In my world, we have two cities, each on a high mountaintop, separated by a vast valley. In order to wage war, the warriors of each city bridge the huge gap between them by using flying creatures.

Now, these flying creatures are of various natures... Some are dragon-like pterodactyls, others are giant eagles. But each one can carry only one warrior and his gear. The warriors saddle and mount the beasts like they would do with horses.

Their technology is on the medieval level. Warriors can only use swords, spears, bows and arrows and such. The cities may, however, be furnished with catapults.

Since these battles never existed in real life, I'm a little overwhelmed at how these battles would be. On the one hand, I'm inclined to base myself on real medieval calvary battles, since we're dealing with knights riding living creatures. On the other hand, the specifics of these creatures make me feel tempted to base myself on real aerial WW2 battles to know how they would move in battle and keep formations.

So, my questions would be as such:

  1. Could these warriors make the same kinds of acrobatic flights that airplanes did on real aerial battles?
  2. How would the military formations be?
  3. What would be the best tactics for warriors to fight each other? Would long range fighting bow and arrows be sufficiently precise? Would short range joust-like figthing be feasible?
  4. Would the catapults from the cities be able to disrupt the battle, or inflict any damage, knowing that the warriors could dodge on all three axes?

Edit: not a duplicate from How to make a viable flying mount?, since I'm not interested in the anatomy of the creatures, but in battle details.

Edit 2: I'm not interested in the creatures' feasibility. Their anatomy would be the anatomy of a giant eagle and pterodactyls with a size able to sustain a warrior. The physics are similar to our world's.

I would like the answers not to focus on the creatures themselves, but rather on how the warriors would fight with them and on them.

Edit 3 Since the question was put [on hold] for being too broad, I have split this question into three separate ones. Below are the links:

  1. Aerial battle of knights riding flying creatures - preferred weapons for the warriors
  2. Aerial battle of knights riding flying creatures - how would their military formations be?
  3. How can a city protect itself from the invasion from knights flying riding creatures?
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, related, but not what I'm asking. The first question concerns flying soldiers, not flying mounts. The second concerns flying dragons carrying more than one soldier. Both would change the specifics of my questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ I've seen a simulation whereby the best strategy was to attempt to strike your opponent in his upper 50% using the lower 50% of yourself and your mount. This was generally accomplished by having your mount flap its wings very quickly... $\endgroup$
    – Deolater
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ Your best bet would be to emulate horse mounted bowmen, very few other cavalry weapons will work well in the air. Thanks to things like wingspan you just can't get the close distance needed to use other weapons on people, but you could attack the other mounts wings with a blade or hook. For a fortified position dropping firebombs or biological weapons will work well, they can easily stay above catapult range (plus firing a catapult straight up is suicidal). $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ I'm unfortunately voting to close this as too broad. Please, please break this up into a series of smaller questions; I really want to see the answers. $\endgroup$
    – Azuaron
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ @PedroGabriel I disagree with this being a duplicate, and only one of the close votes was for being a duplicate (the rest were too broad). The "viable mount" question is specifically about anatomy, and the answer was "you can't"; you're asking about tactics, and assuming a world where these creatures just work. I would start with a question like, "What aerial maneuvers could these warriors make? Could they make the same kinds of acrobatic flights that airplanes did on real WWII aerial battles?" After gauging how the rest of community sees that, start opening the others. $\endgroup$
    – Azuaron
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 13:31

11 Answers 11


I would imagine the fights to be more like bird combat than like anything humans have ever done.

Consider for a moment that you are seated on top of a large bird in the manner of a horse. First problem is that the bird would need you to sit near the middle of the wing in order to maintain it's front-rear balance. This means the wings/head/tail are in your way for shooting or lances, unless you're aiming up. Also, you have a 30+mph headwind or so, so archery would require an extreme level of skill.

For physical melee, birds usually gain height and dive into their prey for a beak or talon strike to the exposed back. If the goal were just to have humans guide the bird's attacks, then the bird would probably gain height then try to dive from above. I would think that strategy would always be about trying to get the upper positioning on an opponent. There might be coordinated strategies where they try to bait upper enemies into dives, then dodge, leaving the enemy at a lower altitude afterward. If one or two fighters bait the enemy well, it could leave many enemies at a lower altitude so that allies can then attack them from above.

