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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Pterosaur-inspired aircraft makes sharper turns
June 14, 2011

By morphing and repositioning a small aircraft's vertical tail to resemble the cranial crest of a pterosaur, researchers have shown that the aircraft's turn radius can be reduced by 14%. The ability to make sharper turns is especially important for small aircraft that operate in urban environments and in the presence of obstacles.

The team of researchers, Brian Roberts and Rick Lind from the University of Florida, along with Sankar Chatterjee from Texas Tech University, has published the study on the pterosaur-inspired aircraft in a recent issue of Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

Although birds and bats are the only tetrapods that are currently capable of powered flight, the first vertebrates to achieve flight were pterosaurs. These flying reptiles (not technically dinosaurs) appeared about 225 million years ago and became extinct along with the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago. For those 160 million years, pterosaurs ranging in size from 12 grams to 70 kilograms roamed the skies. One thing they all likely had in common was a large, plate-like cranial crest on the tops of their heads.

While some researchers have suggested that the cranial crest could have had advantages for mating or diffusing excess body heat, the researchers here think that the large, vertical surface must have had an aerodynamic impact. In their study, the researchers developed a model of a small aircraft design that incorporates a vertical tail that is similar to the cranial crest of the pterosaur. Instead of placing the vertical tail at the back of the aircraft, the researchers allowed the tail to move forward all the way to the front of the aircraft.


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