Good Question: Could humans fly if we had wings?

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‘The Fall of Icarus’ by Jacob Peter Gowy

Most of us are a little jealous of birds. We’ve wanted to be like our avian friends for a long time, as evidenced by the story of Icarus and Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches of birds and his flying machine ideas.

Yes, today we can fly — but not by flapping our arms. But with all our knowledge and technology, why can’t we buy a pair of wings at our local Walmart — or even grow them ourselves? I would love to get rid of my car and zip through the air! (And for lunch, I’d go to a restaurant with a drive-thru on the roof.)

Sadly, science is against this dream.

According an article in Yale Scientific, “it is mathematically impossible for humans to fly like birds.” For one, the wings — both span and strength — are in balance with a bird’s body size. Plus, birds have mostly hollow bones (mostly hollow because they are strengthened with crisscrossing struts) that reduce their mass and provide air pockets to give them more oxygen when flying.

It’s not because we’re too big. We’re too weak. Animals much bigger than humans have taken to the skies, such as the quetzalcoatlus, a humongous pterosaur.

Comparison of a human to two varieties of quetzalcoatlus. | Courtesy Matt Martyniuk, Mark Witton and Darren Naish, Wikimedia

“Calculations of the ratio between human size and strength reveal that our species will never be able to take flight unaided,” the Yale Scientific article states. “As an organism grows, its weight increases at a faster rate than its strength. Thus, an average adult male human would need a wingspan of at least 6.7 meters to fly. This calculation does not even take into account that these wings themselves would be too heavy to function.”

In other words, we would need bigger wings. But bigger wings would mean more mass, which would mean we’d need even bigger wings and … you get the picture. We’d be chasing our tails to make wings.

Giving humans working wings wouldn’t just mean extra or transformed appendages — we’d have to redesign the human body from the ground up.

But that doesn’t stop people from hoping.

Take a look at this guy, who took the internet by storm in 2012.

What a thrilling video! The dreams of millions were realized in a few seconds!

It was a hoax. Check out Snopes’ explanation, and click here to learn why it’s so hard to build a human-powered winged aircraft.

But what if we could have wings for, you know, decoration?

I’m not talking about the cardboard wings little kids wear in Nativity plays. I mean flesh-and-blood wings. It would be so … angelic!

Dr. Joe Rosen, a plastic surgeon at Dartmouth Medical School, says human wings are possible.

“If I were to give you wings, you would develop, literally, a winged brain. Our bodies change our brains, and our brains are infinitely moldable,” Rosen is quoted as saying in the Guardian in 2002.

“Surgical techniques already in existence can be used to stretch torso fat and rejig rib bones to create a wing. Although no human would be able to fly, they would resemble angels and have full sensation in their new hanging, boned flaps of flesh,” according to the article.

Most of us, though, will have to be content with these wings:

Stock photo

Do you have a Good Question about anything? Send it to Robert! Email him at questions@eastidahonews.com, or visit him on Twitter @notthegeneral or Facebook.

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