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Flying Reptile The Size of A Small Airplane 264

Posted by Zonk
from the mind-the-droppings dept.
An anonymous reader wrote to mention a New Zealand Herald article about a pterosaur that has been discovered to have an almost 18 meter wingspan. From the article: "A Spitfire has a wingspan of 11m and has to be powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Pterosaurs did it on a diet of fish and a superb ability to utilise air currents, thermals and ground effects. There is nothing close to pterosaurs alive today. Pterosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, they left no descendants and we don't know quite what their closest relative was."
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Flying Reptile The Size of A Small Airplane

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  • by DoktorTomoe (643004) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:35AM (#13530514)
    people think they have never been, but once, the skies were full of them...

    Right, Petrosaurs had a better fuel efficiency. They also didn't carry bombs over large distances and were likely not attacked by fighter planes.
      • by mangu (126918) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @06:31AM (#13530636)
        ...scientists are confused because animals are more efficient than machines...


        It depends on how you define "efficient". TFA doesn't clarify exactly with which version of "Spitfire" they were comparing the Pterosaur, but a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XIX has a top speed of 740 km/h, maximum weight of 4082 kg on take-off, flying range of 2495 km, reaches up to 13100 meters altitude. All this with a wingspan of just 9.95 meters. I would like to see any living being top those specs.

    • by ultranova (717540) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @06:09AM (#13530588)

      Right, Petrosaurs had a better fuel efficiency. They also didn't carry bombs over large distances and were likely not attacked by fighter planes.

      I seem to recall Spitfires being fighter planes themselves, and therefore not carrying any bombs over any distances.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        EterealStrife's comments about bombs are both right and wrong.

        Certainly aircraft designed as fighters sometimes carried bombs. The designation fighter-bomber is often applied to such aircraft, which could carry a (usually) small bomb load and then defend themselves in dogfights. But designing aircraft for this purpose usually means that the 'pure' fighter performance will suffer. I do not think that the Spitfire, as a pure fighter, was ever equiped with operational bomb racks (though I would not be suprised
        • The first iteration of the Spitfire was a complete weakling due to the machine guns mounted in it's wings. This was likely a design compromise due to the unusual wing design. As a result a ton of British pilots got shot down on a regular basis by the almighty Messerschmitt BF 109 with their Rheinmetall MK 108 30MM cannons. This was an actual cannon and was devastating to any plane unlucky enough to get hit by one or two rounds. In addition the Messer had twin 13mm machine guns mounted in the wings. The Spit
    • by Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @08:11AM (#13530807) Homepage

      Oh for god's sake, one of the natural wonders of the world is discovered, and the best we can come up with is a pissing contest about how we can make better machines. Guess what, the pterosaurs couldn't land on the moon or spit nuclear explosions either, aren't we great.

      When you think about it, the likelihood of any fossils even existing, never mind surviving for us to find, is so low that its a miracle we have any record of what came before at all. I absoloutely guarantee that not one species in a million that existed in those days has left any sort of fossil record at all. Giant pterosaurs are most likely just the tip of the iceberg.

      Besides, most of you are missing the the point, which is of course...

      Here be dragons...

    • Perhaps they did carry bombs of a sort over long distances, after all. In which case, scaling up by volume, each would probably dose you with something like 15 litres of very used fish. And things.

      Also, they're being compared to a Spitfire in the article, not a Lancaster.
    • Right, Petrosaurs had a better fuel efficiency. They also didn't carry bombs over large distances and were likely not attacked by fighter planes.

      Carrying bombs and getting attacked by fighter planes are good things now? Someone tell me we're in Soviet Russia, please.

    • (meaning the one in the original article, not the comment.)

