This question is about the Dune books, but it was inspired by watching the trailer for the upcoming Denis Villeneuve Dune move: in the trailer there are ornithopters (actually technically entomopters in this version), but there are also giant spacecraft that can hang in the air with no visible means of support.

Now I remember from the book that in the Dune universe there are suspensor fields, which are used to hold up such things as light fittings, hunter-seekers and the Baron's rolls of fat, so it makes sense that a suspensor field could hold up a spacecraft or large aircraft as well, but it makes me wonder the following:

  1. Is what's shown in the trailer consistent with what's in the book, that is, are spacecraft, carryalls and so on powered by suspensor fields or similar technology? (Or are the carryalls actually supposed to be giant ornithopters?)

  2. If the answer to (1) is yes, is it explained in the book why ornithopters are used for carrying people, rather than comparable craft that use suspensor fields instead? e.g. is it because of speed and manoeuvrability, or to prevent worms from being attracted? Are they used only on Arrakis or are they common everywhere?

  • 1
    (I learned something writing this, because I was going to write "entomopters" as a joke, but then I googled it and discovered it's a real word.)
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 8:14
  • There are two questions here, both answerable, but not even close to being related. 1) Why do they use ornithopters and 2) How do they get into orbit.
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 8:38
  • Second question is asked and answered here anyway; scifi.stackexchange.com/a/185563/20774
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 8:40
  • @Valorum I see no mention of the means by which orbit is attained in either that question or the answer you linked to.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 8:43
  • Frigates, my dear chap. Mentioned extensively in all of the Dune books
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 8:44

1 Answer 1


Ornithopters are sufficiently common that both the Harkonnen, and their most hated of enemies the Atreides, use them extensively on Dune and Caladan. Paul, his father and all of their fighting men seem to have piloting skills with them from day one of landing on the planet. The 'thopters on Arrakis are described as "fairly conventional" but lacking the shields that would be common (Hawat thinks this is due to the weight constraint but in reality it's probably because shields attract worms) which indicates that they don't routinely use anti-grav technology elsewhere.

An ornithopter replaced the carryall in the projection focus.

“These ‘thopters are fairly conventional,” Hawat said. “Major modifications give them extended range. Extra care has been used in sealing essential areas against sand and dust. Only about one in thirty is shielded–possibly discarding the shield generator’s weight for greater range.”


“Our supremacy on Caladan,” the Duke said, “depended on sea and air power. Here, we must develop something I choose to call desert power. This may include air power, but it’s possible it may not. I call your attention to the lack of ‘thopter shields.” He shook his head. “The Harkonnens relied on turnover from off planet for some of their key personnel. We don’t dare. Each new lot would have its quota of provocateurs.”


And in answer to your supplementary question, yes, Carryalls are explicitly stated to be large ornithopters, presumably operating on the same principles of flight.

“This is a carryall,” Hawat said. “It’s essentially a large ‘thopter, whose sole function is to deliver a factory to spice-rich sands, then to rescue the factory when a sandworm appears.


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