Are dragons too big to fly? Many a scientist and over-thinker has asked this question. Sure, Game of Thrones is fantasy. After all, there’s dragons. And there’s even more in the prequel House of the Dragon. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a good thought experiment, similar to last month’s, what do dragons smell like? Thankfully, someone has already done the calculations for this one. An aeronautical engineer did the math. We saw it on Scientific American, but the story was originally published on The Conversation back in 2016. Let’s find out if the dragons of Westeros could actually fly.
The Quick Math
There’s a few factors that go into this, but most people assume dragons are too heavy or their wings are too small to get lift. The author, pilot and aviation professor Guy Gratton, estimated an adult dragon’s size and mass by comparing it to Daenerys. He reached the conclusion that it was 42 feet long, or a little bigger than a school bus, and weighed 5,700 pounds, about the size of a small elephant.
The wing size and stalling speed (the slowest it can fly) are also needed to calculate the amount of lift needed to get a dragon in the air. Assuming Earth’s gravity and air density, a dragon that heavy could not get off the ground with wings that size. Rather than giving up and saying, “then some magic happens,’ Gratton assumes Westeros itself must have different atmospheric conditions.
How It Works
Delightfully, the author uses everyone’s ability to throw swords and spears so well to back up this theory. What would help lift a dragon would also give characters seemingly superhuman abilities. It’s like Superman’s red versus yellow suns. If you increase the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, it would make the atmosphere more dense. And dragon flight more possible. Everything would also be more likely to catch fire. But again, that is backed up by just how quickly things burst into flame in Westeros.
In order to bump the numbers up enough to lift a dragon into the sky, the remaining nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere would have to be replace with denser argon. Gratton admits this mix would be “moderately narcotic” but adds, “Perhaps this might in part explain the regularly irrational and downright aggressive behaviour seen among many citizens of Westeros.” So not only do we get an explanation of how dragons are able to fly, but also why everyone is such a murderous grump.
What About Pterosaurs?
But wait a minute, Earth has been home to enormous flying animals already. Pterosaurs, with wing spans over 30 feet, lived between 65 and 215 million years ago. How do we explain that? This question has also been answered thanks to The Conversation. According to the fossil record, they had hollow bones like living birds today. So even though they were massive, they may have only weighed about 1,000 pounds. The increased oxygen levels during prehistoric times also tips the calculation in favor of flight.
A recent simulation of how Pterosaurs might have launched themselves into the air using their massive legs and wings looks quite similar to the dragon lift-offs in Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon. So whether or not the show bothers with the math or just makes it look cool, now you know it’s actually possible for those Westeros dragons to fly.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.