Given on the moon (or other place with 1/6th the gravity of the earth, though let's use the moon to keep this anchored in a real scenario) a "flying room" within which to fly, such as a large enough dome or underground space, and filled with your choice of gas (O2 for breathing plus N or any other nontoxic gas) at your choice of pressure, and being any reasonably large size, and assuming that the kind of flight we're looking for is:

  1. Unpowered if possible;
  2. Without a fuselage or enclosure, just wings, and
  3. Primarily for the purpose of sport, with in-close "aerial combat" flying and with the strong possibility of collision or stalling occurring


  1. What kind and size wings would be required for a human of 180 pounds to be able to fly? 280 pounds? What kind of safety margins for lift, stall recovery, and so on would make sense? Could you take a stab at min and max flight speeds?

  2. Could cardboard wings work, or would it have to be fiberglass, carbon fiber, Curran or otherwise?

  3. Would practical flight require fixed wings with controls and some kind of manually-turned propeller, or could flapping with the arms actually work as a motive force? Two sets of wings? If self-propulsion were impractical, could flight still be slow enough with a motorized propeller that multiple humans flying together or even playing a flying game such as grabbing a ribbon from the foot of another flyer (risking collision) would not be unduly safe? I know that there are real fixed-wing rocket-powered contraptions for humans to fly without being inside a vehicle, but these must move very fast and would never work inside a dome that could feasibly be constructed--flight speeds would have to be much, much lower inside a dome.

  4. I'm guessing there could be some flight characteristics problems for wings attached at the arms as the human body is very heavy and the arms are comparatively far forward. (I, for one, carry a lot of weight in my legs.) What would have to be done to compensate for this?

  5. What interesting moon-specific safety differences would be possible or required? I'm thinking that a parachute could be much smaller, or it could even be something like a person-enclosing auto-inflating ball (like a life vest, but it wraps around the person from the back to enclose him in a giant sphere so he half floats, and half bounces on impact). What would be safe heights to fly above the ground (so stalls can be recovered from)?

  6. Feel free to explore any other interesting aspects, such as terminal velocity in the selected atmosphere, the size of the dome required to have a reasonable arena for enjoyable flight, the construction method and materials (underground, aboveground, glass or opaque), hazards from radiation, dome failure, etc.

If this question is better off at aviation or worldbuilders or some other site, please indicate so and we can ask for it to be moved, or I'll close this question and re-ask elsewhere.

Help on the tags appreciated.

  • $\begingroup$ I guess, but it's really physics-focused. Just because the moon is in off-Earth, does that mean this is Space Exploration? In fact, the moon isn't even required--just some place that has approximately 1/6th the gravity of Earth. So it doesn't have to be about "space exploration" at all, really, though I guess I did ask questions about radiation and loss of pressure and so on. Wherever the question is the best fit is fine to me. Note: I see all sorts of questions about the moon in the "Related" links on the right! $\endgroup$
    – ErikE
    Nov 7, 2015 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I do take back my recommendation. I think I had misread the intent of the post (I thought you were looking into alternative space travel) $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Nov 7, 2015 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Erik, imo this question is engineering or aviation, or some application of physics, but not directly a physics concept question, so my apologies, but I would vote to close on those grounds. $\endgroup$
    – user81619
    Nov 7, 2015 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ @count_to_10 How about a vote to migrate, then, instead? $\endgroup$
    – ErikE
    Nov 7, 2015 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Qmechanic My response to that question is the first comment. I'm open to whatever is decided. But it's very physics-heavy. What does space exploration have to do with calculating how large a wing one needs to fly in 1/6th the gravity of the Earth, plus the other attendant details? We're not exploring space by flying inside a dome for sport... ? $\endgroup$
    – ErikE
    Nov 7, 2015 at 21:03

2 Answers 2


Could self-powered human flight be possible in a pressurized dome on the moon?

It is no need to go to the moon to perform this experiment. You can do it at home.

You simply make a balance, you put a bag of sand weighing $mg - mg*(g_{moon}/g)$ (where $m$ is your mass) on one of its ends and you stand on the other end flapping a pair of wings of your choice. If you start to rise then you will be able to fly on the moon.

  • $\begingroup$ I simply took your weight as being 180 lb. Yes, in general the other end should weigh $W-W/6 = 5W/6$ where W is the weight of the man experimenting with flapping wings. I have never written that the weight of the load should be $W/6$. $\endgroup$ Nov 7, 2015 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ I will make changes to avoid confusions. $\endgroup$ Nov 7, 2015 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ Now it's very unclear in a different way. How about just using the actual numbers for Earth vs. moon? Something like, "weighing 0.834315 your weight". And note "weighting" -> "weighing". $\endgroup$
    – ErikE
    Nov 7, 2015 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ I made the change. It is "weighing" now. It appears that you do not like anything. If I had written "weighing 0.834315 your weight" you would have asked "Where does that number come from?". $\endgroup$ Nov 7, 2015 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ Then you could explain! (so that the remaining weight difference, approximately 1/6th your weight, is close to the amount you would have to lift on the moon which has approximately 1/6th the gravity at the surface as on the Earth's surface). $\endgroup$
    – ErikE
    Nov 7, 2015 at 23:16

Basically you take all the existing solution in the * Human powered aircraft* wikipedia page , and at first order you divide by 6 the airfoil surfaces. But since this also divide the weight of the flying material, you can devide by more (it is the reverse problem of the total fuel needed to put fuelled rocket to orbit). And even more by the fact that the structure has a lot less efforts to support due to the light gravity.

  • $\begingroup$ This isn't really helpful because most human-powered aircraft have fuselages. I apologize if I didn't draw this out well (I will edit) but this question is supposed to focus on flying without a fuselage. That's a really different thing. $\endgroup$
    – ErikE
    Nov 7, 2015 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ ErikE, What kind of human powered machine does your man have to fly on the moon? What does that apparatus look like? $\endgroup$ Nov 7, 2015 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ In my question I asked if flapping was possible as a motive force. So start with that. If that's not possible, then a simple (pedalled, hand-cranked, who knows) propeller could be enough. If still impractial, then I would accept powered flight as long as it was as lightweight (in complexity/footprint/highest reliability, not necessarily weight) as possible. $\endgroup$
    – ErikE
    Nov 7, 2015 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ My point is that a fuselage divided by 10 or more is probably not far to be looking like the wings you aim at. $\endgroup$ Nov 7, 2015 at 21:46

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.