I'm really amazed by this video, because I always dreamed about doing this. Watch Dutch mechanical engineer Jarno Smeets take off and fly just by flapping wings of his own invention—like a real bird! It's uncanny.


Smeets developed the wings over an eight-month period. They use a special motion mechanism built around an Android phone and Nintendo Wii controllers. His system allows him to literally start flapping his arms to take off and keep flying.

Like a modern Leonardo da Vinci, Jarno's took notes from nature. His inspiration was the albatross, which he closely observed to learn his takeoff technique:


Just like birds, humans have to amplify their locomotion to get control and get familiar with their new body expansion—the Wings. In my conception this is something which is independent of any hardware of software problem.

So he paid attention and learned how to amplify his moves. The result, as you can see, was a success. This first test took him just over a distance of 328 feet (100 meters) but obviously he's planning to go higher and farther than that.

The mechanism

The wings are relatively simple: lightweight and large enough to sustain his body when enough lift is achieved. It's the flapping mechanism and the haptic controlling system that makes the whole thing work.

Jarno—who has been featured in print and TV all over Europe—made the harness using aircraft quality aluminum. The harness holds the brushless outrunner motors that power the mechanical propulsion system for the wings. It also contains all the other elements required to steer his invention.

The heart of the system is an Android smartphone. It processes Jarno's arm acceleration and computes the corresponding motor output. The phone is connected to a Seeduino ADK microcontroller, which connects to two Wii Motion Plus and a Wii Nunchuck. These are used to measure the acceleration, motion and all the different parameters required for making the calculations needed for the wing flapping.



After his first successful test, Jarno is ecstatic:: "I have always dreamed about this. But after eight months of hard work, research and testing it all payed off."

I completely understand his excitement. This has been of dream of mine since I was a little kid. Just flap my winds and start hovering above the ground. Flap some more and start going higher and higher. [Human Bird Wings]

Click to expand the image


Update: Jamie Hyneman, from Mythbusters, weighs in with his opinion about this feat:

The video of Jarno Smeets' flight is cool, and I don't see evidence that it 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.

Jamie's argument is solid—unlike all the fake arguments from armchair "experts" in the comments—pointing at the gear reductions that appear on this YouTube video, showing "everything working and of appropriate scale and sturdiness (probably carbon fiber tubes over an inch in diameter), with the haptic attachments in the appropriate place on the person's arm. The mechanism is simple and appropriate in that it appears to be just a crank that the motors are operating."


He also points out that the flight "is not as impressive as it may seem". He argues that given a bit of headwind and or a very slight incline, "running and gliding close to that height and distance might be possible without any flapping or motors." He believes that the "motors are in fact helping". Read the rest of his thoughts here.

Update 2: Some glider pilots are weighing in with their expert opinion, like reader Orian Price:


As a hang glider pilot, I can tell you that this is not real.

Not even close. The roll stability and pitch stability mechanisms are not present to fly.

What a hang glider looks like:

It takes 10hp for these to have powered flight and with that they can't climb nearly as fast as that guy.

Another reader, who claims to be a pilot, provides another argument against it:

I'm an Airline pilot with 25 years Airline experience, 7 years Air Force experience, 8 years kiteboarding experience and a background in aeronautical engineering. It's a fake. 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. There are other signs too, but it doesn't matter. Since the wings aren't loaded, they aren't producing lift. Not even the glide is real. It isn't a matter of opinion. It's simple fact. If the wings aren't producing lift, this has to be a fake. Period. If the wings were producing lift, they would show that they were under load. They never show a load, so they never produce lift.

Update 3: Hang glider G.W. Meadows is also unimpressed with the validity of the video:


I've been flying hang gliders for 33 years, a Master Hang Glider Pilot for 23 years, past president of the United States Hang Gliding Association and a Gold Medal winner at the 2000 World Championships. To take the time to try to explain to you why this is so obvious to those of us who fly a nearly identical machine (that just doesn't flap) that this is a fake would possibly just be too involved. Instead, take a minute and look at a few things that are just obvious to a casual viewer. Why would the people run away from the machine just before he tries to take off? Why is the guy running at the camera blocking the view of the pilot? Note after he gets airborne, his feet are behind him like superman. As a guy whose spent a couple of thousand hours hanging from a hang glider, I can tell you that you have to have a mechanism to hold your feet up like that.

Update 4: An engineer write us about his opinion on Updates 2 and 3, calling it poop:


While I must admit that something doesn't quote look "right" about that video (mainly that the contraption sure seems to gain altitude mighty quickly after "takeoff" relative to the forward groundspeed speed, but I guess the pilot is very lightweight dude, and maybe there was a good strong headwind) it is also true that the over-confidently-made arguments of the "Airline pilot" & "G.W. Meadows" do not take into account the actual construction of the wings, as shown here.

This wing is NOT a simple flexible "rogallo" type wing as the Airline pilot & hang glider expert seem to think. In fact it has a semi-rigid main aerofoil section.
The unsupported fabric trailing edge does not appear to be loaded because it is not the main source of lift.

Update 5: Wired's Rhett Alain has an excellent analysis—using video analyzing tools, not armchair expert eyes—showing that the video itself is not fake:


So, where do I stand on the issue of real or fake? I said I would leave that up to you, didn't I? Let me just say that there is nothing in this video that indicates it must be a fake.

Rhett's detailed plotting of the video, using tracking and plotting tools, is very solid. He also takes on the issue of physics, arguing that the wingspan is the correct one and that it would only require a 15mph head wind to achieve lift-off, like Jamie Hyneman argued in his post.

What about the lift? Does this wingspan produce enough lift to keep the guy up? Well, that is not too easy to explore. I could look at something similar – like maybe a hang-glider. Just browsing the internet, it seems like it would have to go around 15 – 20 mph in order to not crash. What does this say about the bird-wings? Well, it could have an air speed of 15 mph – especially if there is a strong headwind. Also, this isn't a glider. This is a flapper.

More fire for this controversial debate.


Update 6: Another engineer weighs in the comments.

Otto Lilienthal wings were not that much bigger, yet he successfully flew, and with enough head wind, even remained hovering above ground.

Hand gliding experts and pilots stating these are not airfoils thus do not provide lift is somewhat of a quick assumption... standard paper airplanes do not have "true" airfoils either, and we know they fly... or at least glide gracefully.

As an engineer I do not want to be caught up in the "I told you so, it was fake". Yet, this video remains in the realm of "feasible"...

My problem is not with the flight itself but with the balance (center of gravity) of the whole assembly.
Could it possibly be that he put the CG in the right place on the first go? It's hard but not impossible... I've even done RC planes with the right CG by simply eyeballing it !.

The other odd part is his legs... from 35s to 41s in the video he straighten them out with what appears to be a sail in between them (easy to view at 52s)... that sail or foil would certainly help (with the wind) to straighten the legs, yet you would still need a good six pack to do it. That's another maybe.

But then again, changing the legs from hanging to flat: "changes the CG" !...

I think the jury is still out there... no doubt this can be proved or disproved with a full TV interview and demo for the press.