Peter Sucheski ©

The thought experiment: What would happen if humans grew wings?

Even equipped with a huge pair of wings, humans would need several modifications and technology to be able to use them.

1

Wings

Peter Sucheski ©
Peter Sucheski ©

The heaviest-ever flying bird was Argentavis magnificens, which lived six million years ago. It had a similar height and weight to an adult human, with a wingspan of six metres. These wings would have been too large and hefty for continuous flapping, so it probably flew more like a glider, taking off by running downhill into a headwind. We’d have to adopt a similar flying style.

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2

Muscles and bones

Peter Sucheski ©
Peter Sucheski ©

To flap these wings, we would need pectoral muscles twice the size of a pro bodybuilder’s. Our bones would be lighter and therefore weaker, so we’d need to strengthen our collarbone by fusing the clavicles into a wishbone. We’d also need a ‘keel’ bone protruding down the centre of our chest, to allow the pectoral muscles to attach further from the shoulder, increasing their leverage.

3

Technology

Peter Sucheski ©
Peter Sucheski ©

Even with all this, we probably couldn’t fly unaided. Birds have a more efficient one-way airflow through their lungs to get more air with each breath, and their muscles have extra oxygen-carrying proteins. Their nervous system runs faster to give them the reaction times needed for in-flight manoeuvring. We would need help from an oxygen cylinder, and a flight computer with a heads-up display.

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