IT'S NOT OFTEN that a film produces a star before the picture is actually released. But it certainly helps when the star is the flying replica of the giant prehistoric pterodactyl. Stardom is further assured when the mechanical contraption crashes before a hundred thousand onlookers during its public debut.

Such was the case last month when Quetzalcoatlus northropi, or "Qn," dropped from the sky during an open house at Andrews Air Force Base. The "bird" stars in the $3 million film, On the Wing, which opens Friday at the Air & Space Museum's five-story-tall Samuel P. Langley Theater. The 30-minute feature took two years to produce and uses the large-format IMAX photographic process. The shooting was done around the world but filmmakers chose California's Death Valley for the "Qn" scenes because of its, prehistoric look. The film, financed chiefly by a $2.3 million grant from Johnson Wax, examines flight from insects to kites and aircraft.

It'll be shown six times daily beginning at 10:05 on weekdays, and 9:25 on Saturdays and Sundays. The Dream Is Alive will continue to be shown four times each day, and To Fly, twice daily. Separate admissions are charged for all but the daily 5:35 double feature, which is $3 for adults; $1.50 children, students and seniors. Single screening prices are $2 adults; $1 children, students, and seniors. Call 357-1686 for showtimes.

The Smithsonian's 20th annual Festival of American Folklife begins on Wednesday, this year featuring Japan, Tennessee and Trial Lawyers as well as the traditional crafts. The festival also includes "An Ethnographic Film Series" featuring four short films beginning at 1 on Wednesday with Living Treasures of Japan, The Art of Hand-Made Needles and others. On Thursday at 1 see the four-film session beginning with the Oscar-winning short, The Stone Carvers. All screenings are free and are held in the Natural History Museum's Baird Auditorium. Call 357-2700 for a complete schedule.

Cameras will roll at a subway stop in Baltimore on Friday and at several locations in Washington on Saturday evening as a production team of Deceit, a spy thriller, wraps up a 2 1/2-week stay in town. Scenes have been shot around Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington. The film stars Gene Hackman, Kevin Costner, Sean Young, Will Patton and Howard Duff and is directed by Roger Donaldson, of Bounty and Marie. The production has provided work for hundreds of local extras since filming began on June 4 at such places as the Hay-Adams Hotel, the Washington Hotel, and the Old Post Office Building. Saturday's schedule calls for running shots of night traffic at several undisclosed intersections.

Tri-Star Pictures has resumed its six-days-a-week shooting schedule of Gardens of Stone, a drama about a career soldier frustrated by his personal life and the Viet Nam War. Filming is being done throughout the city but the majority is it at Fort Myer and Fort Belvoir. The production crew, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, took a time-out after Coppola's 23-year-old son, Gian Carlo Coppola, was killed in a boating accident near Annapolis over the Memorial Day weekend. Coppola, who was on a South River outing with actor Ryan O'Neal's son, Griffin Patrick O'Neal, served as a videotape camera operator on the picture; the younger O'Neal has a small part in the film. Local production of the film, based on Nicholas Proffitt's book, is expected to run through late July and stars James Caan; this year's Best Supporting Actress, Anjelica Huston; and James Earl Jones. The set is closed to the public. The film's release date has not been announced. SHORT TAKES -- The Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts will hold a benefit screening of Legal Eagles on Friday at 7:30 at the Uptown Theater. Admission, $25 for practicing legal eagles and $10 for practicing artists, includes a party. Call 861-0055.

The National Gallery of Art concludes its "Through the Frame: Film Encounters the Painterly Image" series this weekend with Picasso -- A Painter's Diary on Friday and Saturday at 12:30, and Sunday at 1. Also scheduled for Saturday is Bertrand Tavernier's 94-minute A Sunday in the Country with English subtitles. All screenings are in the East Wing Auditorium and are free. Call 737-4215 for details.

The Library of Congress' tiny Mary Pickford Theater continues its free "American Satire" series on Friday night at 7:30 with Robert Zemeckis' 1980 Used Cars featuring Kurt Russell, Jack Warden, Gerrit Graham and Deborah Harmon. Warner Brothers' 1951 Duck Amuck cartoon follows the film. On Wednesday at 7:30, the "Real-Life America" series screens La, La, Making It in L.A. double-billed with Gates of Heaven. This 64-seat theater fills quickly; call 287-5677 (business hours) for reservations.

