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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Jan 7;273(1582):119-26.

High lift function of the pteroid bone and forewing of pterosaurs.

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Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.


The pteroid bone is a rod-like element found only in pterosaurs, the flying reptiles of the Mesozoic. It articulated at the wrist, and supported a membranous forewing in front of the inner part of the wing spar. The function of this bone, particularly its orientation, has been much debated. It is widely believed that it pointed towards the body, and that the forewing was relatively narrow. An alternative hypothesis states that it was directed forwards during flight, resulting in a much broader forewing that acted as a leading edge flap. We tested scale models in a wind tunnel to determine the aerodynamic consequences of these conflicting hypotheses, and found that performance is greatly improved if the pteroid is directed forwards: the lift: drag ratios are superior and the maximum lift is exceptionally high in comparison with conventional aerofoils. This high lift capability may have enabled even the largest pterosaurs to take off and land without difficulty.

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