Insects in the order Odonata have tow pairs of wings that can be moved independently, their compound eyes grand them full 360° vision and their bodies are elongated. They can flap their wings out of sync 180° degrees out of phase to generate lift and hover in place, 90° degrees to generate thrust but less lift allowing for speeds of 36–54 km/h (22–34 mph) or can glide by holding their wings in an X-wing position. They can move backward by lifting their nose. Their wings have weights on the front tips to avoid fluttering. The wings also aren't perfectly smooth and have corrugated cross sections that prevent the wing from warping or deforming as a result of resonance.

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For planes (or in this case drones or fighter jets) this translates as long planes with 360° cockpits and four adjustable wings. The source of thrust may be in the back or near the centre, I'm not too sure which is best.

Would a jet modelled after a dragonfly be more manoeuvrable? Why not? I don't care about complexity or manufacturing costs.

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    $\begingroup$ The actuator needed would be a severe mass penalty. Dragonfly's main utility comes from wing's adjustability as powered wings, and the interaction of air vortices between them. If you ever build a military Ornithopter, this is the way to go. But jet-powered?....no. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Aug 29, 2021 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ @PcMan Good comment, now if you'd just make it into an answer I'd be perfect. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2021 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ What are you really asking? Are you asking if, given that we have the materials tech and engine tech to duplicate a dragonfly for human-scaled flight, would that object be as maneuverable as the insect? The answer is rather obviously no, because the mass difference would be about five orders of magnitude. If you're asking, given the differences in scale, could it maneuver in the same basic way as a dragonfly, the answer would be yes, because you built a dragonfly. If you're asking if we could build something like this today, the answer is heck no. So, what are you really asking? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 29, 2021 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ What's the purpose of this jet aircraft ? If all you wanted is manoeuverability then what's wrong with a helicopter or jump-jet ? Do you want a jet fighter capable of taking out a modern jet or a transport aircraft ? Or something else ? $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2021 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ What?! You don't think a dragonfly jet would be badass enough to excuse its existence? Wow... what a world we live in. Let's just say it's for entertainment, public stunts and whatnot. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2021 at 19:09

1 Answer 1


A dragonfly flies because of the movements that its wings make. This is entirely different to a manmade aircraft powered by a jet engine which effectively uses reaction thrusters to provide propulsion. However, it is possible to have a "jet" powered aircraft, such as many helicopters that use jet turbines as a source of mechanical power.

However, if we were to scale up a mechanical dragonfly to a size where it could carry a human, we would encounter problems related to Reynolds Number. The effect of Reynolds Number on wings is that for insect-sized airfoils, they may be thin and irregular in cross-section, while human-scale aircraft wings must be thick and smoothly curved. This in itself adds significant weight to the wings, not considering the square-cube law that says that larger objects must have stronger, heavier internal structures to support themselves.

Dragonflies rely upon flexible connections between their wings and bodies to connect the two, however when scaled up to aircraft size, these mechanical linkages would need to be vastly stronger, and allowing the necessary range of controlled movement would make them quite complex.

Flying creatures fly with flapping wings because of the biological rule that rotational structures on any level above the sub-cellular are not practical. This causes inefficiencies to do with the change in the momentum of the wings twice per stroke cycle. To scale up beating wings would only magnify this problem. However, man-made mechanical systems do not have such limitations, and rotating systems have the advantage of conservation of momentum.

So, while it might be possible to build an aircraft-scale jet-turbine powered four-winged ornithopter, it would be mechanically complex, difficult to achieve controlled flight (requiring computerisation to convert control input into wing movements), very energy inefficient (giving it an abysmally short operational duration) and highly prone to wear and catastrophic mechanical failure at the joints between the wings and fuselage, and they would be entirely unnecessary when we already have aircraft that perform in a similar manner: Helicopters.


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