Another thing to consider is weight. The animal with the least extra weight will have the best maneuverability and ability to gain altitude. Since the rider isn't using strength, I think you'd end up in a horse racing situation where the smallest lightest jockeys win the most. It could even be a job for children. But on the topic of gaining altitude, birds do this by circling in thermals (hot air that naturally lifts them upward, saving the very great effort of flapping their wings). So then, thermals will be a strategic feature of the battleground, which both sides would seek to control. Whoever is highest in the thermal would have the best ability to strike those below, and also re-gain altitude afterward if their side maintains control of the thermal.

And finally, you have to consider what their goal is if the enemy air force is defeated. Recon was a good enough reason in WWI, but if you want this to be a long-running technology then they will probably have moved to things like dropping burning pitch on enemy structures or something. I would imagine that smaller lighter "fighters" would guard the more encumbered "bombers" in much the same way that the modern airforce does, simply because an encumbered bird can't do much in an air-fight, and an un-equipped bird can't do much against ground targets.

For a final image of all this, imagine that you have the pilot hanging from straps under the bird, able to see where they're going easily and fire a crossbow at lower targets or pull a pin to drop burning pitch, while a child rides on top facing backward with a crossbow to defend the bird from attacks from above/behind. The crossbow would be for last-second counters against an incoming dive, and not for long-range attack. The squadron sends the fastest fliers out first to find the thermals, gain altitude, and defend them as the rest of the fighters reach the thermal, while the "bombers" follow a bit later (once they determine the skies are under control) to make a direct route for enemy targets before they get tired or the pitch cools off. The bombers have to maintain high enough altitude to not get hit by arrows from the ground, but low enough to actually hit their targets.


Thinking more on this, the under-pilot and rear-gunner configuration I described might be ok for a "bomber", but if the animals are in fact coming into contact then a lance might still be a useful weapon. Also a single-person configuration would be ideal for the fighter role. But, I still think a saddle/sitting position is unlikely to work. However, if the pilot were to lay flat on the back of the mount, then their weight would be relatively centered while still being able to look over the wing and see below. Also much more aerodynamic this way. There might be a strap-based harness that allows the pilot to flip over onto his back to watch for attacks from above/behind, and then there could be lances mounted to the bird and trailing in the wind which the pilot would grab and aim in the event of an attack. If the attacker didn't abort the dive or dodge, the enemy mount would be impaled while the defending mount would just be knocked downward a few hundred feet as the pilot either frees or discards the lance. This would change dives from a standard attack to more of a surprise/opportunistic attack if they thought the other pilot wasn't going to be able to ready a lance in time. (or if he runs out of lances) Crossbow would probably still be a useful weapon, but now that the pilot is handling multiple weapons and laying down it might need to be tethered to their shoulder or something.

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    $\begingroup$ I was actually thinking that while the head/wind/tail would impede a melee weapon, said weapon could be very useful to defend against a diving foe. Also, I would pretty much expect the beak/claws of the birds to be "augmented" with metal: armor would be counterproductive (heavy), but a few bits of metal on talons and beak could make them much deadlier. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ I'm imagining trying to simultaneously fend off two talon swipes and a beak attack from both myself and mount, and the only practical way I can imagine doing that is with a really long lance/polearm or crossbow. Also considering that two hostile flying creatures that close would completely disrupt eachother's airflow, I think there'd be only a really brief moment for the attack, too short for any swinging bladed weapon. $\endgroup$
    – M Conrad
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 8:03
  • $\begingroup$ Yes; I am more thinking long (but light) pike than anything else. That or crossbow. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ One small nitpick: "Also, you have a ~30mph headwind or so, so archery will be nearly impossible." -- Archery from horseback is definitely a thing -- the Mongols built an empire using it. It would certainly take training to become effective with it, but "nearly impossible" is definitely overstating things. $\endgroup$
    – Salda007
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ @salda007 true, I'm no archery expert. But I think aiming in 3D vs opponents who are also going upward of 30mph in 3D trajectories would be quite a feat. Dives could easily be speeds of 100+mph. $\endgroup$
    – M Conrad
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 9:02

I will base my answer according the the following details:

  • The Knights are harnessed onto these animals in such a way that they can ride with their hands free
  • The animals are capable of sufficient thrust to not "stall out" during a near-vertical climb (at least for a short distance)
  • There are at least two "classes" of flying creature: 1 that can carry heavier burdens but is comparably slower, and one that can only carry light burdens with greater agility

In aerial combat with a floor and a sky, you're dealing with one major physical consideration: gravity. The nature of gravity makes it clear that going up requires power and loses speed, and going down returns speed and requires no power. As your height increases so to do your options; conversely, as your height decreases so to do your options. Take this in mind with the answers below.

