Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Remember the Smithsonian's flying Pterodactyl model?

In 1984, the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum commissioned the construction of a flying mechanical model of a Quetzalcoatlus northropi a.k.a. a pterodactyl.  The project was led by aeronautical engineer Paul MacCready of AeroVironment, Inc and was funded by Johnson Wax. It flew on the National Mall in 1986 (?) in conjunction with the opening of the IMAX film On the Wing.

The model, known as the QNTM, was as a half-scale, 5.5m replica of a pterodactyl.  It was as bio-mechanically accurate as possible given all they had to base it on was the fossil record. It had to be stable and had to propel itself with its flapping wings.  Pretty amazing stuff, especially for the mid 1980's!

The QM was on display at the Joint Services Open House at Andrews AFB.  I snapped the attached shot and one of a headless version.  I think the one shown was a static model and the headless one was the actual QM that was damaged on landing.  The photos of the latter were not that clear so I just scanned this one.


I had no luck finding a reference in the Air and Space Magazine but I did find these:
  1. The Great Pterodactyl Project (1985), Paul MacCready, [Caltech] Engineering and Science, pp 18-24.
  2. Flying Pterodactyl for IMAX Movie “On The Wing” - includes some in-flight photos.
  3. New York Times article (Jan 28, 1986)
  4. AeroVironment's QN page