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The dawn of flight

February 17, 2013

Who invented flight? The Wright brothers caused a paradigm shift when they got airborne in 1903. I honour their determination to do what no other human had done, but where they the first Earthlings capable of controlled flight?

Birds have always inspired man to fly, and although they conquered the skies some 150 million years ago, later sharing it with the bats, they were not the pioneers. The extinct Pterosaurs were even older master flyers; they emerged some 220 million years ago. Still, the oldest flying Earthling is likely to be an ancestor of modern dragonflies, the extinct griffinfly (Meganisoptera), which conquered the skies over 300 million years ago, not long after the conquest of land. Being in supreme control of the skies, nobody else could catch the griffinflies there, they grew to large sizes (over 70 cm wingspan) only limited by oxygen supply.

Although today’s flying machines are indeed the results of ingenious engineering, humanity needs a few more centuries to be able to build flying machines similar to dragonflies; quiet, capable of autonomous flight on sustainable fuel and capable of reproduction. Creating a super computer the size of a dragonfly’s head, able to process complex visual and aerodynamic data to alter flight in a split second, and to create nano-robots similar to the ribosomes inside the dragonfly’s cells, would be quite a challenge.

At Dokmai Garden the mere presence of dragonflies brings joy and they help replacing the nasty pesticides, still reducing levels of leaf hoppers and mosquitoes. Meeting one of the ancients is a reminder of aeons, evolution and perfected creations. According to Thai tradition, the inferior wais the superior. I wai the dragonflies.


Text & Photo: Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden, Chiang Mai.

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