Wind Tunnel Reveals Dinosaur's Flight Secrets

Researchers at the University of Southampton have tested a model of a Microraptor (a feathered, four-winged dinosaur) in a wind tunnel and found that it was optimized for slow gliding. Its multiple wings performed the same function as a modern-day, high-lift configuration used on airliners for takeoff and landing.

Caedium CFD Simulation Around The Great SphinxMicroraptorSketchUp Model

Though not efficient in terms of drag, high-lift systems are designed to produce lift at slow speeds, which would match the need for gliding by this proto-bird dinosaur.

Surprisingly, the researchers also found that the leg position and wing shape made little difference to the flight characteristics of the Microraptor. This implies that the configuration was not highly optimized, which supports the theory that feathers initially evolved independently of aerodynamic requirements.

To compliment these wind tunnel tests it would be interesting to see a Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) study to investigate further the complex velocity flow field around the dinosaur in flight.