6
$\begingroup$

This is my first post on Stack Exchange, so I'm not sure if this follows the right format. Let me know what I can change to make this more helpful on the site. Anyways, let's get to the backstory of the question:

I've been working on a near-future, technothriller novel for some time now: to remove a lot of the nuance, the plot is about a young engineer who is kidnapped, experimented on, and turned into a half-dragon (yeah, it's crazy) by a "rogue" research group, and has to prevent the research group from enabling biological terrorist attacks with the nanites used to change him. The setting is on Earth in the 2030s, and it has a spy novel tone to it: something like Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan. There will be lots of advanced technology, some politics, secret agencies, and plenty of gunfights.

The plot is still in development, but I've written out some test scenes, and the main thing I've noticed is that my action sequences always seem a bit contrived and illogical. Why worry about the drop off of a skyscraper if you can just fly off? Why figure out how you’re going to climb up to the top of this balcony is you can just fly up to it? (and etc.) I’ve always asked myself questions like these whenever I write action scenes. It definitely doesn't help that the main character is an engineer, and a very observant and resourceful person to boot, so it seems extremely contrived for him not to exploit his wings in a way that reduces risk. I've figured out some solutions to fix this, but they all have their drawbacks. Here they are in order from most drawbacks to least.

  1. Remove the wings. This is probably the most obvious fix, but it has a big drawback. In short, Arronians (the name for the half-dragons) are actually a whole race living in secrecy in their own country (called Arromark) in (spoilers). They are essentially Draconic Humanoids with feathers. I don't want this race to fit to the "lizard people conspiracy" trope, so giving them wings, feathers, and a modern culture was an attempt at differentiating from this. Removing the wings might blur the line between a new race and lizard people too much, but I could be wrong.
  2. Put most of the action scenes in tight spaces. Currently, Arronians have a wingspan of 10 feet or more. These large feathered wings would obviously be difficult to use in tight hallways and indoor spaces. This does sort of match the Mission Impossible-esque tone I'm looking for, but the drawback here is that wings would almost seem useless. Sure, they're an extra way to communicate emotion and they look cool, but they won't help the plot if they aren't used in some way.

These next two solutions are more about withholding the wings until he is “ready” to use him.

  1. Wings are artificial, so they have to be earned. I could make it part of the Arronians’ culture that earning a pair of wings is a pursuit of character and great deeds or something. Arronians could have vestigial wings leftover and they might see it as if they were “meant to fly”, so they go about building working wings to fulfill this. Since the novel is set in the 2030s, the tech for useable wings on an already light body is plausible, especially for a race that’s more focused on developing them. The only problem is that it would take a lot of time for artificial wings to ingrain into their culture, and depending on when they were developed, it seems unrealistic.
  2. Wings are non-intuitive, so they have to be learned and earned. It's possible that I could write in a character-based requirement for flying: you have to get over your flaws for flying to be intuitive. Honestly, if having two extra limbs mounted to your back wasn’t hard enough for your human brain to accept, try using them to maneuver in 3D space. Flying has to be somewhat automatic and instinctual, and this could only be unlocked by a character getting over their own fears and flaws. This does also add a great symbol for character growth. However, I want to be at least somewhat plausible in terms of scientific accuracy, and this might be too hand-wavy for my setting.

This is where Stack Exchange comes in: What limitations can I put on wings for more tense/risky action scenes? How can I limit flight so it isn’t overpowered for physical obstacles?

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Is it necessary that he be able to fly? It doesn't necessarily follow just because he has wings. See Ostriches, Emus, Cassowaries. Nothing of human size and weight is able to fly under its own power. If you take that into account, the problem goes away. $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Jun 21 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ The entire point of the Jack Ryan novels is that they are intensely realistic. Half-dragons aren't. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 21 at 19:56
9
$\begingroup$

The limits for wings are pretty straightforward, given that you're trying for some degree of realism. Anything human-sized, with the mass of a human plus however much the wings add, is pushing the limits of flight. I won't call it impossible to fly, not when even larger pterosaurs have done it, but wings big enough to allow more than gliding for a humanoid are going to be very long: I would guess 5 metres at minimum for wingspan (tip to tip), possibly more.

Before I dive into this breakdown of flight and its hazards, I should warn you that it may be overwhelming. Not every story needs this degree of analysis, and of those not many need to actually display that analysis to the reader.

This is with the intent of helping you set rules to define what your fliers can or cannot do, which is helpful for self-consistency (basically, not contradicting yourself). Those rules don't have to be limiting your creativity, though: this sort of analysis gives you lots of sources for dramatic tension by exploiting the resulting strengths and weaknesses and can often provide inspiration.

