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Alright, we all know the drill, dragons spit fire, like a massive flamethrower, but their fire probably has quite limited range. This is okay for hunting land animals, and being an unremoveable thorn in the eye for medieval societies, but for aerial combat against something like a biplane, it just doesn't do the job. It would probably be better if they had different kind of adaptation.

Now, let's assume we want to make dragons kinda "natural" so, what we can give them should be limited to adaptations present in nature. After all, dragon flame throwing can be seen as magically magnified ability of Bombardier Beetle. These dragons were divinely engineered, but the creators wanted to stay true to the nature of, well, the nature, so while these abilities are greatly magically enhanced, they are at least strongly inspired by tricks present in the nature.

For the size of the dragon, let's assume around 500 kg and 25-30 m wingspan.

So, what kind of magic adaptation for aerial combat should magically engineered dragons have instead of flame throwing, so that they're formidable opponents for ww2 era planes?

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  • $\begingroup$ Dragon's triangle has slained ww2eraplane. Godlike! Achievement unlocked: Mysterious Dissappearance! $\endgroup$ – user6760 Nov 24 '19 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ I think biplanes are ww1 era and not ww2. Which era are we talking about? It makes a huge difference regarding how fast the planes are. $\endgroup$ – Daron Nov 24 '19 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ Worth pointing out that military flamethrowers, unlike those in the movies, spray streams of flaming gasoline, like a giant burning Super Soaker. They have pretty decent range. Now, dragons probably wouldn't be able to spray gasoline very far in front of them while flying at speed, but they're probably flexible enough to spray it behind them, letting the wind carry it to a plane they're flying in front of. And getting burning gasoline in the air intake of the engine of a WWII-style plane (or any plane, for that matter) is probably going to cause some issues. $\endgroup$ – Someone Else 37 Nov 25 '19 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ Also at the beginning of WW2 a lot of planes still had wood and linen parts in their construction, which I imagine would be quite flammable! $\endgroup$ – Smock Nov 25 '19 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ It's reasonable since largest flier ever, Quetzalcoatlus, had 200-300 kg and 15-20m wingspan. $\endgroup$ – Failus Maximus Nov 25 '19 at 16:28

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Little Helpers

Many of the ideas mentioned present weight problems. We already have a very large flying lizard with imperfect mobility and limited lifting capacity. So, we take a lesson from 1960s and later aircraft : Use missiles instead of dumb guns and bombs, to make it more likely to hit the target.

Have a bunch of hatchling dragons or a related species (dragonets to dragons ::: monkeys to humans). Release them when followed by a bogey. Some are lost, but they either take out the enemy or allow the big dragon to bank around and fight head on.

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The scariest thing I can think of when it comes to half-ton flying lizards attacking ww2 era aircraft would just be making them tough, smart, and fast. I'm imagining a nile crocodile flying at 300-400mph.

If the dragons can match all but the fastest prop-driven aircraft in level flight, and are even close to human-level intelligence, they'd be terrifying. Who cares about spitting fire? Just grab onto the plane and tear the pilot out of it and eat him. Rip the wings off. Tear through the side of that B-17 and go nuts on the crew from inside. Dragons like this would be harder to hit than all but the fastest fighter aircraft, and harder to shoot down than all but the best armored.

Mid-to-late war American fighters all had .50cal and those would do just fine, but a lot of Japanese and German planes used .30cal and that would be a bit iffy against something with hide like that. Japanese and German aircraft also weren't built to take hits. A half-ton lizard would go right through a Zero without even noticing, and I wouldn't really like to be in a Spitfire or a Mosquito either.

