Photo in the News: Dino Species Flew Like a Biplane

Photo: Image and fossil of a feathered dinosaur
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October 18, 2005—The Wright Brothers looked to nature for inspiration when designing their famous 1903 Flyer. But could they have known they needed to look as far back as 125 million years ago?

According to a pair of scientists, a two-pound (one-kilogram) dinosaur known as Microraptor gui used the same biplane design to get aloft during the early Cretaceous period. Fossils of the four-winged dino were first found in China in January 2003. (See "Four-Winged Dinosaurs Found in China, Experts Announce.")

U.S. researchers combined data from new analysis of the Chinese fossils with a computer simulation that models the ancient animal's aeronautical abilities. The fossils show evidence of flight feathers on the raptor's feet. They also indicate that the dino could not have splayed its legs far enough to use its four wings in tandem, like a dragonfly.

Instead the researchers successfully modeled Microraptor gui gliding between treetops with its wings in a staggered biplane layout.

"It is intriguing to contemplate that perhaps avian flight, like aircraft evolution, went through a biplane stage before the monoplane was introduced," said study co-author Sankar Chatterjee of Texas Tech University in a press release.

—Victoria Gilman

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