Wow. A newly discovered flying bird species had a wingspan that stretched 24 feet long — as big as some aircraft. That's pretty much a flying giant in the sky that's twice as big as anything that can fly today. In fact, the bird, Pelagornis sandersi, is so ginormous that it exceeds our estimates "for the limits of powered flight".
With a 7.46m wingspan, the Grumman American AA-1 was as big as the Pelagornis sandersi.
Discover says that P. sandersi's size challenges the ideas we have about powered flight. The bigger the bird, the more power it needs to fly. But knowing that birds as big as P. sandersi can fly basically re-writes our idea of how big we think flying birds can get.
P. sandersi covered the sky around 25 million to 28 million years ago and had paper-thin hollow bones, stumpy legs and huge wings — all indicators of flight. Researchers used a computer program to estimate big bird's flight and figured it was basically a giant living hang glider, capable of reaching speeds up to 40 mph. Live Science explains:
The model suggested the bird was an incredibly efficient glider, whose long, slender wings helped it stay aloft despite its enormous size. It was probably too big to take off simply by flapping its wings and launching itself into the air from a standstill — instead, like Argentavis, P. sandersi may have gotten off the ground by running downhill into a headwind or taking advantage of air gusts to get aloft, much like a hang glider.
Today's largest living flying bird is the royal albatross, which has a wingspan of about 3.5m. That's a baby compared to P. sandersi. As for the previous world's largest flying bird, the Argentavis — a distant relative of today's Andean condor — was estimated to have a 7m wingspan. But that has always been in dispute, explained Live Science, as only one wing bone of the Argentavis has ever been found.