What is the absolute ceiling of dragons? (The height at which, when flying, their rate of climb drops to zero.)

Is there any such mention in the books or the tv show?

I want to know whether, as well as attack, dragons can also be effectively used for surveillance.


Perhaps I should have worded this question as: "How high can dragons fly? Can they go so high so as to be invisible to people on the ground? - for spying purposes. K thx bye.", but I prefer the current form.

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    "We do not know™" – Aegon Sep 12 '17 at 15:12
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    “It is not known, Khaleesi”. – Paul D. Waite Sep 12 '17 at 15:45
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    Does Game of Thrones look like spy series? Do dragons resemble U-2 planes? – Mithoron Sep 12 '17 at 18:08
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    What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen dragon? – nedlud Sep 13 '17 at 2:55
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    @nedlud What do you mean, an Esossi dragon or a Westerosi dragon? – iceman Sep 13 '17 at 4:38

No there is no such mention in neither books nor the show.

It is unlikely there would be any mention either as:

  1. Dragons vary in their strength, agility and endurance so one definite answer is not possible.
  2. GRRM deliberately refrains from explicitly stating anything like speed, time, climb rate etc.

When a fan asked how big is Westeros, his answer was:

I have deliberately tried to be vague about such things, so I don't have obsessive fans with rulers measuring distances on the map and telling me Ned couldn't get from X to Y in the time I say he did.

However, if you really must know, you can figure out the distances for yourself. The Wall is a hundred leagues long. A league is three miles. Go from there.

But if you turn up any mistakes in travel times by using that measure, let it be your secret.

When another fan asked about Chronology of Sam's adventures, he replied:

The reason I am never specific about dates and distances is precisely so that people won't sit down and do this sort of thing.

My suggestion would be to put away the ruler and the stopwatch, and just enjoy the story.

As for your second question, there is no point of using Dragons to fly recon mission. One dragon can easily destroy whatever target you want it to surveil. So why bother? Let them have Fire and Blood. There's no instance of Dragons being used surveil your enemies in Westerosi history.

TL;DR, Canon answer is:

enter image description here

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    "One dragon can easily destroy whatever target you want it to surveil" - tell that to Viserion. – iceman Sep 12 '17 at 15:30
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    @iceman Maybe Viserion had a change of heart and thought he was fighting on the wrong side. He seems to easily destroy the target he needs to once he's swapped teams. – TheLethalCarrot Sep 12 '17 at 15:41
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    @iceman Ser Jorah snorted. "Viserys could not sweep a stable with ten thousand brooms." – Aegon Sep 12 '17 at 15:46
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    I have deliberately tried to be vague about such things, so I don't have obsessive fans with rulers measuring distances on the map and telling me Ned couldn't get from X to Y in the time I say he did. That's a lesson the show runners learned this season. "Time-travelling" ravens... – Narusan Sep 12 '17 at 15:54
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    @Narusan Off topic but I don't think the ravens time travelled. Did you want to watch 4 days of a raven flying around? Because I know I didn't. – TheLethalCarrot Sep 12 '17 at 15:56

Absolute ceiling refers to flying machines, and not biological fliers. There is no absolute ceiling for literally any bird either, and even if there were, it would be quite low, measured in a couple hundred meters at most, for nearly every bird. Even birds that utilize thermal updrafts to climb hardly compare to airplanes.

There are three reasons for this: firstly, the amount of power that any animal can produce is vastly less than the amount of power any man-made engine can produce. Second, they all need to breathe oxygen, and above altitudes of around 5,000 meters above sea level, any animal is going to start having a lot of trouble surviving, even with many generations of evolution helping them along. Third, because there's less air at these altitudes, any winged creatures would have to work harder to keep flying, so the combination of a lack of oxygen to work your metabolism, plus the lack of air to push against would be severely limiting at these kinds of altitudes.

So... this is kind of a non-question, and the answer is "about 5,000 meters, tops, but they're just not strong enough to reach that altitude anyway". Most of the time, they'd never exceed 300 meters above ground, just like pigeons.

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    "above altitudes of around 3,000 meters above sea level, any animal is going to start having a lot of trouble surviving" I beg to differ. There are forests at this altitude, full of squirrels and deers and whatnot. – void_ptr Sep 12 '17 at 16:38
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    Bolivia alone has four major cities more than 3,000 meters above sea level. I think over a million people in the La Paz / El Alto urban area live over 4,000 meters above sea level – user56reinstatemonica8 Sep 12 '17 at 16:49
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    A Rüppell's vulture was struck by an aircraft at 11,000 meters: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%BCppell%27s_vulture en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_by_flight_heights – mskfisher Sep 12 '17 at 17:50
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    Your opening paragraph claims that "biological fliers" have no absolute ceiling. Then the rest of your question goes on to explain how birds have a low absolute ceiling for lots of different (mostly invalid) reasons. That's quite a contradiction. And your last sentence is nonsense too. I'm a hang glider pilot and I've soared with eagles and hawks 2,000 meters above the ground. Most of this answer is full of poor generalizations and false statements. Sorry. – rmaddy Sep 13 '17 at 4:16
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    The high-altitude long-distance migration flights of birds (including small species - i.e. the size of sparrows) were first discovered during WWII after the invention of radar - and called "angels" since nobody knew what was causing the echoes! The comment about "working harder" is wrong, if the bird can fly with a fast tail-wind. Even species which don't usually fly much at all (e.g. ducks) make 600-mile non-stop migration flights. If they landed on deep seawater to rest, there would be nothing there for them to feed on, so the rest wouldn't have much benefit! – alephzero Sep 13 '17 at 7:46


If we treat dragons like (much smaller) birds and handwave their body mass and wingspan issues, I would guess at least 20k feet as a safe altitude. As the poster above mentioned, the Ruppell's vulture can nearly hit 40k altitude with specially adapted hemoglobin and slow soaring, but even relatively mundane birds like mallard ducks can clear 21k feet without difficult. Assuming the above handwave, it ultimately depends on how efficient dragons are at extracting oxygen from the air and how much exertion is required for them to stay airborne. Keep in mind we don't know how much adult dragons weigh (10 tons? 50 tons?) and we don't know their wingspan with any solid degree of accuracy.

If we don't handwave their body mass and wingspan, the issue becomes much more difficult. The cube-square law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square%E2%80%93cube_law) is a harsh mistress and dragons are very large indeed. Comparing the dragons from the show to the largest of pterosaur fossils, it seems clear to me that the dragons simply have too much body mass (they are much larger than elephants in season 7, perhaps even tyrannosaur sized) for any wingspan not accompanied with propellers or jet engines. Keep in mind that most archaeologists feel that the larger pterosaurs (a mere 250kg accompanied by a 50 ft wingspan) had excessive wing loading compared to modern birds (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pterosaur_size). I suspect the design of the dragons on the show may be more focused on appearance than biological necessity and I think the most likely answer is that dragons would not actually be capable of flight at all.

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