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In my world, during their equivalent to the age of absolutism, dragon riding becomes very common. They can be too expensive to personally own, so they are mostly used in general warfare and transporting goods and merchants. However, the technology of my world eventually reaches to the point where there flying vehicles that are not dragons. For airships, they stay because they can be used for rest-stops, hold powerful artillery, and so on. They soon get to the point where airplanes, but the practice of riding dragons and farming them is still alive and well. In the end, if there is dragon-riding, why manufacture airplanes when you already have dragons? Sure, it would be cool, but it could eventually become useless and unnecessary.

Worldbuilding notes:

  • These dragons' average size is about 3 times the average size of a skyrim dragon.
  • The two common breeds for riding are the classical 6-limb creature and wyverns
  • The storage capacity on the back is big enough to carry the amount of cargo a van could.
  • The airplanes are similar to the ones built between 1901 to WW1.
  • While there are spikes on the back, they can be sawed off without hurting a dragon, and a platform or saddle(s) could be placed on top.
  • Their bones are hollow, and they can handle extra weight.
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    $\begingroup$ It looks like you're wanting to brainstorm and generate ideas for you. Such questions are prohibited on this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ Why manufacture automobiles when you already have horses? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ How can we compare both methods if you don't tell what your dragons are and what existing tech (saddles, carts...) you use with them? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 1:19
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    $\begingroup$ Have you smelled a dragon??? $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 1:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena problem solved $\endgroup$
    – Crafter
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 2:16

7 Answers 7

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Machines are more convenient and malleable

In the real world we still have horses, so why do we have ~276 million cars on the road (in the U.S.)?

Working with a horse requires a bunch of skills that must be taught, developed, and then applied regularly. Driving a car also requires skills, but there are fewer of them, and most of us choose to delegate the performance of those tasks to specialists.

Also, crucially, the horse is a living creature that has finite capacities and also moods, and these are realities that you have practically zero power over. Cars also have finite capacities, but the ones we care about are orders of magnitude greater than those of horses, and cars have no real moods or personalities that must be accommodated.

All of this transplants neatly onto your situation with dragons and airplanes.

Riding a dragon requires learning how to interact with that kind of animal, which is a project that requires time and effort and (obviously) access to a dragon. You can't practice on a wooden dummy.

Dragons are living creatures with needs and moods, and being large and physically powerful, it is no easy thing for a human to simply disregard them. If your dragon doesn't feel like flying you to the convenience store in the middle of the night to get funyuns, you aren't going to have funyuns. Airplanes are more pliable: as long as you put it away properly the last time you used it, it goes when you want to go. And the airplane has nerves of steel: you can perform terrifying, dangerous maneuvers with it, or even shoot guns right near its steering column, and it will not freak out. Not so with horses or dragons, who have an instinct for self-preservation.

Learning to fly an airplane is harder than learning to drive a car (and probably harder than learning to ride a horse). But a lot of it can be taught in the absence of an actual plane (and, indeed, pilots-in-training do a lot of boring book work before they start training in the real machines). And a training airplane doesn't get moody if 12 students in a row take it out for lessons with their instructors, whereas a single dragon probably will. So, acquiring airplane skills will be easier than acquiring dragon skills, resulting in more people being able to personally fly an airplane than can fly a dragon.

Airplanes can also be designed for a range of special tasks: passenger planes, cargo planes, reconnaissance planes, etc., and the differences in their designs have an enormous impact on their fitness for those roles. This is much harder with animals.

Yes, animals can be selectively bred for different tasks, but it can take a long time and there are limits and drawbacks -- just look at dogs: yes, we have very many specialized breeds, but many of them are prone to specific kinds of serious health problems because the breeding process necessarily prioritized target characteristics over holistic health.

Finally: airplanes in storage create less trouble than dragons in storage. You can mothball your plane for a decade and completely ignore it; when you unpack it, you'll need to replace some parts and do some maintenance, but it will fly again. A dragon will cause real trouble if you ignore it for longer than it normally goes between meals.

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Without very specific information about your dragons and the kind of planes you're thinking of, it's pretty hard to give you specifics.

I'll assume you're talking about the stereotypical dragon from books and games, and post-WW2 airplanes. If that's the case, here's a few possible reasons:

  • Speed: planes are incredibly fast, and even older models are probably faster than a dragon's flight speed. That's good for everything, from transporting goods and people, to warfare.

  • Quick assembly: planes can be mass assembled within a few months or years. Dragons usually have very long lives, which often means it takes decades before they grow up.