The Mundane World

The musculature needed to power those monster wings is going to have to be similarly monstrous. These fliers are going to have massive chests simply to accommodate the huge muscles they're going to need to flap those wings: the flight muscles take up around 20% of body mass in most flying animals. I don't know where the assorted organs are going to get pushed around to by that problem, but note that the lungs and heart are also going to have to grow to about double the typical human size to keep up with the demands of that musculature. Reader's questions regarding the resulting appearance are up to you to deal with, but if nothing else these guys will need to eat accordingly. Assuming they are otherwise largely human apart from the wings, they're all going to be chomping down on food like champion weightlifters if they're using those wings at all.

You also need to keep the local temperature in mind. Open wings expose lots of surface area to the air. In tropical or desert regions, this does wonderful things for keeping you from overheating. In a colder climate, however (picture pretty much anywhere that can reliably expect to receive at least some snow each winter), this is a liability, because you're at risk of freezing to death very rapidly. Eating more for extra energy to produce more heat will help (I'm assuming your humanoids remain warm-blooded), but there's a limit to how much that can do for you in the face of that ridiculous amount of surface area. Clothing isn't going to be a viable solution: even if you could do it for those wings (I'd like to see someone try it!), the bulk and weight is probably going to cripple the ability to actually, you know, fly. There's a reason all the larger birds and bats of the modern world are native to the tropics. Your protagonist is going to want to stay far away from places like Canada or Russia, and trapping them there could be very effective for their enemies (see: dramatic potential).

It's worth noting that physical exertion in itself is not necessarily a problem: if the body can appropriately support the strain of powered flight (basically, you need an oversized heart and lungs to supply the necessary oxygen to the flight muscles, as noted above), this has the side effect of rendering you pretty much immune to fatigue. Barring severe thirst or starvation, you'd be able to fly for hours as long as the sky was cooperative, or run a marathon without too much trouble, so endurance will actually be very impressive in most cases.

Takeoff

Given the size of these flying humanoids, you will be bounded when it comes to taking off under your own strength, and convenient cliff sides or balconies probably won't be that common. The force needed to make that crucial leap into the air, at that weight, simply cannot be supplied aerobically (via oxygen), and anaerobic muscle contractions come at a price that mean you are incapable of lifting off too often. I'm running off this very useful source for details: it's based on pterosaurs, but the relevant principles here don't change that much between pterosaurs and the largest birds (which face the same problem).

Essentially, you've got about 60 to 90 seconds to get into the air and find a good source of lift (most likely a thermal or a suitable wind pattern) before the muscles falter and require some rest. This is entirely feasible at the speed you'll be moving (covered in detail in the next section) since you can cover some distance to reach the spot in question, as long as there aren't obstacles in the way. Still, it means that if you get ambushed and try to fly out of the area, you will be limited in how much distance you can open up in that first burst; if you can't find cover within a range of about two kilometres (yes, you're really going that fast), you could run into problems if you're forced to circle around a thermal while you recover. Also, if it's cold (nighttime, during winter, etc.), you're going to have a harder time staying aloft.

Flight

The large wings introduce another problem: maneuverability is going to be limited, especially with bird-like wings. You've already noticed that this is a problem in tight confines; the wingspan alone means you need plenty of space around you in the air to avoid crashing into anything. The main roads in your typical downtown would probably be flyable, but trying the alleyways would be for the daredevils, as it would border on suicidal. As for tight turns, I can't necessarily rule those out entirely, since folding one wing in could plausibly make a quick spin, but you'd need room to fall before opening your wings again, so flying too close to the ground could be a problem.

It's also important to understand that staying airborne requires speed; given the sizes we're dealing with here, you're going to need a lot of it, which can be good or bad depending on the situation. Based on the source I linked, you're soaring almost as fast as somebody driving on the highway (think 70 to 80 kilometres per hour as a rough minimum, because you're quite possibly exceeding 100, and definitely will be if you exert yourself). On the one hand, pursuers are going to have a hard time catching up if you're on the move, since you won't be limited by those silly things called roads. On the other hand, lift is provided mostly by how much air is moving under the wings, which is largely determined by airspeed (outside of hovering, which is impossible for biological wings to manage at anything near human size). There are ways to adjust your angle of attack or your wing shape to move the limits around, but essentially there's a minimum speed for you to stay aloft, and it's pretty high in your case. Even if your wings could support tight turns, you're going fast enough that trying that is likely to splatter you over the face of something.

