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Evidence of Human Birdwings flying hoax piles up

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March 21, 2012

Some pilots have questioned the validity of this section of video

Some pilots have questioned the validity of this section of video

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"Human Birdwings" creator Jarno Smeets and his Android-powered, mechanically-assisted flying machine are creating a stir again. Gizmag originally reported on Smeets' effort to fly like a bird when he posted a video of his first test flight, in which he appeared to hang in the air a few feet off the ground for a second or two. In the video of his latest attempt, he's shown soaring around in the air, and a lively debate over the validity of the video is already heating up.

Smeets claims to have flown 100 meters (328 ft) in the latest attempt, which now has over one million views in less than two days on YouTube.

His home-built "birdwings" consist of a rather ingenious combination of a large kite re-fashioned into a sort of over-sized hang glider, which is connected to a backpack harness and a central motor that actually flaps the wings. The motor takes its cue from Smeets himself, though, who flaps his arms bird-style and Android smartphones strapped to his sleeves communicate via Bluetooth with an Arduino board on the backpack that then translates the human arm flaps into flaps of the larger wing assembly.

A diagram of the Human Birdwings

The project has been in the works for many months now, and Smeets has documented the process thoroughly in his blog and increasingly in the media.

Even Smeets' first, and rather unimpressive, test flight was met with skepticism, but now that the latest video (you can watch it at the end of this post) seems to show him and his contraption flying around with ease, a number of sources are pronouncing the video a fraud while others still say it could be the real deal.

One Gizmodo reader who claims to be a pilot with an aeronautical engineering background commented that some things in the video just don't add up to actual flight:

"Just look at the wings. They're not showing load at any time. The fabric from the old kiteboarding kite—that's what the wings are made of—never loads up. If the wings were producing lift, the fabric would be tight, it would look like it was inflated. It never does. "

A purported hang glider and engineer also offered similar critiques, while Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame says he doesn't see evidence the video was faked:

"It seems reasonable to accomplish, and is something I have wanted to try for a long time. I am suspicious because there is not much detail shown of the actual machine, but that does not mean anything other than they don't show it all."

Internet marketing expert Brent Coker says that he is "85 percent sure" the viral video is a marketing ploy by one of the companies whose products are used in the project. Smeets has repeatedly pointed out that the craft is powered by a pair of HTC Wildfire smartphones and a Nintendo Wii controller.

That would be a pretty elaborate plan for the purpose of a little brand recognition, however. Over the past eight months, Dutch journalists and others have reported on Smeets' project and visited his workshop. He's also documented the painstaking process of creating the main wing itself and assembling the motors, none of which have any branding attached to them.

In another Gizmodo post, the consensus among a team of CGI experts at Industrial Light and Magic is that the video is a fake. They point to one tell-tale sign of a hoax that Gizmag readers initially pointed out in my first post about the Human Birdwings project weeks ago - a mysterious dot that suddenly appears on one side of the wings after the camera pans away and back.

Smeets' response to these claims of fakery weeks ago was that the test flight video had been cut together from multiple takes.

But the CGI crew also notes that in a much earlier video, where Smeets shows a software-created prototype 3D model, the modeling software being used is a package often used by CGI artists:

"I would think if this was the engineering vid it claims to be they would be using a 3D modeling program more suited to physics based modeling. Also the toolbar they have loaded atop the program is the 'Cloth Simulation' area of the program, which is used create such effects as fabric wings moving through air ... hmmm. This isn't 100% proof but it is strange for them to have such a detailed ANIMATED model in a CG program rather than a engineering one."

Another CGI expert weighs in, claiming that the shaky camera work is a deliberate means of being able to cover up CGI mistakes, and goes so far as to stabilize a clip to demonstrate his point. It's pretty convincing evidence that the entire thing may be a hoax, but the question remains - why?

Smeets has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Source: Human Birdwings Via:Gizmodo, Tested.com, Gizmodo follow-up, Life's Little Mysteries

Update

It would appear that the fakery has now been confirmed. Dutch CGI artist, Floris Kaayk - who was posing under the assumed identity of Jarno Smeets all along - has apparently appeared on Dutch television and confessed that the videos are the result of CGI. The TV appearance was spotted and tweeted by one Sjoerd Jan Henstra, and picked up by Gizmodo. So that's that. Hopefully.

