When the Wright Brothers flew the first ever aeroplane in 1903 it was seen as a masterful invention that would take humans into the skies, but in fact the idea of using biplane wings might have already been around for millions of years. Dinosaurs called microraptors lived in the Cretaceous Period around 125 million years ago and are thought to be some of the closest relatives of all the modern birds we see today. But unlike pelicans and pigeons these microraptors had two sets of wings, with large flight feathers stuck to their legs. Scientists used to think microraptors held their two sets of wings in a line, like a dragonfly, but a team of researchers from Texas Tech University in Lubbock think that would only have been possible if these flying creatures had dislocated their hips. Instead, a new idea is that microraptors held their wings one above the other, like a biplane - and this would probably have improved their gliding abilities, supporting the theory that bird flight began when dinosaurs jumped out of trees and glided, gracefully to the ground.
Part of the show Extreme Organisms and Hydrothermal Vents from the 28th Jan 2007