Combat

You mention gunfights, which lends me the impression that these guys might be trying to fire guns from the air. That is a Very Bad Idea for a few reasons, but the biggest one is accuracy. Even the horse archers of the Mongols and so on saw their accuracy plunge when firing on the move, and they were on more or less level ground; trying to aim for a single attacker who is likely behind cover while you're moving in three dimensions at once is an excellent way to waste ammunition while the other guy takes the time to line up a nice easy shot on the giant target that you've made yourself into. There's also recoil: in the air, you don't have anything to brace yourself against, so the first shot you take is going to spoil your aim pretty badly for a few seconds, which means any sort of rapid-fire weapon is idiocy (you'd probably be limited to handguns in terms of practical firearms, which don't tend to fare well compared to rifles in a firefight). In short, they would probably stay on the ground in any sort of shootout.

Also, think back to that huge wingspan. Five metres or more, and wings require a lot of surface area to function. That's one giant target for anybody with a ranged weapon, especially at close range; you describe the wings as being bird-like, with feathers, but anything like a net or a spreading weapon (think video-game-shotgun, not standard rifle) is going to do horrible damage. Lots of things for you to think about before you open your wings anywhere near your enemies.

Conclusion

Reality sometimes offers all the answers you need. You don't have to invent any sort of societal constraints or obviously contrived situations to keep these wings from being overpowered: working (more or less) within the confines of realism offers plenty of ways to do that just with physics and biology.

It's worth noting that wings, in nature, are evolved arms: I'm aware of how many sources of fiction like to have flying humans with wings coming out their backs, but evolution says that's creating two extra limbs from nowhere (in other words, thoroughly absurd). Most such stories do rather require their flying humans to have usable hands, though, so it's usually necessary to overlook this fine point for the sake of a good story. I suppose my point here is that perfect obedience to realism and science is less important than internal consistency in a story: if you need to bend something, then bend it. Just make very sure you don't bend it the other way later, because that would be very sloppy writing.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, this is a great answer. Don't worry about giving me too much detail: that's what I was looking for. I've wanted to make this as close to real as possible, but I've accepted that some parts of my story just bend reality too much to scientifically justify. That's Sanderson's First Law in a nutshell: self-consistency. I have a few questions: 70 to 80 km/h is quite the airspeed to glide at... would an exoskeleton or other thrust system (like @NadiraSpzirglas suggested) be necessary to get to that speed, or is it possible under his own power? Also, what weapons are more (continued below) $\endgroup$ – sinteredmetals Jun 22 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ (continued) effective while flying? My first thought would be grenades or other explosives, as they don't require much accuracy, but obviously this is for air-to-ground combat. For air-to-air, would shotguns work, or is it just better to go hand-to-hand? Anyways, thank you for the answer: this really gave me a new perspective on my story, and what drawbacks there are to having wings. $\endgroup$ – sinteredmetals Jun 22 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ @sinteredmetals If you have the time, read through the post I linked: it's written for pterosaur flight, but you can plausibly extend that to your bird-like fliers without bending too much. I'm aware the speed figure sounds excessive (it certainly did when I first saw it), but the wings have to be able to provide the thrust for that in the air without assistance, because otherwise anything that big wouldn't be able to stay in the air. Your problem is going to be figuring out the resulting appearance of your fliers, because their chests are going to be massive and stuffed full of muscles. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Jun 22 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, airplanes don't stall because they drop below a particular (air)speed. An airfoil, such as a wing or a propeller blade, stalls because it exceeds its critical angle of attack. AoA, in turn, is basically the angle at which the airfoil is moving relative to the surrounding airflow. Airplanes can be thought of as stalling at a particular airspeed because as an airplane goes slower, it needs a higher AoA to generate sufficient lift to stay airborne; but that's a simplification at best, and inaccurate at worst. You can stall an airplane at a high airspeed just by maneuvering sharply. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 22 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ @aCVn Thanks for the correction; I was going for the simplified version, but you pointed out that I was outright missing key ideas. I edited that paragraph to change the example being used, which hopefully still gets the basic premise across of being unable to slow down too much in the air without losing altitude. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Jun 22 at 19:44
5
$\begingroup$

/Why worry about the drop off of a skyscraper if you can just fly off? Why figure out how you’re going to climb up to the top of this balcony is you can just fly up to it? (/

Go with it!

He does not worry about the drop off. He worries about how exposed to gunfire he is while flying away from the people who chased him off the drop off, or worries about pulling up in time from the very steep dive he did to get out of range of those people left on the roof.

