We are in a future where genetics has advanced to a point where arbitrary modifications can be done to living beings. Now a geneticist wants to make a flying human. That is, he wants to modify a human so that his arms turn into wings (but still with hands at the end, so doing all things humans usually do is possible), and so that the human could actually fly using those wings. But apart of the wings, the modifications should be as conservative as possible; that is, it should be the minimum change necessary to make the human fly, and it should affect the normal human abilities as little as possible. In particular, he should still look as human as possible. If possible, he should have the ability to go directly from running to flying.

My question is: What minimal changes would have to be made to the human body to enable flying?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Relevant: Air density for winged human flight. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ If terrorists had wings........ $\endgroup$
    – Bradman175
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 2:59
  • $\begingroup$ Minimal changes are impossible, becomes too heavy and not strong enough. You need a combination of reengineering the entire body from science fiction materials to make it stronger and lighter, increasing air density and lowering gravity. Or you could go for small humans, which are not bigger than toddlers (but with huge wings anyway). I could give more reasoning for this conclusion in an answer, but it's hard work finding citations for this, so I'm not writing one. $\endgroup$
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Nobody: You seem you confuse "minimal" with "miniscule". "Minimal" is always possible (unless the task as such is not possible, but the task as such is possible in this case by e.g. turning the human into a raven). $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I phrased that poorly. $\endgroup$
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 22:59

1 Answer 1


The largest bird ever to fly were the Teratorns (a type of Condor), the largest of which, Argentavis magnificens, had a wingspan of 6 to 8 metres, and weighed 70kg.

Source: http://library.sandiegozoo.org/factsheets/_extinct/teratorn/teratorn.htm

The average weight of an adult human is 62kg, which is actually less than that of the Teratorn.

So, a lightweight human in theory could fly. Clearly you would modify the humans not to store large amounts of fat, and for a thinner frame. Bird bones are not actually lighter than human bones as they are denser and stiffer despite being hollow. You would somehow need to remove the weight of the wings and other adaptions from the rest of the body to keep the weight constant as you add flight capability.

Other adaptations made in birds that would most likely be needed in your humans are:

  • A deep, solid breastbone (sternum) to which the wing muscles can be anchored.
  • Get rid of un-needed bones. For example fewer fingers, thinner skulls, etc.
  • Keep reproductive organs tiny most of the time, have a breeding season.
  • Much larger more efficient lungs (continuous flow)
  • A more powerful heart and increased blood flow to the wing muscles

Source: http://web.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/Adaptations.html

The most visible change needed though would be the six meter wingspan. Each arm would need to be 3 meters long. In other words the arm would extend from their shoulder and the elbow would nearly reach the floor, and then the forearm would extend back up the same distance to place their hand by their shoulder. Even folded up this would be a massive deal, and would greatly limit them in their daily lives.

The wrist may well need to be elongated as well to give the wings 3 points of articulation, which would mean the first two bones would not need to be so long but the hand becomes even less flexible and useful.

While they would have no problem reaching top shelves they would have to be constantly folding their arms and find most areas designed for normal humans incredibly claustrophobic. All furniture and living areas would need to be designed especially for their use or be uncomfortable. In particular they would struggle to reach or do anything close to them, preferring to actually be a distance from anything they are working with.

So in conclusion, your flying humans would have enormously over-long arms and clumsy few-fingered hands. They would have large massively muscled and protruding chests and thin fragile skulls.

But they would fly.

  • $\begingroup$ This is not "hard science" in any way. You handwave the critical part away with a "somehow". $\endgroup$
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ It's hard science in that I demonstrate with reasonable sources that this is at least possible without writing a novel. If you want to build on this to dig into that specific point in more detail then feel free to post your own answer or a separate question. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ No you do not. You have a source for a 70kg flying animal and one for some criteria on how flying animals look like. You do not in any way explain how a 62kg-average human is supposed to grow wings and support structures with less than 8 additional kg of weight. $\endgroup$
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 14:18

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