The aerodynamics of Argentavis, the world's largest flying bird

The aerodynamics of Argentavis, the world's largest flying bird

 The aerodynamics of Argentavis, the world's largest flying bird

We calculate the flight performance of the large volant bird Argentavis magnificens from the upper Miocene (≈6 million years ago) of Argentina employing a simulation model. Argentavis was probably overlarge (mass ≈70 kg) to be capable of continuous flapping flight or standing takeoff under its own muscle power. Like extant condors and vultures, Argentavis would have extracted energy from the atmosphere for flight, counting on thermals present on the Argentinean pampas to supply power for soaring, and it probably used slope soaring over the windward slopes of the Andes. it had been a superb glider, with a gliding angle on the brink of 3° and a cruising speed of 67 kph. Argentavis could begin by running downhill, or by launching from a perch to select up flight speed. Other means of takeoff remain problematic.

argentavis magnificens
argentavis magnificens


Few prehistoric animals have captured the imaginations of paleontologists so profoundly as has Argentavis magnificens from the upper Miocene (≈6 million years ago) of Argentina with its enormous size and predatory lifestyle. With an estimated mass of 70–72 kg and a wingspan of ≈7 m, it had been the world's largest known carinate (1–10), about the dimensions of a Cessna 152 light aircraft. As a result, the aerodynamics of Argentavis has been fertile ground for speculation for the last 25 years by qualitative analogy with other large flying birds (4, 6–8). Argentavis fossils are known from four localities of upper Miocene continental deposits of central and northwestern of Argentina (Fig. 1 A and B), of which localities 1 and a couple of lie near the western side of the Andean foothills, whereas localities 3 and 4 are located within the pampas (7, 8). Argentavis may be a member of the extinct avian family Teratornithidae, a predatory group of birds known from Miocene to Pleistocene deposits that was associated with storks (Ciconiidae) and New World vultures (Vulturidae) within the Ciconiiformes (10). the foremost prolific fossil remains of teratorns include many specimens from >105 individuals of Teratornis merriami entrapped within the upper Pleistocene Rancho La Brea tar pits in l. a. , California (2). With an estimated wingspan of three .5 m and body mass of 13.7 kg, Teratornis merriami shows a body plan and skeletal proportion almost like those of Argentavis and provides important clues to scaling of the missing elements of Argentavis (Table 1). during this report, we present aerodynamic analyses to calculate the flight performance of Argentavis employing a flight simulation model originally developed by helicopter designers (11) that reveals details not only of its takeoff and landing strategies, but also its postulated skillful thermal soaring techniques and possible inability to sustain powered or flapping flight.


Six million years ago, the skies of Argentina were home to fearsome predator – Argentavis magnificens, the most important bird to ever fancy the air. It weighed in at 70kg and had a wingspan of 7m, about an equivalent size as a Cessna 152 light aircraft.


Argentavis was a member of an extinct group of predatory birds understandably called the teratorns – ‘monster birds’. they're associated with storks and New World vultures like turkey vultures and condors. But Argentavis completely dwarfed even the huge Andean condor , weighing sixfold more and with a wingspan over twice as long (in the image below, its silhouette is placed next to a American eagle for scale).


There is no doubt that Argentavis flew. it's all the characteristics of recent flyers including light, hollow bones and powerful , sturdy wings. It’s how it flew that palaeontologists have puzzled over, given its massive size in reference to modern birds. For a start, how did it get its large bulk off the bottom within the first place? The heaviest living flier, the good Kori Bustard, is over 3 times lighter than Argentavis, and even it can only begin after arduously ‘taxiing’ sort of a airplane.


Sankar Chatterjee from the Museum of Texas Tech University decided to model the giant’s flying style by running simulations with known fossils. He found that Argentavis simply couldn’t have generated enough lift from a running-take-off. It needed height to urge airborne, but it could manage with surprisingly little. Even a mild down-slope of 10° and a light-weight headwind would have given it enough extra power to avoid an embarrassing crash. Albatrosses and hang-glider pilots use an equivalent technique today.

argentavis magnificens
argentavis magnificens


Once within the air, the flapping flight that tiny birds use was out of the question for the enormous predator. By studying its skeleton, Chatterjee estimated the utmost amount of power that its flight muscles could have generated. And while substantial, it had been still 3.5 times but the minimum amount of power needed to fly.


Instead, Chatterjee believes that Argentavis was a master glider. it had been capable of soaring for nice distances at a shallow angle of 3°, continually re-shaping its wings to regulate its glide. Unlike flapping, the efficiency of gliding doesn’t change considerably with size, if a bird sticks to the quality body plan. So despite its enormity, Argentavis sailed through the air with the maximum amount grace the maximum amount smaller species just like the buzzard or Ciconia ciconia .


Like modern soarers, Chatterjee believes that Argentavis used two techniques. By flying along the Andean ridges, it stayed aloft using upwards air currents produced by wind deflected up the cliffs. The several fossils found at the Andean foothills support his idea.


Because of its efficient gliding, it could stay aloft using relatively slow drafts of wind. Chatterjee calculated its top speed at about 70 km/h, allowing it scan vast tracts of land for prey. It’s a really energy-efficient style and today, eagles and vultures use it to great effect, sometimes covering many miles without one wing flap. When the bird switched from the mountains to the wide, open spaces of the pampas, it switched to a special method – thermal soaring, where rising columns of hot air provided it with lift.


Popcorn-like cumulus clouds betray the situation of thermals, and by circling around one, Argentavis could have risen through the air, giving itself enough height to soar to subsequent thermal. Despite its large size, Chatterjee calculated that Argentavis was manoeuvrable enough to manage the tight circular turns needed to remain within a thermal column.


Even with this reliance of thermals, Argentavis was pushing the bounds of even gliding flight. Any heavier and it might have exceeded the utmost weight for safe gliding. So why are there no equally sized giants today? Chatterjee thinks that the late Miocene’s climate provided the solution . Six million years ago, Argentina was much hotter and drier than it's today – just the weather

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The aerodynamics of Argentavis, the world's largest flying bird
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