He does not worry about getting to the balcony. He worries about who is in the room behind it that he cannot see as he pops up onto it. He worries about the people below who saw where he went cutting off his escape through the building.

If your character has flight power, have that be countered by opponents that are more numerous than he is or are better armed than he is. And after you do that, counter him with an enemy who is smarter than he is, and an enemy who is far tougher than he is. All of them know he can fly (or figure it out quick), and they are ready for that,

Don't limit him. Lean into awesomeness and expand his enemies to match him!

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the suggestion! That's a good point: why try to make this mundane in a single dimension to make him more like a standard gunfighter, when having wings themselves add new risks and dangers inherent to themselves? This definitely opened my eyes. $\endgroup$ – sinteredmetals Jun 22 at 4:40
4
$\begingroup$

Physically arduous (which they are. Birds have to eat lots of food). Take-off takes long. Some birds rarely touch earth because taking off is a serious issue. This is coupled with being physically arduous.

Mentally taxing. You need to pay attention to each detail of muscle movement, in a non-intuitive way. Then you can't pay attention to anything else.

Weather. WW 2 airplanes couldn't fly at night, or in fog, or in rain or...

Only children can fly. Adults get too big.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Physically arduous" is the way to go. The larger the creature, the slower they are, due to square-cube law. Larger birds are much more slow to take off. And land-based birds like chickens and turkey have very hard time flying. So make your dragon people same way: they can glide, and they can fly over a broken bridge, but they cannot fly long enough to gain much altitude, and they are too slow for aerial combat. $\endgroup$ – Bald Bear Jun 21 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ If wings are strap-ons, flapping them is exhausting for the user in (how long can you jump). Training for more stamina takes years, and leaves person less able to run or fight. If wings come with an engine, there is limited amount of fuel one can carry. $\endgroup$ – Bald Bear Jun 21 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the detail! @BaldBear I do like the engine idea. Very much so. $\endgroup$ – sinteredmetals Jun 22 at 5:24
3
$\begingroup$

The physical stresses the wings can endure limit how fast they can accelerate, slow down, bank, and pull out of dives. Modern aircraft suffer from this limitation and have the potential to snap their wings off if they fly too fast.

Flying for a bird is a whole body thing. They have to maintain the alignment of their resultant lift vector acting on their center of mass aligned with the force of gravity and momentum acting on their bodies. Otherwise, they spin, and roll as they fly. This means anticipating the proper rigidity and tension of their entire body, in reaction to the forces they are subject to and generating.

So, like ballet and sky diving, a great deal of physicality and practice is required to do more than just fly across a wide open field. Flying down a street and turning a corner would be hard. They'd envy the birds, flying since they left the nest, that made it look so easy.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the insight. Maneuverability would definitely be a limitation, considering how large those wings are. They'll have a massive moment of inertia, and will probably make 1g+ maneuvers extremely difficult. Not to mention, require a ton of focus. $\endgroup$ – sinteredmetals Jun 22 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ @sinteredmetals A minor nitpick, but "1 G maneuvers" is what you'd get flying straight and level, or standing on the ground. You probably meant "2 G maneuvers", which you can get e.g. by rolling 60° to the side and maintaining altitude. (FWIW, that particular one is a standard maneuver in basic airplane flight training. It's also as far as most non-acrobatic airplanes are safe to roll.) A "0 G" maneuver is when the airplane occupants feel weightless; a "minus 1 G" is when you have normal gravity but it's going the wrong way (basically, the occupants standing on their heads). $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 22 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ @aCVn Thanks for the correction. I haven't quite got to studying aerodynamics in depth yet, so this really helps my understanding of the terminology. If it helps, I was thinking from the definition of centripetal acceleration: a=v^2/r. You could get 1g of acceleration by trying to do, say, a ~39m radius turn at 70km/h, which comes out to 9.8 m/s/s of centripetal acceleration... but that's probably not how 1G maneuvers are defined in terms of aviation, right? $\endgroup$ – sinteredmetals Jun 22 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ @sinteredmetals No, it's not. It's far too complex to fully describe in a comment (heck, there's a whole site for questions about human Aviation) but the aim of a human pilot flying an aircraft is to keep the gravity vector pointed perpendicular to the wings and through the floor, even when rolling ("banking") the aircraft. Thus ideally occupants are never exposed to any sideways force relative to the aircraft. "G" is then measured relative to the floor of the aircraft, with 1 G being normal. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 23 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ It's possible to make a strictly 1 G turn, but you'd lose altitude doing so. To maintain altitude in a turn, the pilot pitches the nose up, which is perceived as an increase in apparent gravity because you're subject to the Earth's 1 G, plus the aircraft structure itself approaching you from below. There's some good questions about this on Aviation; I can't find the one I have in mind, but try aviation.stackexchange.com/q/12714/753 and aviation.stackexchange.com/q/15243/753 and aviation.stackexchange.com/q/40921/753 for a start. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 23 at 15:27
1
$\begingroup$

