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Fragile Flyer

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Generally, flying creatures are often portrayed as being weaker or frailer than their terrestrial counterparts. In part this is done for balancing purposes, in order to offset the increased speed and mobility of flying entities. This is also rooted in the fact that flying beings need to be light in order to stay airborne, which means cutting down on as much excess weight as possible — a flyer simply can't afford to haul around the same amount of armor or even bone and muscle mass that a ground-bound creature can. This can be seen in real life through flying creatures like birds and bats, which have uniformly thin limbs, light bodies, and hollow, air-filled bones that can't generally absorb a lot of damage.

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Flyers typically make up for this deficiency in health and armor through speed and agility. Their flight can often keep them out of their enemies' range and allows them to simply ignore difficult terrain. They also tend to have a decent turn of speed on top of that. In essence, they rely on keeping their foes from attacking them by being very difficult to actually attack. Anti-Air is thus the bane of their existence: specialized ranged attacks, as well as more unorthodox tricks such as webs and nets, negate their ability to stay safely above the action and can quickly cripple or destroy them.

In addition to being able to carry less armor, needing to fly means that even minor damage in the right place can easily be lethal by making the flyer unable to remain airborne while at an unsafe distance above the ground. As a result, airborne creatures and vehicles can generally be killed just by damaging their ability to fly and letting them plummet to their dooms.

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This is commonly seen in games, where Airborne Mooks, units, and players will benefit from much less armor and health than normal.

This often overlaps with Fragile Speedster and Glass Cannon. Contrast Flying Brick.

Nothing to do with paper flyers.


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Gundam: While flight-capable Mobile Suits appear throughout the franchise, there are times when this is played straight.
    • Some flight-capable MS are noted to be fragile in the "it's difficult to maintain and keep in working order" sense. For example, the Gouf Flight Type (famously seen in Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team) needed specialised spare parts for its various flight-related systems like stabilizers. In addition, the thermonuclear jet engines built into the legs that granted the Gouf Flight Type its flying ability could be jammed by debris, causing them to malfunction.
    • Transformable flight-capable MS are noted to be quite fragile thanks to their transformation systems. The most famous of these MS, the Zeta Gundam, was at its most effective at the hands of its original pilot and designer Kamille Bidan, who was able to use his Newtype reflexes and skills to turn it into a Lightning Bruiser. In comparison the Double Zeta was so fragile around its various combination/ transformation parts that the Full Armour upgrade was introduced to remove those weaknesses but also removed its ability to transform.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: The Aries are the aerial counterpart to the Leos, acting as the primary airborne Mooks of the series. Unlike the Leos, which can be equipped with either solid ammunition weapons like machine guns and bazookas or beam weapons like beam rifles in addition to a basic beam saber mounted in their shields, the Aries are armed with nothing more than a chaingun and missiles. In order to keep weight low, they also have less armour than the Leos. Notably, when Zechs Merquise leads a team to intercept the Wing Gundam as it enters Earth's atmosphere, Zech opts to pilot a Leo rather than an Aries despite the confrontation happening at high altitude.
    • Mobile Suit Victory Gundam: The titular Gundam and its upgrade, a highly mobile aerial mobile suit using the Minvosky Craft System that abandons the more bulky preceding design language is notable among protagonist mobile suits in that how easily its various parts get trashed on a regular basis in stark contrast to how durable the Gundams are usually portrayed as.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Godzilla (2014): The male MUTO, winged and smaller than his flightless mate, goes down instantly when Godzilla manages to get a direct hit in. In contrast, the female is much stronger and more resilient.
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    Franchise 
  • Transformers:
    • Swoop is the smallest and fastest of the Dinobots and the only one capable of flight in every version. While the Dinobots are heavily armored and mostly invulnerable in their dinosaur modes, Swoop is still very vulnerable to enemy fire when transformed into his Pteranodon form. His G1 bio explicitly mentions his wings as his Achilles' Heel, since damage to them will ground him and his Pteranodon mode is ungainly on land.
    • The Seekers form the backbone of the Decepticon air forces and generally transform into fighter aircraft or spacecraft, but in most versions of the franchise when a firefight begins they'll most often transform into robot mode and join in the fight on land. Transformers: War for Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron demonstrate why this is the case: when fighting fliers like Aerialbots or Seekers the fastest way to get rid of them is to damage their foot-mounted thrusters, which invariably sends them screaming into the nearest surface and a flaming, explosive death.
    • The bios of many Transformers with helicopter alternate modes (e.g. Vortex of the Combaticons, Blades of the Protectobots, Whirl) will note that damage to their rotors will effectively ground them and heavily reduce their effectiveness, if not take them out of a fight completely.
    • Transformers Victory: While Star Saber is known as a Showy Invincible Hero, partway through the anime he is shown undergoing a reinforcement procedure due to discovering he has two very significant weak points: his shoulders (where the ammunition for his starcraft alternate mode is stored) and back of his legs (where his thrusters are located). Since he was preparing for the Final Battle, his precautions were fully justified. In addition, while almost unbeatable in robot mode, he's shown to be much, much weaker in alternate mode where he can't use the sword skills he's so famous for.
    • Beast Wars: Played very straight with the bios of the cast, where all the flying characters (Waspinator, Terrorsaur, Airrazor) have noticeably low endurance compared to their comrades (4, 4 and 5 respectively). As a point of comparison, Rattrap, the smallest and weakest character on the show, also has an endurance score of 5.
    • Transformers: Devastation: The Seekers appear as Mooks used by the Decepticons utilizing the "Conehead" design made famous by Thrust, Dirge, and Ramjet (who are conspicuously absent). The airborne Seeker variants (one variant primarily uses rockets and missiles while the other uses blasters) have significantly lower health than the melee combat variant that is introduced Dual Wielding scimitars when he attacks the Autobots. The reason for this is because the player is meant to shoot down the airborne Seekers using their ranged weaponry (and in fact the airborne Seekers are introduced during the tutorial for said weaponry) and so have less health to avoid becoming frustrating Demonic Spiders.
    • Transformers: Prime: Skyquake, an imposing Decepticon warrior, is killed with somewhat embarrassing ease by Bumblebee, who manages to climb atop him in his jet mode and rip out his internals. The resulting damage causes him to crash-land and perish.

