Not sure if this is too broad, but I am currently in the process of making a few flying alien species and, of course, didn't want to use the old insect or bat-like wings.

Of the types of wings (or flying surfaces) I can think of present on earth, there are the limb-bound wings using finger bones for support with skin membrane in between (bats and pterasaurs), small limbs with growths to provide more surface area e.g. feathers (birds), vein-ridden insect wings and the simple gliding surfaces of some mammals (skin flaps of some possums and squirrels) and lizards (outward facing sails on draco lizards).

While this is quite the list, to achieve a more 'alien' powered flight I need a different structure. So basically, is there another possible structure for wings used in powered flight? (not looking for biological jets, sky-rays or whale-blimps).

Edit: I have developed two different groups of creatures to fill the large animal niches of my planet, which are the mammal-like quadrupeds (four limbs) and the reptilian-like hexopeds (six limbs), the latter of which I favor as a candidate for the flyers. They have the typical spine, defined head and a rib-cage-like lattice with vital organs encased. Their environment is much like earths, but with a slightly denser atmosphere, so I'm guessing their size could vary from quite small (bee hummingbird) to larger than Quetzalcoatlus. I do want powered flight, so flapping is most likely essential.

  • $\begingroup$ You can turn towards the plant world, there are various ways to carry seeds etc. But firstly narrow down things a bit. How big are these aliens? Their body (fur, scales...)? How they actually fly (are they supposed to flap their wings, would they just climb to a certain height and glide or something else)? Even think about airplane models, some wings we use there are foam covered with fiberglass or wood, even simple fabric+paint. One derivation from that could be a wing formed by long bony blades (like many wings together) with the bone as light as polystyrene but more elastic (no breakage) $\endgroup$ – Erik vanDoren May 19 '16 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ What do your aliens look like? What sort of environment will they be flying in? Is flying their main mode of transportation? Are they hunters, who need to fly very quickly, etc.? $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 19 '16 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ Their shape, being flying creatures, would most likely be heavily influenced by their wings, so I can't really 'lock in' a shape as of yet. What I can say is that they would range from hummingbird size to maybe even the size of a large dog, maybe further, as the atmosphere is slightly denser. There are two possible groups of animals I could choose from, four-limbed mammal/reptilian-like creatures, or six-limbed creatures much more on the reptilian side with separated mouth-parts (most likely candidate, bony mouth-parts make excellent beak-like mouths). $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf May 19 '16 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ I will add these ^ details to the question $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf May 19 '16 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ If active flight is essential you are pretty much kept to systems developed by birds and insects, and there is a difference in the way they fly which does affect the kind of wing they use, but that can depend from the size you want them to be. If you can add reasons for strong thermals in the atmosphere that could help some but you must have some sort of surface to use and as for now what nature gave to "things that flap their wings" is pretty much the best system.... $\endgroup$ – Erik vanDoren May 19 '16 at 17:11

You might want to take a look at mantas. Maybe you could adapt their style of propulsion? They also have the advantage of having a massively different skeleton from birds and bats.

Apart from the skeleton, the primary difference is that the movement of their fins is a wave pattern, where part of the fin goes down while a different part goes up, as opposed to the movement of bats and birds.

I have no means of telling wether this is feasible in air, but the dynamics should be similar to water, so it might just work.

  • $\begingroup$ Planet of the Abes had about the same answer with the flatworms, good idea $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf May 19 '16 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ The Abes were truly fierce! $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jul 18 '16 at 20:35

Take a page out of Charlotes Web. Many spider types do actually use their web making ability to float away. Other spires can steer while falling, another type of flight.

Weird thought.

Squid like creature. Many many tentacles. Each has some sort of feather or micro fiber covering it. They use these as modular wings.

  • $\begingroup$ nice idea! I knew I forgot something $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf May 19 '16 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget the flying squid! Short flights by jet propulsion. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip May 19 '16 at 17:02

I'm not sure whether there's another wholly different structure that could be used, but if you're willing to fudge the physics, you could take inspiration from more unfamiliar aquatic creatures. Perhaps the six-legged species has membranes between the three legs on either side and flies by whipping its whole body. Perhaps instead, the membranes connect all the legs and also the tail(?), and they fly by "doing the wave."

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    $\begingroup$ like a flatworm or the tail of a knife fish? creative. $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf May 19 '16 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, exactly! I simply could not remember what they were called. $\endgroup$ – Planet of the Abes May 19 '16 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ Going one better, there is a species of snake youtube.com/watch?v=UczKUylZDv8 which flattens its whole body in order to glide. This might form the basis for a different flight body plan. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast May 19 '16 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ I thought of mentioning that snake, but I guess I didn't end up doing it. $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf May 19 '16 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ If they live on a planet with lower gravity and stronger atmospheric density, then you could have more freedom with aquatic type flying creatures... $\endgroup$ – colmde May 19 '16 at 15:18

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