Drosophila olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) each express two odorant receptors (ORs): a divergent member of the OR family and the highly conserved, broadly expressed receptor OR83b. OR83b is essential for olfaction in vivo and enhances OR function in vitro, but the molecular mechanism by which it acts is unknown. Here we demonstrate that OR83b heterodimerizes with conventional ORs early in the endomembrane system in OSNs, couples these complexes to the conserved ciliary trafficking pathway, and is essential to maintain the OR/OR83b complex within the sensory cilia, where odor signal transduction occurs. The OR/OR83b complex is necessary and sufficient to promote functional reconstitution of odor-evoked signaling in sensory neurons that normally respond only to carbon dioxide. Unexpectedly, unlike all known vertebrate and nematode chemosensory receptors, we find that Drosophila ORs and OR83b adopt a novel membrane topology with their N-termini and the most conserved loops in the cytoplasm. These loops mediate direct association of ORs with OR83b. Our results reveal that OR83b is a universal and integral part of the functional OR in Drosophila. This atypical heteromeric and topological design appears to be an insect-specific solution for odor recognition, making the OR/OR83b complex an attractive target for the development of highly selective insect repellents to disrupt olfactory-mediated host-seeking behaviors of insect disease vectors.