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Fish scales consist of glycol-proteins - the kind of mucus that is supposed to reduce drag in the water - but in the air, prolonged exposure from UV would destroy this slime and I seriously doubt it improves aerodynamics.

Could dragon scales use a special kind of thick liquid to achieve faster speed during flight? What could that liquid be and how does it improve performance and speed in the air without drying out under the sun?

A recent study showed that the dried up carcass of dragon didn't perform as well as a live one in a wind tunnel testing facility.

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Reality: Reduced drag

Maximum speed is the point where wind resistance balances thrust. Adjusting the surface can reduce drag (up to a point). This is why slipperiness is useful in a dense medium such as water.

In air, the effect will be negligible if you're not a golf ball. (Related: Ever wondered why a golf ball has divots all over it? It's to guide air currents.)


Fiction: Because you say so

Dragons of any large size suffer from the square-cube law in flight. Double the size, flying becomes twice as hard just to stay up. So when you apply magic to let them fly anyway, you can state that the slime is a delimiter for a weight-reduction effect. Or is semi-animate, and actively moves along the dragon's length to keep pace with the nearby air. (How to get it back to the front end is left as an exercise for the reader.)

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First of all I want to commend the test engineers who managed to get wind tunnel results on the undried out, non-carcass of the living dragon that was used in the comparison. Well Done!

To understand the aerodynamic aspects of dragon scales and the role that their "slime" plays, you need to look no further than your local craft supply store. The self-healing cutting mats which are used in various blade-wielding crafting techniques are very similar in form and function. In fact, the formula used to create these mats was reverse engineered from actual dragon scales. Like real dragon scales, these mats flatten out and become perfectly smooth no matter how often you cut grooves into them with your crafting knives.

Dragon scales are made of a non-newtonian fluid which remains flat, slick and low-drag when passing through winds while in flight. This eliminates much of the turbulence which would otherwise disrupt and steal energy from the massive creature's flight. The dragon's massive chest basically takes on a teardrop shape while in flight, cutting through the air with minimum resistance. The harder the headwind blows against that amorphous form, the more streamlined the form becomes.

The magic of non-newtonian fluids is that these scales can also serve as armor. They harden to impenetrability when struck at speed. Swift blunt force is forcefully rebuffed by a rock hard surface which was fluid just a moment earlier. A slow blade can wound even a mighty dragon, but when you consider the dragon's lightning reflexes, you are unlikely to get a chance to move slowly.

So the reason that the scales help in flight is that they conform to resistance of the air to minimize drag. And when, under UV, they dry out to a non-fluid state, that conformation ends, greatly increasing the effective drag upon the dragon's corpse.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd credit the dragon in the wind-tunnel, who was probably part of the research team. (Decent chance that the team were just messing about, or wanted an excuse to start up the fan on a hot day.) $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 5:09
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Sweat

The slime helps cool the dragon off, allowing it to use more energy and fly faster without overheating. The slime is sticky so that it has time to evaporate instead of being blown away by the wind.

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