  1. In short - No. These warriors would be limited by the power output of the mount. They could climb for short distances, certainly, but not nearly at the same speed as planes in almost any era. However, the creatures will have one clear strength: the ability to manipulate their control surfaces (wings). A plan does not have the ability to makes its wings effectively disappear, but a flying creature can pull its wings in, offering interesting possibilities for maneuvers and aerobatics that a plane does not have.

  2. Formation in the context of aerial maneuver is less about form and more about protection. In any given air combat scenario, an attacker is somewhat limited because he must be moving forward at all times, which is to say that he can only focus on one target at any given time. In practice, this transforms into the notion that a formation is about keeping a group together that can at least match - and hopefully exceed - an enemy group's numbers, and also allow every pilot to have a wingman, which generally means using even numbers. Aside from that, your formation can either reveal or conceal your numbers, and either limit or increase individuals visibility. This lends to the standard V-formation as being a balanced deployment: Your group as the lowest possible silhouette and the great possible sight-lines while still being close enough to one another to provide support.

  3. In air combat, the usual standby concept is: Get on your enemy's tail while keeping yours safe. In this context, I can see that still being relevant, with some modifications. First off, if a mount is damaged, the rider can be as safe as he wants, he will fall and likely die. Therefore, first-target should probably be the mount. It's large silhouette compared to the rider makes it a more ideal target as well. Any disabling weapon would be useful here: bolas, weighted-nets, etc. would allow a flier to render a combatant flightless with relative ease. Long-range weapons would be ideal. At flying speeds, the weapon must have sufficient speed to be effective. A powerful cross-bow would be ideal, especially since the rider could still be evasive while reloading. Close range weapons should be of last resort, as in the case where a rider is close enough to use such a weapon, even a standard pole arm, it is as likely some complication in combat could kill both mounts and render both fliers downed.

  4. Catapults could be useful, but only if fired in large groups according to the enemies anticipated trajectory. One boulder would be ineffective, but tens of them raining on the approaching fliers would at least limit their mobility options. If timed correctly, such a tactic could render entire portions of an approaching group defeated outright, allowing the defenders a more advantageous position.

There is a reason that the most effective defenses against bombers for many years were flak cannons. Rounds that detonate into deadly shards make short work of planes, as would also be the case with fleshy mounts. Any dabbling with explosives, no matter how minor, would give one of the two armies a massive advantage in both defensive and offensive power.

  • $\begingroup$ "Protect your tail" is only really valid advice if you have effective ranged weaponry, to my mind. Unless one side goes with Mongol-style mounted-bow-and-arrow warfare, this isn't really a concern. Personally, in such a scenario, I'd be worried about slashing attacks to the wings or wing muscles. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 3:16
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    $\begingroup$ Quick note: The V formation was used by the Brits in the beginning of WW2, but was quickly abandoned as a fighter combat formation. Flying in V formation requires a lot of manoeuvring, slowing you down and making your group susceptible to attack from superior position. The german lead + wingman combo was a lot more successful and was also quickly adapted by other airforces. $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ Catapults will be incredibly useful, if munitions are changed. Instead of chucking a single boulder, it would be much more effective to hurl a large amount of smaller rocks or even sharp metal materials. $\endgroup$
    – Valthek
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your input, I appreciate the helpful information. $\endgroup$
    – Tmartin
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Tmartin: Since the question was put closed for being too broad, I will split the questions on a series. You're invited to reformat your answer and post them here: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/79255/… $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 21:56

Could these warriors make the same kinds of acrobatic flights that airplanes did on real aerial battles? I hope I'm not spoiling the fun, but in order for the creature to sustain flight with an armored person on their back, they would have to be so large the person probably wouldn't be engaging in any melee. There would have to be something preventing the wind resistance from snapping their neck if undergoing a barrel roll or something, and anchoring them firmly enough to somehow aim a weapon would be pretty tricky. I would imagine they would stick mostly to holding on to their steering mechanism, and helping guide the creature. The stakes would be higher with no cockpit, so I would think they'd be more effective guiding the dragon or griffin or not bothering to ride at all. Intelligence of the creature also matters.

