Washington, September 30 : A scientist of Indian origin, along with his team, is designing a robotic aircraft inspired by a 225-million-year old crested pterodactyl.
According to a report in Discovery News, the scientist in question is Sankar Chatterjee of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, US.
The dinosaur that has inspired Chatterjee is the Tapejara wellnhoferi, whose body looked like the typical flying lizard frame - light, airy wings stretched taut with skin, and a slender avian neck, with an 8-inch-high fleshy crest on its head.
Chatterjee said that recently discovered fossils of the dinosaur found in Brazil showed the crest intact, and that it probably functioned as a form of rudder.
He is now teaming up with aerospace engineer Richard Lind at the University of Florida to turn the ancient aviator into a cutting-edge robotic aircraft.
On most aircraft, the vertical tail fin is at the back, where it functions as a stabilizer. Slight shifts in its position act like a rudder to push a plane into smooth, banking turns.
The pterosaur's head crest is like having the tail at the front of the plane, according to Lind. As the animal turned its head, it could execute drastic, sharp turns, making it incredibly agile.
"It's really good for turn radius and tracking prey while it flies," he said. "But, it's inherently unstable. The tradeoff is it probably had to move its wings a lot more to fly," he added.
Later this year, Lind plans to affix a metal fin to the head of a conventional remote-controlled flying vehicle to test how well the design works. If it's airworthy, he plans to move on to a model that steers using its head.
"This design will generate a lot of force that's going to turn you around fast when the rudder turns," said Sean Humbert of the University of Maryland.
"The dynamics of the plane might be too fast for humans to control. You might need an active control system, a sort of fly-by-wire setup," he added.
Though such airplanes have been built before, no one has built an aircraft with a head crest before.
"It's nice to have something stable, but the military is interested in having aircraft that can fly down into cities between buildings, avoiding wires and stuff like that," Humbert said. "This is a good design if you want to do crazy acrobatic maneuvers," he added.