Scientists Use Wind Tunnel to Test Flight of Microraptor

Posted on September 29, 2013

Dr Roeland de Kat and Dr Gareth Dyke study microraptor flight in wind tunnel at University of Southampton

Scientists from the University of Southampton used a wind tunnel to test the flight of the microraptor. The microraptor was a pigeon-sized, four-winged dinosaur that lived about 120 million years ago.

Results of the wind tunnel tests show that Microraptor would have been most stable gliding when generating large amounts of lift with its wings. Flight simulations demonstrate this behavior had advantages since this high lift coefficient allows for slow glides, which can be achieved with less height loss. The scientists say that for gliding down from low elevations, such as trees, this slow, and aerodynamically less efficient flight was the gliding strategy that results in minimal height loss and longest glide distance.

Dr Gareth Dyke, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study, says in a release, "Significant to the evolution of flight, we show that Microraptor did not require a sophisticated, 'modern' wing morphology to undertake effective glides, as the high-lift coefficient regime is less dependent upon detail of wing morphology. This is consistent with the fossil record, and also with the hypothesis that symmetric 'flight' feathers first evolved in dinosaurs for non-aerodynamic functions, later being adapted to form aerodynamically capable surfaces."

Dr Roeland de Kat, Research Fellow in the Aerodynamics and Flight Mechanics Research Group at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study, says, "What interests me is that aerodynamic efficiency is not the dominant factor in determining Microraptor' glide efficiency. However, it needs a combination of a high lift coefficient and aerodynamic efficiency to perform at its best."

Take a look:

A research paper, "Aerodynamic performance of the feathered dinosaur Microraptor and the evolution of feathered flight," was published here in the journal, Nature Communications.

Photo: University of Southampton

More from Science Space & Robots