How would the military formations be? This depends on how in control of the creatures they riders are. If they are in complete control, it would depend on the capabilities of the creatures. If we're talking teeth and claws, the creatures would probably make the rules of their own melee and the riders could only provide basic commands like go, stay, that way, attack, flee, and any special commands. If the creatures can be equipped with a sword like extension on their face, now we're talking some serious trainable strategy. Flanking would be ideal to bite off wings (see below).

What would be the best tactics for warriors to fight each other? Would long range fighting bow and arrows be sufficiently precise? Would short range joust-like fighting be feasible? I think I've kind of answered this, but I don't see how they could muster the strength to throw a spear or aim a bow (straight back). I would think they would have to use crossbows if anything. The creatures would be encouraged to bite off each others wings as that would result in instant victory. However, the counter-attack would be to grab on to the enemy once your wing is damaged. It would be risky to latch on to another creature since there is no leverage in the air to throw an opponent. So they'd stick to slashing and wing-biting.

Would the catapults from the cities be able to disrupt the battle, or inflict any damage, knowing that the warriors could dodge on all three axes? There may be ways to spray and pray with arrows, use nets, huge ballistic bolts, distracting fireworks, or other weapons depending on the technology of the time. If the creatures fly high enough (which any sensible creature/rider would) the cities would not be able to attack, unless first drawing the creatures in. The only way I can see ground support being involved is if the creatures are attacking something on the ground or caught unaware, otherwise the riders would be using the creatures to attack each other for ownership of the skies whereby they could have the military advantage of dropping stuff or scouting at great distances.

Sorry for being so practical, but to me this kind of fighting seems mostly fantastic and a smart military leader would probably make the battles less epic, and more aimed at military advantage. In any case, we need more information about the world to flesh this out. You have a lot of good directions to go. What about some kind of Geneva convention where they forbid attacking wings at the threat of all creature clans ganging up against violators.

I would stay the heck off, personally =D


More importantly, WHY would they fight? The "why" will tell you the "how."

Armored cavalry (kights) were a terrifyingly effective force. It smashed through most infantry formations, and often caused them to break. Since infantry is what lets you actually conquer an area (I know that's a huge simplification), having something which beats infantry is pretty great.

Flying knights are cool. But what do they do?

  • They fight like Mongol raiders. They have bows and arrows, and rain down arrows until the opposing force is softened up enough for them to land and engage. Once engaged, they fight a very mobile battle, harrying and retreating so that they always have a local numerical advantage. If the opposing force stays in good enough order to prevent that, they keep shooting from way high in the sky. They are probably lightly armored, and survive by not being reachable. In this case, skycav fights look like archery battles. Mongol-ish may mean crazy athletic sky-horsemanship though, so you might have people leaping from one skyhorse to another.
  • They fight like Dragoons. The knights are an infantry force, but are mounted to gain mobility. In a pitched battle, they land in some tactically useful place, and fight there. This fits well with being armored, which would make fighting while cut off from a supporting army much more survivable. This style also lends itself to raids. Duels probably look like both knights landing, then fighting on the ground. That's not unreasonable; You're essentially looking at fights between two airborne groups which look more like naval conflicts without cannons.
  • They fight like armored cavalry. They carry lances and charge through infantry, or carry sabers and charge through infantry. This is the least good option, because it means regular knights are better than flying knights (if nothing else, trampling is better than not-trampling). Their biggest advantage is probably that they can line up charges from unexpected directions more easily. If they like lances, this looks awesome. If they like swords, they probably can't duel at all (except by landing).
  • They fight like spitfires. The mounts are a primary weapon (e.g. fire-breathing dragons). They strafe infantry and kill them from far enough away that infantry can't respond. In this case, they dogfight like spitfires too.
  • They fight like engineers (the original, military kind). In this case, they probably drop stuff on infantry from way high up. Maybe they drop stuff on forts too. Fire, rocks, whatever. In this case, they probably duel by trying to drop stuff on each other: everything is careful maneuver, etc.
  • They fight like fighter planes. Aircav generally have some other role, which is effective enough that you have dedicated anti-air flyers. They probably are very lightly armored, and use nets and bolos (or whatever). Killing the opposing guy doesn't matter, making it so his mount falls out of the sky is easier and more effective.