    Literature 
  • A Hero's War:
    • The Demihuman Elkas have wings and can magically reduce their weight, enabling them to fly like birds. They're somewhat more fragile than humans, though, and, in combination with their low numbers, they are generally isolationist for fear of being entirely wiped out.
    • Land-bound zombie hordes are notable for being very hard to put down, since they don't care about losing body parts, and, even after being entirely dismembered, they can pull themselves back together given time. The bat-like zombie nightcryers, however, are Glass Cannons. Their sonic attacks are dangerous, and they're quite nimble, but if they can be hit, then their wings or bodies are easily broken or burned. Even the Elkas, who are fragile themselves, can easily take them in melee in even numbers.
  • In the Sector General series, two sentient species — GLNO Cinrusskin (Big Creepy-Crawlies) and LSVO Nallajim (Bird People) — are Lightworlders who are capable of flight on their own planet (or on Sector General with antigravity equipment) and are extremely fragile compared to other species.
  • The Seventh Tower: Subverted. Tal's Mix-and-Match Critter in the magical game Beastmaker manifests as a Fairy Dragon with large, delicate wings. Everyone (including Tal) expects it to be a weakling, but it turns out to be tough, agile, tenacious, and smart enough to exploit its fragile appearance with a Wounded Gazelle Gambit.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Prehistoric Planet: Played With:
    • "Deserts": A colony of Barbidactylus is the focus of a segment where the much larger males are competing in fierce territorial displays for the attention of the females around them. One of the fights escalates violently, as a male takes to the air to flee with another male closely pursuing. When the pursuing male gets close enough, he nips at the wings of his opponent. While it doesn't appear that the bite does much damage, it does throw the loser off-balance and forces him to collide against the steep cliff face of the mesa the colony is using as breeding grounds, which likely killed the loser instantly (although even if he did survive that, his subsequent forty plus foot fall to the ground certainly finished the job).
    • "Freshwater": A segment early on follows a small pack of Velociraptor hunting a colony of unnamed juvenile azdarchids along the steep cliffs the pterosaurs call home. The female raptor manages to nab one, although it's only after said pterosaur fell to ground beneath them after surviving and escaping the female's first attempt to pin it down. Notably though, after the colony is alerted to the trio of dromeosaurs, they actually try to come to the aid of the pterosaur the female raptor took, and, although they fail, the colony becomes a serious threat to the remaining pair of male raptors, who were abandoned by the female shortly after she grabbed her prize. It's left up to the viewer to decide whether or not the males are driven off or killed.
  • Ultra Series: The franchise has its share of winged Kaiju, and sometimes they'll appear alongside their land-based counterparts, only to be depicted as the weaker of the two:
    • Ultra Q: The pilot (and also beginning of the franchise as a whole) has the debut of two monsters, the Not Zilla Gomess and The Phoenix-like Litra. The former is a hulking Mighty Glacier that rampages across a mining site, while the latter is a Fragile Speedster who can barely put up a fight in their final confrontation, at least until Litra manages to ram her beak into Gomess' left eye. Litra does have a ranged attack called the Citronella Beam which allows her an advantage over Gomess, but that attack turns out to be Cast from Hit Points — after Gomess dies, Litra succumbs from using the beam far too many times as well.
    • Ultraman: The episode that introduces Red King has it face the bat-like Chandlar, who, despite momentarily subduing Red King by blowing gusts of wind into the latter's face, turns out to be a lousy fighter once Red King gets a hold of Chandlar's wings and rips them off, defeating it with ease. Later on, a different Red King fights two different monsters, the dragonfly-like Dorako and the Yeti-inspired Gigass, Dorako turns out to be the weakest of the trio and the first to be violently killed by Red King.
    • Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero, being a semi-remake of the original show, brings back Chandler and Red King in an early episode and repeats Chandlar's status as the weaker of the two, having Red King claw it to death in another fight.
    • Ultraman Tiga:
      • The pilot introduces two monsters, the subterranean dinosaur Golza and the winged, dragon-like Melba, with Melba clearly the weaker of the two — while Ultraman Tiga kicks both their asses, Golza survived getting its spine broken before being smashed to the ground by a suplex, albeit tunneling away after realizing the battle is no longer in its favour only to return several episodes later. Melba on the other hand flies circles around Tiga, landing a few lucky hits, until Tiga knocks Melba out of the sky — at which point it's disoriented and a sitting duck to Tiga's Ranbalt Light Bullet.
      • Near the end of the show there's a type of winged monster called Zoiger that attack in swarms, but they're among the weakest enemies in the show, a few of them being destroyed by GUTS without Tiga's help.
    • Ultraman Max: A two-parter brings back Red King alongside two other monsters, the dinosaur-like Salamandon and winged Paragler, the latter being lowest in strength, lacking ranged attacks, and its only advantage being its flight. While both monsters are killed by Red King, Salamandon at least manages to land a few hits in — Paragler on the other hand gets knocked out and eliminated without even scratching Red King.
    • Ultraman Mebius has an extraterrestrial flying monster called Arigera, one of the fastest monsters in the show and capable of flying at Mach 6, but also physically the weakest. It puts up enough of a fight via organic cannon blasts but gets killed in a single hit via Inertia Is a Cruel Mistress when it flies directly into Ultraman Mebius' Mebium Blade, halving it vertically.
    • Ultraman Orb: The Starter Villain is Maga-Basser, the first of five Maga-kaiju (Monster Lords) appearing in the show and one that relies entirely on flight as its gimmick. It's expectedly the lightest of the Maga-kaiju and the fastest but goes down like a punk once Ultraman Orb slices up its wings.
    • Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga has insect-like monsters called Bezelbs, which appear in large numbers and are among the few flying enemies Ultraman Orb faces. They're also Glass Cannon-like enemies that Orb destroys in large numbers.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Fading Suns: Characters from the bird-like Etyri species have a penalty to the game's hit points equivalent. In fluff terms, this is explained by their hollow bones, like real birds.

