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Here we consider how new experimental approaches in biomechanics can be used to attain a systems-level understanding of the dynamics of animal flight control. Our aim in this paper is not to provide detailed results and analysis, but rather to tackle several conceptual and methodological issues that have stood in the way of experimentalists in achieving this goal, and to offer tools for overcoming these. We begin by discussing the interplay between analytical and empirical methods, emphasizing that the structure of the models we use to analyse flight control dictates the empirical measurements we must make in order to parameterize them. We then provide a conceptual overview of tethered-flight paradigms, comparing classical `open-loop' and `closed-loop' setups, and describe a flight simulator that we have recently developed for making flight dynamics measurements on tethered insects. Next, we provide a conceptual overview of free-flight paradigms, focusing on the need to use system identification techniques in order to analyse the data they provide, and describe two new techniques that we have developed for making flight dynamics measurements on freely flying birds. First, we describe a technique for obtaining inertial measurements of the orientation, angular velocity and acceleration of a steppe eagle Aquila nipalensis in wide-ranging free flight, together with synchronized measurements of wing and tail kinematics using onboard instrumentation and video cameras. Second, we describe a photogrammetric method to measure the 3D wing kinematics of the eagle during take-off and landing. In each case, we provide demonstration data to illustrate the kinds of information available from each method. We conclude by discussing the prospects for systems-level analyses of flight control using these techniques and others like them.

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