Huffpost Science

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

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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.

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