Yeah. You don't need to get crazy with this. Big, fast, tough, smart flying lizards. VERY dangerous to aircraft.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I don't want to sound dismissive, but while Japanese and German planes indeed used ~8mm machine guns, these were secondary armaments, while main armament was a pair or two pairs of solid 20 mm cannons. Machine guns were deemed as not good enough alone for air battle by most of Europe by 1935, and most fighters from then on had at least one 20 mm cannon. ...still, I agree with your idea. Probably, tearing the plane apart is really really good start. $\endgroup$ – Failus Maximus Nov 23 '19 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ @FailusMaximus I mean, either way, Those 20mm cannons didn't have a lot of ammo. Only 60 rounds per gun for the FW190, and that's fine if you're shooting at Liberators and Lancasters, but against something as nimble as what we're talking about here, I think the combination of low ammo count and lower muzzle velocity would be a bit less than ideal. Especially if the dragons also have the advantage of numbers. $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Nov 23 '19 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ And then, when you've really pissed them off, they come silently in the night and lay waste to your airfield. Aerial flamethrower works just fine for that! $\endgroup$ – Vilx- Nov 24 '19 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ If your dragons are invulnerable to 7.62mm machine guns I pity the poor infantry who are sent to kill one... Living organisms are way different from machines. Just because a few bullets couldn't do much harm to a plane it doesn't mean an animal can take them equally well. Planes don't bleed. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Nov 25 '19 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft are you kidding? Oil, hydraulic fluid, GASOLINE. Airplanes bleed like crazy when you shoot them. WW2 airplanes in particular. I've read a fair number of firsthand accounts by WW2 pilots and they talk a LOT about coming away from dogfights literally soaked in various aviation fluids. $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Nov 25 '19 at 15:15
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Fewmets. https://findwords.info/term/fewmets

Dragons would drop these in mid air and they would follow the laws of physics as regards subsequent trajectory. As the air got to them they would smoke more and more until forcefully exploding in a shrapnel cloud of bones, teeth, old scales, and rocks passed down from the gizzard. There is also often considerable hair and other indigestible bits.

Because of this tendency for their dung to explode, dragons have long taken to the air for excretory purposes, which helps put a generous distance between themselves and their explosive excrement. Weaponization was an obvious next step. In addition to the obvious "dropping" from above, dragons have perfected pelvic motions to put extra impetus on their flung dung, allowing the feared "attack from below".

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The “wolverine” package: fast healing and an impenetrable brain casing. Sure, pilots can rip them to shreds with bullets, but the dragons will be back and flying in a few hours/days. The only way to do one in is damage faster than they can heal, and that means fire. But substances like napalm are decades in the future, and even then, they are much harder to direct to target.

If they can be killed by decapitation, this explains why knights were effective against them.

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    $\begingroup$ Napalm was developed in 1942 and was definitely used in WW2. In addition, WW2-era aircraft were commonly armed with incendiary rounds, airbursting rockets, and various kinds of devastatingly effective incendiary bombs that employed magnesium and thermite. They had no shortage of ways to set things on fire. Just ask Dresden. $\endgroup$ – anaximander Nov 25 '19 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ @anaximander Huh. I stand corrected. I had the napalm dates wrong in my head. I think my comments about delivery mechanism stand, though. Targeted missiles for explosive payloads are far harder to deliver than sprays of bullets in that tech era. $\endgroup$ – SRM Nov 25 '19 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Airbursting rockets were used to attack aircraft; Germany in particular used timed-fuse rockets in several configurations, and experimented with wire-guided missiles too. I think there were airbursting versions of the RP-3 and other Allied rockets too, although I may be misremembering that. At any rate, it is true that these were easier to employ against bomber formations, which usually moved slower and on more predictable paths. It would probably be difficult to hit something like a dragon with one, unless you caught it by surprise. Maybe shoot up the wings, then shell it while it's grounded? $\endgroup$ – anaximander Nov 25 '19 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ @anaximander "Just ask Dresden" ...too soon, too soon. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Nov 28 '19 at 19:23
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Firebreathing is the main weapon. As others have noted, dragons could be in trouble against ww2 era aircraft, if they are seen. However, until the discovery and implementation of radars on the aircraft, the discovery of enemy was visual.

