The "exceptionally well-preserved fossils" have been dated to the Middle Triassic period of 235 million to 242 million years ago, the BBC reported Wednesday.
Scientists from Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, writing in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, said the fish, named Potanichthys xingyiensis, was 6 inches long and possessed the "unusual combination of morphological features" associated with gliding strategy in fish.
The fossils show a forked tail fin, a pair of enlarged pectoral fins forming "primary wings" and a smaller pair of pelvic fins acting as "auxiliary wings," the researchers reported.
Gliding behavior has "evolved only twice among fishes," they wrote; once in the Triassic fishes and again in the modern-day Exocoetidae flying fish family.
Scientists say they believe both families of flying fishes evolved a gliding behavior so they could escape marine predators by "flying" to safety.