Who hasn’t dreamed at some point of having the ability to fly like a bird? While many may share this dream, few have taken it upon themselves to do anything about it.
Some daredevils have opted for wingsuit jumping — diving off the top of a high precipice and gliding through the air in a specially designed suit — but this arguably could be considered glorified falling. Taking off from the ground and rising upward is a much more challenging situation, but a mechanical engineer from the Netherlands has created DIY wings to do it.
Jarno Smeets, in his second and latest test run, flew for 100 meters using his man-made wings. The press release announcing Smeets’ liftoff boasts that this is the first time in human history a man has flown flapping wings like a bird.
Watch Smeets takeoff, soar and gracefully land:
Smeets explains on his blog that he was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci and his grandfather, who had several design sketches for a winged bicycle. It appears that Smeets only started working on the project in August 2011 and he chronicled his progress on his blog “Human Birdwings.”
While it may look like Smeets arms are doing all the work in the video, as you might have suspected, he is assisted by a motor. He writes about the power he would need in a post:
My back-of-the-napkin calculations say that we would need about 2000W of continuous power. Well-trained arms can output about 5% of that, so we will rely mainly on the motor for flapping the wings. Lightweight motors that output 2000W aren’t hard to find. My first goal is to stay in the air for about 5 minutes, therefore we will need a 166 watthour batterypack, which weighs around 1400 grams.
Because human arms aren’t very strong, they will mainly function as guides, to control the flapping wing movements in a natural and intuitive way. These calculation are made for an ideal situation. Any inefficiencies aren’t taken into account, this will be found out by trial and error.
Smeets used a WiiMote and the HTC WildfireS to measure various factors with regard to acceleration and motion arms. Measuring these factors allow for calculation that will give the user the supplemental assistance they need from the motors to flap the wings and fly. He writes that it took weeks to refine of the software between the HTC phones and WiiMote to get the correct flapping movement of the wings. The release has more on the technology:
Until now people had assumed that it was impossible to fly with bird-like wings using human muscle power. Smeets designed his own system to solve this problem, using two Wii controllers, the accelerometers from a HTC Wildfire S smartphone and Turnigy motors. This combined mechanism provided Smeets with extra power to move his 17m2 wings and allowed him to move his arms freely without any risk of breaking them. The system is a wireless (haptic) concept.
Smeets gives a demo of how the tech works to help flap the wings:
As for construction of the wings themselves, they are based on an aluminum frame, carbon windsurf masts and kite material.
Watch Smeets’ first test flight:
Clearly, Smeets et al have made some adjustments to the design to get the lift and distance they achieved in the second go around. Smeets said after this second test, “I have always dreamed about this. But after 8 months of hard work, research and testing it all payed off.”
Check out the sequence of all of Smeets progress along the way on his video blog here.