Therefore, the answer is not another offensive weapon, but simply:

Echolocation + ability to create thick fog, steam or smoke.

The dragon is a relative of bat. It can use acoustic location of enemies and pinpoint them quite precisely. A bat is said to "see with its ears". So does a dragon, and it doesn't need to see its prey with eyes.

It can either drink a lot of water and make it interact with the fire mechanism to create steam, or use another mechanism to create fog, or just belch huge gusts of smoke, large enough to create a cloud in which it can hide.

Edit: it could possibly even use its fire on existing higher clouds to make rain or maybe even fog in lower parts of atmosphere.

All of these things will allow it to get close enough to the enemy aircraft in order to use is main attack.

As a bonus, the smoke/fog part ties well with a number of existing stories/folklore about dragons. And you don't need to invent even more magic, as the echolocation already happens in nature, and the mechanism for steam/fog/smoke doesn't call for any additional magic either.

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  • $\begingroup$ Like this answer, but radar was fitted to various WW2 aircraft (look up “nightfighters”) in various iterations, and if your enemy is hiding in fogbanks, I could see technological development proceeding quite rapidly $\endgroup$ – Nick Nov 25 '19 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ given the size of a dragon I'm not sure how effective hiding in its own steam breath would be, especially while in flight, I just can't see how the steam could be projected far enough around its body to make targeting the steam cloud ineffective $\endgroup$ – BKlassen Nov 25 '19 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Nick well, it all depends on OP's world. There is nothing which says dragons couldn't have stealth skin by coincidence. In fact, while it is more natural they should have skin which poorly reflects sound (developed against other dragons as a bit of intraspecies adaptation) it might happen it also poorly reflects radar frequencies. $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Nov 26 '19 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ @BKlassen I guess it depends on the size of cloud that can be made. Ww2 era planes wouldn't also have tons of ammo. I read around 2.5k rounds for "about 15 seconds of total fire" for a Spitfire mk1 and mk2. Not really something you could afford to spend unless you were sure of hitting. $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Nov 26 '19 at 19:09
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I would recommend some variation of the pistol shrimp's mechanism of weaponized propulsion. The shrimp can briefly displace water at 100 feet per second, creating a bubble of vapor, which collapses in a sonic boom of over 200 decibels, and briefly heats the bubble to 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit - and all of this obviously has quite drastic implications for the shrimp's target! This effect is only really possible in water, but with magical adaptations, I'm sure you could figure out something convincing that accomplishes the same result.

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If the limitation of "what is present in nature" is preserved, I think your dragons will be toast.

Body size will restrict acceleration, and if they stoop (a la peregrine falcons) to increase speed, they'd still need to pull out of that without ripping their own wings off. The peregrine's stoop is ~200 MPH. I can't see dragons getting close to that.

The other issue will be the hardness of their scales. A Messerschmitt 109 would be armed with 7.62 mm canons (the 8mm Mauser round, I think from what I can pick up with a quick google search). Dragon scales are probably similar to those of a pangolin - whose keratin scales can stop a lion's bite - but lions have relatively low bite force compared to other cats. I can't find any studies that have measured the relative "bulletproofness" of pangolin scales, but I doubt they'd stop sustained bursts from twin canons on multiple ME109s.

If the dragons have crocodile-like skin, the bullets will just go straight through.

A surprise attack - dropping out of the sky onto a squadron of the relatively slow moving WWII aircraft would be pretty devastating. Spitting circles of fire will do considerable (i.e. critical) damage to any planes caught, while the dragon takes down a bomber of two in the manner of a real-world hawk taking a pigeon. (contrary to the question, fire would be extremely effective if the dragon could get close enough)

...but if the dragon is spotted by a squadron of ME109s, the bullets will rip it apart before it gets close enough for fire or claw. Even if the body scales are somehow tough enough (voiding the natural world assumption), the wings will be extremely vulnerable.