All the other answers seem to give great visuals, but don't seem to me to have much practicality. In particular, as an ex hang-glider pilot, they don't resemble actual unpowered flight, and they're all thinking in terms of the mechanics of a tussle rather than the tactics required.

If you don't have an engine, there are two main ways of gaining and keeping height: either you use ridge lift, where wind blowing towards a hill/cliff rises up the face; or you use thermals and spiral up inside the rising air. Large soaring birds only ever use flapping to get clear of the ground, and after that they entirely rely on natural lift in the same way as a hang-glider, so we can state as a simple fact that flapping will never be used by a dragon/bird/bat/whatever which is large enough to carry people. The big feature of unpowered flight is that gaining height by either of these means is SLOW. Ridge lift can be quicker, but ridge lift tends to run out a little way above the ridge - and of course you're stuck on your ridge. If you want serious height, it's all about thermals, and it takes a long time to get decent height. If you want to get from one place to another, that's also all about thermals, as you gain height in one thermal and then glide across (losing height as you go) until you hit another.

Next up, how to attack. It's always easier to defend a higher point. If it was simple swords and teeth, the person on top has the advantage of being able to drop their weight on the person below. But more usefully, it's very hard to shoot arrows uphill and very much easier to shoot arrows downhill.

For me, this gives a natural structure of a human pilot in a harness below their mount, very much like a hang-glider. If you're attacked from above, a human pilot is likely to add very little to a dragon's ability to defend itself. Where a human scores is in their ability to use ranged weapons, so they all have bows and they can pick off anyone below them pretty much at will.

This means the attackers will always be at a huge disadvantage. The defenders will have the advantage of height, because thermals only work during the day and the defenders will already have had plenty of time to get high before the attackers can cross the gap. Attackers will be coming in on a glide from their last thermal, so they'll be lower than the defenders. This means attackers will always be sitting ducks in a straight fight, and there's absolutely nothing they can do about it, because physics.

So if the attackers can't hit the defenders in the air, why would they attack anyway? Answer: they're bombers. Fighting the defenders' flyers has no military purpose - the reason for flying over is to attack the city. The WWII scenario this leads to is not dogfights but bombing raids, in particular the kind of bombing done using Mosquitos. If the bombers are actually suicide bombers, it may more closely resemble V1 or V2 attacks.

It may seem that the attackers are onto a losing proposition here, but there is another significant way to gain height - wave lift. This can create exceptional lift, and all the highest soaring flights have used wave lift. More significantly, it's entirely possible that only one side could have the wave lift, and the other side could be in wave sink. In that case the side with wave lift could use it to get huge height before they glide across the gap, and potentially still arrive at the other side with a height advantage, which turns it from a straight fight into a very uneven fight indeed. It won't last them long, because once they get there they'll be gliding down until they're the same height as their opponents, but it may still give them a few minutes to make their bombing run without aerial opposition. It seems likely therefore that attackers would generally wait until wave lift was in their favour before launching their bombing raid.

If the city can't get flyers in the air, what do they do? Answer: hunker down and hope. On the plus side though, the bombs are unlikely to be very powerful - they're more likely to be fire-bombs, so the best ways to counter the bombs would be to build out of stone, set up air raid bunkers, and have a good fire brigade. Catapults would be utterly pointless because you can't aim a high-arcing projectile at a fast-moving aerial target, but ballistas may be very useful against lower-flying attackers. And of course you would try to pick off the attackers on their way back, because the lesson the RAF and Luftwaffe both learnt in WWII is that you can replace planes but you can't easily replace pilots.


Could these warriors make the same kinds of acrobatic flights that airplanes did on real aerial battles?

This would depend on the maneuverability of the animal as well as how securely the rider is attached to the mount. Giant Eagles could probably do loop-de-loops, but if the rider is just sitting in a saddle equivalent to a horse's saddle, there's a decent chance he might fall out!

