Dutchman Takes Flight With Custom-made Wings
March 21, 2012

Dutchman Takes Flight With Custom-made Wings

Jarno Smeets, a Dutch mechanical engineer, might just have earned the nickname the Birdman of the Hague. This “flying Dutchman,” hasn´t so much reinvented the wheel, but rather reinvented the way man can fly. With his own custom-built “Human Birdwings” and making use of an HTC Wildfire S and a Wii Remote he´s been able to recreate the flapping motion that allows birds to take flight.

While his flight only lasted about a minute and flew just 100 meters, it still was far more than the Wright Brothers accomplished in 1903 with the Wright Flier, which flew just 100 feet and stay aloft for a mere 12 seconds. And Orville Wright wasn´t flapping his arms in the process either.

However Smeets´ wings aren´t technically human-powered. Rather these translate the engineer´s arm motions to the set of motors and servos — so in essence respond much as a Nintendo Wii video game on the screen. The Wii Remote actually is used to measure the acceleration and other factors via Bluetooth.

According to Smeets, to maintain flight he´d need 2,000 watts of continuous power output to support his own 180-pounds along with the 40-pound wing. His human arms would only provide about five percent of the necessary output so the motors have to do the rest.

The motors clearly give him a leg — or wing — up on other notable pioneers of aviation.

“Ever since I was a little boy I have been inspired by pioneers like Otto Lilienthal, Leonardo da Vinci and also my own grandfather,” said Smeets in a statement, but of course da Vinci never had a Wii or an Android powered mobile phone to help.

Nor did early aviation pioneers have a space age materials to work with. The Wright Brothers had to make do with wood and fabric for their early attempts to create a heavier than air flying machine.

By contrast Smeets´ wings are built out of kite and carbon windsurf masts. He also had help from an independent team assembled under the Human Bird Wings project, and offered followers an open source concept in building the bird wings.

And while his flight on March 18 was just 100 feet, Smeets truly is a Flying Dutchman.