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A funny thing happened when I got a hold of some balsa wood....

As the subject suggests I got a hold of some balsa wood tonight and decided 
to make some "fairly" accurate models of pterosaurs composed of a vertical 
"body" section and a horizontal "wing" section.  I made six 
models: Sordes, Dimorphodon, Rhamphorhynchus, Pterodactylus, Pterodaustro, 
and Pteranodon.  I made them approximately equal in size so that I could use 
the size same peice of wood for the wings in each of them.  Being the 
inquizative one that I am, I also decided to test how well they would fly 
with narrow wings and how well they would fly with wider wings.  With either 
wing shape, they will eventually stall and nose-dive; but with the wider 
wings they tend to stall MUCH faster than with the narrow wings.  With 
Pterodactylus and Sordes it was an almost immediate plumet with the wide 
wings, but a gentle glide with the narrower wings.  I found the Pterodactylus 
model to not be a very good glider with either wings actually, but 
nevertheless, better with the thin wings.  Sordes glides fairly well with the 
narrow wings, but badly (as said before) with the wide wings.  Dimorphodon 
glides pretty well with the narrow wings, but again stalls much sooner with 
the wide wings.  As an aside, I was surprised I had to add duct-tape to the 
already enormous head to get the balance right.  Rhamphorhynchus glided very 
well with both wing shapes actually, but again stalled about 1/3 earlier with 
the wide wings.  Pterodaustro glided supperbly with the narrow wings, and not 
so well with the wide wings.  I was actually surprised that Pterodaustro 
glided so well considering the body was so oddly shaped.  Pteranodon glided 
very well with the narrow wings and not as well (but still pretty well) with 
the wider wings.  As might be expected, I had to add weight to the rear of 
Pteranodon, but I was kind of surprised how well it glided at all; the big head 
tends to make one imagine a bad glider, but really, just the opposite is 
true.  I'm not sure what this means for a flapping animal, but it seems like 
the wide-winged pterosaur idea is inherently unstable aerodynamically.  Just 
my thoughts.  I'm going to make some more models tomorrow, I'd like to see 
how Anhinguara favors, or something weird like Tupaxura....  Also, if anyone 
is interested, I'm getting the relative proportions from Wellnhoffer's 
"Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs".

Peter Buchholz

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