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Once you do the handwaving needed to explain a modern-day world with flight-capable dragons in it, how would said dragons interact with the bureaucracy surrounding flying in the modern world? What sort of pilot's license would they hold? Would they get certified as an aircraft of some sort (perhaps in the Experimental category)? How would they display their registration? What would a checkride look like for them? How would they handle getting a medical certificate? What would annual inspections look like?

Update based on comments: think along the lines of a sentient dragon, with an average intelligence along the lines of the smarter end of humans, and the ability to speak and read English, although they may need a typist to handle writing/forms-filling. Keep also in mind that they'd be sharing airspace with human-built aircraft, as well as some infrastructure (I'd envision them as capable of STOL, but not quite VTOL -- but even helicopters need runways in certain cases).

Also, I was thinking they'd vary in size, but be no larger than a widebody aircraft, with RJ or bizjet-sized dragons much more commonplace. They'd be capable of high altitudes, as I see it -- getting into Class A airspace wouldn't be terribly challenging for them. Flight speeds would be slow, though -- they are most clearly limited to subsonic speeds, and likely to spend much of their time at relatively slow airspeeds to keep energy expenditure down; they'd also be able to see and hear a jet coming in VFR conditions, but wake turbulence, especially for the combination of a smaller dragon hitting a bigger airplane's wake, would be a hazard to them still, and they'd be large enough to generate significant wake turbulence of their own.

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    $\begingroup$ What kind of dragon? Sentient or animal? How fast and high can they go? Do they spit fire? $\endgroup$ – Euphoric Jan 21 '15 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ The first question would be the relationship of power between dragons and humans. If the humans cannot enforce regulation upon the dragons, it makes no sense proclaiming it. If each race has enough power to make conflict undesirable to the other, they might agree to some rules to share the air space. If the humans have the upper hand, they decide how and when dragons fly (maybe only a few "dragon reserves" in the middle of nowhere). $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Jan 21 '15 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ In expansion to sentient/animal: Who is getting the license, who is getting the medical, and who/what is getting inspected? ^^. A flying-license for a naturally flying creature seems strange anyway... that would be like a walking-license for us! $\endgroup$ – Layna Jan 21 '15 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ No bird has ever been issued a license to fly. $\endgroup$ – Brian Drummond Jan 21 '15 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ When I think this through the bird droppings on my car windscreen don't seem so bad. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Jan 22 '15 at 0:28
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Dragons would run the FAA

One day, you're flapping along, torching pigeons, and those runty little ground creatures that taste good with ketchup start making an awful racket. "Must be that Henry Ford again," you think to yourself. Humans these days and their internal combustion engines. Something sounds different this time. You look around and do a double take when you realize that the humans have learned to fly. Obviously, they can't be allowed to do this willy-nilly, but you've rather come to like some of the humans, so torching the lot won't do. Plus, humans invented ice cream.

Instead you call a council of world leaders to discuss when and how these new devices can be used. Obviously, they can't just fly everywhere, disturbing the peace. They'll have to fly in designated flight lanes, and report what times they'll be flying where, so any dragons that cross their path would have ample notice to watch out.

Dragons, of course, will keep flying where they want like they always do. Why should it be any different? After all, they are dragons. They'll have an additional responsibility, though: reporting errant human pilots to the FAA for removal of their licenses, unless, of course, the reporting dragon is hungry at the time, which is why all planes will be required at all times to carry an ample supply of ketchup.

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    $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek If they have the same intelligence as a dog, there is no sense on trying to regulate them. A dog won't stop pooing on the park's grass because there is a sign saying that it can't do that. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Jan 21 '15 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ wait, from your description it sounds like we currently have dragons running the FAA (except of course for the lack of actual dragons)! $\endgroup$ – Michael Jan 22 '15 at 1:45
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    $\begingroup$ While this wasn't quite what I'm looking for, this is hilarious, +1. $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jan 22 '15 at 2:38
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    $\begingroup$ I knew nothing good would come from city folk and their flying machines! $\endgroup$ – Arturo Torres Sánchez Jan 22 '15 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ Having a dragon doing an office job seems kind of a waste of wings, and dragon. $\endgroup$ – dayuloli Jan 22 '15 at 7:03
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Depends on size and intelligence of dragons

If dragon is "animal" (domesticated, hopefully) and their intelligence is like a horse or dog, we can treat them the same as "objects" because they can be set to fly only on command.

