In my story, I plan on having one of my main characters lifted off the ground by a dragon-like creature and carried a couple miles away. Of course the plan involves them surviving the encounter whether or not they leave with a few wounds as well, however there is no modern medicine for them to heal anything remotely fatal.

The creature is, again, dragon-like; large, reptilian, curved teeth and talons, and with bat-like wings for flight. Its behavior is predatory with a preference for human flesh, but they have a tendency to take live prey for their young in which case my main character is the victim.

For the flight, they would be dangling for quite awhile and again I'm not sure if its realistic that they could last that long being upside down.

Would it be realistic if the creature snatched the character without initially harming them, carry them a few miles through the air, and drop them from a decent height without killing them along the way?


4 Answers 4


TL;DR -- You've got to get clever to make it survivable

This is going to be difficult. I'm going to assume dragon talons are similar to scaled-up eagles', because (a) eagles are badass, and (b) I have stats for them. ;D

First, eagles grip hard:

A Bald Eagle’s grip is believed to be about 10 times stronger than the grip of an adult human hand and can exert upwards of 400 psi or pounds per square inch

Second, the pressure never lets up:

The talons are closed by the muscles, anchored on the leg bones, by contracting the tendons. The tendons are contained in tendon sheaths. Both the tendons and tendon sheaths have tiny ridges. When the tendon is contracted the ridges on the tendons and the tendon sheaths interlock, creating a kind of "ratchet" effect, enabling the eagle to maintain tremendous pressure on the talons without continuously maintaining the tremendous contraction force on the muscle

So at least several minutes, being squeezed by sharp talons at 400 PSI ... that is not survivable. Not without geting tricky...

Could it be your hero is wearing plate mail? The armor would take the hit, and probably be severely dented, but might allow the guy to survive.

Another possibility is that the strike is flawed; instead of getting grabbed, the hero leaps at the last instant and grabs the dragon's leg above the talon. Dragon would realize that something is wrong, but figure hey, he's not falling off, and the chicks can get some good rending practice.

I'm not too worried about the drop at the end; assume that the dragon doesn't want to risk crushing its chicks, so the drop is pretty low. Also, the nest could have a nice soft lining of sticks, leaves, shed scales, dragon guano, and the remains of previous meals.

Update after comments: The question comes up of whether dragon might consider using a lighter grip to grab the hero. This could be made to work; depends a lot on just how "alive" the dragon wants the prey to be when dropping it off for the chicks, and how well it gauges its strike against the sturdiness of the prey. That is to say, a strike which would cripple a buffalo would obliterate a man. Also, we might have to avoid the whole 200mph power-dive...

So ... we can posit that dragon's chicks are getting bigger, they're ready for some "practice" prey. So dragon might have a mode where she very gingerly captures the prey with full intent of keeping it alive. This would not be done lightly, as she doesn't want to risk damage to herself, but is a good option for hero survivability.

Source of quotes: https://www.hawkquest.org/TA/XL/Gripping.pdf

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    $\begingroup$ Would the dragon be in full-power-squish-mode if it wanted the prey to stay alive though? I'd assume they'd be able to modulate their grip, just like us people can $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Shalvenay I love "full-power-squish-mode" ;D We might be able to work with this notion of dragon pulling her punches. Will update answer $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 7:57
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    $\begingroup$ If instead of latching on with its talons, the dragon closes its fingers/toes around the prey and grasps it (effectively carrying the prey in its closed "fist"), the victim will only be mildly harmed, so it's more likely to survive the journey. Also, in addition to grabbing armor instead of flesh in the talons scenario, the dragon may latch to a leather coat - or the horse the knight was riding :) $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ @G0BLiN I love the horse idea. Dragon swoops, grabs the horse, and hero is tangled up in all the mess of tack and talon. It gives the hero a chance to snark a bit, too: "Horse, Dragon, this is really between y'all... do I really need to be here for this?" ;D $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 3:10

The answer to your question is a qualified yes
If you are prepared to hand wave the problems of a flying dragon that can pick up a human then the transportation problem is not too hard.

Why not assume that the dragon needs or wants to capture live prey from time to time? Perhaps it wants to train its young or perhaps it wants to keep some meat “on the hoof” in its nest or den if the supply of meat is erratic.

If that were the case the dragon should have evolved the capacity to use its talons “gently" and release them “gently". But gently in this context could still amount to broken bones and mild to serious injury - unless you were lucky.


The drop's the only problem with your idea

The idea of a person being snatched up and carried by a flying thing is actually quite realistic -- they've both been done IRL, albeit using quite different hardware to what you propose. In the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system, a helium-balloon-supported line harnessed to the recoveree was captured using "horns" attached to the nose of the aircraft and special, automatically triggered "sky anchor" hardware. As a result, the airplane would then pull the recoveree up and out of the LZ they had set up in, and then be able to capture the recovery line using a J-hook and winch the recoveree in all the way.

Now that we've established that being swooped in on and picked up by a slow-flying thing won't kill you (a Fulton extraction has been described as being gentler than a 'chute opening), the dangling part isn't too big a deal either, although the character probably would want to grab onto the beast's leg to hold their head upright since they won't have the benefit of a harness. Once that's solved, then being flown long distances in open air isn't an issue -- the US military has been doing it since the Vietnam War using harness-and-longline rigs dangling from helicopters (originally the STABO rig -- the modern SPIE rig is its direct successor).

The bad news is that dropping the prey may lead to them going splat if done under unfortunate circumstances. The good news is that if they drop them from a low height, humans have a low terminal velocity (120MPH or perhaps somewhat less depending on how much drag your hero can kick out in a pinch), so it's probably not going to be a fatal or even mortal fall if they land in something soft-ish from 20' or even 50' up (landing in water from 50' up would suck though).

  • $\begingroup$ Note that the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system (That's the one from Batman, right?) has the user strapped in a special harness - so the force of the "snatch" is safely distributed - the dragon won't be so gentle and ergonomic :). Consider addressing that to support the claim that the drop is the only problem... $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 7:30

Could you make your dragon-like creature more like a Wyvern? It has a sting at the end of its tail, to sting prey with. So just like a parasitoid wasp she stings prey to paralyse it and carry it back to her nest.

You then have several choices:

  1. You hero is paralysed, but it wears off before the young eat him. Perhaps Mother Wyvern wanted him comatose for the trip, but feisty enough to fight back when at the nest, to give her hatchlings some practice at dealing with live prey.
  2. As above, but instead of a deliberate short duration, Mother misjudged the amount of venom she injected into him. When I was stung 4 times by a wasp, each successive sting had less venom in it (as indicated by the amount of swelling). Maybe Mother is confused by armour and possessions and her first stings injected the venom into his waterskin, or his rucksac, or really thick winter furs, or something else which does the hero no harm.
  3. Perhaps, like the Dread Pirate Roberts and iocane powder, your hero has been dosing himself with small amounts of Wyvern venom, to make himself immune!

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