    Video Games 
  • Chipmonk!: The flies that serve the grey squirrel king are weaker than other mooks, getting killed in one or two slashes.
  • Deep Rock Galactic: The flying Mactera clade of enemies, compered to the terrestrial Glyphids. Given their aerial nature, they can all move around quite quickly. While they technically have more health than the average Glyphid, they're also more vulnerable to damage in other regards — they take 3x weakpoint damage, while Fire, Corrosive, Explosive and Melee deal double damage, and electricity does one and a half times damage.
  • The Divide: Enemies Within has the Kimph enemies, flying insects who dies in just a single shot. Unfortunately they're difficult to hit with your default cannon because of their speed, and have a tendency to show up in areas full of platforming elements (which is, half the game) by getting in your way and causing you to fall and sustain damage.
  • Fire Emblem: Played with in terms of flying units:
    • All of them share a weakness to bows and, depending on the game, certain types of Wind magic. These deal effective damage that can reasonably One-Hit Kill flying units.
    • Pegasus Knights are Fragile Speedsters with high resistance stats, making them Mage Killers, but low defense, which causes them to keel over to bow attacks pretty easily.
    • Wyvern Riders, the other archetype of flying units, have good defense stats and are either Mighty Glaciers or Lightning Bruisers, but are also really Weak to Magic.
  • Genshin Impact: The Hydro Mimic Raptors are Airborne Mooks made of Hydro that take the form of falcons and are one of the enemies that the Oceanid can spawn. They're Glass Cannons capable of swooping down fast to deal large Hydro damage on your characters and the fact that they remain airborne means that ground-focused characters with no aerial attack options are at a disadvantage. However, the Raptors have very low HP pools on top of having a weakness to Electro, so a few timed charged arrow shots or Catalyst attacks that can reach them (especially ones with Electro properties) will put them down easily.
  • Gihren's Greed:
    • As in the source material, Gouf Flight Types are quite fragile in the air. In fact, in a clash between Gouf Flight Types and dedicated air-to-air combat aircraft like Core Booster IIs, there's a reasonably good chance it will end in a Mutual Kill.
    • Many land-based Mobile Suits (especially in the Gryps War era onwards) can be equipped with flying sleds to grant them flight capabilities on Earth. This is vital, as otherwise they have no other way to cross bodies of water like lakes or oceans (besides boarding a mothership). However, they are noticeably more fragile than when they're on the ground, with the implication that the enemy is simply shooting down the sled and letting gravity do the rest. This is true even of Ace Custom Mobile Suits.
    • During the One Year War era, when the majority of the fighting is concentrated on Earth, both sides have to choose whether to move their forces using transport aircraft (the Medea and its upgrade the Medea Kai for the Earth Federation, the Fat Uncle and Gaw Attack Carrier for the Principality of Zeon) or land battleships (the Big Tray for the Federals or the Dobaday for Zeon). The transport aircraft naturally have far more range but are also much more vulnerable to concentrated enemy fire. The Federals have an advantage in this area since they have a variety of aircraft including dedicated air-to-air combat aircraft that can swarm and bring down even a Gaw Attack Carrier by sheer weight of numbers.
    • The Garuda-class aircraft are the best airborne transport aircraft in the game, developed during the Gryps War era. They have incredible range, can carry a small army, and are reasonably well-armed with mega particle cannons (meaning that they can put up a fight against even Mobile Suits on flying sleds). However, despite having a huge HP pool (1000 HP compared to the 180 of the Medea), they can and will go down under concentrated enemy fire thanks to their armor rating being far less than dedicated warships like the Neue Argama. They have no land-based counterpart, but the Big Tray and Dobaday of the One Year War era are still viable in that role despite being obsolete.
  • The Gladiator has you beating up a colorful variety of enemies in a Wuxia-inspired setting. The weakest of these are the Kite Riding enemy archers, who can only be reached by jumping but otherwise go down between one to two hits even with your weakest weapons.
  • Godzilla: Monster of Monsters!: Mothra can fly above obstacles and transverse the map more quickly, as she can move twice as many spaces as Godzilla can. Balancing this, it doesn't take much more than a gust of wind to kill her, contrasting Godzilla who tanks damage and has powerful atomic breath.