Sources: Twitter, Gizmodo

About the Author
Eric Mack Eric Mack has been covering technology and the world since the late 1990s. As well as being a Gizmag regular, he currently contributes to CNET, NPR and other outlets.   All articles by Eric Mack
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19 Comments

It seems the wing span might be enough to provide lift. That is the wings seem about a similar size to a hang glider.

I find it improbable that he could generate enough power to provide the air speed needed to gain lift. I don't see a combustion engine so it would be simply down to batteries and electric motors assisted by his arm flapping. His arm flapping would be vastly less powerful than leg peddling and I'm not sure there are too many cycle powered flying machines. That would mean almost all the power would come from some little electric servo motors. That seems improbable to say the least.

Scion
21st March, 2012 @ 06:29 pm PDT

fake, the gopro footage was obviously filmed from an RC plane

Mihai Pruna
21st March, 2012 @ 07:21 pm PDT

Well - I can't make up my mind. I'm a hang-glider and paraglider pilot, both free-flight and powered. Those wings are about 1/3rd smaller than a hang-glider. His power calcluation is wrong by one order of magnitude - he said 2000watts someplace - both my motors are 14hp (20kw) and other real electric "picolights" all use roughly that too.

20kw of motors and batteies for a 60-second flight is going to weigh 10kg bare min. Wings strong enough to hold you up are going to weigh 20kg min. He doesnt look like he's lugging 30kg of aricraft to me, and I can't see where they're supposed to be located.

He doesn't have any obvious steering, and he's next to a lake - he would drown 99% for sure if he went in there.

He's in a public park - that's controlled airspace almost for sure, and without any doubt it's illegal to fly anything uncertified, especially in a public place.

The team ran away prior to the flight - what's with that? People are natural rubbernecks, they all want to get close - not run away...

The guy is smirking prior to flight - he should be shitting himself, because he will die or be permanently crippled for life if anything goes wrong.

Eye candy - who the heck beautifies experiments?

His leg weirdness - I can't figure out this bit - yeah - he needs to put his legs up, and remembers to do that in-flight, but he's dangling from his back - that's going to be *hard* to accomplish, and will change the CofG so dramatically that he should stall from doing it...

Still looks uber cool though. I *want* it to be real :-)

christopher
21st March, 2012 @ 08:38 pm PDT

I loved this when I first saw it, and wanted to believe it, but there are a bunch of issues that point to this being an elaborate and very funny hoax. No-one's yet mentioned the straps holding the contraption on his back - they're just backpack straps. There's no chest-strap or leg straps like you'd see on a parachute harness. Fancy dangling off some madly flapping wings suspended from backpack straps?

The tail of the craft is entirely non-functional. It just flaps in the airstream. It has no vertical rudder element, which would help to stabilise side-slip and allow the pilot to initiate turns at low speed.

None of the ground crew make any reference to weather conditions, the strength or the direction of the wind. There's no windsock. Flying amongst trees as Smeets appears to do is a really bad idea, because trees cause turbulence and downdraughts.

These days, everyone has a camera on their phone; If this were real, I would have expected everyone present at the launch to have made their best efforts to shoot video of the flight. Also, in the shots showing Smeets taking off, we never see the camera person located to the side who took the shot of Smeets from the side.

None of these points have been made elsewhere.

The comment about the wing loading in the article rings true - there just isn't enough loading on the wing to look convincing. What gives me any authority to comment on this? I'm a power-kiter who's also done a bit of parachuting and paragliding, so I'm used to looking at foil flying machines.

Facebook User
22nd March, 2012 @ 03:44 am PDT

Fake, 3 reasons why:

1. 15 mph head wind used to gain flight speed. If head wind was there then where is the wind on the wings in sec 18-23 where the human is standing in pre-flight?

2. Head Cam, head shake. In sec 35-37 the head cam is not shaking matching the head shake from the ground shot.

3. 3rd camera. In sec 35, the side shot of the take-off, the camera shot starts slightly in front of the wings and continues to pan right to left to show the lift off from about 7 meters away. There is no camera in that position in sec 34.