Of course, in that case you should have somewhere "breeding" facilities where young dragons are trained (something like obedience training for help dogs) and such areas would be either "no fly zone" or "high altitude only zone" (assuming dragon flight capacity as normal propelled plane)

If dragon is intelligent as humans, you have to treat them as "person" and give them some human dragon rights. The "training" would look more like school where elder dragons would train youngsters in common flying rules (look both sides before flying over burj khalifa tower!) and most likely, there would be "fly rules" which could differ country to country (fly on the left over Great Britain)

If dragon is small to hold two people, you could treat rules for them as for Cessna planes and flying in low populated areas would be about the same as flying a small plane here. I am not aviation expert, but I think that flying (relatively) small dragon over Alaska would be easier than doing the same over New York city.

The bigger dragon the bigger issue, and if you have really big dragons, I would assume you either drastically control the breeding of dragons or you allow dragons only to fly in low populated areas.

As of the documents:

  • Flying a dragon can only do a trained human (as pilot). You can mount other people to dragon, but you have to provide them a proper seating. Dragons would be not used for "travel" rather for "adrenaline sports"
  • Only given breed of dragon, and well trained (or having proper school diploma, if dragon is intelligent) are allowed to high populated areas
  • Communication with towers would be done over in-helmet (of pilot) accessories, such helmet would probably have also "radar responder" mounted
  • If dragons are intelligent, then radar responding device and some means of in flight communication device is a must, if such dragon wants to fly inside high populated areas.
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    $\begingroup$ In case of "dragons are animals", how would you deal with wild ones? The airspace will be filled with those, so no-fly-zones sound immensely impractical in terms of enforcing them. $\endgroup$ – Layna Jan 21 '15 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ The same way we treat, say, wild bears right now. Meaning: Meeting wild animal is very rare. And sadly, you would have to shoot wild dragons if they approach populated areas $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Jan 21 '15 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ Poor things... makes sad face. $\endgroup$ – Layna Jan 21 '15 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ All of the above cases assume that humans have the ability to make said dragons do anything they don't want... $\endgroup$ – Shadur Jan 22 '15 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Pavel Janicek: Depends on where you live. Hereabouts I quite commonly see herds of wild horses when out hiking. Deer, coyotes, &c are less frequent, but hardly remarkable. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 23 '15 at 19:59
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There's a difference between a hunk of metal and a dragon.

We built planes because we can't fly naturally. Planes are big, cumbersome machines that don't work without someone controlling them. While someone still has to control a dragon, that someone can be the dragon itself.

Dragons are built for flying. Their in-flight responses are much quicker because they get instantaneous feedback on their control inputs, so to speak. In an aeroplane, the plane provides the feedback but it is not linked to the pilot's brain and he won't immediately understand what to do - the information has to be read, understood, then interpreted according to the pilot's training. Dragons are born with the innate ability to sense changes and respond instinctively, as a natural response.

For this reason, they do not need regulation in flight. They are able to fly as easily as we can walk and collisions with aeroplanes would be almost nonexistent because of their reactions.

However, what we might want to do is talk to them about our own ground safety procedures. For example, the danger of close proximity to jet engines and the fact that having a dragon make its nest on 27L at Heathrow would actually be a rather serious problem for us. They might, perhaps, be persuaded to use alternative landing and nesting grounds.

It's not so much about regulating dragons because they're dangerous in the air, but working together with them to make sure that their innocuous mistake doesn't cause major disruption for us.