  • Transporting people: airships do a good job with that, but it's safe to assume planes are faster. The military might use them to transport Quick Response Forces, or large amounts of troops from one continent to another, or paratroopers... lots of possibilities!

  • Reach higher altitudes: dragons need to breath, airplanes don't. This means you can reach much higher altitudes with it, which means fewer things can hit you and you can drop bombs from way up high.

  • Scouting / spying: planes can carry lots of instruments, from simple cameras to sophisticated spying technology. Add the fact that they are fast, can be built for stealth, and can reach very high altitudes, and you got the perfect spying tool.

  • Ease of use?: you can learn to fly a plane pretty quickly. Is learning to ride a dragon easier or harder?

These are just a few ideas. It's kinds of like asking why develop the car if we had the carriage already...

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Price:

A dragon eats, is trained, must be supervised, can cause random problems if not under control, can get sick, and must be supported in old age (unless you send old dragons to the glue factory). An airplane might have some similar needs, but it can be custom built for single jobs. If you need something better, scrap it and build a better model.

Fuel:

If you have lots of petroleum, plane food is cheap and doesn’t compete with humans for food. Dragon food can't store at room temperature for long periods without using its own food.

Replaceable:

If all your dragons are killed, you have no dragons. If all your planes are shot down or bombed, you build more.

Agreeable:

An airplane never refuses to work because it’s mad, or doesn’t have a full tank. An airplane doesn’t disagree with you about what to do. It flies to the scrapyard without complaint.

Upgradable:

It takes generations of careful planning to make small changes to your dragon population. Then, it is tricky to go back if you don't need the new model. Planes keep getting better with each generation, and you can always build an old model if you decide you liked it best.

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Why are Automobiles Common When There is Horse-Riding?

enter image description here

Dragons are to airplanes as horses are to motorcars.

The Dragon must be trained and bred. This takes ten years for the dragon to grow to full. The airplane can be manufactured. The process can be sped up if you have extra materials or workers. The dragon takes another five years to train. You can train a human pilot in one year because people are smrter than dragons.

The plane is faster and has more seats than the dragon. The dragon requires stabling. The airplane requires only the space to store it. The dragon must be fed -- even when not using it! The airplane needs only fuel when you make it go. Otherwise it sits in the hangar.

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  • $\begingroup$ Presumably the dragon doesn't need runway space though. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Aug 7, 2022 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen - I'd be surprised if a dragon was VTOL. I'll bet they need some clearance to take off. Or make some. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Commented Aug 7, 2022 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ @jdunlop The issue with adhering to physics here is there would be no dragons that could fly, in which case the answer to OP is obvious. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Aug 7, 2022 at 20:22
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Good dragons ? then it will take more time for aircraft to become common..

I can't put a frame challenge, eventually they will prefer aircraft..

Potential advantages of aircraft are:

  • scalability (passenger count)
  • they don't need to be fed
  • they don't need to be tamed
  • you don't have to wait for it to grow up
  • aircraft may be stalled, dragon should be in captivity

BUT.. you set a time..

I wonder if aircraft go main stream soon, when

Q: "The storage capacity (of a dragon) on the back is big enough to carry the amount of cargo a van could."

Q: "The airplanes are similar to the ones built between 1901 to WW1."

Too early

The aircraft of 1914-1918 were made of wood, Blériot was one of the best. The record flight of a Blériot involved crossing the Channel from France to Britain. You had near zero cargo capacity and very slow speed.

These dragons you describe are great with cargo, I must say.. Humans on Earth, without dragons at their disposal, took another 20 years of development, to create aircraft that could transport a van's cargo. Your people don't need that capability. As a result, aircraft development on your world will be slowed down and it will take more than 20 years before people prefer aircraft over dragons, or start building passenger planes allowing for "common" citizen to travel by plane. It could take them a century, instead of 20 years !

Safety

Another reason not step into a WW-1 aircraft for the average "common" civilian would be safety: dragons are able to land on their own, aircraft are not. These early aircraft were quite dangerous.

Less fascination (and drive) for flying with aircraft

Something that would slow down development is that these dragon-people are familiar with flying from A to B. Until 1903, humans flew with balloons, with no specific target. These aircraft were fascinating .. for the dragon-people, the aircraft is only a substitute for a thing they already have. It's better than a dragon, potentially.. but.. how long will it take, before they trust it ?

