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Wonders Of Flight Showcased In A New Exhibition

20 August 2003


Have you ever wondered just how it is birds and insects can fly? Or how a 200-tonne aeroplane soars through the skies?

Wings - Nature's Flying Machines | Hua rere a te taiao is a new family exhibition opening at Te Papa this Friday that explores flight and flying from every angle.

Did you know................ * During the Prussian Army siege of Paris in 1870, the French postal service used pigeons to carry microfilm messages to the citizens of Paris - up to 40,000 messages on one pigeon.

* Penguins, although flightless on land, use their wings to 'fly' through the water.

* The giant dragonflies that lived in Central Europe about 300 million years ago were the largest insects ever known. They had a wingspan of approximately 80 centimetres.

* Flying fish escape predators by gliding 400 metres or more through the air at speeds of up to 60 kph.

* Hummingbirds can beat their wings 80 times a second. Gnats can beat their wings 1000 times a second!

* Every October, bartailed godwits make a non-stop 11,000 km journey from Alaska and Eastern Siberia to New Zealand. With favourable winds they can make the journey in 100 hours. This is the longest non-stop flight of any migrating bird.

* Six months before the Wright Brothers' famous first flight, New Zealander Richard Pearse of South Canterbury is said to have got a plane to fly for about 140 metres before it crashed into a gorse hedge.

The exhibition uses storytelling, simple experiments, hands-on interactives, and encounters with Te Papa's natural history, art, Mäori, and other heritage collections to explain the secrets of flight in the natural world and how humankind has achieved its desire to become airborne.

Wings investigates flight in the natural world, exploring how flight has evolved and how animals differ in the way they take to the air, from aerobatic flies to hovering birds to gliding mammals. The exhibition demonstrates other purposes for wings such as fighting or just plain showing off! Wings also tells stories of how people have imagined flying, created wings, and eventually discovered how to get airborne. A special section looks at traditional manu tukutuku (Mäori kites) and shows how kites fit into the story of human ingenuity with wings.

Interactives include a wind tunnel that allows visitors to experience the force that lifts wings. Kids can slip their hand into an aerofoil glove, turn the power on, and feel the wind getting their 'wing' airborne! Or they can get an impression of the view through the eyes of a dragonfly.

Birds' amazing sense of navigation is illustrated through a section on migration. The use of birds to carry human messages is also explained, including the British Army's use of over 20,000 pigeons for carrying messages during World War I, as well as the world's first paying pigeongram service in New Zealand in the 1890s.

Other highlights include a model of the largest insect that ever lived, animal flying action on video, a life-size model of a pterosaur, a flying reptile that lived 100 million years ago, and a unique Japanese kite.

Over the opening weekend (Saturday 23/Sunday 24 August) visitors will be able to watch experts build a full sized manu tukutuku (birdman kite) in the traditional way. Kite-making reached a sophisticated level in Polynesian and Asian societies - long before the Europeans. Two original Mäori kites, from a very few that exist in the world today, are on display in Wings.

Wings - Natures flying machines | Hua rere a te taiao opens on 22 August and runs until April 2004. Admission is free.


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