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    $\begingroup$ Seagulls and canards are built for flying too, but we chase them awards from airports due to the risk they pose to aircraft operation... $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Jan 21 '15 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ I assume the dragons are intelligent and we are able to communicate with them $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Jan 21 '15 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ Haven't you bumped into someone on the street by accident before? Just because dragons naturally fly doesn't mean they won't crash into planes by accident. $\endgroup$ – March Ho Jan 21 '15 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ Remember that separation is not just based on collisions -- all finite-length airfoils generate wake vortices, which are a hazard to tailgaters! $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jan 21 '15 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ @ArtOfCode That's how airplane separation used to be done. It didn't work. Jets fly really fast, often at around 80% the speed of sound; I'm not so sure a dragon could avoid collisions. People can generally avoid collisions while walking, but a person isn't going to easily be able to avoid a car traveling at highway speeds. I don't see how dragons and jets is any different - unless they're used to avoiding relatively unmaneuverable things at extremely high speed, they likely won't be able to. $\endgroup$ – cpast Jan 22 '15 at 19:46
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One thing people aren't considering is how much faster planes will likely travel than dragons. Let's say Dragons fly, travelling, at an average speed of 120 mph, which is much faster than any land animal and much faster than any dragon in fiction. The recommended takeoff speed for large commercial airplanes is around 200 mph, and the flight speed is around 550 mph (according to Google), so while the dragons might be more maneuverable and hear them coming, they may or may not realize that they have to move out of the way to avoid being creamed before its much too late, which considering the speed difference is likely a few seconds. The good news is that dragons probably won't bother flying at 35000 ft, so they'll mostly just need to be restricted from flying within a few miles of major airports or military airfields. This of course assumes the dragons are intelligent and realize the danger to themselves, if not the humans may have to develop environmentally friendly ways of keeping them away from airports (dragon whistles?), or failing that just shoot them down if they get too close and hope the rest get the message. If they were more like wild animals though, they probably would be mostly scared off by the sound of jet engines like real birds.

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    $\begingroup$ The biggest point is that dragons have a flight ceiling limited by their biology (oxygen requirements), which is probably closer to 10,000 feet than the height jet engine planes go. They'll tangle a little with smaller propeller craft, but those will be going much more slowly. As such, I suspect dragons that want to fly in certain class airspace will be required to have transponders on themselves when flying, and outside certain busy airspaces they won't require any regulation at all. $\endgroup$ – Adam Davis Jan 23 '15 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @AdamDavis -- jets can go plenty fast at low altitude, although there is a 250knot speed limit below 10,000 feet. I'd also assume that dragon biology would be adapted to lower O2 partial pressures -- RL birds have made it all the way to FL370. $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jan 24 '15 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Shalvenay Dragons are much larger than regular birds though, I would expect the closest comparison would be flying dinosaurs. I wonder what their estimated highest flying altitude is? $\endgroup$ – IllusiveBrian Jan 24 '15 at 18:21
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I’d suggest backing up a step. Presumable, these dragons predate modern aviation, and have been using their instincts to avoid collisions for millennia before humans started flying. They’ve now got an older right to the airways, and historically, it is as well established as your right to walk down the street.

So if you want to consider flight rights, paperwork, and insist they get licenses or fill out paperwork to travel, you have to consider the political system, and who’s in charge.

Are the dragons the poor underclass? If so, they might have lost their rights to the airways when the wealthier, more powerful humans developed flight. Under this system, they might need licenses for most or all flights, or only be allowed to fly over the their own homes, or only at certain altitudes. Keep in mind that if a dragon doesn’t fly extensively while young and developing muscles, those muscles will be weak, and restrict the dragon’s ability for its whole life. Imaging a healthy human who always used a wheelchair instead of walking until they were 18. They wouldn’t be able to walk without serious physical therapy, and would always have more difficulty than someone who has walked since infancy.

