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Jarno Smeets VIDEO: 'Flying Dutchman's' Human-Powered Aircraft Called Hoax By Some

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 03/21/2012 4:19 pm Updated: 03/22/2012 4:44 pm

UPDATE: The creator of the Human Birdwings video has appeared on Dutch television admitting that his "flight" was a hoax. Watch his confession above. For English, press the "cc" button in the YouTube player.

Talk about flights of fancy. A new viral video purports to show a Dutch engineer by the name of Jarno Smeets successfully testing a "semi-human-powered" flying machine. In the video, the man some are calling the "Flying Dutchman" pumps his arms furiously to help flap the contraption's wings, lifting off gracefully into the air for a brief flight. After landing, a breathless Smeets recounts the "really intense feeling of freedom" he felt while aloft.

WATCH: ORIGINAL VIDEO THAT CAUSED THE CONTROVERSY

Editors across the web were captivated by the video--which was posted at a site called Human Birdwings--and they hailed Smeets and his flying machine, which supposedly gets some of its power from tiny electronically controlled motors. But there's only one problem--the video is an elaborate hoax. At least that's the opinion of the University of Toronto's Dr. Todd Reichert.

"I'm tempted to play along, but unfortunately from a physical perspective it's completely unrealistic," Reichert told The Huffington Post in an email. "Given an estimated total weight of 100 kg, 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 kilometers per hour to stay airborne."

In other words, it's just impossible that the flight took place as depicted unless Smeets was running into an extraordinarily stiff headwind. Or as Reichert explained, "Unless this guy can blow by Usain Bolt in a sprint, he's not going to reach takeoff speed by running."

Why should we trust Reichert's opinion? Because in addition to being an expert on bird and human-powered flight, he led a team that became the first in the world to fly a man-powered flapping wing aircraft. (Dubbed the "Snowbird," the 96-pound craft maintained level flight for 19.3 seconds in 2010, according to Reichert.)

An email seeking comment from Smeeks went unanswered. What do other experts say of the "Flying Dutchman" video?

"The video of Jarno Smeets' flight is cool, and I don't see evidence that it was faked," Jamie Hynerman, of "Mythbusters" fame, wrote on tested.com. "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."

Dr. Rhett Alain, an associate professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, wrote a detailed analysis of the video for Wired.com. But he declined to pass judgment on it, writing, "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."

But Reichert said he was absolutely certain the video was a hoax. Leaving aside the issue of takeoff speed, he said that he had calculated that the stresses of flight would subject Smeets' craft to a load "effectively the equivalent of a 20,000-pound elephant sitting on the small aluminum linkages. Unfortunately, the mechanism is simply not powerful enough, or robust enough to withstand the flight loads."

Who's right? Have a look at the video, and let us know your opinion.

GALLERY: THE GREATEST HOAXES
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  • Famous Loch Ness Monster Photograph

    The most famous picture of the Loch Ness Monster, a grainy black-and-white photograph showing a long head and neck emerging from the lake, was eventually revealed to be a hoax. As the <em>New York Times </em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1994/03/20/weekinreview/loch-ness-fiction-is-stranger-than-truth.html" target="_hplink">reported</a>, the "monster" in the photograph was a bogus 12-inch-high model made from plastic, wood and a toy submarine purchased for two shillings, six pence in Woolworth's in a London suburb, David Martin and Alastair Boyd, of the Loch Ness and Morar Project said. (Photo: AP)

  • Adolf Hitler's $6 Million Diary

    In 1983, German newsweekly<em> Stern</em> claimed to be the new owners of what would have been the most explosive diaries in history: the collected thoughts of Adolf Hitler, <em>Time</em> <a href="http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1931133_1931132_1931123,00.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>. Though the magazine paid a cool $6 million for the documents, the diaries were later exposed as "grotesquely superficial fakes" made on modern paper using 1980s-era ink and riddled with historical inaccuracies. The prank cost editors at <em>Stern</em>, the <em>Sunday Times</em> and <em>Newsweek</em> their jobs. (Photo: AP)

  • War Of The Worlds

    The 1938 broadcast of a <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0617_050617_warworlds.html" target="_hplink">radio adaptation</a> of HG Wells' <em>The War of the Worlds</em> frightened many listeners into believing an actual alien invasion was in progress. Narrated by Orson Wells, the adaptation had been written and performed to sound like an actual news broadcast about an invasion from wars. Believing they were under attack by Martians, listeners flooded newspaper offices and radio and police stations with calls, asking how to flee their city. (Photo: AP File)

  • Georgia Invasion Hoax

    As <em>Time</em> <a href="http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1931133_1931132,00.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>, Georgians were in for the shock of their lives in when the pro-government Imedi station announced that the country's pro-western leader Mikheil Saakashvili had been murdered and Russian tanks were yet again invading their land, barely 18 months on from the short-lived war of 2008. Panic understandably ensued as people piled onto the streets, and the cell phone network collapsed. Apparently the broadcast was introduced as a simulation of possible events but this warning was clearly lost on many Georgians: people were taken to hospital suffering from stress and it's been reported that one woman, whose son was in the army, had a heart attack and died. (Photo: Getty)

  • Piltdown Man

    In 1912, British scientists believed they had finally found definitive proof of mankind's evolution: the missing link between man and ape. As<em> Time</em><a href="http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1931133_1931132_1931125,00.html" target="_hplink"> reports</a>, the parts of a skull and jawbone, collected from a gravel pit in the village of Piltdown, had many experts convinced they were the fossilised remains of an unknown form of early man. But 41 years later, Piltdown man was finally exposed as a composite forgery: a human skull from medieval times, the 500-year-old lower jaw of a Sarawak orangutan and chimpanzee fossil teeth. (Photo: Wikicommons)

  • Balloon Boy

    On 15 October 2009, Richard and Mayumi Heene in Fort Collins, Colorado, allowed a gas balloon filled with helium to float away into the atmosphere and then claimed that their six-year-old son Falcon was inside it. As CNN <a href="http://articles.cnn.com/2009-10-16/us/colorado.balloon.boy_1_richard-heene-mayumi-heene-alderden?_s=PM:US" target="_hplink">reports</a>, when the balloon finally landed, Falcon was not on board. Later, he came out from hiding in an attic over the home's garage.

  • Alien Autopsy

    As the Science Channel reports, London-based video entrepreneur Ray Santilli claimed to own footage of an alien autopsy performed after the 1947 Roswell Incident, which aired in 1995 to an audience of millions. He later fessed up to the hoax, noting that all the alien innards in the film were actually sheep brains, raspberry jam and chicken entrails. (Photo: AP)

  • Microsoft Buys The Catholic Church

    In 1994 a press release bearing a Vatican City dateline, began circulating around the Web claiming that Microsoft had <a href="http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/msft.html" target="_hplink">bought</a> the Catholic church. The release even quoted Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates as saying, "The combined resources of Microsoft and the Catholic Church will allow us to make religion easier and more fun for a broader range of people." Microsoft finally issued a formal denial of the release on 16 December, 1994. (Photo: AP)

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