Shih-Jung Hsu, Neel Thakur, and Bo Cheng
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 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 blue bottle 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: i.e., a constant force-vectoring model and a variable force-vectoring model, while using the Akaike’s information criterion for the selection of best-approximating model. 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. Examining 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 to 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.