Fruit Flies Modulate Passive Wing Pitching to Generate In-Flight Turns
A. Bergou (Physics, Cornell)

The flying ability of insects is spellbinding: dragonflies can catch their prey in midair, mosquitoes have an intricate in-flight mating ritual, honey-bees are able to land precisely on a small flower. Even the minute fruit fly can accurately induce sudden flight maneuvers in milliseconds. In this talk I will show some of our progress in quantifying and modeling how insects modulate their wing motion to perform these flight maneuvers. We focus on understanding how fruit flies are able to control sharp in-flight turns. Recent advances in high-speed videography have allowed us to build a novel three-dimensional reconstruction technique to capture the motion of these flies at a level of detail that has previously been impossible. From these kinematic sequences, we develop a mechanical model for the wing actuation that quantitatively predicts the turning dynamics of the insect. We use this model infer how the insects control their wings and show that a complex turning maneuver is controlled by remarkably simple mechanisms.