How to Train Your Dragonto Fly

The breeds of dragon from the popular DreamWorks film series How to Train Your Dragon, based on the books by author Cressida Cowell, are of varying size and shape, ranging from the small but aggressive Terrible Terror which is just over a foot and a half tall to the gargantuan Red Death Dragon, which would tower over a house at almost 100 feet tall.

In the film series natives of the archipelago of Berk learn to befriend dragons and ride on their backs, using their unique qualities to perform a number of tasks, from sports to carrying out daily chores. The most famous dragon rider is the lead character Hiccup, who rides on the back of a Night Fury dragon called Toothless.

In a paper for the Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics, a peer-reviewed student journal run by the University’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, Natural Sciences student Edward Reynolds has analysed the flight feasibility of four breeds of dragon within Cowell's universe by estimating a surface area of the wings and then a weight before using an equation for lift for the Terrible Terror, the Gronkle, the Night Fury and the Red Death breeds of dragon.

The study suggests that the forward movement speed needed to provide any sort of lift for the dragons is very fast, with the slowest speed being around 80 mph and the fastest almost breaking the sound barrier. Flying at the speed in which they are seen doing in the films, it is likely that they wouldn't be able to stay in the air for long based on the disproportionate size of their wings. In order to stay in flight, they would either need bigger wings or to move significantly faster.

Dr Cheryl Hurkett from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Science said: “An important part of being a professional scientist (as well as many other professions) is the ability to make connections between the vast quantity of information students have at their command, and being able to utilise the knowledge and techniques they have previously mastered in a new or novel context. The Interdisciplinary Research Journal module models this process, and gives students an opportunity to practise this way of thinking. The intention of this module is to allow students to experience what it’s like to be at the cutting edge of scientific research.

“The course is engaging to students and the publishing process provides them with an invaluable insight into academic publishing. It also helps students feel more confident when submitting future papers. I find it a very rewarding module to teach and I am always pleased to see my students engaging so enthusiastically with the subject. I encourage them to be as creative as possible with their subject choices as long as they can back it up with hard scientific facts, theories and calculations!”