March 25 - Scientists have recorded the active flight muscles of a blow-fly, opening doors to the future development of micro-aircraft modeled on the insect's flight mechanics. Researchers at Oxford University, Imperial College London, and the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), used state-of-the-art X-ray technology to look inside the fly and see how its flight engine works. Ben Gruber reports.
In the time it takes a human to blink an eye, a fly can beat it wings 50 times. Now, using a fly attached to a rotating platform, researchers have been able to watch the insect's flight muscles in action, applying state-of-the-art X-ray technology, to look at one of Natures most complex mechanisms at work. Called Swiss Light Source, the technology allowed the scientists to record the insect's tiny muscles, some as thin as a human hair, as they moved as part of a coordinated system. The researchers say, this glimpse into the motor that powers a fly's ability to beat its wings 150 times per second will hopefully give engineers new ideas about how to develop more agile micro-air vehicles in the future. It may take many more years of research but the scientists say they can now begin to learn how the blow-fly, with a brain the size of a pinhead, can control a flight mechanism more sophisticated than any developed by man.