Don’t read this unless you’re prepared to have your illusions shattered – but angels, dragons and fairies can’t really fly.
Prof Roger Wotton of University College London compared the physiology of real flying creatures with representations of mythical ones.
“Even a cursory examination of the evidence in representational art shows that angels and cherubs cannot take off and cannot use powered flight,” he says, citing the fact that nobody ever seems to describe them as having a second pectoral girdle or any flight muscles at all.
“If they use gliding flight they would need to be exposed to very high wind velocities at take off – such high winds that they would be blown away and have no need for wings except for recovery to a substratum when the winds died down.”
Dragons have exactly the same problem, and are also only capable of gliding – although Prof Wotton does suggest that the skin covering their wings might be used as a parachute, along the lines of the skin flap deployed by flying squirrels.
But, he points out sadly, “Flying squirrels run up trees to gain height between flights but it is inconceivable that dragons show this behaviour.”
Fairies, on the other hand, could possibly fly – if they have a very, very high pain tolerance. Insect wings like those of fairies require a whole bunch of indirect muscles which affect the thorax.
“Flapping of the wing is achieved through creating distortions in the exoskeleton of the thorax which then trigger sudden releases of tension in what has been described as a click mechanism,” says the Prof. “The distortion of the thorax needed for flight in fairies with butterfly wings would be exceedingly uncomfortable.”
The full paper is here.