A biomechanicist reviews how animals took to the air
On the Wing
David E. Alexander
Oxford Univ, $29.95
The Wright Brothers powered their way into the air at Kitty Hawk, N.C., a little more than a century ago. Like millions of humans before and since, they were inspired by myriad creatures that first took to the air eons earlier.
In On the Wing, biomechanicist David E. Alexander reviews in detail the evolution of the four groups of animals that preceded humans into the skies. The four — insects, birds, bats and the dinosaur-era reptiles known as pterosaurs — have a lot in common, Alexander notes.
The fossil record suggests that each group evolved the ability to fly just once. They all fly (or flew) by flapping their wings, but their ancestors’ first aerial excursions were probably short glides from