To be exact, it's a new species of dinosaur, recently discovered in China, called the microraptor gui. They're about as big as a turkey, they've covered in feathers, lived 125 million years ago, and they flew -- or at least glided gracefully -- from tree branch to tree branch. What's the big deal, you ask? After all, we know about other flying dinosaurs. But the micro, it turns out, had four wings, not two. It dropped its wing-like hind legs below its body and raised its powerful feathered arms to form an aerodynamic design not unlike that of a World War I-era bi-plane. According to a BBC article,
If one accepted the evolutionary importance of the bi-plane formation, there were striking parallels between bird flight and the development of aircraft, said Dr Chatterjee. Archaeopteryx, regarded as the earliest fossil bird, has what could be described as a monoplane design. The shift from a bi-plane to a monoplane design could have been facilitated by a much broader wingspan which would have provided increased lift. This mirrors historical developments in aviation.
"We see that the Wright brothers came up with a design for which there was no precedent in nature at the time," said Dr Chatterjee. "This shows us that if there is a problem in engineering, sometimes there are only one or two possible solutions."
All the best ideas, it seems, come from Mother Nature. Let's just hope our engineers and scientists don't mimic the evolution of dinosaurs too much, or we'll invent ourselves right into extinction!