      It seems the "pterosaur vs. Spitfire" comparison is in many of the articles discussing this, so I suppose it might come from the initial press release, but it's still pointless. It's even more idiotic in the way it's phrased: A Spitfire has a wingspan of 11m and has to be powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Well, yes, and if it had a smaller wingspan it would need an even more powerful engine. All other things being equal, you need less pow

  • by cperciva (102828) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:35AM (#13530517) Homepage
    Pterosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, they left no descendants and we don't know quite what their closest relative was

    I'm going to go out on a limb, and guess that the closest relative to a Pterosaur would be another Pterosaur.

    Either that, or a Spitfire.
  • Well duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:41AM (#13530525)
    A Spitfire has a wingspan of 11m and has to be powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine," Martill said. "Pterosaurs did it on a diet of fish and a superb ability to utilise air currents, thermals and ground effects.

    Muscles are the most efficient actuation devices for small sizes. Mechanical equivalents are either power-hungry, awkward (too large, too small, too limited in the ways they output their power...) or not flexible enough.

    Muscles produce powerful, fine-grained motion, with only ridiculous amounts of sugar and oxygen. I'm not sure comparing a big dinosaur with a big airplane means anything, as one is the result of millions of years of evolution, and the other only 50 years.
  • by c0l0 (826165) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:42AM (#13530529) Homepage
    If I recall correctly, there was a spwan of the pterosauri constantly appearing in the books I read all the time in my early childhood with an estimated wingspan of about 15 to 18 meters, as well.

    I am NOT going to watch quietly Quetzlcoatlus getting buried in oblivion!!1 :-(
  • Stupid comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:43AM (#13530533)
    Well yes, they might have had a greater wingspan, but they certainly didn't fly mach 1, neither did they weight thousands of kilograms. So the statement that they were able to outperform Rolls Royce engines by fish digestion is plain stupid.
  • by iluvcapra (782887) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:49AM (#13530547)
    Dinosaurs were big.
    • by adtifyj (868717) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:59AM (#13530567)
      ... and we don't know very much about them. But look at this pretty picture I drew!!!
    • by FidelCatsro (861135) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .orstacledif.> on Sunday September 11, 2005 @06:09AM (#13530589) Journal
      I read an interesting article a number of years ago , the basic premise was a theory that all dinosaurs were roughly the size of chickens . The only reason the bones we discover now are so large is due to absorption .
      Perhaps it was total bunkum , but an interesting theory non the less
      • by ultranova (717540) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @06:14AM (#13530600)

        I read an interesting article a number of years ago , the basic premise was a theory that all dinosaurs were roughly the size of chickens . The only reason the bones we discover now are so large is due to absorption .

        No no no, that's not it ! The reason the bones we discover now are so large is that those chicken-sized dinosaurs really liked horror films with giant monster on them. All those fossil findings are just really old film shooting sites, where the cheapskate directors saved a penny by burying the garbage of the set onto the ground instead of properly disposing of it.

        • Well if dinosaurs were really the size of chickens , a Jurassic park remake would be in order.
          I can see it now "OH MY GOD , T-rex is nibbling on my shoelaces ".

          Palaeontology is constantly in flux, with theories being thrown in left right and centre year on year.
          New discoveries and new analysis are constantly showing inconsistencies with previous research.
          If we look at the current views of dinosaurs even compared to 15 years ago, there is a near world of difference .
      • While rated funny -- were you serious? If so, that article was plain stupid. There would be no small dinosaur fossils.
        • Re:BREAKING NEWS!!! (Score:3, Informative)

          by FidelCatsro (861135)
          Unless the Compsognathus dinosaurs were a couple of cm's tall.
          Well i was joking in fact .. though the article did exist and was thoroughly debunked in short measure.
          If you want a real laugh about idiotically stupid dinosaur theories http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/2.asp [answersingenesis.org]

          a few choice quotes

          "creation of the Earth and animals (including the dinosaurs) occurred only thousands of years ago (perhaps only 6000!), not millions of years. Thus, if the Bible is right (and it is!), dinosaurs must have live
  • by 9Nails (634052) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:50AM (#13530548)
    ...without photographs!

