Is the Bird-Man a flying Dutchman or a fraud? PDF Print E-mail

A Dutch engineer who claims to be the first human being to fly like a bird unaided by a jet or rotors has the Internet all atwitter with a video of his alleged maiden flight.

The video, which quickly went viral, shows Jarno Smeets, also known as the “Bird-Man”, running through a park in The Hague strapped to a pair of enormous (200 square foot) kite-like wings while vigorously pumping his arms, successfully taking off and making a short flight.

Apart from the 31-year old’s own arms, the wings were also powered by Wii motion sensors, which reportedly helped to ‘sense’ and amplify Smeet’s flapping movements and an accelerometer from an HTC Wildfire S smartphone.

After the 60 second flight, a triumphant Smeets is shown breathlessly saying how it was the best feeling he has ever had in his life. “At one moment you see the ground moving away, and then suddenly you’re free, a really intense feeling of freedom. The true feeling of flying. A *&^%$ magical moment.”

However, soon after the video was posted, speculation began flying that the entire thing was merely a flight of fancy and an elaborate hoax, with aviation experts saying that such a feat is physically impossible to achieve.

“I’m tempted to play along, but unfortunately, from a physical perspective, it’s completely unrealistic,” the Huffington Post quoted Dr. Todd Reichert as saying. “Given an estimated total weight of 100kg, a wing area of 9 square meters, maximum lift coefficient of 1.0, and an air density of 1.22 kilograms per cubic meter... the vehicle would have to travel at least 49 kilometres per hour to stay airborne.”

According to Dr. Reichert, who is an expert in bird and human-powered flight from the University of Toronto, takeoff would have been a problem too.  “Unless this guy can blow by Usain Bolt in a sprint, he’s not going to reach takeoff speed by running.”

Updated: The entire thing – from the flying down to Smeets’ identity – was a hoax played on the internet by a Dutch artist named Floris Kaayk. Gizmodo reported that Kaayk confessed on a Dutch television show, saying that the stunt formed part of a documentary that he is working on.

If you are interested in seeing the controversial video of Smeets’ flight, here it is:
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