Guanting Su, Robert Dudley, Tianyu Pan, Mengzong Zheng, Liansong Peng, and Qiushi Li
Maximum whole-body force production can influence behavioral outcomes for volant taxa, and may also be relevant to aerodynamic optimization in microair vehicles. Here, we describe a new method for measuring maximum force production in free-flying animals, and present associated data for the wandering glider dragonfly. Flight trajectories were repeatedly acquired from pull-up responses by insects dropped in mid-air with submaximal loads attached beneath the center of body mass. Forces were estimated from calculations of the maximum time-averaged acceleration through time, and multiple estimates were obtained per individual so as to statistically facilitate approximation of maximum capacity through use of the Weibull distribution. On a group level, wandering glider dragonflies were here estimated to be capable of producing total aerodynamic force equal to ~4.3 times their own body weight, a value which significantly exceeds earlier estimates made for load-lifting dragonflies, and also for other volant taxa in sustained vertical load-lifting experiments. Maximum force production varied isometrically with body mass. Falling and recovery flight with submaximal load represents a new context for evaluating limits to force production by flying animals.