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This is something I’m thinking about. Now, these would be wings that are not powered by the person themself, since we do not have the strength for it (and I don’t want to use legs). They’d be powered by a battery, and have a set of movements coded. Left, right, gliding, sensors, everything. Made out of the most light-weight materials. Now, humans are heavy, yes, but with properly designed wings for our body shape and weight, do you believe this is possible?

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    $\begingroup$ What are you trying to solve that "airplane" doesn't? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica hovering in place? Landing on a perch? $\endgroup$ Commented May 13, 2020 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ Lots of things are "possible"...but also inefficient or infeasible or unsafe. Are you basically asking us to read the Wikipedia page on Ornithopters for you? Do you have a specific world-building question beyond "possible"? $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, anatomically correct wampires fails to address the bat wings. A pity... $\endgroup$ Commented May 13, 2020 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ The problem here is that efficient ornithopters have to be really flexible & controllable, like bird wings, and that's not easy to do - maybe not even possible - with manmade materials. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 17:16

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Hummingbird drone wings.

hummingbird drone

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/video/the-hummingbird-drone/

Bird wings that work by flapping / gliding need to scale up with body size. That is covered in this question. How big would my character's wings realistically be?. For a human, condor-style wings would be super large and ungainly.

But hummingbirds use their wings in a different way - sculling the air at high speeds. I suspect that hummingbird style flight does not scale up because higher forces required for heavier bodies put stresses on the skeleton beyond what bone and ligament can withstand.

Not beyond what titanium and carbon fiber can withstand. Your character's small artificial wings scull the air like a hummingbird, allowing her to hover and dart about. The hummingbird drone beats its wings at 30 times a second. The artificial wings go much faster.

I would recommend your character keep her hair cut short, or wear a helmet.

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  • $\begingroup$ That’s very interesting. So, you’re saying that any other wing, like condor-style, long soaring, etc. would be basically impossible to achieve? I know that since humans have so much weight, especially in their legs, it would be really hard to have wings that are up to scale, because at that point, they’d just keep getting bigger. But, do they need to be huge? If say, they were sort of between the wing span to body weight ratio length of condors and hummingbirds, and were very powerful/could flap fast, do you suppose that would work? Enough to generate lift, be able to turn, and glide. $\endgroup$
    – Jenny
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Jenny - my understanding is that the wing speed necessary to move like hummingbird wings constrains wing size because of what wings are made of. My assertion is that synthetic materials would allow a large wing that moved very fast, like a hummingbird wing. It would be so fast that it would be converging on a propeller but with sculling motion, not spinning. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 21:46
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A mechanical device intended for a person to fly is a manned aircraft, and a few of them fly by flapping wings. They are called ornithopters.

However, flapping wings doesn't result practical nor efficient for a mechanical device and the only ornithopters that have been developed until having some practical application have been very small unmanned ones where looking like a bird or an insect is an advantage - like the examples in Willk's answer.

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When dealing with something that flies the core problem is the power / weight ratio. You must have enough power to use your wings to create enough lift but usually, with current technologies, more power also means more weight.

They’d be powered by a battery,

So the question is: how much power can this battery produce? How much does it weight?

I have built several multicopters and that is always the focal issue. Currently there is not a suitable battery for your mechanical wings.

BUT technology evolves. 20 years ago we could only dream of the kind of lipo batteries we are using today. Research is very active in evolving batteries technology. Patents in this field could yield trillions from multiple sectors (automobiles, power tools, drones, robots, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc).

So if your setting is in the not so near future then I would say that most likely that technology will be reality.

Personally I would imagine wings for personal human use more similar to those of an insect than those of a bird. You could read this: The nature of flight

However, despite recent research into the flight of bats and hummingbirds, arguably the most exciting insights have come from flying insects, in particular about the structure of the flight muscles and their coordination with the central nervous system.

A secondary aspect of your flying wings would be how to control them. I would imagine some kind of AI. You don't really need something extremely refined, just enough to read patterns of behavior to adapt the control of the wings to the user input. The user should not have to micro-manage the control of the wings.

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  • $\begingroup$ I’m no expert, especially when it comes to thinking about batteries and how things are powered...but I was thinking lithium. Most lightweight metal, used in smartphones, can last for a long time. If there was a BIGGER lithium battery, IDK how big yet, could it power the wings? The way the wings work is you will lean to the left or right, and the wings will sense that, and go accordingly. Same thing with leaning down. So there has to be power going into the sensors, and the joints of the wings so that they can move. But how MUCH power? $\endgroup$
    – Jenny
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ A bigger battery means much more weight. So far LiPo batteries can not produce enough power to lift a human being with wings and have a reasonable enough flight time without becoming too heavy. Note that multicopters are more efficient in design than wings and some projects have been started. See for instance this one youtube.com/watch?v=L75ESD9PBOw but battery technology is not ready yet. Improvement must be done with more power, less weight and longer flight times. Wings being less efficient will need a dramatic improvement in batteries performance. $\endgroup$ Commented May 14, 2020 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ I need to clarified: by 'multicopters are more efficient than wings' I meant flapping wings. Fixed wings with propellers, like in an airplane, are much more efficient than multicopters . How about a wingsuit with turbines like this? youtube.com/watch?v=dv84_0wPiTs $\endgroup$ Commented May 14, 2020 at 13:45
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Humans can fly by moving wings by own power in normal atmosphere but reduced gravity, such as on Moon, Mars(inside pressurized habitats) or Titan(with protective insulating suit). Alternatively, when the gravity is normal but the atmosphere is more dense, that is closer to swimming.

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The problem is, the power needed to lift a human is, in just about any version, dangerous to the human.

Consider:

  • if you give say, an 80kg human a form of smaller, hummingibird/insect wings that achieve lift by beating very fast, the person would experience extreme levels of vibration and turbulence, shaking their entire body and brain to mush. Plus, if they make a mistake of putting their arm or leg into the path of their own wings the limb would be pulverized. This has all the disadvantages of having a helicopter rotor strapped to your back, plus more.
  • if you give them giant albatros-like wings that beat slowly, but achieve lift through pushing against a very large area, then with every beat the human would be yanked up and down with tremendous force. The force needed to lift your body off the ground is greater than the force your body would experience falling to the ground. This is survivable (unless the whiplash snaps your neck) but would be immensely unpleasant to say the last. Imagine a giant grabbed you by the shoulders, and whipped you up in the air, then before you fell back, whipped you up again. Flight would be the same, just faster. Plus, you would need a 7meter wingspan at the least to achieve lift off. That would be stupidly cumbersome.

It does not matter what kind of propulsion you use to make a human fly, the energy required is just too big to be safe if strapped directly to the person. Whether this is jet propulsion, a rotor, wings, compressed gas, etc, the forces required would just kill/injure them. We use aeroplanes so that we are safely distanced from whatever device we use for propulsion. The frame of the aircraft takes the damage instead of us.

At the very least, your wings would need to come with a sort of heavily cushioned Iron-Man armor, so that the person inside is somehow protected from heat, vibration, impacts, and inertia whiplash. But in order for it to work, you would have to add so many things to the armor that it basically becomes an airplane, just vaguely human-shaped.

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