The only hope for the slower moving, less agile dragon is endurance - to allow it to get close enough, and that would require - given that armour plating seems unrealistic - extremely rapid wound healing. Magically enhanced natural processes of clotting, wound-sealing and cell regeneration would achieve this.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nitpick, as it's too few characters to edit it myself: "7.62mm cannon" are a kind of weapon. "7.62mm canons" are very small bishops. Also in general, the term "cannon" was reserved for the large-calibre stuff, usually 20mm or larger; the 7.62mm would just be called "guns". $\endgroup$ – anaximander Nov 25 '19 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ I’d edit it, but it’ll make your comment seem odd! Poor choice of words on my part. Should have just with guns. $\endgroup$ – Nick Nov 25 '19 at 21:09
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How about giving the dragon its own gun?

Many plants in nature use sudden pressure release to disperse their seeds. Given a dragon has a much faster method for producing pressure (whatever creates their flames). They need only something to disperse at velocity.

These could be modified scales and spines (even more so if there is rapid healing), or perhaps something exogenous to the dragon like appropriately shaped stones (adapted from the practice of finding gizzard stones). These could be made even more dastardly by having them coated in a flammable/corrosive/alkaline substance.


In a similar vein, Jet Propulsion.

Those flames, and the ability to pressurise aren't just good for making weapons. Its great for making a natural jet engine. Even if its only sustainable for a short stints it would be formidable. Squid use water jets for propulsion all the time. Just amp that up and change the direction.

A dragon suddenly plummets out of the sun, ripping a hole in a wing, spraying another two crafts with flame before rapidly accelerating out of harms way.

Add a reasonably intelligent mind behind that ability and watch entire squadrons fall out of the sky.

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You've asked for something based on nature, how about giving your dragons the ability to launch projectiles in a way similar to tarantulas but enhanced?

A tarantula is able to launch a storm of tiny hairs called urticating hairs by rubbing their legs on their abdomen. These hairs are barbed to cause maximum irritation and can be lethal to small animals such as rodents, in larger animals the hairs cause irritation and can be damaging to eyes and respiratory systems.

Now scale this up to dragon sized, perhaps your dragons when threatened by ww2 aircraft are able to launch their scales as projectiles. Depending on the fantasy properties you assign their scales you could have these scales be specialized, just as the tarantula urticating hairs are specialized from their normal hairs, to be much denser and harder than steel. An ideal placement of these specialized projectile scales would be somewhere the dragon can accelerate quickly and accurately in many directions, the tail would be ideal for this. With a powerful enough flick of the dragon's tail they could launch dozens of these hardened scales at targets of their choice even in mid flight, now your dragon is has a projectile of their own to combat WW2 era planes.

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Airplanes are very fragile

That's why midair collisions usually end with everyone on both planes dead. The collisions don't obliterate the airplanes, it just bangs up wings and control surfaces enough that the airplane is no longer capable of controlled flight.

Further, WWII airplanes have to get fairly close to their target to score a hit. That means a clever dragon, even a slower one, can maneuver into "melee range".

Because of the limited attack profile, only 2-3 fighter airplanes (tops) can attack the dragon at one time. Bombers have turrets, but they are so sluggish that it'd be crazy to get near a dragon with one.

The dragon only has to sink its teeth into the airplane, and it's done.

Obviously, the dragon clamped onto the airplane will destroy its balance, and disrupt wing airflow, breaking its ability to fly. So the dragon could simply grab on and ride the airplane down, detaching right before ground impact - too late for the airplane to straighten out and recover.

However more likely the dragon will realize that breaking off, or simply jamming certain control surfaces at particular positions, will make the airplane unflyable. It will crash all on its own without further attention by the dragon. So the dragon would just hop from plane to plane, breaking each, and 10 planes are doomed by the time the first one hits the ground.