    How can you say, hey I found something really cool! And then don't show any one. I mean, really?! Come on!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:57AM (#13530559)
    Todays gliders made of composites have a wingspan of 18 meters. Actually they vary from 15 to 24 meters, but 18 meter is a standard class. Optimal speed is usually around 90 km/h and minimum speed is around 70 km/h. Of course a glider is built to carry a payload of about 100 kg.
    • by jurt1235 (834677) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @06:36AM (#13530645) Homepage
      That would be a person hanging from a 18m span glider on a fish eating diet?
    • I was actually going to compare it to a sailplane. The comparison (as others have pointed out) is a stupid one. Larger wingspans do not mean an increase in power required to fly. In fact, larger wingspans mean an increase in lift and in fact, less energy required to fly. Airlines have even proposed folding wing designs on passenger jets, to fit larger wingspans into the same space at the terminal.

      And moreover, the spitfire had its wingspan reduced in later revisions in order to go faster, as shorter wingspa
  • I know one (Score:5, Funny)

    by rasty (212471) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:57AM (#13530560) Homepage
    Pterosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, they left no descendants and we don't know quite what their closest relative was

    My mother in law.
  • Messy (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mostly a lurker (634878) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @06:04AM (#13530578)
    Being under modern birds at the wrong moment can be bad enough. Can you imagine what being shat upon by one of these would be like?
    • From the article:
      Although it was originally thought pterosaurs merely glided, it is now believed they flapped their wings for powered flight. "If they were able to use a frog-like jump, that would have given them an extra bit of lift,"

      Now, from where do they make these "frog-like" jumps? Some cliffs here and there, I suppose. But I'm picturing these monster sized birds climbing in the trees.

      Or another comparison to modern birds: Where do they build their nests? Couldn't use simple staw, they'd need som

    • Re:Messy (Score:4, Funny)

      by Andy_R (114137) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @08:23AM (#13530835) Homepage Journal
      A Spitfire can drop a 500lb bomb. I think I just worked out why the article picked such a strange comparison...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    this clearly contradicts the bible and can't possibly be true
  • by janneand (608740)
    here [wikipedia.org]
  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @07:11AM (#13530710)
    Its well known that press releases like this get sent out during the times at which a movie, tv show, or book are to be released.

    In previous famouns anounced dinosaur discoveries, the dino's had already been well known among the reasearch community however the public hasnt heard of them so for films like Jurrasic Park 3, they anounced the dinosaur that is bigger than a Trex. Also back a year ago, they also anounced another dinosaur that just so happened to be during the release of a dinosaur mass marketed product (cant remember which though unforuntately)

    There was a guy on NPR that explained this marketing strategy, as the expert dinosaur consultant on Jurrasic Park, he said Universal asked him to old back on announcing discoveries publically to coincide with all 3 of the Jurrasic Park films.
  • they left no descendants and we don't know quite what their closest relative was.

    That's never stopped the "Bank of Nigeria" from sending me email about lost fortunes from unknown relatives before. Either that or the wife or daughter of the late President Pterosaur will be contacting me shortly.

  • ... or so they would have you [answersingenesis.org] believe [answersingenesis.org].

  • when I saw it on the Flintstones...
  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @10:28AM (#13531331) Homepage
    We know they had wings...but how do we know they flew? They could have lost flight when they evolved to be so big.
    • Hmm, with a wingspan that big they would have had a problem walking... Do you reckon they *rolled* to food sources??
    • by tmortn (630092) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:29AM (#13531677) Homepage
      Old debate regarding petrosaurs. The evidence is far more in favor of a capable flyer than of an awkward at best glider or land bound creature. If you look at flightless birds you find they did not maintain large wings but quickly became almost vestigil. Think Ostritch or Emu... and in their cases the legs grew to compensate for the awkwardness of having largely useless wing limbs.

      In the case of petrosaurs, and this one in particular, it was absolutely domninated by its wings and obviously would have had problems dealing with them on the ground. So they would have been extremely vulnerable on the ground if they lived there... and that dosn't argue well for survival.

      Another issue is the one of material strength. go look up the discussions of modern physiologists with regards to three very serious problems in their eyes with the physiology of Dinosaurs. Petrosaur Wings, T-Rex bipedal status as a Carnivore that had to be quick to catch prey, and the Sauropod Neck. To make a long story short modern, physiology says that current bone and muscle structures could not support these structures. Their knwoledge of what current tissue and bone structures can do and how they work is pretty good. And yet they are not so silly as to simply ignore the record of fossils. But there is a serious problem here in if there was some stronger biological capacity for the dinosaurs that would mean a more fit evolutionary deveolpment lost out to a less fit one. So that gets the evolution camp up in arms. To say the evidence of what these animals were capable of gets the palientologists up in arms. Besides there is really not much arguing that sauropods had gigantic long necks, T-Rex walked on its hind legs and that Petrosaurs Flew. There also is little dispute that moder physiologists understand muscles and bones of current biology to a great degree.

      Yet in the end the knowledge does not add up to a satisfactory conclusion. There the debate sits. One of the funner explinations of how they could all be right has to do with gravity. Namely most of the structural problems acording to modern physiology begins and ends with what is needed to create and support these structures in Earth's gravity. If Earths gravity was not the same then as it is now then that opens the possibility that all camps are correct. But that argument opens up a serious can of worms, to say the least.

      Anyway this find is going to stir up alot of those debates again. Cause the earlier debate about petrosaurs was never really closed. It sort of died down into an armed truce where physiologists simply say that they were primarily gliders... but something this big will have problems according to them even if all id did was try to support its weight... much less attempt to gain the air by flapping its wings. They can't both be right.... or can they? It is a very intresting discussion.
      • Having muscle tissue that supports less isn't necessarily less "fit" as it may be more energy-efficient or fault-tolerant, etc.

        If we don't need to support the extra weight, there's probably good reason not to, as to gain other conflicting features.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @10:42AM (#13531399) Homepage Journal
    "There is nothing close to pterosaurs alive today."

    Best news I've heard all day.
  • The Bumble Bee II [aerospaceweb.org] (scroll down to the bottom.)

    Wing span of only 1.7 meters. (Of course, I'll assume that we're looking only at planes that carry people. Not that R/C or free-flight planes aren't `real planes' ...)

    There's birds alive now with wing spans larger than 1.7 meters :)


  • It's been known for decades what the most likely closest relative [etsu.edu] of pterosaurs are.
  • Homeland Insecurity put them on the federal No Fly list.
  • From TFA:

    It is possible that the giant flying reptiles used a phenomenon called winging ground effect, when a flying object experiences extra lift when skimming the surface of the sea or flat piece of ground.

    I believe what they meant is the Wing-in-ground [tc.gc.ca] effect. Basically when aircrafts fly low, air is trapped between the wing and the surface, which produces a slightly higher pressure underneath the wings than if the aircraft is travelling at the same speed at high altitudes. Here's another page with in [se-technology.com]

  • a superb ability to utilise air currents, thermals and ground effects

    so THAT is what I have been seeing up in the sky with the lights and wierd shapes. Those neon lights on the underside of this creature have had everyone confused, everyone thinks it is a ufo. Can't wait to see one in the daytime, so I can see all the decals that make the bird go faster...after all, if the stickers work for rice-mobiles, shouldn't it work for dinosaurs?

    Somebody oughta alert Art Bell [coasttocoastam.com] to this!
  • Yes, but does it run Linu... err oh. A reptile.

    On a more serious note, does it seem to any other layman like we're on the verge of major dinosaur discoveries or rather, that we've been wrong about them. This story and the recent "dinosaurs more like birds that reptiles" news tidbit are interesting.

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