It's not uncommon for a fly to effortlessly hold a wrong landing to the ceiling, but exactly how it drops the air stunt has escaped scientists for decades. Even modern drones can not match the flyie's sophisticated touchdown tricks. Now a new study provides the most comprehensive exploration of fly landings yet, revealing agile maneuvers that could one day lead to robot aviators mimicking the insect's aerobatic capabilities. Cheng, a mechanical engineer at Pennsylvania State University at State College, began 50 years of scientific literature to search for studies on fly landings. He was surprised that such a frequent event was so little documented. Then he realized why: The lightning-fast movements of the flies during the landing are not easy to observe.
Cheng and his colleagues used high-speed video to capture and analyze more than 20 bluebottle flies ( Calliphora vomitoria ), known for their exquisite maneuvers that place their landings in a flight chamber. The flies landed in many ways. Some stopped the landing by first placing their forelegs on the surface and then swinging their bodies into place, much like a backflip (see video above). Other landings were more like barrel rolls. After recording 1
But nimble flying also bothers: The study also describes 15 failed landings, which show that in less than a moment the insects have to move within a certain range of motion in order to achieve a perfect landing and avoid a collision  "This is a really interesting new article," says Jessica Fox, a biologist who studied insect sensor systems at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, using high-speed video and was not involved in the study. However, the landings of the insects may have been influenced by the experimental setup, she adds. The flies were stimulated to lift off with mechanical vibrations – in the size of a small box. If they had more space and were not scared, they might have chosen easier landings, she says. The study shows "what flies can do on their borders when they fly the fastest and make decisions in the shortest possible time."
The flies "are only a starting point" to investigate how they and other flying insects behave – From mosquitoes to bees – control their intricate maneuvers, says co-author Sanjay Sane, an integrative biologist at the National Center for Biosciences in Bengaluru, India. Further studies of this kind will help scientists to determine the most important common maneuvers between different species, he says. And as soon as scientists know more about the processes that control the landing of flies, they may be able to figure out how to make robots that mimic the wheels of flight and other flight performances. "Just as children mimic their parents, so we can have the fly teach a robot."