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We have approached the problem of reverse-engineering the flight control mechanism of the fruit fly by studying the dynamics of the responses to a visual stimulus during takeoff. Building upon a prior framework [G. Card and M. Dickinson, J. Exp. Biol., vol. 211, pp. 341-353, 2008], we seek to understand the strategies employed by the animal to stabilize attitude and orientation during these evasive, highly dynamical maneuvers. As a first step, we consider the dynamics from a gray-box perspective: examining lumped forces produced by the insect's legs and wings. The reconstruction of the flight initiation dynamics, based on the unconstrained motion formulation for a rigid body, allows us to assess the fly's responses to a variety of initial conditions induced by its jump. Such assessment permits refinement by using a visual tracking algorithm to extract the kinematic envelope of the wings [E. I. Fontaine, F. Zabala, M. Dickinson, and J. Burdick, "Wing and body motion during flight initiation in Drosophila revealed by automated visual tracking," submitted for publication] in order to estimate lift and drag forces [F. Zabala, M. Dickinson, and R. Murray, "Control and stability of insect flight during highly dynamical maneuvers," submitted for publication], and recording actual leg-joint kinematics and using them to estimate jump forces [F. Zabala, "A bio-inspired model for directionality control of flight initiation," to be published.]. In this paper, we present the details of our approach in a comprehensive manner, including the salient results.