It's very difficult to make an airplane resist jaw and claw damage from an intelligent adversary, because making it tough also makes it heavy - and it can't be heavy and also fly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Fox-four, anyone? $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 28 '19 at 22:18
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Make their scales and teeth stronger than metal. They'd simply chew out airplanes or fly through them. Also, if they get more speed and/or maneuverability than fly fighters, dragons would be impossible to take down and a authentic nightmare for air units.

And since their scales are that hard, bullets would do next to nothing to them.

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Fire

I think you discount the fire breathing too much.

Blow fire into the intake of an engine and you're likely to oxygen starve the engine. Some engines might refire/restart quickly, but you're still looking at a pilot that's now concentrating on not falling out of the sky vs one concentrating on flying or even shooting. Add a sticky substance as the dragon fire agent, and you have something gumming up the intakes as well.

Many props in WWII era planes were made of lacquered wood, so get them hot enough and they catch fire. Many planes were wood or canvas covered, so the same thing. With that gummy accelerant mentioned above, anything not metal will likely catch fire. Even a metal with a low enough melting point could be in danger. Heck, you don't need to melt the metal, just get it softened and wings will just bend & rip off. Get a fire breather and a frost breather working on conjunction and metals will get brittle & snap.

To make sure you don't get fried pilots, the plane makers would have to rely on canopies, which not all planes did in WWII. Also, some canopies were made from plastic, so they could have a tendency to catch fire, too.

Claws

Just like in the movie "Avatar", the dragons/ikran/toruk can simply fly up to a plane and tear it to shreds, as other answer have mentioned. Even a glass canopy or metal plane won't help you if you're missing a wing or tail.

Speaking of tails, give the dragons an armored tail to smash at planes as they fly by or land on. Yes, a dragon would likely use the tail to steer with, but this is less problematic than in a plane. I suggest an armored tail instead of a spiked tail, since spikes can get stuck, dragging the dragon down with the demolished plane.

Agility, speed, intelligence

With a sufficiently intelligent dragon breed, their agility and speed can be used to fly in between bombers, causing them to fire at each other when they miss. Unfortunately, this happened a lot in real life, but isn't recorded as such, simply because there was so much chaos that people generally didn't know where they were all taking hits from and not many people would say they shot a friendly, even if it was an accident.

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Scheme #1: Cloud dragons with eagle eyes, ridiculously high operational ceiling, and permanent Greater Haste that have a maximum flight speed up to 500 mph. Climb up to about half a mile above a World War II era fighter, shadow it from behind. then swoop down like an eagle.

Scheme #2: Hover in place with rapid regeneration and bullet-resistant hide from the rear. In a traditional World War II dogfight, the idea is to get behind the enemy aircraft and fire ahead of them. The obvious counter to that is to slow down, but that would typically cause a stall. A dragon could easily counter this by having enough regeneration and armor on its hide to take a few bursts, then slow down to force the enemy aircraft to pass by - close enough to grab.

Scheme #3: Visual countermeasures. Dragons with mirror-image (decoy) spells would be downright dangerous against World War II fighter squadrons.

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This answer is informed by my bias that "dragons" should be based not on reptilians, but on pterosaurs, as this in what I am doing in the world I am building. It solves the problem of the wing-and-forearm-in-the-same-place anatomical impossibility, and provides a lot of nice examples of things that really existed to start from.

So, the first thing we need is for the subject dragon to be a pterosaur with pycnofibers, like Anurognathus:

Anurognathus

(source)

Wikipedia describes pycnofibers as "unique structures similar to, but not homologous (sharing a common origin) with, mammalian hair, an example of convergent evolution." In this case, we need to combine this with another modern-day Real World (TM) adaptation, already mentioned in another answer, urticating hairs. This feature is found in tarantulas, that can kick hairs off their own backsides, which irritate the eyes and airways of attacking predators. We need the subject dragon to have a bit of convergent evolution with these kinds of tarantulas.

