Take the 2-minute tour ×
Skeptics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for scientific skepticism. It's 100% free, no registration required.

On his website http://www.humanbirdwings.net/ the dutch engineer Jarno Smeets claims to have successfully build a set of 17 m2 bird-like wings from material of a kite. It is claimed that it uses sensors taken from Wii controllers and a smart phone as well as two motors on the back of the "pilot" which amplify the flapping from the "pilots" arms which are connected with robes to the wings.

A video showing him fly can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYW5G2kbrKk.
There is an official press release at http://www.humanbirdwings.net/press/.

His project to build such a flying device has been published by the Belgian weekly HUMO and the German Financial Times. However, I could not find any news report which featured his claimed success.

While totally self-powered human bird-flight is AFAIK impossible due to the fact that humans don't have the muscle power to move wings large enough to carry them, a (semi-)motorized setup could IMHO work in theory. However, I'm skeptical if it is possible with a rather lightweight setup as shown here. This especially includes the possibility to lift-off from an even ground as claimed in the video. There is still a good chance that the shown flight is faked using video editing tricks.

share|improve this question
7  
You have linked to multiple press reports, technical diagrams, a blog describing the build process, photographs and a video. Clearly, you do not find these convincing. Can you please explain what sort of evidence someone could post that would convince you? –  Oddthinking Mar 21 '12 at 12:57
2  
@Oddthinking: The press reports are about the project, i.e. the attempt, itself and not about the claimed success. The technical diagrams, blog and photographs are proof enough to me that they really tried hard in achieving it, but not that the were successful. The video is of course nice, but wouldn't be the first one which got faked while looking impressive. One good way to address this question IMHO would be to check the technical part of it, i.e. are the 17 m^2 enough to support a human; which motor force is required etc. Unfortunately I'm not able to do this myself. –  Martin Scharrer Mar 21 '12 at 13:07
    
@MartinScharrer - There are planes that use smaller wings. I think that your question contains the type of links I would want to accept as an answer to was the video faked. And hand gliders also have smaller wings and are used all the time. –  Chad Mar 21 '12 at 14:51
1  
@Chad: That was only an example on how to approach it and is not all what I find worthy to investigate. Simply because there was indeed quite an effort involved in the project, it doesn't mean it isn't faked. They may have been paid by the manufacturer of the action camera or other equipment they used, even maybe of the CGI software! This things have been happened before with viral videos. Just quoting some website (by the makers!) should not be enough for an answer. It's like posting a link to a webshop selling healing crystals as sign that they are working. –  Martin Scharrer Mar 22 '12 at 19:01
2  
Purely as a matter of technical feasibility, it's not impossible, assuming there is some kind of motor. It appears to be a cross between a hang glider and an ornithopter. –  Mike Dunlavey Mar 22 '12 at 20:49

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The maker and claimed "pilot" of the construction now has outed the whole thing as an hoax on Dutch TV and made an official statement on its website http://www.floriskaayk.com/:

Today, I revealed my latest project on Dutch prime-time TV show 'De wereld draait door'. In the past months I have been working on an exciting fictional online storytelling project called Human Birdwings . To be precise, Human Birdwings was an online adventure and invention story in which fictional character Jarno Smeets developed wings in a do-it-yourself manner

The following websites mentioning it as well:

Gizmodo: Flying Bird Man Admits Flying Bird Man Is Fake

You're looking at the Internet Bird Man, who captivated the web's attention for dozens of hours and divided us between skeptics and the faithful. It was a hoax! It turns out he even made up his name.

Jarno Smeets—actually a Dutch CGI artist named Floris Kaayk—fessed up to the hoax on De Wereld Draait Door, a Dutch TV show.

Mythbusters (some link as below, now edited):

Editor's note: "Jarno Smeet" has gone on Dutch TV exposing the entire affair as an elaborate hoax. I've updated the headline to reflect. More details to come soon.--WS

http://presurfer.blogspot.de/2012/03/man-flies-like-bird.html

update: It's a hoax. The Internet Bird Man fessed up to the hoax on a Dutch TV show. It turns out he even made up his name. Jarno Smeets is actually a Dutch CGI artist named Floris Kaayk.


Original answer:

Since the recent publication of the "success" video there have been several responses on different websites. Through them I'm actually now able to give a referenced answer myself.

There are some people with technical expertise which note that it seems to be technical possible, and does not need to be a fake on technical grounds:

Jamie Hyneman (Mythbusters): Thoughts on The Mechanics of Assisted Human Flight.

Rhett Allain, Associate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University: Analysis of the Human Birdwings

However the following news and science/technology websites have reported it seems to be a fake either by themselves or by quoting experts:

Fox News: Viral 'human bird wings' video fake, probably an ad, expert says

Wired Science: Bird-Man’s Resume Doesn’t Check Out: ‘Nobody Knows Him’

Gizmodo: CGI Experts Say Flying Bird Man Is Fake (taken from John C's answer)

Gizmodo: Man Flies Like a Bird Flapping His Own Wings

Science on msnbc.com: 'Human bird' video flying high, but experts say it looks fake

Gadget Review: Fake: Human Birds Wings (video)

Apparently there are some clear hints about CGI techniques used for the video(s). Other things like missing load on the wings have been pointed out. Also the background story of the pilot does not check out.

Some (in the above linked posts) assume that this is meant as a viral ad video for one of the companies which products were used by the project, like Nintendo.

share|improve this answer
    
Could you summarize the key points of each of the links you provided. –  Chad Mar 22 '12 at 19:54
    
@Chad: Good point, but this seems now no longer necessary. See my update. I probably should just have waited a few days before posting the question. –  Martin Scharrer Mar 22 '12 at 20:09
1  
@Alex: The question is about the presented flying device, not about any human flight in general. Skydiving is jumping out of a plane is is entirely different. –  Martin Scharrer Mar 23 '12 at 18:33

Well, the people at Industrial Light & Magic seem to think the video is a CGI fake, and they should know...

Bad physics, shaky cam with bad focus (always a giveaway) and the most steady head I've ever seen on a guy flapping his arms in order to not break every bone in his body. FAKE.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks a lot! This link is a very good start and lists several things which are look suspicious. I however still hope there is a also a more physics based answer out there. –  Martin Scharrer Mar 21 '12 at 19:31
    
The linked article points also to gizmodo.com/5894904/… which has some more opinions from people which claim some form of competence (pilots, engineers, etc.) Most of them say it is a fake. –  Martin Scharrer Mar 21 '12 at 19:45

The Lying Dutchman already admitted that it was indeed a hoax. His real name is Floris Kaayk and he is a movie animator.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=OESwdRb48jM

Dutch filmmaker and animator Floris Kaayk in collaboration with media production company Revolver fessed up to creating a “media art project” that took the world by storm in recent days -- a video of inventor Jarno Smeets taking flight by flapping his arms. (source: FoxNews)

Another source:

The human birdman Jarno Smeets is in fact Dutch filmmaker and animator Floris Kaayk, who developed the eight-month project as an experiment to see how online media works, he told chat show De Wereld Draait Door. (source: DutchNews)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.