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Creation 28(3):53, June 2006

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Pterosaurs flew like modern aeroplanes


Scientists have long wondered how the extinct flying reptiles, the pterosaurs, could fly. They seemed too ungainly to lift into the air from the ground, or to land safely without breaking their delicate wings. Quite reasonably, some scientists proposed that there must have been greater air pressure in the past.

pterosaur and plane
However, we have reported on recent discoveries that pterosaurs had a complex wing anatomy, with muscles and nerves, and a large brain region to process the signals.1 This enabled them to fly more smoothly and efficiently than fixed-wing aircraft. And fossil trackways showed they could also land elegantly.2

This unique design speaks of a Master Flight Engineer.

But what about the initial take-off? Earlier calculations had overlooked a tiny bone called the pteroid. This is unique to pterosaurs, and was previously thought to bend inwards. But Matthew Wilkinson and his team in the animal flight group at Cambridge University, UK, studied pterosaur fossils and showed that the pteroid pointed forward.3 This evidently supported a front flap of skin that acted as a movable leading edge on the wing. Darren Naish, a paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth, UK, says that fossilized pterosaur soft tissue found in China is strong evidence for this.4

The pteroid and flap enabled the pterosaur to use ‘aerodynamic tricks like those found in modern aircraft’.5 Angling this flap would increase lift by a huge 30%, so even the largest pterosaurs could take off by simply spreading their wings into a moderate breeze. And this extra lift would mean their minimum flying speed (i.e. below which they would stall) was reduced by 15%, allowing a smooth landing. Also, by flexing the pteroid on one wing and extending it on the other, they would have different lifts on both wings, enabling them to bank during turns.

This unique design speaks of a Master Flight Engineer, who designed flying creatures that could work efficiently in ordinary air pressure (Genesis 1:20–23).

Posted on homepage: 26 March 2007

References and notes

  1. Terrific pterosaur flyers, Creation 28(2):9, 2004. Return to text.
  2. Pterrific pterosaurs, Creation 27(2):7, 2005. Return to text.
  3. Wilkinson, M.T., Unwin, D.M., Ellington, C.P., High lift function of the pteroid bone and forewing of pterosaurs, Proceedings of the Royal Society 273(1582):119–126, 7 January 2006 (DOI: 10.1098/rspb. 2005. 3278). Return to text.
  4. Marks, P., Where flying lizards got their lift, New Scientist 188(2521):12, 15 October 2005. Return to text.
  5. Lorenzi, R., Pterosaurs flew like jumbo jets, News in Science, <abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s1483770.htm>,
    17 October 2005. Return to text.