As for the location of the urticating pycnofibers, I would love to have the subject dragon sporting a club tail covered with them. However, it seems most pterosaurs had just a stub of a tail, and those with prominent tails didn't have clubs. The subject dragon may just have to be jealous of Ankylosaurus:

enter image description here

(source)

However, there were several types of pterosaurs that had large tail vanes, including Rhamphorhynchus and Darwinopterus:

enter image description here

(ibid)

I could not find an example of a pterosaur showing both pycnofibers and tail vanes, but that doesn't mean the subject dragon can't evolve both, any more than urticating pycnofibers can't be a thing.


Having built our dragon with the features described, we now turn to the question of how is this utilized in an aerial dogfight? I imagine a tactic of allowing the enemy plane to actually get behind, thinking he has the dragon in his gun sights. Then the dragon suddenly swoops with a flick of its tail, leaving a cloud of hard, sharp fibers in the air in front of the plane. It's almost the biological equivalent of flak.

As it flies through them, the fibers are ingested by the plane's air intakes. Those in the cooling intakes clog them up and make the engine run hot. If any get sucked into the carburetor, they will introduce friction, scraping away at the piston/ cylinders and eventually seizing the engine.

I admit this is not the best of plans. The dragon might only get a couple shots per battle before having to rest long enough to re-grow the fibers. Also, the impact on the enemy is not immediate- he will have several minutes to continue the attack before the engine damage takes hold. However, I feel this is the best explanation that is entirely plausible from an anatomical and evolutionary point of view. Not to mention totally bad-ass.

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TL/DR: Let the dragons sneeze thermite.

Dragons are traditionally associated with "breathing fire", so rather than replacing their fire, we simply alter it a bit. Instead of exhaling a plume of high-temperature volatile substances that combust in the air, but travel slowly and quickly lose velocity, we give them the ability to produce a thick, sticky semi-liquid substance containing a mixture of chemicals such as magnesium and iron oxide, plus a pyrophoric substance such as white phosphorus. By making this liquid so thick and sticky that it behaves like a non-newtonian fluid, remaining cohesive even at high velocities, the dragon could take advantage of its long neck to inject globules of this substance into its airways as it exhales strongly, the fast-moving airflow accelerating the globules to higher velocities by directing the airflow through the nostrils which taper significantly along the length of the dragon's long nose. With an ability to produce high exhalation pressures and a significant reduction in the diameter of the nostrils from the back of the hard palate to their opening, it may be possible to eject these globules of thermite at velocities well in excess of those achieved by a human sneeze, that being claimed to be up to 90 m/s (320 kph / 200 mph). Velocities on the order of 250 m/s (900 kph / 560 mph) may be achievable, which is fast enough to hit all but the fastest of WWII aircraft from behind. Add the velocity of the dragon, which may be up to 30 m/s (100 kph / 70 mph), and this gives the thermite globules a velocity of between 220 and 280 m/s (800-1000 kph / 490-630 mph).

Given that a dragon has a long neck, it could turn its head to aim its thermite-sneezes in any direction, including directly behind itself, where a fighter aircraft would need to be in order to engage it.

What effect would these thermite globules have on an aircraft? Let us assume that the globules are roughly spherical, and around 20mm in diameter, containing a Magnesium & Iron oxide mixture, a sticky organic binder, and is coated with white phosphorus or some other pyrophoric substance to provide a source of ignition.

Magnesium thermite burns at a temperature in excess of 2200°C, easily hot enough to melt iron. Any globules that impact with an aircraft would flatten into a 'splat' perhaps 30-60mm in diameter, depending upon the impact velocity. The splat would be composed of either burning thermite or molten iron at a temperature of around 2500°C, hot enough to burn straight through the skin of any aircraft, be it doped linen or aluminium. Many WWII aircraft had wooden airframes, and those with metal airframes would be constructed from aluminium. Magnesium thermite would easily be hot enough to ignite both wooden and aluminium airframes, plus there is the significant probability that the aircraft's fuel tanks will be compromised, and the fuel within ignited. An impact on a glass or plexiglass surface would likely result in a burn-through, and an impact on an engine block, which would most likely be made from an aluminium alloy, could also lead to a burn-through which might result in a loss of lubricant and/or coolant which would result in the engine malfunctioning.

If a globule of thermite was to impact with a human pilot/crewmember, it would result in a severe burn that could easily be incapacitating.

A single hit to an aircraft might also have little effect other than to damage the aircraft's skin and add to its static drag, but as a dragon would likely sneeze many globules of thermite, multiple hits would greatly increase the odds of inflicting fatal damage.

The characteristics of the globules' combustion would also allow the dragon to aim them readily. Globules would initially leave a trail of white smoke as the white phosphorus burned, and then when the thermite core ignites, the globule would emit a bright white light. Both effects could be used by the dragon as tracers, allowing it to correct its aim to achieve a hit.

While the dragon itself would be armoured, and its hide might deflect a glancing impact from a bullet, achieving a hit on a relatively slow-moving target that is capable of sneezing thermite at 800 to 1000 kph in any direction would be both difficult and highly risky.

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I think flames are problematic - they are slow, hard to control once they leave the dragon (think of high altitude winds, direction changes etc) and need to make contact with the planes for at least some time to have an effect.

How about instead of using fire breath, use another part of the dragon, its wings. Maybe some combination of magic and wing movement that will cause areas of intense turbulence which would be hard to combat and knock most older planes out of the air (plus, giving pilot character the chance to escape their out of control planes rather then just go up in smoke...)

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Given that a plane is a mechanical dragon of sorts (can fly, breathe fire) with a human for its brain.

There would be two ways to make dragons better; One would be to make dragons smaller than aplane so they can outmaneuver the plane. This may cause them to loose a little firepower but that can be compensated by the Second point; make the dragons smarter than humans.

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  • $\begingroup$ how can it be smarter than the human if the human is its brain? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Nov 25 '19 at 6:55
  • $\begingroup$ I wanted to say 'make the dragons smarter than the humans'. I edited the answer to make this clearer. Thanks $\endgroup$ – ankyskywalker Nov 25 '19 at 7:00
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They don't need one

You are talking about a half-ton critter flying with moving wings; those wings would generate a lot of turbulence.

WW2 era biplanes were quite unstable, all a dragon would need to do is divebomb to the front of a plane, then halt their drop with a beat of their wings. This would produce a strong, turbulent downwind, which will force the poor little aircraft into a nosedive.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea about wake turbulence causing upsets, however that wake turbulence will be proportionate with mass. An F-14 tomcat is heavy. $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 25 '19 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ Well, @Harper-ReinstateMonica; OP asked for WW2 era fighter craft; that is more a sopwith camel than an F14. Indeed, this tactic won't work for modern planes, but that was not the setup $\endgroup$ – ThisIsMe Nov 26 '19 at 13:02
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Hovering

Inspired by the Russian Night Witches whose aircraft's top speed was lower than the German defender's stall speed making them very hard to shoot down. Aircraft interception was generally done by approaching from behind and trying to pick them off. If you're unable to stay behind because you can't fly slowly enough that puts you in a very vulnerable position if you don't make the kill.

Giving the dragons the ability to hover, along with good acceleration and general maneuverability will tip the balance ever in their favour.

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Fire Breath is already Good Enough

Since you say biplane, you are generally talking WWI era aircraft. Those fighters were hard to aim making them only effective within ranges of about 100m. Certain Ace pilots could hit from 200m away, but they were the exceptions to the rule.

A properly constrained firehose also has a maximum range of about 100m; so, if your dragon's fire breathing structures can create fire hydrant level water pressures, and focus his breath into tight enough of a stream, then each side may have advantages in certain areas vs others, but the fight should be more or less fair.

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