I think the option 4 you mentioned yourself is a viable point, especially if you want 'enemy' arronians to fly while your protagonist can't.

Birds, fish and other animals that move in a completely three dimensional environment on a daily basis tend to have a very different brain; the 'small brain', which makes up hardly a quarter of the total human brain, is WAY larger in those animals, as it is responsible for your movement inside your environment. Aside from having a third dimension to worry about, you also have air (or water) currents to worry about, wind, thermal differences, you name it.

With all the genetic engineering done to turn a human into a dragon, the small brain may grow to the nessessary size to handle this new form of movement, but you would still have to learn how to fly just like you once learned how to walk, which takes long enough for a child and probably longer for a fully matured adult.

This can easily add to all the other problems; flight in itself is exhausting and risky enough in itself, but especially for someone who is only just learning to explore this new way of movement like a toddler taking his first upright steps.

Dropping of a skyscraper? As easy as jumping of a bed. IF you know how to balance to avoid hitting your head, not to mention landing on your feet/breaking the fall to actually run/fly away after your grand escape...

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

One potential limitation might be the physicality of the wings or the act of flying.

I mean, we don't think about it a lot, because human-folk have reached a stage where for most people it often doesn't matter much if we're temporarily less than capable, especially for, well, a minor injury. But a sprain or a strain would be a much bigger problem for, say, an animal, because it relies on its body intensely for its day-to-day living. Very minor conditions or injuries do become a bigger deal for those who rely on their bodies extensively - in human folk that would include athletes or those with physically demanding and/or dangerous jobs.

So, your character may not be in a position to be casual about the use of their wings in certain situations, while being perfectly capable in others. Or maybe not even incapable of using them, but it may be more risky or more costly to do so, leaving them a last resort instead of a first resort.

A minor sprain or pulled muscle in a wing might be a big problem in flight. Or a couple people already mentioned how much energy flight takes - it might be much more difficult to fly (or to fly well) if tired or hungry than it would be to walk or even run under the same conditions. And you mention the dragons have feathered wings, well, lost or bent feathers, for example, might cause a lot of problems in flight - minor adjustments of wing and tail feathers are used to balance and direct one's flight quite a bit, having a change in feathered profile would mean unexpected adjustments to that airflow and it may be quite difficult, especially for one not that experienced in flying.

Or, heck, environmental conditions - if it's raining, that will affect feathers and flight capability in ways that will take adjustment or experience to be confident in. Or if it's too cold, the extra loss of heat from wings may be an unexpected factor (someone else's answer mentioned that before, I think). Or ice or snow buildup on feathers in cold conditions, its not just a matter of keeping warm, it can change the airflow and the spacing or adjustment of feathers, and that can interfere in flying. Even regular windy conditions might be something your character doesn't think is going to be a game changer, until it is cause he's not experienced in compensating for that.

And since he's not experienced, it may be more likely to happen that some minor misjudgement happens, and harder for him to compensate. So somebody pushes him off a building, well, maybe snapping his wings open to fly down went down just a hair too fast or at a slightly wrong angle, and now you have a pulled muscle to make it more problematic to fly up to the balcony later. Or something damages a few feathers, but he's otherwise fine, but later he's finding it so much harder to steer (maybe he didn't think it'd be a problem, or as much of a problem, until he tried flying next). Maybe the pushing-off-a-building thing was shortly after someone with great precision shoots off a few feather-ends, and your guy thinks he missed (not hurt) till he realizes it's actually flight-sabotage, halfway down (frantic midflight compensation!). Or maybe someone bullet-clips the feathers as he's gliding down (or up), so you get midair shenanigans as he's trying to rebalance.

It is also quite possible that another limitation might be, well, instinct and impulse. Not necessarily about flying, either, but about using the wings, or thinking to, or thinking not to, in emergency situations. If he's unexpectedly shoved off a building, it may take a bit for him to pull out of fear-of-falling to go, oh yeah I can open my wings (possibly enough to make catching himself strenuous or result in aforementioned sprain).