Is everyone equal? Perhaps look into restricted airspace for human use craft, which are far more likely to crash than the dragons. If dragons want to fly in these restricted corridors, they might need to show they can avoid collisions with the less flexible aircraft to get official permission, or it might be more like a kid learning to cross the road safely, where it is basically a judgment call, and learning the rules as to how to recognize a legal and/or safe crossing point. But airspace basically belongs to the dragons, not the humans.

Are the dragons in charge? Either no humans fly, or they are extremely limited, and only allowed to fly limited, undesirable routes where they aren’t in the way of the dragons. Maybe only at times when most dragons are asleep. Although if your dragons use human-made aircraft for long-distance flights, who knows what might happen.

How would human aviation have been affected? If they need to defer to dragons, they may use blimps and hot air balloons more than fixed wing, and aircraft speeds would be restricted. Also, if dragons rule the sky, maneuverability might be prized over speed and carrying capacity because if the dragons say no to anything likely to kill them, then big, fast airplanes that need a huge turning radius are less likely to be developed.

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Because this answer made me think about regulations for intelligent dragons:

Why regulate their flying at all? They are naturally flying creatures, so they should naturally be able to avoid crashing into things and each other. If they agree to please not land on human houses that cannot hold their weight (a house breaking under a dragon sounds unsafe for a dragon, too, anyway), and not land on a busy street because they obstruct traffic, I don't see much reason for regulation.
Most rules for air-traffic exists because pilots may be unable to see oncoming planes, or by the time they see them, have no chance of avoiding them. But for dragons, flying even in the most busy of airspaces should be more like walking along a very full sidewalk.

The same way, a piloted, non-sentient dragon would be able to naturally avoid crashign into other dragons... don't see them as airplanes, but more as horses!

Edit/Addendum: Also, a world that has dragons flying around anyway would most likely have a whole more landing-sites than just airports. Small enough dragons would most likely be able to land on the roofs of larger buildings. If the dragon is small enough and can climb, they may have landing-spots and the SIDES of buildings. Also, depending on the intelligence and training of the dragon, they can land, drop off passengers, and fly off somewhere to come back when called.

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    $\begingroup$ Because, you have also propelled airplanes in place. So you should think of how to put together small planes and dragons in one place without anyone crashing into each other. Its the same as riding bicycle: It is relatively easy, but if you want to ride far, you have to know the basic driving rules in your country $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Jan 21 '15 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm... starts wondering how well a dragon can avoid a silly, human airplane ^^ $\endgroup$ – Layna Jan 21 '15 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ PS: I feel an edit coming up, but I will do that when the question specifies the dragons a little more :). $\endgroup$ – Layna Jan 21 '15 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Airplanes are noisy, I'd imagine dragons would easily be able to hear them coming and get out of the way. They're naturally far more agile than a plane is as well. $\endgroup$ – Pyritie Jan 21 '15 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Layna: Dragon avoiding a small plane (or vice versa) is not really any different than two small planes (or two dragons) avoiding each other. There are roughly 170K single & twin-engined GA aircraft in the US, probably more than any supportable population of jet dragons, since dragons are predators with large appetites. Avoidance is seldom a problem outside particularly congested areas. From 30+ years holding pilot's license, 20 or so owning, once you leave an airport pattern, it's unusual to even see another plane. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 22 '15 at 22:50
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Supposing your dragons are intelligent, plentiful and long-established, they would have agreed a system of rules and flight corridors long ago, just as humans agree to drive on the right or left. At places where many flight paths meet they would have fixed rules about height and direction, maybe even markers on the ground. High mountain ranges might have a queueing area for getting through passes. On commonly flown long-distance routes they might have stopping areas for sleeping and eating - a herd of sheep for snacks? In dangerous places or stormy weather they might gather and form convoys. Would they migrate seasonally? Would they have weather forecasts? Would little dragons need to get a licence to be allowed to fly high or long-distance?

So anyway, when your puny humans arrive or learn to fly, they would patch into the established dragon infrastructure.

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