Mick10k
22nd March, 2012 @ 03:53 am PDT

they don't say the brand of the motors but i can identify them,

one of them is a TURNIGY 50-55A and the other one looks a TGY AerodriveXp 42 SK

both are Turnigy Branded motors, an internal brand of a company called Hobbyking witch is famous for their price's in the R/C model world.

The video is for sure fake, no doubt,

Doad
22nd March, 2012 @ 04:01 am PDT

To Ben K

The reason your points weren't made elsewhere is because they are weak. You say the tail is "entirely non-functional". Actually that is not true. It appears to be useful (at least potentially) but it's not needed for the straight ahead glide this guy supposedly performed. Also that it lacks a vertical component is irrelevant in this situation. Again he didn't perform any turns and thus didn't need one. Besides birds turn just fine without a "vertical" rudder per se (although their tails are quite flexible and act as a pseudo-rudder).

That the ground folks didn't reference any weather...so what? Maybe they didn't tape their discussion of it. No windsock? Really? So that means this is faked. Looks like they are in a park, not too many windsocks in a park. They aren't breaking the sound barrier so not sure what you would need a windsock for, besides the wind won't vary that much for a 5 second flight.

That this guy apparently did something stupid by flying close to a lake again is irrelevant to the authenticity of the video. Lots of people do less than brilliant things in real life.

We don't see one of the cameras....so?

Don't take my reply the wrong way. I'm not advocating whether this is real or not. But I'm just skeptical of your skepticsm. You need a better set of arguments.

Chichiflys
22nd March, 2012 @ 06:38 am PDT

Sorry to agree with the intelligent posts above, it's a fake. Not a bad one but all the points are valid. Chief for me is the fabric of the wing never looks like it's under load, it just flaps around. Hardly enough, even if there was enough power and larger wing (it really is too small to lift him so easily), to lift much of anything. On the down stroke, the fabric sections should each show the load. They don't. It's CGI.

When the guys run to the camera, which suddenly points down at the ground, then back up to the pilot about to launch, the wing looks different. I think they inserted the CGI wing in there, and the wobbly shot of the grass just before was to give him enough time to run out of the shot so they could insert the digital stuff.

Many many other things just don't add up. I fly hang gliders, private aircraft, gliders etc. and this just looks wrong. Too bad, like others, I do wish it was true but you can't rewrite the laws of physics with underpowered Turnigy RC model motors, and that's too bad because wouldn't it be cool if you could?

One other thing: this guy is just not a convincing actor. I look at his face as he's exulting in his "triumph". He looks like he's lying.

Jim Lawrence
22nd March, 2012 @ 09:26 am PDT

Its probably real. My opinion. Some of the technical skeptics posting here appear to have art degrees.

ikegami
22nd March, 2012 @ 10:28 am PDT

As Daedalus constructs wings made from wax for his son, Icarus....They melt and crash and burn. Apparently "Jar-no" human flyer. The lift off is decent CGI...The R/C theories are not correct either... The motion of the cameras as if he were flapping wings distracts your eyes from noticing the tire/wheel marks on the grass... Notice when he comes in for the landing and when he touches down... They didn’t think it out too well, as the tire/wheel tracks left the grass blades pushed down...They had some test runs, to determine if they could mimic the flight. Hence the trajectory of flight is directionally matching the tracks on the grass. The tire/wheel tracks are consistent with the width of a "cherry picker"...Your standard boom lift or scissor lift can reach heights of 70 ft.. I suppose the attention to the project alone is a success.

andy007
22nd March, 2012 @ 10:29 am PDT

Hoax? probably, for all the aforementioned reasons. physics, energy density, etc. are quite sticklers for adherence. Why hoax at all? Maybe hoping for a Youtube score, dunno.

Once, years ago I was offering to play chess online. One guy says 15 sec moves max, I said "I just can't play that fast, if you want my best game I need time, why go so fast?" He replies " Because I don't want to play against your chess calculator." At first I thought that was amazingly paranoid, but in retrospect, he was right in the sense that no doubt there are people who draw some peverse satisfaction in doing so. Is he one of those? Maybe, if it's not a hoax, he will be fairly quick to prove it as it would be quite an accomplishment.

