Dinosaur takes off - in the wind tunnel

Flight test with a model of the Microraptor proven: He was able to glide

The four-winged dinosaur Microraptor glided well © Emily Willoughby
Read out

The predator dinosaur Microraptor had not only feathers and four wings - he could take off and slide with it. This shows an unusual test British researchers: They built a lifelike model of the dinosaur and then tested his flying skills in the wind tunnel. The result: Despite its aerodynamically rather unfavorable form, the wings of the Dino generated so much buoyancy that it could easily slide longer distances, as the researchers report in the journal "Nature Communications".

Dinosaurs are the ancestors of today's birds, that much is clear. But how exactly the transition from bipedal running Dino to the flying bird took place is still controversial. Especially in recent years, paleontologists in China have discovered many amazing bird-like dinosaurs. One of them is the early Cretaceous Microraptor. This nimble predator bore long, dense feathers on all four legs and on the tail. Many researchers therefore suspect that Microraptor not only ran, but already flew as a kind of four-wing glider smaller distances. Whether Microraptor was really airworthy, it is argued violently.

Big buoyancy

Researchers at the University of Southampton have now put the test to the test: they built a life-size, anatomically correct model of the Microraptor, including all its feathers and wings, and put this spare dino into the wind tunnel without further ado. It showed that the four wings of the dinosaur, despite their aerodynamically rather unfavorable shape generate so much buoyancy that it can slide smoothly. Even from a low starting point, such as a bush or tree branch, he could have sailed longer distances without much flutter through the air.

The Model of the Microraptor in the Wind Tunnel Test © University of Southampton

"We show that the Microraptor did not need a complicated, 'modern' wing morphology to effectively glide, " says co-author Gareth Dyke of the University of Southampton. Its wings created enough lift to keep the dinosaur in the air regardless of its wing shape. If the researchers changed the shape of the wing or feathered legs on their model, this hardly changed the gliding ability of the dinosaur.

In their view, this fits the hypothesis that the dinosaurs initially did not develop their feathers and wings for aerodynamically optimized flight, but rather to be able to glide over shorter distances or perhaps to stabilize their run. Only later with the birds the design was optimized so that they could both glide and fly effectively. display

(University of Southampton, 18.09.2013 - NPO)