I would want to create a realistic spin on the "chariot drawn by flying creatures" as often seen in fantasy, such as Santa Claus' sled drawn by flying reindeer etc. My idea is for a vessel weighing around 1000 pounds combined with cargo and passengers to be drawn by a team of domesticated flying creatures for a distance of around 10 kilometers. I want to know what I could do to make it more plausible.

edit: the domesticated flying animals dont have to be real species, they could be the size of argentavis magnificens or quetzalcoatlus.

  • $\begingroup$ quora.com/… A bald eagle can carry 15lbs at the absolute limit. So you just need 67 bald eagles in peak fitness to carry 1000 pounds. Or say, 200 ordinary bald eagles, just to give a safety margin. It will be necessary to train them to flap while tied in place to a steel mesh framework, so they can lift the payload without bumping into each other or tangling up lines. $\endgroup$
    – causative
    Aug 19 '21 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ The animals dont need to be real species or ones currently living on earth, argentavis magnificens were much bigger than bald eagles and quetzalcoatlus weighed 200 kg. $\endgroup$ Aug 19 '21 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ African or european swallows? (Sorry about the OT, couldn't resist) $\endgroup$
    – Guran
    Aug 20 '21 at 11:49

A large glider type of design would be logical. The craft will support it's own weight, the animals only need to pull you forward and fly with you. I'm imagining a gilder where the tow is from animals and not another powered craft.

For most practical limitations you are going to want the largest and fewest trainable animals that you can get away with. A close scenario to this is the dogsled, its easy to see for practicality the less number of animals the better. It would not be easy to wrangle 100 dogs to attach them to a sled. If you have 1000 eagles for example and it takes 15 seconds to put each one in a harness on then from start to finish that will still take over 4 hours for one person JUST to put each bird in a harness. Not even counting getting them in the correct area to attach them to the craft in the first place.

Another huge reason for a larger animal is the larger a wingspan the animal has the more efficient it will be, purely from a physics stand point.Check out this answer Trevor_G. It's more efficient to move a lot of air slowly then a little bit of air really fast for thrust. Thus a bigger wingspan will allow you to fly longer before the animals need rest.

Ideally if you can get three or four big animals you could have them grip the craft directly, but if the required number of animal gets much more then that a harness for each may be required.

I'm not sure if a eagle like animal could be trained to work together like dogs can. From a trainability standpoint this might be hard to do.

  • $\begingroup$ However, control of the animals must be absolute and rather sophisticated. The controls of the glider will need to constantly adjusted to keep the "tow line" properly aligned. Consider a single flyer towing a glider. If the glider suddenly pitches up, the tail of the flyer will pitch up as well, and both may lose control. Then you have two connected craft which are both out of control, at least one of them stalling, and this simply isn't going to end well. Training would seem to be an issue. $\endgroup$ Aug 20 '21 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast agree totally - worth looking at the Mythbusters episode where they tried waterskiing behind a rowing team. The biggest problem for the waterskiier was that the towing force wasn't even, it peaked while the oars were in the water and slacked off as the oars were being drawn back for the next stroke. That's just trying to stay upright on the surface of the water behind a near-perfectly coordinated team of rowers, far more difficult maintaining angle of attack behind a group of flying creatures. Still the best idea provided though. $\endgroup$ Aug 20 '21 at 15:49

Another thought would be like modern Zeppelins. You don't travel inside, but in a gondola hung from the bottom.

So imagine a very large winged animal - dragon, whatever - with a gondola attached to a harness on its belly. The pilot may well be in a little cabin placed on the creature's neck.

So the ground staff only have one animal to care for and equip, and it can run around and have its social life in between flights.


Flying is an energy intensive activity and flying creatures can lift their own weight, not much more:

  • eagles hunt high and nest low, so that they can descend carrying their captured prey
  • vampire bats expel most of the water from the blood they have fed on within few minutes from the feast, in order not to carry ballast, and nevertheless struggle to take off after it
  • wasps struggle to take off with the flesh they have cut out of their gathering place

This means that in order to lift any sensible load, you would need a very large set of creatures working together, so that the load is distributed among them.

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    $\begingroup$ Not necessarily. If the animals provided the forward thrust, and the vehicle was a glider, then the wings of the glider would provide the lift needed for its weight. As long as the creatures are fast enough. $\endgroup$
    – Firestryke
    Aug 19 '21 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ "lift their own weight, not much more" - simple google search discloses some numbers, a pigeon can carry 10% of their mass, Harpy eagle there are some statements it may carry 20 pounds - so things aren't that bad to be it percentage-wise or in absolute numbers. I mean that this part can be easily improved. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 19 '21 at 20:20

Bird Powered Aerostat

How about some kind of lighter-than-air sled. For the sake of discussion, I'll call this unpowered airship an airsled. This is apparently not an original idea and someone patented this funny looking vehicle in the late 1800s.

weird bird blimp

If, however, you have access to giant birds, and we assume that we can perfectly train these birds, then maybe the idea could be work. Here are some of my ideas on it:

  • The giant birds would not be needed to maintain altitude. This means for long flights they could rest. Where they rest I guess depends on the birds' size and the carrying weight of the airsled. If the airsled can carry them, they can rest on it. Otherwise, they may be trained to rest on the ground and then fly back up, if you are not flying over an inhospitable place.
  • The giant birds can be used to pull the airsled in the desired direction, meaning the airsled will likely not have any propeller or the like. Or maybe the birds assist alongside a powered option that is too weak by itself (human-powered propellers?)
  • Perhaps the birds can be used for faster take-off and landing.
  • The ideas from the other answers could be used on a smaller scale for scouting or taking trips down without lowering the airsled. As in, a one to two-person bird assisted glider, or bird gondola.
  • The birds could be trained to fetch food and water from the ground without the airship needing to land.

I'll leave you with this illustration of a bird powered hot air balloon I found when researching this answer.

bird powered hot air balloon


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