Burnerjack
22nd March, 2012 @ 10:57 am PDT

also the helmet camera video is fake,

GoPro HD return an angle of view of 170º and the one of the view is very narrow, at about 70º, and the video quality is not even near to the HD the go pro returns.

Also take a look to 0:48, helmet is visible in the bottom frame, now look at 1:00, it dissapeared? they cropped the video? l0l,

its that fake i can't believe someone even doubt it,

Doad
22nd March, 2012 @ 11:05 am PDT

My opinion is that it is a fake, most of the posts above make good arguments that it is and having watched it a couple of times myself there are other things that bother me.

The main one is how does he lift his legs back like that in flight without any support? I would think besides the physical difficulty of it it would drastically alter the balance of the machine. From what I have seen of hang gliding the pilot manipulates his position in the triangle (for lack of the technical description) to control the balance of and maneuver the craft. With this set up that is not possible.

Two he is attached very far forward on the wing because of that balance I would think the contraption would just nose dive.

Also the method of controlling the wings using smart phones is questionable to me. Rather then flapping his arm completely disconnected from the wing then using the phone to communicate wirelessly to the motors what to do is overly complicated, inefficient, and I would think not that reliable (I wouldn't bet my life on a wireless connection). Instead why not use his arms to augment the electric motors (or vice versa) and just use simple pressure switches (or some other simple mechanism) in hand holds to control the motors?

I have no expertize to qualify my opinion other than common sense which we all know isn't that common.

Jon Smith
22nd March, 2012 @ 01:19 pm PDT

This is a fake for sure.

(1) He is never as high as the video suppose to be on his head, The shots that are

suppose to be from him flying in this contraption are much higher than he went.

(2) When you look at the head cam shots he is headed toward area that has a sidewalk or path bearing to the left. When you see him landing (at a Distance) there is not a

sidewalk or path visible.

FAKE

Ron Bittenbender
22nd March, 2012 @ 01:31 pm PDT

And, why isn't the third person filming seen? You know the one at the right of the screen

Ken Ransom
22nd March, 2012 @ 01:42 pm PDT

There are 2 things that are a dead give away. If human powered flight were possible even with some assist - the climb was too great. It would take a lot of power to get so much lift. Where did the lift come from? Watch again and notice the 2 tire tracks in the grass at the end of the video.

donwine
22nd March, 2012 @ 06:04 pm PDT

I assume this is a fake otherwise he would have chosen a much more suitable flying field.

I cant believe that the second flight of something like this could be anything more than a simple hop and ground loop.

I think the idea is sound though , so how long before someone does do this for real.

Stephen Colbourne
22nd March, 2012 @ 06:49 pm PDT

And let that be a warning to all UFO, supernatural and ghost hunting enthusiasts and reptoid conspiracy trolls......EVERYTHING is possible in the world of video and CGI.....there are no limits.....and there is no limit to what you can convince people is 'real' P.S> He WINS...he did EVERYTHING right...from finding a perfect subject to stir the human imagination through to playing the media....WIN!....Everyone Else=FAIL

Vincent Najger
23rd March, 2012 @ 03:14 am PDT

When writing this, the article has been updated with the info that this is a confirmed joke. Still I have to comment.

I've been racing sailboats since the seventies and have an interest for aerodynamics too, so I may have an eye for it, but this is way easier to spot than I expected, after reading the article. Honestly, treating this obvious joke seriously is rather naive. Not really up to the standards here...?

What clearly shows it is of course: Those wings do not generate any lift. They may be big enough etc to produce that lift if put to the task, but in the film they just don't do any aerodynamic work.

The wing cloth is slack and sagging down rather than tensioned and bulging upwards. It's obviously affected mostly by gravity as already mentioned, not at all by the quite big lifting forces necessary to hold the weight of a man. Also the "masts" and battens that hold the cloth is not at all bending while flapping. The only possible explanations to that is: They have built it way to heavy (to be able to fly), or have developed a material way stronger than anything previously known to humanity, or there is no noticeable load. Well, of course the right answer is....

Stein Varjord
23rd March, 2012 @ 08:46 am PDT
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