Scientists Test Aerodynamic Abilities in Wind Tunnel For Microraptor Dinosaur Where "Symmetric 'Flight' Feathers First Evolved in Dinosaurs"
A recent dinosaur fossil discovery has raised questions about the evolution of flight as dinosaurs. According to a report in the International Business Times, in an effort to learn about the transition from dinosaurs to birds, researchers have used a series of experiments with a wind tunnel to closely look at flight capabilities.
The microraptor is an early Cretaceous 5-2inged paravian, more similar to birds than theropods like the velociraptor. It's a dinosaur that seemed to have feathers on its arms, tail and legs prompted this study, where wind tunnel tests have revealed that the feathers let them glide over long distances.
The University of Southampton researchers conducted the study, where they wanted to know more about the flight performance of the microraptor to possibly reveal the evolution of flight from gliding to the wing-flapping we see in birds today.
Popular Science reports that the researchers formed an anatomically accurate model of the 3 foot-long microraptor and tested its abilities for stability in the wind tunnel. The findings show that the dinosaur would have most likely flown down from trees and glided for short to medium distances, where lift generated by its wings would ensure stability. Exact positioning, however, hasn't been determined, but it didn't make a huge difference since small changes in the shape and orientation of the dinosaur's wings and legs didn't affect how the model performed.
Researchers stated that the early fliers like the microraptor "did not require a sophisticated, 'modern' wing morphology to undertake effective glides."
The research results were published in Nature Communications, where the abstract states that "This is congruent 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 lifting surfaces."
A video of the experiment may be viewed here: