PTEROSAURS AS FLYING MODELS
The flying vertebrates which dominated the airspace of the Earth
during the era of the dinosaurs have always been a source of fascination since
the early times of paleontology. Even the classic authors like Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle got their inspirations partly from the painstaking reconstructed art
impressions of the paleontologists. Similarly, numerous artists created
illustrations and sculptures reflecting the world of dinosaurs. The best
examples of this work today are surely the paintings of John Sibbick and the
famous sculptures of Stephen A. Czarkas.
The idea to build up a flyable model of a pterosaur was first realized by the
zoologist and behavioral scientist Erich Hoist, This construction was a wing
beat model based upon the known "artificial bird" mechanism and
resembled the Rhamphorhynchus from Sollnhofen with a wingspan of 1.2m. It was
made out of balsa, Japanese paper and incorporated a complicated rubber band
On the occasion of the anniversary of the society of paleontology in
Wilhelmshaven, this model fulfilled successful demonstration flights but only
with a horizontal tailplane added. The false conclusion drawn, that the tail of
Rhamphorhynchus had a horizontal elevator function, was disproved later when
clearer fossilized remains were found.
Also well known to the modeler is the model Pterodactyl from the BBC
television documentary "Pteranodon", from Steven Winkworth (FMT
article - 1985). In this case, the pterosaur modeled was realized as a
fixed-wing soarer with a tail-less airfoil, oversized vertical feet and added
stabilizers under the femurs. This model flew very well over the slopes of
Dorset. A smaller version of this soarer is available from the FMT plans service
and is highly recommended. It looks a bit like a young pteranodon and flies very
well in light lift. We've proved it!
The most ambitious project was the famous McCready experiment to construct a
model of the largest known pterosaur "Quetzalcoatlus" as an RC flying
model with half of the natural wingspan of 12m. The model ended up with a
wingspan of 5.5m and was additionally controlled on all axes by gyros systems.
Even more amazing was the wing beat powered flight which provided a spectacular
introduction for several documentaries and even an IMAX film. Most of the flight
experiments were performed in the desert landscapes of Death Valley. An
unfortunate crash after a winched start ended this successful project of the 80's.
Another original idea is the Rhamphorhynchus model powered by two electric
motors mounted in the claw section of the wing. The constructor, Fred Ludwig,
introduced his model in FMT magazine (12/83). The layout seems to be a
successful was to get a pterosaur in the air by electric power. We are sure that
other interesting creations will be displayed in the future that will provide us
with an opportunity to see RC flying creatures, extinct or alive.