  • League of Legends: While all units fight from the same perspective and are vulnerable to the same abilities, flying characters in particular seem to crumple faster under fire. Standout mentions are Anivia, Aurelion Sol, and Bel'veth who, despite being canonically god-tier in terms of power, are all incredibly squishy defense-wise and need to position carefully in battle.
  • Legend (1994): Giant ravens and bats are the fastest, but also weakest, enemy varieties. They swoop all over the place during battle but die in just one hit.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games: Vire, a recurring batlike enemy, can fly through the air and can quickly dash out of Link's sword swings, but has minimal defenses.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild:
      • Keese and Cursed enemies are some of the very few flying monsters in the game. Both also have a single point of health apiece, and will die from any attack. The Cursed foes' primary advantage is that, during Divine Beast segments, they simply ignore the pit-and-platform navigation puzzles that limit Link's mobility.
      • Courser bee swarms are the only flying animals that will attack Link. They will also be defeated by two strikes from even a weak weapon or bow, and will rarely even close in with Link unless they catch him unawares.
  • Marvel's Avengers: The flying robot sentries are the weakest of the robotic enemies and typically die quickly from only a few attacks, and rely on their ranged attacks to avoid damage.
  • Minecraft:
    • Bats are one of the most fragile passive mobs in the game, having less health than cows, pigs, sheep, and villagers.
    • The flight-capable Ghasts are surprisingly fragile despite their huge size, having only 10 HP as compared to most other hostile mobs which have at least 20. Even an arrow from a Power I bow will One-Hit Kill them. However, Ghasts are still a threat thanks to their highly-damaging exploding fireballs.
    • Players wearing elytra can glide and, by using certain items to boost height, outright fly. However, elytra are worn in place of chest armor, so this means having less protection compared to staying ground-bound and with a full set of armor.
  • Ninja: Shadow of Darkness: Airborne enemies throughout the game (eagles, bats, gargoyles) are, in general, a lot weaker than land-based enemies, all of them lacking the ability to block your punches or flung knives and dying in just a scant handful of hits. There's also a winged T. rex boss — the only boss which remains airborne for the entirety of its fight — and that one has the weakest health, although it's hard to damage since it spends the whole battle swooping everywhere.
  • The Ninja Warriors Again: The flying Attack Drones in the remake stay high and lower themselves a bit to fire a salvo of rockets before rising back up. They are also extremely fragile, and only take one hit to destroy.
  • Oriental Legend has a Boss Bonanza trio consisting of three animal demons, the Lion, Elephant, and Garuda, the third being an eagle-based humanoid and a Fragile Speedster with highest speed but lowest amount of health.
  • Persona 5: Winged Shadows such as Pixie are frequently weak to Gun attacks, making them weak to every party member so long as they happen to have ammo. In addition, Cognitive Wakaba has a silent five times weakness to physical attacks. However, she's flying out of range and has to be shot down with a ballista, immobilizing her for several turns, for physical attacks to connect.
  • Pikmin 3: As their name suggests, Winged Pikmin can fly, which allows them to bypass most obstacles and bring items back to your ship quicker. In order to prevent them from being overpowered, they also deal the least amount of damage to enemies.
  • Pokémon: As a rule, Flying-type Pokémon are strongest in their Speed, Attack, and Special Attack stats, but lag in defense and health.
  • Resident Evil 4: Flying Novistadores are more mobile than their land variant, but also much more fragile, as a single shot from any weapon will kill them instantly.

    Real Life 
  • Most birds and flying mammals like bats have light, hollow bones that allow them to fly efficiently without weight being an issue; in their time, pterosaurs were built the same. However, it should be noted that the stereotype of avian creatures being fragile is exaggerated, since there are cases of them falling from heights greater than a skyscraper and still surviving because of the Square-Cube Law being on their side. Notably, mainly or primarily terrestrial relatives of these animals, such as ratite birds like the ostrich and emu or the giant azhdarchid pterosaurs like Quetzacoatlus and Hatzegopterus, tend to often be much larger and sturdier than their flying kin.

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