He would certainly think about flying up to a balcony when trying to get there, or any other calm, planning scenario, but maybe his first instinct wouldn't be flying away when an explosion or a stream of bullets have him in a rush or caught in the middle of doing something else. Or maybe it is his first instinct, but it really would have been best to do something else in that specific scenario (and being less experienced, he has to learn that the hard way). Again, even just realizing a bit late, needing just a few seconds to think, might give an opening for something else to go wrong.

If you want to avoid having damage-to-wings be just an easy out, you could make it sometimes work correctly, and other times in-universe on purpose, or a direct consequence of something he did earlier to get out of a situation, or the result of getting away with something once because wings, and later someone uses that against them as a trap, or makes sure whatever they tried last time didn't work again.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

The Arronians could have full wings, but not be able to use them without some kind of gadget helping.

The wings would simply hang down their backs or stay folded neatly, but either the muscles in the wings simply aren't strong enough to allow the Arronians to fly, or there aren't enough muscles in the wings.

To allow the Arronians to fly, they would need some kind of gadget that allowed them to use muscles in other parts of their bodies as well as those in their wings. The gadgets could be fairly bulky, so that the main characters might not always carry them around.

Arronians would perhaps spend most of their time just walking around, using their gadgets only for longer distances, or for battle.

I don't know what this gadget would look like, but I think it would answer your question, since the possibility of a gadget breaking in mid-flight or of having forgotten or decided not to bring one's gadget would certainly add some tension to action scenes.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the feedback! This does add an interesting angle. The wings would still be existent, but would be so difficult to use that a drive system needed to be invented for flight on a regular basis. Depending on the extent, the "gadget" would probably look something like a powered exoskeleton, with either hard composite components or cables to provide the power stroke in the wings. This could also include (heck why not) an EDF or jet engine to add extra thrust. Dragons with jetpacks... I like where you're going. :P $\endgroup$ – sinteredmetals Jun 22 at 4:47
0
$\begingroup$

Use the biology of feathered wings to give him a selection of combat moves and disadvantages which regular humans don't have. Plus some considerations he may never have thought of unless he's a pilot or a bird watcher.

Gunfire (or sword wielding ninjas) might clip his wings.

If a bunch of flight feathers get mangled or cut off, he'll have his ability to fly either limited or ended until he grows some new ones. He might discover that the hard way when he jumps off that skyscraper.

Feathers don't feel pain

He might not even realise the flight control surfaces of his wings are damaged until he tries to take off. He gets into the air fine, but can't steer or do a controlled landing.

Swans can break a man's arm - or maybe not

He's heard this, and he's been using his wings as extra limbs in hand to hand combat. But he hasn't really figured out which parts of the wing bones are ok to thump people with or to block/parry blows, and which hurt like hell and give him the flight equivalent of limping. Oh dear, he's injured his right wing muscles, tendons and/or bones and veers to the right now every time he flies, because something has stiffened up or swollen.

What sort of flight are his wings optimised for?

This shows the various types of bird wings:

  • High Aspect Ratio - stamina for long distance soaring/gliding but require a long run with lots of flapping before you can take off. Use air currents and the wind to assist their flight, so use up very little energy to fly (albatross).
  • Low Aspect Ratio, high lift, slotted wings - good for soaring/gliding as the above, and you can just leap into the air without having to run along the ground flapping madly. However they need thermals to power their soaring, and thermals don't form over water. Their flight uses more energy than the High Aspect Ratio kind.
  • Pointed long wings - speed. Plus you can use flapping flight for long journeys of hundreds of kilometres. Uses a ton of energy to fuel this flight. (falcon, swift)
  • Elliptical wings - agility. Very manoeuvrable in tight spaces and have a really fast take off speed (crow, pheasant, many songbirds). Again it uses lots of energy.

He might assume that he can do all of these things equally well, but discover he's great at an explosive, almost-straight-up take off like a pigeon, but is rubbish at gliding long distances and ditches into the water the first time he tries to soar like an albatross. Pick the limitations that fit your story best.

What's his turning circle when in flight?

Jumping off that skyscraper into the alleyway below might be fine, but if the alley is too narrow to make a turn, he might smack into the building opposite. Some bats can almost turn on a wingtip. The birds that can do it are the ones which can hover, like hummingbirds. Everything else has to bank and turn. Also even if an albatross with a 3 metre wingspan managed to magically develop the powers to turn on a wingtip, it would still need a minimum 6 metre wide space to do it in.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.