Insect flight control

Insect flight simulator

While at the University of Oxford, Dr Windsor investigated how insects use visual information to control their flight. Using a virtual reality flight simulator for insects, the flight forces and head motions that hawk moths (Hyles lineata) make in response to visual motion was measured. By combining these measurements with models for the insect's flight dynamics the relationship between the properties of the insect's visual flight control system and its flight abilities were determined. It was found that the insects' flight control system was tuned to stabilize the instabilities in its natural flight dynamics, whilst also avoiding wasting energy trying to move in ways which are naturally highly damped.

The flight simulator tests also allowed the role of gaze stabilizatiing head motions in flight control to be investigated. By using a combination of experimental measurements and computer models of the moths visual system, it was found that the moths’ head movements were modulated in such a way as to allow encoding of both fast and slow self-motion. This effectively quadrupled the working range of the insect's motion visual system.


  • Prof Graham Taylor, University of Oxford
  • Dr Richard Bomphrey, Royal Vetinary College
Moth tethered inside insect flight simulator
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