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  • $\begingroup$ Why do people continue to underestimate historical development? Sikorsky built the Muromets that first flew in 1913: 4 engines, a crew of up to 12, and the civilian version had a passenger cabin with bathroom. The Avro 500 in 1912 had a top speed of 100 km/h and could cruise for 5 hours. Also in 1912 was the B.E.2 (2 crew, 116km/h at 6500 feet). By 1918 you had the Bréguet 14, which extensively used aluminum in its structure instead of wood or steel. And so on. It took less than 10 years to go from the Wright Flyer to reliable, multi-hour endurance large aircraft. Before the war began. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 21:56
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison ok, good for us... the Channel crossing was 1909.. but the question is about folks who have dragons at their disposal before any aircraft was developed. Our WW-I aircraft were dangerous to fly, their dragons are already part of culture.. and I am sure there was no relevant cargo capacity by WW-I. Airmail dates from 1911, but they did not have to carry relevant weight. The opener talks of a van. That is at least a metric ton of freight, no 200 pounds of silk or mail. The UK started development in 1925 or so, well after the question scenario. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Aug 10, 2022 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ I was noting what was available before 1914. As mentioned, the Muromets could carry up to a 500kg bomb load, only 4 years after Bleriot putt-putted across the channel. You're looking at the same issue as with cars: even though horses were available, the development soon proceeded so fast the horses were left in the metaphorical dust. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ Well, @KeithMorrison the above question is not about Earth, it is about dragon people developing aircraft. I think an aircraft would be regarded as a "nice to have" gadgets by the dragon people. There won't be an incentive for a lightning fast development as we have seen on Earth 1903-1920, because they don't actually need aircraft. That is the difference I wanted to point out in my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ And as I pointed out, the exact same argument can be used to explain that there's no way cars could have developed as quickly as they did because people had access to horses. Yet, it happened. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 16, 2022 at 22:23
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Reproducibility

The lovely gold and silver dragons that are all the rage never breed true, and their offspring are often feeble. If you make an airplane to spec, you have only to worry about bad parts, and even those are replacable.

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Do you want to delay it? Because it's doable.

While everyone here is against dragon, and for many valid reasons, I think there is much much more to this than merely: airplane best

Did cars make all other modes of transportation useless? Well. Depends. To this very day horses and donkey are used in the mountains, forests, swamps, agriculture settings...etc.

It does not matter that an air conditioned truck with the newest gadgets exist, you are not gonna just destroy your crops riding it, or magically get it to levitate to the top of the mountain.

Also people seem to judge based on 2022 first world standards. In tech, scale, logistics, economy...etc.

I will offer some points that you might find interesting and want to adopt. Also the biggest thing of all is that history is changing. In few decades we went from no cars to some cars to a lot of cars, you can set your story at any point.

So. Lets break this down to, mostly, self contained parts.

Airspace.

Dragons are in control of the airspace. Early adopters can't get a license to even test their flying machines. The guild of dragon navigators, or a reference to another media besides Dune, is the one with the exclusive rights to "fly" anything.

There is some, this is mostly context of course, historical bases for this. Like certain people or communities blocking rail roads from being made in their place. In the capital of my country there is an upper class city that to this day blocks the metro line from expanding because, literally their reasoning, it will bring undesirables to that city.

Global system

Remember that in order for our modern day society to function we use, and abuse of course, resource from around the world in an incredibly complex global system. We all saw what a pandemic or a local war or even a stock market crash can do. And it seems to me you are building that. I mean you did not specify that they already have our system. So. I'm assuming you are just starting to build our modern society around 1920s

fuel

Is fuel that plentiful? Airplanes are not just dragons you can feed whatever. They need "aviation kerosene" according to a quick search. Not difficult to imagine a problem there

Technology

In order for our marvelous technological flying machines to exist in their current state, we had to invent a lot of frigging technologies. Sure. Even in fallout they had planes. But what if your world is not not up to that level, it won't be easy.

Materials

Again. If access to high quality metals and other materials is not available or difficult then airplanes become more and more difficult to get to a stage that competes with the already available state supported method.

Environmental reasons.

Constant solar flares? electric storms? Incredibly high mountains? Winds of crazy speeds? the air is filled with flocks of birds that a dragon is naturally capable of avoiding while an airplane can't? Heck. Acid rains that birds evolved to resist but metals will suffer?...etc.

Magic

Just high magic activity that messes up with airplanes. Not really difficult.

All in all I know that we can argue about the specifics of each point. The purpose of my comment is mostly to offer some points that you might want to adapt to explain some parts of your world. Especially since this is a place of magic. Also remember that you don't have to make it impossible for airplanes to fly. just highly impractical for that point in your world.

Sure a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is better than a dragon. But I think you can see how it being superior to a dragon is not applicable to a world with 1920s tech and so on.

Lastly the whole story can be about the changing of times. The collapse of the old systems and all that. Would be as interesting as anything. All about execution.

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