Scientists run dinosaur wind-tunnel tests

An artist's view of a Microraptor in flight.

(Credit: Emily Willoughby)

Dinosaurs are cool. Wind tunnels are cool. Put the two together, and you get an experiment that is immensely cool. Researchers at the University of Southampton in the UK placed a full-scale, anatomically accurate model of a Microraptor into a wind tunnel to learn more about how bird flight evolved.

The Microraptor was a five-winged beastie from the early Cretaceous 120 to 125 million years ago. That’s three more wings than we’re used to seeing in birds today. It hit that total by having feathers on its arms, legs, and tail. This anatomy has led to debate among scientists about how flight worked for these dinosaurs.

The Microraptor was discovered in China 15 years ago, and researchers believe it to be one of the earliest flying dinosaurs. By running wind-tunnel tests on the model (which is almost 3 feet long, complete with real feathers), scientists were able to determine that it was particularly adept at gliding.

Related stories