Paddling mode of forward flight in insects

Leif Ristroph, Attila J. Bergou, John Guckenheimer, Z. Jane Wang, Itai Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


By analyzing high-speed video of the fruit fly, we discover a swimminglike mode of forward flight characterized by paddling wing motions. We develop a new aerodynamic analysis procedure to show that these insects generate drag-based thrust by slicing their wings forward at low angle of attack and pushing backwards at a higher angle. Reduced-order models and simulations reveal that the law for flight speed is determined by these wing motions but is insensitive to material properties of the fluid. Thus, paddling is as effective in air as in water and represents a common strategy for propulsion through aquatic and aerial environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number178103
JournalPhysical Review Letters
Issue number17
StatePublished - Apr 26 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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