I’ve seen several adaptations of this concept in fiction from the tales of Icarus to Falcon in the MCU. But is it possible in reality for an average human to be able to fly through the air by wearing these gadgets?

If it is possible, then how would this work?

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    $\begingroup$ People are flying with wing suits only. You might want to specify what exactly you mean with flying. $\endgroup$ – bogl May 20 '19 at 6:50
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    $\begingroup$ what do you mean by mechanical wings? And are engines allowed? $\endgroup$ – Hobbes May 20 '19 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ I assume you mean sustained level flight, with no motors or engine assisted thrust -- only thrust through human powered flight? Perhaps you could update your question to include this, if this is right. $\endgroup$ – AlphaCentauri May 20 '19 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ Does Yves Rossi's suit count? $\endgroup$ – Manu H May 23 '19 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ Flagged as unclear. Plane wings are a thing. Flapping wings another. Rockets with wings like Falcon again another. What is the question here? $\endgroup$ – motoDrizzt May 23 '19 at 10:06

You could reasonably call a hang glider "wings strapped to the torso" for this purpose -- hence the answer is "yes, sort of." With a well designed glider, one can launch from sloping ground and soar on slope lift or thermals, limited by oxygen requirements and fatigue. Hang gliders have done cross country flights running to many hours, stayed up literally dawn to dusk on ridge lift, and flown high enough for the pilot to require oxygen (and then some, I believe the altitude record is around 18,000 feet).

None of this, of course, is powered by the pilot, using either arms or legs, but this is clearly "wings strapped to the torso."

Add a small engine and you get a modern ultralight/microlight, or something like Rocketman's jet powered wings. The latter, especially, is still pretty clearly "wings strapped to the torso."


Humans aren't strong enough to fly using their arms to flap a wing.

According to Usherwood, for a human to take flight on flapping wings, “your body would have to be made almost entirely of muscle.” In other words, humans make terrible hummingbirds.

You can build an ultralight aircraft that's pedal-powered (human leg muscles are much stronger had have better endurance than arms), but this is still on the edge of human capability. These aircraft will fly low and slowly, and the distance record is ~115 km.

Add an engine (or glide from high altitude), and it becomes feasible to use a wingsuit (or a rigid wing attached to a harness).

  • $\begingroup$ I'd like to see a reference for the statement that a human's arms aren't strong enough to fly at all. It seems at least plausible that if the legs are strong enough to fly for ~115 km using an ultralight concept, then perhaps the arms can be trained to be strong enough too. I've never heard of this though, but it seems plausible, hence the need for a citation in my opinion. $\endgroup$ – AlphaCentauri May 20 '19 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ @AlphaCentauri Measure around the biceps/triceps of your arm, then around the triceps/quads of your thigh. The muscle power available in each case is approximately proportional to the square of the circumference; in most people with athletic build, that'll be between four and eight times the power from the legs as compared to the arms, and it takes a pretty optimized design to simply lift off by pedal power. Yes, pectorals and deltoids might add, depending on wing design -- but legs are evolved for walking and running; arms are not. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon May 20 '19 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ @AlphaCentauri, one only needs to compare the relative size of a bird's breast muscle in relation to the rest of it's body, to the ratio of the human pectoral muscle to the human body to understand that we simply don't have the muscle mass where it is needed to have enough power to sustain flight. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall May 20 '19 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ ...or as hrobeers notes in his answer, try to do an iron cross, or even just see how long you can sustain a wide push up position simulating a glide. Or "flap" by doing pushups and see how long you last. (in reality push ups are much easier that supporting your weight with arms fully extended) No citation needed when you have personal experience to guide your perspective! $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall May 20 '19 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ @AlphaCentauri Hobbes is referring to the Daedalus project which used trained, professional cyclists. Not your average human, in other words. I tried the Daedalus simulator once and was able to take off for a short hop but was exhausted within a few minutes. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf May 20 '19 at 18:06

Assuming you mean wings attached to one's arms:

Only trained gymnasts are capable of holding the Iron Cross for a short period of time (see Rings_(gymnastics)).

With the Iron Cross, the center of force counteracting gravitational acceleration is one arm length away from the center of mass.

Depending on the aspect ratio of the wings attached to one's arms, it'll be harder or lighter to hold your wing compared to the Iron Cross, for non-vertically accelerated flight. (ref. Force_and_levers)

Therefore you only see wing-suits with very low aspect ratio wings in use.


You didn't specify whether engines were allowed, but Jetman: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=jetman


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