edits and Meta discussion, I believe this question is now viable and meets the expectations of a reality-check question. VTR. Congratulations, Meph, and +1. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 28 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ Just voted to reopen. From review. Damned if I know how they'd work in the present atmosphere, awaiting answers. +1 $\endgroup$ – Hoyle's ghost Apr 28 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ A technical point: you mention "fitting an extra pair of wings" in the Appendages section. Since you're positioning the wings between the fore and hind limbs, you've actually got eight-limbed dragons, not six-limbed. It should be interesting to see if anybody can find a scientifically plausible way for this thing to fly. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Apr 29 at 21:55
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If I understand your question correctly, you're looking into the idea of basically fusing two pterosaurs together, so that you can use the combined flight muscles of both to flap the giant wings that would result, raising the maximum weight limit of a flying creature. My answer is on that basis, so it will probably be irrelevant if my interpretation is wrong.

The short answer: Most likely no.

The long answer: There is a practical limit to how big the wings can be before they start to give way under their own weight. This is dependent on the materials used; airplanes can manage huge wings, being made of metal or advanced composites. In a biological creature that limit is going to be rather lower, especially if the wings have to flap, because that requires flexibility and suitable joints, which is going to result in less raw strength than an essentially fixed frame would; just look at how much faster stuff wears down when it has to bend or flex regularly, versus anything that just has to hold in place. When the wing exceeds that limit, it becomes unusable no matter how much musculature is behind it; the amount of strength that can be put into the wing ceases to be the limiting factor.

In other words, if the wing is too big, the stress of flapping in itself is going to ruin the wing. The damage depends on what the point of weakness ends up being, but there's a few candidates. A bone snapping under the weight? The membrane itself developing tears and tattering away until it can't move enough air to stay aloft? The joint holding the wing to the body yielding to the strain, ripping the entire wing off the body mid-flight? Muscles or tendons within the wing tearing under the stress, rendering your creature unable to actually move it? Take your pick, but any of those is going to send your creature crashing to the ground in a bloody wreck very quickly even if it manages to get airborne (likely by leaping off a cliff, at this point).

I don't have the detailed background knowledge to tell you precisely where this limit will be, but there's probably very good reasons for why those giant pterosaurs are the largest we've uncovered, and some of those reasons are likely to do with the laws of physics as much as anything else. If your creatures somehow grew wings made of special composites of the sort used in airplanes, you might get away with the larger wings, but that would require a lot of handwaving.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ok. I think graphene could solve that... $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Apr 16 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ For readers: my answer is mostly irrelevant to the current form of the question, which now posits two pairs of wings instead of one pair of massive wings. This essentially is providing some context to the question now, instead of being a standalone answer. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Apr 29 at 21:57
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Probably not. The wing configuration you specified seems inefficient and badly suited to the purpose to me. Realistically your dragon would mostly be gliding with few short bursts of active flight. You even specified so by talking about the muscle types.

For gliding you need good lift-to-drag ratio which it turns out is directly related to the glide ratio. This in turn is related to the aspect ratio of the wings. So you want long and narrow wings, not wings connected to the same membrane. So you want four wings to have four separate wings.

Then instead of using tandem configuration I'd recommend using a traditional biplane configuration. Two stacked wings is worse than a wing twice the length for lift-to-drag but when you consider the mechanical issues of muscle and bone needed to support the wings stacking the wings seems reasonable. It worked for humans with similar materials issues.

And it is scalable. You can increase lift by adding extra wings. A triplane or quad-plane should not be an issue. The main benefit of course is that adding wings directly scales muscle strength available for flight and does not compromise structural strength of the wings. With your anaerobic muscles there should be almost direct relationship between the number of wings and the amount of active lift you get before the boost times out. (I'd guess that is why you combined two wings per membrane?)

The best way to stack the wings would probably be to have a flight position similar to a hummingbird. The wings and their main muscles could then attach along the spine without interfering with legs. Additionally the tail would act as ballast to stabilize flight. And help with landings and lift offs.

While this would have larger drag than more conventional position, it would be fairly stable and maneuverable and holding the legs in front of the body is probably better than trying to keep them aerodynamic under the body. The actual difference in drag might be smaller after such conveniences are accounted for.

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  • $\begingroup$ So, a Fokker Dr.I. Well, now I have to come up with a design for stacked wings that doesn't make the dragon look laughable... any idea? $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles May 6 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles I don't think it is an issue. The wings should fold nicely since they are thin and with the changed flight position they fold in a direction other than the load in flight. And in flight, well, most wings look nice in flight because flying is just cool to us ground bound souls. Also, it is a dragon, nobody will laugh even if you dress it in pink pajamas with magenta stars. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 6 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ Apparently, stacked wings produce more drag: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biplane $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles May 7 at 8:45

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