(I'm assuming significant G-forces - the likes of which might make a rider black out - wouldn't come into play, because a giant eagle would be moving more slowly than an airplane, but if I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will correct me.)

Edit: As Peter mentions in the comments, some real-life birds have been clocked pulling upwards of 10Gs, so the G-Force issue could be a concern for these riders, subject to the abilities of the mount itself.

How would the military formations be?

Whenever I think of fighting formations in 3D, I think of the video game Homeworld. You have your standard "wall" and "sphere" formations, an "arrow-head" formation for breaking enemy formations and a "claw" formation for quickly surrounding outnumbered enemy units. I imagine many of these formations would work well for flying cavalry, with perhaps some tweaking. Sphere, for example, would be better as a defensive formation - protecting the "target" from all sides, rather than surrounding and firing upon an enemy target.

What would be the best tactics for warriors to fight each other? Would long range fighting bow and arrows be sufficiently precise? Would short range joust-like figthing be feasible?

I feel like evasion would be more effective as a defensive measure on flying animals than armor. If ranges are long and speeds high, landing a blow will be hard anyway, and everything you can do to lighten the load on the mount would increase the odds of avoiding incoming fire. Heavy armour would only have real value if the creatures regularly close to melee ranges in order to strike with talons and such.

Regardless of how riders are armoured, the easiest way to take them out of the fight would be to either dismount the rider (so he falls to his death) or to attack the mount and force it to retreat/land. So lances and other long pole-arms would be favoured over swords or axes (as dismounting the rider is easier and more effective than stabbing them until they die in the saddle.)

The mount probably can't fly with too much barding, so bows & arrows could be viable weapons as well - aiming at the mount's wings or face rather than the rider directly. Flaming arrows would be doubly effective - not only would the fire damage the mount if it hits, but even a near miss could cause the mount to panic. It might flee the battle regardless of its rider, or make sudden course changes that end up dislodging the rider entirely.

Would the catapults from the cities be able to disrupt the battle, or inflict any damage, knowing that the warriors could dodge on all three axes?

Depends on the range between the city and the battle, of course. I feel like ballistae might be a better fit than catapults in most cases.

If people have access to any kind of explosives, then explosive rounds would obviously be favoured. Fire into a clump of enemy units and aiming becomes much less important (which is important, because aiming at fast-moving flying units over long distances is hard.)

Aside from explosives, flaming ammunition would also be useful, as discussed above. Also, nets. A big net with weights around the edges so it spreads out in flight and has enough inertia to entangle targets and send them plummeting to the ground. Range would be relatively short without some kind of delayed deployment system, but that's up the details of your world, I suppose.

  • $\begingroup$ For the point about formations, keep in mind that formations in space (a la Homeworld) don't have to deal with that pesky thing called gravity. In a sphere formation, they can just park and shoot. Keeping everyone moving and airborne could be quite a bit tougher for certain formations. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang I agree, which is why I made that comment about tweaking. Although, all things considered, I think most of the formations used would translated fairly well despite the addition of gravity. $\endgroup$
    – Steve-O
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ Peregrine falcons coming out of a dive undergo way more G-forces than fighter pilots in airplanes do. (Somebody put a meter on one, and it maxed out at around 10 G's. And I see an estimate of 25 G's on the web.) Of course, peregrines are exceptional because of the way they have evolved to hunt. So it all depends on the capabilities of these giant birds. $\endgroup$
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterShor Thanks for pointing that out (and interesting that someone actually strapped a meter to a bird to test for this!) I've added a note in the question above. $\endgroup$
    – Steve-O
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Steve-O: Since the question was put closed for being too broad, I will split the questions on a series. You're invited to reformat your answer and post them here: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/79255/… $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 21:55

When designing a weapon we must always keep the 3 main things in mind: Offensive power, defensive power and mobility. To strike a good balance between these is hard. See tanks, airplanes or just the gear a soldier uses. If a soldier has a heavy weapon he (mostly) becomes more lethal. But also slower to move and harder to hide. Not to mention supply problems it might generate.

The Team

I assume the rider and mount function at least at the level of a competent horseman and his mount. That is, they work smoothly as a team and the rider has his hands free to do other stuff then ride. And does not fall off during flying under normal conditions.

