What types of dinosaurs fly

Pterosaurs in the wind tunnel

Paleontologists are trying to decipher the secrets of the pterosaurs in order to improve the flight characteristics of modern aircraft in the future.

One of the best fliers: Rhamphorhynchus

One of the best fliers among the pterosaurs was "Rhamphorhynchus", a pterosaur that lived 120 million years ago. Its wings, like those of other pterosaurs, consisted of special flight skins.

Presumably this enabled Rhamphorhynchus to fly just above the surface of the water and catch small fish. The prerequisite for this: outstanding flight skills - but what did that mean?

The exact shape and suspension of the flight membrane was only partially known for a long time. This changed with a very well-preserved find of a Rhamphorhynchus. Not only did it have a completely preserved skeleton, the completely preserved wing membranes were also on display for the first time.

A sensation that provided important information about how and where the membranes were tensioned and suspended.

Pterosaurs in the wind tunnel

To find out what the new findings meant for the flight characteristics, Professor Eberhard Frey from the Natural History Museum in Karlsruhe examined a model of the pterosaur in the wind tunnel.

The focus of the experiments: the air currents and turbulences that form on the wing edges, as well as the force that acts on the animal (or the model) depending on the angle of attack of the wings. In this way, conclusions can be drawn about the aerodynamics of the pterosaur.

The previous picture of the pterosaur had to be reassessed after the discovery. The length of the flight fingers and the trailing edge of the wing as well as the leg position turned out differently than originally thought.

The membrane suspension ran between the front and rear legs. And between the rear legs there was a rear wing membrane that could be controlled like a kind of control flap by moving the legs.