Starting with the background provided in this question, how would a dragon outfit himself/herself (avionics, power systems, etal) for operating under the Instrument Flight Rules? How would the process of obtaining their instrument rating work? Also, how would this differ if dragons were susceptible to spatial disorientation vs. if they were resistant or immune to it? What would a dragon sound like in ATC's ears? How would they file flight plans? What weather minima would they have?

  • $\begingroup$ I hope we, uh, regulate allowable emissions... We don't want any jet-powered dragons zooming about. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 4:00
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    $\begingroup$ When I first read the title for this I had a mental image of a dragon brass band... $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ Slightly out of scope of THIS question, so as a comment: While I would still think that "avoiding collision" would mostly be he dragons job because it is easier for them, I WOULD perhaps encourage them to carry a transponder to make things easier for airplane-pilots. $\endgroup$
    – Layna
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 9:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Layna -- not out of scope at all! $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ Brass band - yes, I though that immediately. Dragons trumpeting! But they'd melt when playing jazz, surely? $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 14:49

4 Answers 4


Spatial Disorientation

Remember that the air is the dragon's natural environment, so dragons will probably be much harder to disorient. Disorientation is the result of environmental cues (rotation rates and accelerations) in a maneuvering aircraft that differ greatly from what humans experience on the ground. Our brains never evolved to handle rotation in multiple axes, and fail to correctly figure out what's going on. A dragon (or any flying animal) has a brain evolved to process flying, and so will be as resistant to disorientation as a human walking along the ground.


Dragons will probably have a different definition of IFR flight than fixed-wing aircraft. Since they fly slower and are vastly more maneuverable (due to highly variable wing geometry), the risk of collision is reduced even in low-visibility conditions. Flying through thick clouds or heavy rain will still carry the risk of collision, but I doubt dragons would do much flying through thunderstorms; after all, they aren't protected from the elements by a plane!

Also note that dragons already have all the senses they need to fly: unlike humans, who can't feel airspeed, for example. A dragon probably wouldn't need instruments to supplement their senses, only for navigation. After all, people use GPS even when they're walking! A dragon-flight GPS would be more like an aircraft's flight computer, calculating more efficient paths to take advantage of high-altitude winds.

Flight Plans

You don't file a walking plan to head down to the grocery store: dragons probably wouldn't need one either. The reason aircraft are required to file a flight plan is due to the collision risk (already discussed above) and the fact there are relatively few flights, and most flights cover a long distance. Assuming that there would be hundreds of millions of flight plans filed per day, most of which cover distances of a few miles or less, the FAA would probably not regulate them merely due to the inconvenience.

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    $\begingroup$ Remember that all flights in Class A airspace are conducted under the Instrument Flight Rules...but you have a point re: instruments and slow flight -- that's why approach categories and copter IAPs exist. $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 4:36
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    $\begingroup$ They wouldn't get up into jet airspace -- they'd be more akin to a turboprop in their choice of cruise altitudes in long-haul flight; they'd benefit from the ability to vary wing sweep and incidence, though. I'd expect them to have a fairly lightly loaded wing for their size class and weight...150kg/m3 would be reasonable, I suppose, especially considering they could fold their wings for ground handling purposes? $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 5:25
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    $\begingroup$ Their wing loading could vary hugely depending on your "source" for your dragons. Many recent stories explain away the "they're too heavy" problem through use of lighter than air gas-filled sacs, which could dramatically reduce wing loading. We also have no idea if Dragons produce lift with their bodies (blended wing Dragons) or use magic etc $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ AFAIK, in the US, even planes don't need a flight plan unless they're IFR, and in most airspace you don't need any sort of ATC clearance (or even a radio). $\endgroup$
    – cpast
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Shalvenay Slow banked turns without visual cues fool humans for two reasons: one, the brain expects the perceived gravity to be vertical, and two, the inner ear responds only to angular acceleration and so can't detect the turn. We had no evolutionary pressure for these senses to evolve in a manner that supports flight: not so for flying creatures. Evolution would ensure that dragons have the senses to correctly navigate their 3-d environment without disorientation (after all, a dragon who can't figure out which way is up will be eaten by one who can!). $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 2:45

Ok, I am trying this without much actual aviation-knowledge, but have been encouraged that this is not out of scope (I actually have no clear idea where IRF-regulations start and end... I know what a dragon looks like, though ^^).

As this answer points out, dragons will most likely not require instruments to see. But they will be safer if SEEN. collision-avoidance would most likely be mainly for the dragons to manage, because they just have an easier time manoeuvring, but for IRF for pilots, it would be helpful if Dragon got Transponders to signal their position.

About weather-minimums: It really would fully depend on the dragons again. They may avoid flying in thunderstorms naturally, and at the same time be perfectly content to start, fly, and land in the middle of the most terrible blizzard... perhaps they just don't get cold, but lightening is an actual danger.
Winds are just as dragon-dependent: if they have capabilities for in-storm-flight like, say, an Albatross, even a strong hurricane may not keep them down.
In bad enough conditions, they may actually have the airspace to themselves!

About what they may sound like to ATC: This is Dragon 101, I am patiently flapping my wings above your tower, may I please land on it until you have the metal-tubes sorted out?
A bit more serious: I would not imagine them much different from normal ATC-talk, just perhaps a bit impatient with those clumsy humans :).

Something that just came to mind about flight plans: we have airways defined for airplanes anyway. Would dragons OUTSIDE these airways be regulated at all? If not, the problem may actually be reduced to having controls in place for "crossing the street" and "I want to land near the airport, please". Dragons purely amongst themselves pose a lot fewer problems that dragons and airplanes.

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    $\begingroup$ With GPS and FMS computers, it's now possible for airplanes to fly off-airway (and they do so routinely, even, or so I hear ;) $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 23:05

I think a dragon would still be at the mercy of the FAA.

As with all government entities, they don't like it much when something new enters their jurisdiction, and is unregulated.

They would issue a large stack of amendments to cover operations in controlled airspace (after the review boards, consultants, lawyers, military and other bodies with an interest got through their 'fact finding missions' in the Bahamas).

I'm not convinced that a dragon would have better situational and navigational awareness than say, an AWACS aircraft, which is still required to follow IFR and have ATC clearance in controlled airspace.

Minimum instruments would have to include: Backup attitude indicator: A requirement for IFR at any rate. In order to avoid spatial disorientation. As mentioned before, dragons would likely have a much better sense of motion and balance in three dimensions than a 'seat of the pants' human pilot. But I'm guessing disorientation might still be a factor.

Transponder: With presumably better vision than a human, in a wider range of wavelengths than humans, you're still dealing with airspace full of aircraft operating at a range of airspeeds. ATC would need to be able to maintain separation speeds.

Coms: The dragon would be required to carry two radios.

Radio NAV: ATC:"Dragon Zero One, Dulles Departures. Can you confirm that you are outbound on the two two zero radial?" Dragon 01: "Departures, Dragon Zero One. Negative, I don't have VOR". ATC: "Fail."

TCAS: Not sure what the FAA regs are (I've been out of the game for a while), but TCAS wouldn't hurt.

ASI: Regardless of how well a dragon thinks it can fly, ATC would need it to maintain airspeeds accurately for separation.

Altimeter: Same again. ATC would need to know that the dragon was following a set flight level. Would need it to provide data to the transponder anyway.

Nav lights: Red port and green starboard lights at least. And strobe light. And landing lights.

Another thing to consider: What is the dragon's max cruising altitude? Does the fire breath deplete the oxygen available to the dragon in flight, and at lower air densities? Would supplemental oxygen be required in Class A airspace and/or above 10,000 feet? How would an oxygen rich environment affect fire breath safety?

Other considerations: Weight and balance calculations, and loading charts. As the dragon grows, the weight and balance might need to be recalculated. Possible recertification every year until maturity, then every two years thereafter?

Communication with ATC would have to be in English, the international language of aviation. A dragon would need to be conversant using standardised aviation phraseology. If it's good enough for (or at least tolerated by) the Chinese, French and Russians, it's good enough for dragons.

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    $\begingroup$ One other thing -- how do you interface all this to the dragon, especially since he'll have to do things like tune navaids and radios, change squawk codes/ident, and punch in waypoints while on the wing? $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 4:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Shalvenay The interface would be easy. If the number of dragons needing this stuff was high enough the market would come to the party. Dragon ergonomics consultants, dragon performance and limitations experts would pop out of the woodwork for a dollar. Icom would make wrist mounted nav/coms plugged into a Senheiser headset. An Apple iPad does half the flying these days, strapped to the other arm. Samsung would say theirs is better. TCAS on the head. All wired to an electronics pod on the dragon's back. A chest bag for all the checklists, QRH, Jeppessens, regulations, and a thermos for coffee. $\endgroup$
    – Smoj
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ I doubt the balance calculations would matter as much as they do now for fixed wing AC. Balancing is a function of keeping the AC level and controlled in flight. The Dragon would do this instinctively. Weight would also be handled instinctively, but would need to be measured for it's impact on the runways $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 17:25

A dragon is a different beast than an airplane (yes, pun intended).

An aircraft goes from airport A to airport B. It can only stop at airport B (or, when needed, in airport C). Reports are required to metereological service, describing the weather all along the route. The path is seriosly studied by the crew, attending to atmospheric conditions and other considerations.

If, despite that, at mid travel the airplane crew finds that visibility is very reduced, it has two options:

  • Return to airport A or go back to airport C. Big fuss about time lost, and the passage is not anywhere near B (unless they had luck chosing C). Then deal with the pasengers, refuel, wait for the storm to pass and for the company to assign planes/crew for the new flight. And, when they try again going to B, there is no guarantee that the weather will not become worse again.

  • Try to flight in less than perfect conditions, expecting that technology will be enough to compensate for lack of visibility.

Now, a dragon wants to go from point A to point B. He gets in the general direction towards B and starts flying. If he finds bad weather, he looks down, finds some clear ground $^1$ and lands. Depending of how tired he is, he will take a nap or he will visit the nearest village, hoping for a maiden to kidnap.

He can repeat it as many times as needed, and with each "jump" he will become closer to his objective. And, in the worse of weather, he can still walk...

$^1$ In case there is no clear ground, burns some houses/fields until there is.

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    $\begingroup$ Applies to commercial aircraft, but a dragon is closer to small private plane - the archtypical Cessna 172. You've a much larger choice of landing spots - dirt & grass strips, rural roads (watch for power poles!), dry lakes, &c - in a small plane, and if you stay VFR and out of controlled airspace, don't have to worry about flight plans or ATC. A dragon could presumably land & take off most anywhere, more like a helicopter. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf -- exactly...but there are still benefits to operating within the IFR system, access to higher altitude airspace being only one of them. $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ So when humans turn up with transponders and weather forecasts, suddenly life gets a lot easier for dragons. With a bluetooth headset our dragon could even keep in touch with his mates as well as interfacing with ATC. $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 14:47

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