Inventor Jarno Smeets Talks Flying with Human Bird Wings

by Tara

In this inventor interview Jarno Smeets talks about his amazing project to create human flappable bird wings and then fly them.

Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about where you are based, your background experience how you first started inventing things?

Jarno Smeets InventorJarno: I am based in The Hage, in The Netherlands. I am trained as an engineer, so most of the knowledge for designing wings come straight from my passion for engineering and flying. I am a big kitesurfing fan and adrenaline junky. I love hanggliding too. Unfortunately, I have given up my kite equipment to use it for my wings. And at this point there is no time to fly for fun. The project is taking a lot of time. But it’s all worth it!

I started inventing things when I was still a little boy. Me and my brother used to work on our own inventions. We had a small research vehicle, with a lot of funny accessories, like a microscope, different types of small steel tools, jars with our own made chemicals. With this vehicle we drove around through the neighboorhood, looking for new inventions and new chemical brewages. Later on I started working on kinetic construction with the use of Mechano and Lego. I think that was the point I started to get interested in inventing new machines.

Tara: Please could you tell me a bit about your human bird wings project and what you are trying to do?

human bird wings invention

Jarno: When I was younger, my granddad was actually working on some sketches for a flying bicycle. A helicopter, human powered by a bike mechanism. As a child I was always very intrigued by these drawings, back then I really believed that my granddad would once be able to fly on this bike. Of course this was a naive, childish fantasy. Only later I realized that this would be a very difficult thing to accomplish. The images of his flying bike have always been floating around in the back of my mind. So, for that great dream my grandpa gave me, he is still my biggest inspiration for starting this ‘Human Birdwings’ project.

Because my dream about flying started with sketches I asked my mother a few years back to look for the sketches of the flying bicycle my granddad once designed. After a long search she found them in the attic! Only 3 left unfortunately. Wondering where all the other drawings went, I’m quite sure there were much more! Recently my mother gave me the book about pedalforce, which my granddad used for inspiration on his invention.

Of course I have been looking at other peoples attempts too. Mankind has always had the urge to try flying the same way as birds do. Beside my granddad I have been studying Leonardo Da Vinci’s first flying machine sketches. And some of you might know Otto Lilienthal, who’s responsible for the kickoff in our history of aviation. A fun fact is that Da Vinci wasn’t actually the first with design for a self propelled flying machine. Almost 1200 years ago Abbas ibn Firnas designed a set of wings. Many years later, around 1475, Leonardo da Vinci designed his human powered ornithopter which in turn still inspires many other flying enthousiasts over the world.

Both pioneers are big inspirators to me, because their dream wasn’t just a dream. But something they sacred believed in. Which can be a dangerous thing of course, haha. Some have died while making their first attempt. I am definitely going to make sure I am keeping it all safe ;) Maybe I am just doing this project to enjoy the dream. But hey, look where it has gotten me. It is all becoming very real!

Tara: What were the first steps you took after having the idea?

Jarno: When I was studying in England, my knowledge about mechanical- and electronical engineering started to expand. I soon discovered that flapping wings without external powersupport would be impossible. During the more boring lectures I started sketching and writing down ideas about how wings could be powerassisted by actuators during their flapping movement. Back then there were no easy accessible components to, for example, collect arm movement data. The last few years a lot of exciting consumer devices, like Wii controllers and Smartphones, have been developped which changed my original ideas drastically..

A problem used to be, where do I find batteries light enough to be able to power strong electromotors for a longer continuous period. Since the introduction of Lithium Polymer batteries on the consumer market, this problem wasn’t relevant anymore. Components like these are very affordable and easily accessible, through webshops and online marketplaces.

After I realised these modern technical advantages my whole design started to evolve in a more achievable project. Suddenly my dream became much more real.

Tara: What makes human bird wings different from other flying vehicles such as a microlite?

Jarno: There’s a big difference between a microlite and my birdwing concept. A microlite (or hangglider) uses a static wing. Those static wings need a lot of speed or height to get lifted and don’t have the control like I will have when flapping my wings.

I really enjoy flying microlites, since it’s so easy and comfortable sitting in your chair and steering yourself through the thermals. But there’s something I miss, it’s the intuitive feeling, the idea to get lifted by your own physical effort. The real fight between me and gravity.

Tara: Is it just you working on the project or do you have a team working with you?

Jarno: I have a great team of friends and volunteers who are helping me out. In the videos you probably have seen my three go-to guys Bas, Tygo and Orhan. Funny thing is that during the project I actually made a new friend: Floor Pietersen. She is filming most of the stuff I work on. She’s the reason I have such nice videos for my channel!

Tara: How are you going to fund the project?

Jarno: It’s all my own money that is spend on this project. Some savings and inspiration by my Granddad (he left me some inspiration money ;-) .

Tara: What is your end goal and what are your hope for the future of the project?

Jarno: The end goal is to fly with these wings. What comes next I can only dream of. This is such a crazy project that I can only hope this all is going to work. Which of course I believe in! I already have a bit of proof it actually will. But you’ll have to check my blog and Youtube channel to get in on those details ;-)

It would be great if this is going to lead to more interesting design for fun and safe birdlike flying vehicles. Therefore I am open to people who want to join in on my journey to complete this.

Tara: Where can people connect with you and find out more about the project?

Jarno: I have a Youtube channel where I regularly post my videos on the progress of the project.
For more details you can check my blog where I write a more elaborate on the details of the different aspects of the construction work.

I have twitter (@jarnosmeets80) and an open Facebook page (Jarnosmeets80).
And my email is Don’t hesitate to mail me your support or ideas on the project!
If you enjoyed this interview you can find more here.

Are you an inventor or invention expert with an interesting story or advice to share? Please get in touch via the contact form or email tara (at) ideasuploaded (dot) com

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ray January 20, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I hope you do now realize that the aim of his project was getting attention. He finally actually faked the entire flight because it didn’t work at all. CGI:
This guy’s a pretty sad case.


Tara January 23, 2012 at 9:55 am

Hi Ray, It looked pretty real to me. If he had wanted to fake a flight I am sure he would have made it look like he went a lot higher.


Ray January 23, 2012 at 5:33 pm

OK, so look at the video again. At 1:50 there is no black square above the logo. Then the camera pans away, looks back, and at 2:00 there is a black square above the logo. You can see the grass digitally brushed away as well. If he had jumped higher even people like you wouldn’t have believed it.


EricBlairEtc March 21, 2012 at 10:13 pm

The black square is difficult to see because of two layers of fabric, one of which is illuminated, but which changes as the two are pressed together in the light.

It’s people who think everything is a CGI fake who are the sad cases.

You can see he actually takes off pretty well in this one, and it doesn’t look like CGI, certainly not CGI that is better than anything in a Hollywood movie.


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