I've done a question about Aerial battle of knights riding flying creatures... How would they fight?, that was put [on hold] for being too broad. So I'm splitting the question into a series.

The context: 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.

I have asked on a separate question what the best weapons would be, and I've arrived at these conclusions:

  1. "Long" range: Composite Shortbows and Crossbows (namely a kind of the chinese repeating crossbow)
  2. Medium range: Grappling Hooks, Kusarigamas, Bolas
  3. Short range: Whips, light Spears, Scythes, Naginatas; At this range we could also use the claws and tallons of the flying creatures themselves.

Now, since these battles never existed in real life, I'm a little overwhelmed at how these battles play out. 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 new question is this:

Given the above, how would the military formations be while on air? How would the warrior better position themselves in order to maximize their offensive potential? And what manoeuvres could they do to evade attacks?

Note: I would like these series to focus on the warriors, not the creatures. I'm not interested on the feasibility or the anatomy of the flying creatures, just about the feasibility of each combat mode

PS: Links to the other questions for this series:

  1. Aerial battle of knights riding flying creatures - preferred weapons for the warriors

  2. How can a city protect itself from the invasion from knights flying riding creatures?


2 Answers 2


En-route to the battle, formations would likely mimic that of birds (or the natural formation of the species): the classic V. It helps to minimize air resistance and means your mounts are less weary entering into battle (on that note, there might be refueling/rest encampments within the valley, similar to carrier ships employed in WWII)

The actual battles themselves partially depends on how long these methods have been in use. Tactics evolve over time, especially in response to enemy tactics. Example: the US civil war, British regulars were accustomed to walking up to the battle field in rows (firing over comrade's shoulders and dropping back to reload) however the vastly outnumbered colonists took to more guerrilla warfare in response.

It seems likely that initial battles would be very straight-forward "charge'em boys!" tactics, potentially similar to jousting (if they had a cultural predecessor and little experience with mounted projectile launching), or highly disordered attempts to pick off enemies at-range (which is probably more likely if they live on mountain tops).

Over time tactics would evolve (and mounted pairs would have time to drill and develop maneuvers) probably similar to aerial dogfighting tactics. HOWEVER, it might pay off to factor in the biology of the mounts themselves, pterodactyls and other dino-based flyers tend to be more glidey in their flight patterns, similar to modern planes, but birds on the other hand (hawks especially) are better at pin-point turns, and this will effect how they fly and attack. The mounts could also flip upside down (claws skyward/rider downward) although they may rapidly loose altitude. A lot of this is due to the way the joints/wings are structured, which has a lot to do with where the creature lives and what they eat.

and here's videos of a hawk getting mobbed by crows and a hawk hunting a pigeon.


Look at WWII fighter combat.

Most of the factors that affected aircraft will affect flying creatures.

  • It is easier to lose altitude than to gain it so the high position will be sought.
  • It is easier to fire in front of you (where you are presumably looking) than behind you. So, you will still want a "wing man" to discourage people from hanging on your tail.
  • It is easier to keep an eye on your companions and to concentrate force of you can see everyone so horizontal formations are still likely.
  • It is easier to surround an individual than a group. So, formations are still a good idea.

The main difference is that it will be advantageous to pass under your opponent instead of over them since a bow can shoot upward. While the distance is vastly reduced, it would be nice to get free shots while your opponent's ride is blocking their return fire. Of course, if their ride can dive down and rip you out of your saddle, it is a bit of a risky maneuver.

[Edit: for clarity]

My general assumption is that any mount big enough to have a distinct advantage in a melee engagement is too slow and unmaneuverable to catch the smaller opponent.

  • $\begingroup$ I mostly agree. But the question specifies (among other things) grappling hooks as weapons, as well as the mount itself, so jaws or beaks, and claws. That makes it seem unwise to actually get underneath your opponents. A "6 o'clock low' position, on the other hand, might be practical for longer ranges, but giving up height is always something that should not be done lightly $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Apr 28, 2017 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki, that's why I referred to it as a risky maneuver. Quite frankly, I wouldn't want to get into grappling hook range, let alone melee range on a flying mount unless my mount greatly outclassed the opponent's. $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    Apr 28, 2017 at 16:37

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