Speed control and force-vectoring of bluebottle flies in a magnetically levitated flight mill

Shih Jung Hsu, Neel Thakur, Bo Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Flies fly at a broad range of speeds and produce sophisticated aerial maneuvers with precisely controlled wing movements. Remarkably, only subtle changes in wing motion are used by flies to produce aerial maneuvers, resulting in little directional tilt of the aerodynamic force vector relative to the body. Therefore, it is often considered that flies fly according to a helicopter model and control speed mainly via force vectoring by body pitch change. Here, we examined the speed control of bluebottle flies using a magnetically levitated (MAGLEV) flight mill, as they fly at different body pitch angles and with different augmented aerodynamic damping. We identified wing kinematic contributors to the changes of estimated aerodynamic force through testing and comparing two force-vectoring models - a constant force-vectoring model and a variable force-vectoring model - while using Akaike's information criterion for selection of the best-approximating model. The results show that the best-approximating variable force-vectoring model, which includes the effects of wing kinematic changes, yields a considerably more accurate prediction of flight speed, particularly in higher velocity range, as compared with those of the constant force-vectoring model. Examination of the variable force-vectoring model reveals that, in the flight mill tethered flight, flies use a collection of wing kinematic variables to control primarily the force magnitude, while the force direction is also modulated, albeit to a smaller extent compared with those due to the changes in body pitch. The roles of these wing kinematic variables are analogous to those of throttle, and collective and cyclic pitch of helicopters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberjeb187211
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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