While your Giant Flying Creatures will have awesome mobility, their defense will sorely lack. With the rider providing the longer range offensive power and the creature the tooth to claw department. Arrows are likely to bring a big flying thing down. Might need more then one, but still.

Group Option:

The big flying beasts are numerous and so are the people that can ride them.

When your flying opponents will meet between the cities it might look like a cross between horse archers and WW1 aerial tactics.

Solo, or small group Option:

There are few knights of the sky. The few that fly are or rich or extremely skilled. Rare are the ones that are both. (Depending on government system, of course)

The combat itself can be more like the knights, but with bow and arrow. It might even evolve into a ritualized combated, where no one is killed due to the high cost.


(Youtube links) When groups of people can prepare and the flying knights have to get close, they are easy prey. Think of nets (how to train Your Dragon), ballista or other big arrow throwing thing. And worse of all: archers volly fire. They will blood out the sun. And so you will fight in the shade of you falling knights of the wing.

As always you can use you fliers to just drop stones on the enemy, out of reach of the archers, naturally. Even Sabaton sings about it.


Assuming mounted riders with some sort of harness for stability, I would discount any type of hand held melee weapon or even lances - too much chance of a mid-air between mounts and both sides would go down. You need to use some sort of distance weapon. That said, crossbows are too hard to reload, long bows are too ungainly - a mid size bow might be reasonable. Still, with the air currents your mount, other mounts and the enemy mounts are generating, hits are low probability. An entanglement weapon like a bola might work.

Regarding the citidels, assuming you're using the mount as a bomber (dropping incendiary or explosives) then catapults and arbalests might be like the flak gun of WW2. Load the catapult with shot or even hot shot (getting hit with burning hot rocks - not fun) and if you can - some sort of timed explosive with shrapnel. The arbalests would be nicer with explosives or with some sort of deployed net.

Regarding maneuvers - individual maneuvering is usually for air-to-air combat where hitting the other flyer is the main objective. When bombing, you usually have a set formation with the defensive gunnery hopefully overlapping and interlocking and providing for your defense.


Considering flying battles, I would suggest inspiration from the WW1 dogfights rather than medieval style fighting. It also depends to a large deal on the kind of armour your warriors prefer to use. Using anything but greatswords or gigantic battle axes against full plate armour might be almost useless.

Personally, I feel rather than having actual weapons to the fight, the flying animals themselves can be used as weapons. The creatures will certainly have talons and beaks that can be used to attack each other, with the warrior actually guiding the animal to do the dirty work.

If you want weapons, something like giant lances can do the trick by simply dismounting their opponents so that they fall to their deaths.(similar to jousting in medieval Europe, just the distance of the fall is greater)

If mail armour is being worn, might I suggest a handheld Chinese Repeating Crossbow. It could fire arrow bolts at a staggering rate, almost like a medieval machine gun. In case of plate armour, you can make it a larger Repeating Crossbow fixed onto the creature, allowing for the use of larger arrows or even small spears that might pierce the armour.As for the arrows, they can be carried as a line of arrows on a stripper clip (Similar to the ones used in WW1 rifles like Gwehr)

Hope this helped. :)

  • $\begingroup$ Greatswords and battle axes are surprisingly ineffective against plate armor. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ It might be more interesting to assume only leather armor. Plate can be eliminated from the story by imposing weight limitations. At a minimum, plate will make the mount slower and less agile. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 6:44
  • $\begingroup$ @kshitij naithani: Since the question was put closed for being too broad, I will split the questions on a series. You're invited to reformat your answer and post them here: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/79255/… $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 21:56

This has been done (sort of) an old Nintendo Arcade Game called JOUSTE. Check it out - it's my all time favourite arcade game.

Needless to say, I think this new idea you have is fantastic. :)


I would think that the problem with catapults is the lack of accuracy, especially with such high moving targets. Might be something to think about. Perhaps a more accurate land to air weapon. Idk, in a fictional universe perhaps you can make the catapults more accurate somehow. With the whole debacle on fighting, I would think if the mounts are capable of aerial dogfight-esque movements, it wouldn't be steady enough for good archery technique. Long weapons might be cool though, like spears and such. A bit like jousting in medieval times. Formation wise, they should move a bit like a flock of birds no? Maybe like hawks.


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