Houston, We Have Liftoff: Human BirdWings Guy Enjoys Miracle Of Human Gullibility [Updated]

While I am indeed guilty of being pretty fly for a white guy, it’s never been able to help me achieve my life-long dream of actual flight. You know, in the air, like a bird. Or maybe like Superman or Captain Planet. Hence my excitement back in December when we caught wind of a mechanical engineer from the Netherlands who was pulling out all the stops to transform this dream into a reality. His name? Mr. Jarno Smeets. At the time, however, his so-called HumanBirdWings project was just in its infancy.

Smeets was reportedly busy trying to manage a successful pairing of the accelerometers of a WiiMote and an HTC Wildfire S, which would together allow him to control the outrunners on his giant, self-built wings. Gradually, the engineer honed his mechanical pinions to the point at which, in late January, he actually took flight. Well, when we say “flight,” we really mean that the motion consisted more of two or three extended hops. But, damn you, it was progress.

Today, Jarno took his wings out for a second/tenth try, and, in the process, may just have made semi-self-propelled aeronautical history. We’ll check on that, but as far as hacks go, this one seems like it’s pretty high up there. Finding just the right concoction of wind velocity, speed of departure, and whispered Hail Marys, Jarno today apparently flew over 100 meters on his self-built wings.

Update: Don’t move over Orville, Wilbur, and Leo da Vinci, you’re still the top birdmen in town. After 8 months of hard work, research, and testing, this mechanical engineer was NOT able to defy gravity and participate in the miracle of self-propelled, human flight.

His inspiration? Why the majestic albatross, of course. Or perhaps Andy Kaufman. Thankfully, Samuel Taylor was not here to see this.

For more, check out Jarno’s blog, which provides a glimpse into his work.

But, without further ado, here’s Jarno in flight:

Update: Well, well, well. Go ahead and ignore everything written above. Shame on me for not doing the proper amount of homework, and instead going on excitement over what was thought to be possible but remains in the realm of impossible. For now. Very bad form on my part, especially considering it’s been revealed that this was an elaborate hoax constructed by a Dutch filmmaker named Florian Kaayk. You can read more in my second post here.

Obviously, I have mixed feelings on this. Part of me wants to congratulate Florian for taking us on a ride, exposing one of the problems inherent to blogging, digital media — and to how identity is evolving and morphing on the Web — for better and for worse. It also showed that it’s becoming increasingly tricky to distinguish between real, user generated content and content that’s been spliced or blended with CGI. Of course, I was wearing rose-colored glasses, but the point remains nonetheless.

The Dutch filmmaker claims that this was an experiment in “online storytelling,” and he didn’t expect the publicity the story has received. Which is kind of strange, given the references to Leonardo da Vinci and Icarus that were planted on “Jarno’s” blog. Self-propelled flight has captivated minds for millenia, and while today we have hang-gliding, parasailing, wingsuit flying, and this pedal-ed, human-powered helicopter, no one has been able to do it by flapping.

To do so, the wings wold need to be light enough and yet strong enough, and there needs to be enough power to produce lift. It probably should have been a red flag that there was no “Department of Aerospace Engineering” attached to his name (among one thousand other things), but there was the hope that some random Dutch engineer had figured it out. Obviously, that looks ridiculous in retrospect. But what’s more irksome is that, when it’s eventually proven a hoax, the only one who capitalizes is Floris — everyone else just feels silly for being gullible — and maybe even a little cheated.

Luckily, the hoax wasn’t a commercial enterprise, and Floris will probably get a plaque in the animation/visual effects Hall of Fame. And a place in the Hoax Pantheon, right next to the Balloon Boy.

For good measure, I’ll be writing a follow-up post called “Houston, I’m An Idiot” sometime soon. Or perhaps “Journalist Gets Duped By Hipster Flying Dutchmen” …