Has Man Learned the Secret of Flight?

Jarno Smeets and the Human BirdwingsJarno Smeets, a Dutch engineer, has unleashed a video onto the public, sparking controversy, awe and skepticism across the globe.

The video, which showcases his ‘Human Birdwings’ project, is supposedly shot from a camera attached to Smeets’ helmet while he successfully takes off at a park in Hague. The 200-foot wings are part of Smeets’ invention, which he claims is the first to allow a human to fly in a way similar to that of a bird, with neither rotors nor jets. Instead, the contraption uses motion sensors from Nintendo Wii and an accelerometer from an HTC Wildfire S smartphone to ‘amplify’ the flapping motion of his arms, and then transfers it to small motors on the wings. This technology allows Smeets to flap wings much larger than his body would otherwise be capable of lifting.

Though the engineering of the wings is in fact plausible, many of the video’s viewers were quick to dismiss it as a fake. How did the engineer know it would take exactly 14 videos until a successful takeoff? Some have questioned the video’s legitimacy based on the physics involved, while others have analyzed the clear differences between the Human Birdwings and the natural wings and flapping motions of birds today, such as rotation and the specific angling of the wings before and during flight.

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One interesting observation discussed the placement of Smeets’ legs. In general, the legs of a bird are thin, small and remarkably lightweight. Human legs are monstrous in comparison, and so would inevitably dangle beneath the torso, perpendicular to the floating body. However, the video clearly shows the legs rising to line up with the body at 38 seconds. The strength needed to hold the legs in this position without breaking the spine, especially when the body is suspended from the upper back, is incredible and therefore highly unlikely here. However, further scrutiny implies there might be a small sail placed between the feet which buoys the legs during flight.

An interesting analysis of the camera motion in the video provides another important perspective on the invention’s authenticity. Though the detailed study does not prove it is legitimate or a hoax, it does prove that the camera work is genuine and not a compilation of a number of processed clips.