Introduction / How do flies fly? / How do flies turn? / Michael Dickinson / Robofly

text, video, and design by Jason Spingarn-Koff

Have you ever wondered why flies are so hard to swat? A team of scientists at the University of California at Berkeley is cracking the mysteries of these amazing creatures, dubbed "nature's fighter jets."

"Flies are nature's fighter jets," says Michael Dickinson, 37, professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California at Berkeley.

They make lightning-fast 90-degree turns, take off or land upside down, and even carry twice their body weight.

"They're arguably the most aerodynamically sophisticated of all flying animals," says Dickinson.

But until recently, scientists didn't know how flies stayed airborne.

When researchers applied conventional laws of aerodynamics to flies, they determined that flies shouldn't be able to fly at all -- their tiny wings seemed too small to support their body weight.

To crack the mysteries of insect flight, Dickinson and a team of UC Berkeley scientists built several high-tech devices, including fly flight simulators and "Robofly," a huge set of robotic wings that flap in oil. Dickinson is also working with a team of UC Berkeley engineers to build an insect-sized flying robot.

Over the last five years, they have made astonishing insights into insect aerodynamics, physiology, and behavior.




video: research overview


diagram: Drosophila malanogaster


robotic flies? learn about the documentary


Copyright 2000 Jason Spingarn-Koff. Diagrams: Michael H. Dickinson, UC Berkeley