The Martin Luther King Library continues its "early works" series with a selection of rare shorts by now-famous artists. On Monday at 7, see Steven Spielberg's 25-minute college production, Amblin'. The 1970 story of a young man's cross-country tour is not available for commerical distribution. Also on the bill is Chris Marker's 19-minute Sunday in Peking; and Time Piece, a humorous 10-minute look at one man's life in the rat race made in 1965 by Hyattsville's Jim Henson, who rose to fame with the Muppets. The free show winds up with Tango, Zbigniew Rybxynski's 1981 Oscar winner for best animated short. Call 727-1271.

See well-known professional actors in leading roles at the National Theater for free?! It's true. Last year's popular "Summer Classic Films" series returns to its weekly Monday night slot. This Monday's offering is George Cukor's 1954 version of A Star Is Born, starring Judy Garland, James Mason, Charles Bickford and Jack Carson. This semi-musical version is a well-done remake of the 3 1/2-star 1937 version. The 154-minute film is double-billed with the Pink Panther cartoon, It's Pink But Is It Mink?

The schedule runs through the end of July and includes such classics as Lena Horne and Bill (Bojangles) Robinson in Stormy Weather, (June 30); Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, (July 14); and There's No Business Like Show Business, (July 21). Moviegoers can reserve seats up to two weeks in advance by calling 783-3372. All films begin at 7.

The Smithsonian Resident Associate Program's ongoing "Contemporary International Film" series screens the Australian-made My First Wife on Tuesday at 7:30 in the American History Museum's Carmichael Auditorium. Admission is $5 for members; $6,nonmembers. Call 357-3030 for reservations.

The hour-long Uncommon Places, made last year, will screen free on Tuesday at noon and 1:15 at the Renwick Gallery in conjunction with the "Frank Lloyd Wright and the Johnson Wax Buildings" exhibition. On Thursday at noon and 1:15, see The Robie House and A Conversation with Frank Lloyd Wright, both 28 minutes. All screenings are free. Call 357-2700 for details.

The Baltimore Film Forum's "Film Noir" series continues Friday evening at 8 with Jules Dassin's 1948 The Naked City, the story of a young girl's brutal murder and the ensuing manhunt. The Forum's "Classic French Cinema of the '30s" series concludes on Thursday evening beginning at 8 with Le Jour se Leve and Quai des Brumes. Both are in French with English subtitles. Call 301/685-4170.

District Curators, Inc. will benefit from Thursday evening's premiere of Laurie Anderson's film debut, Home of the Brave, at the Key Theater in Georgetown. The film was shot in 10 days last summer in a Union City, New Jersey park theater. Showtime is 8; cost is $10. Call 783-0360 to reserve seats. The film opens at the Key on July 11.

The Washington Film Council holds its annual dinner at the Sheraton-Park Hotel on June 27 at 6:30. Cost is $30 per person. To reserve call 899-4781. HISTORY -- Friday marks the day in 1632 when the English Crown granted the second Lord Baltimore settlement rights to the shores of Chesapeake Bay, most of which would later become Maryland. It's also the day in 1893 that a jury in Massachusetts found Lizzie Borden innocent of the ax murders of her father and stepmother. Celebrating birthdays on Friday are guitarist Chet Atkins, 62; Beach Boy Brian Wilson, 44; singer Anne Murray, 41; actress Candy Clark, 39; and singer Cyndi Lauper turns 33.

Saturday begins summer and marks actress Jane Russell's 65th birthday while actress Maureen Stapleton turns 61; actor Monte Markham, 51; actor Ron Ely, 48; actress Mariette Hartley, 46; rock singer-musician Ray Davies, 42; and actress Meredith Baxter-Birney is 39.

It was 46 years ago Sunday that Adolf Hitler gained a stunning victory as France was forced to sign an armistice eight days after German forces overran Paris. Sunday also marks the date in 1969, that singer-actress Judy Garland died at the age of 47; and on the same day in 1981 that Mark David Chapman pleaded guilty to killing John Lennon the previous December outside Lennon's New York City apartment building.

Personalities celebrating birthdays on Sunday include Broadway producer Joseph Papp, 65; actor Ralph Waite, 58; singer-actor Kris Kristofferson, 49; and actresses Meryl Streep and Lindsay Wagner both turn 37.