This Engineer Worked Out How Dragons Can Fly in HBO’s ‘House of the Dragon,’ ‘Game of Thrones’
The secret is argon!
Dragon flight! It’s what makes the Targaryens of HBO’s House of the Dragon (and Game of Thrones before it) so cool and fantasy so addicting. But while many fans are content to admire dragons soaring through the air, others wonder how exactly a dragon could heft itself into the sky. They’re not the most aerodynamic creatures, after all.
Luckily, one intrepid engineer has put in the hours and figured out how dragons can fly in the world of Westeros.
The mechanics of dragon flight
Dr. Guy Gratton, Associate Professor of Aviation and the Environment at Cranfield University in England, describes his work on dragon flight in a recent article in Scientific American (reprinted from The Conversation). Using visual cues from Game of Thrones, Gratton estimated the weight and wing area of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons, and then calculated the average dragon’s stalling speed, or the minimum speed a dragon needs to go in order to become and stay airborne.
Gratton quickly ran into a problem, though. According to his calculations, dragons should be way too heavy to fly. Note that he makes some significant assumptions, though. First off, he assumes that dragons have a physiology roughly similar to that of other large lizards, with no adaptations that might reduce their weight and allow for flight. Secondly, he dismisses the possibility that magic is playing a role in getting dragons in the air.
Working with those assumptions, though, Gratton came up with an elegant solution to the problem of how to allow such a heavy creature to fly. The Westerosi atmosphere, he concluded, must have a different chemical composition than Earth’s.
Lift, air density, and dragons
Here on Earth, the air we breathe is almost 80% nitrogen. However, if all that nitrogen were replaced by argon, a gas that’s much heavier but still safe to breathe, then the atmosphere itself would be dense enough that heavier objects would be able to generate enough lift to fly.
Gratton supports his case with some evidence from the series:
Watching a few episodes of Game of Thrones you’ll notice that pretty much anybody can pick up a spear or sword and throw it distances that an Olympic javelin thrower would be deeply envious of. Given that gravity seems to be roughly similar to ours, this suggests the thrown weapons are generating much more lift than on Earth – consistent with an atmosphere of higher density.
So there you have it! According to Gratton, in order for Syrax, Drogon, and the rest of Westeros’s dragons to fly, the atmosphere would need to be made of roughly 70% argon and 30% oxygen. Gratton concludes his thought experiment with an interesting factoid about that particular chemical combination.
This argon-oxygen (or argox) mix will actually be moderately narcotic when breathed at high pressures. Perhaps this might in part explain the regularly irrational and downright aggressive behaviour seen among many citizens of Westeros.
Yikes. Sounds like Prince Daemon needs to cut back on the argox.
(featured image: HBO)
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