Last month, we reported on astonishing first flight footage from the Copterpack, an Australian electric personal flight device. Now, eagle-eyed pixel peepers have scrutinized the video and presented evidence that a tether wire has been edited out.
The video in question is amazing, and just 69 seconds long. You can check it out again below if you missed it:
It certainly had us going. In an age where David Mayman, Franky Zapata and Richard Browning routinely make a broad range of turbine-powered personal flight devices look easy and fun, nothing seemed particularly outrageous to us about the idea of an electric version.
YouTube user Parallax, though – or Nick Adams, a talented aerial filmmaker in the USA – started to look closer, prompted by friends in the R/C aircraft community that thought something fishy might be going on. Why wasn't there much dust flying around on takeoff? Were the Copterpack's movements in the air natural, or more like what you'd get if you dangled something from a tether?
Pushing sharpness and saturation on the video to better show up any editing shenanigans, Adams found solid evidence that the area above the Copterpack has been treated with the video equivalent of Photoshop's "clone stamp" tool. It's very difficult to spot in a still, but becomes glaringly obvious as you proceed through frame by frame. Check out the video below:
This kind of editing is reasonably sophisticated; the video has been carefully planned and shot so as to make each flight angle convincing and give the editors the best possible chance of removing the tether wire in post-production. In some shots, it's absolutely seamless. But enough artefacts remain to figure out what's going on.
We reached out to Copterpack after the video first launched, and heard nothing back. We have reached out again for comment on the Parallax video, but have again heard nothing back.
The Copterpack website has been edited to include the following paragraph: "The unique thing about CopterPack is that your body becomes part of the aircraft. CopterPack is currently in the early development stage. The recent tethered test of the prototype enabled evaluation of the flight dynamics and aircraft stabilisation." The Parallax video was published on June 28, and according to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, this paragraph wasn't added until after that date.
Which leaves us to speculate. This whole thing doesn't have the whiff of a total hoax to us; whoever the Copterpack guy is, he's clearly put time and money into building the device in the video, which is definitely able to spin its props and vector thrust by angling them.
So what's really going on here? Perhaps we're looking at a device that's not yet powerful enough to lift its own weight with a suited and booted, regular-sized human on board. New Atlas reader and electric personal flight enthusiast "Chuck Mulder," who brought this video to our attention, sent us a breakdown of high-end components for a device like this, coming to the conclusion that the Copterpack might just be able to lift a person off the ground for a short burst of time if they weighed less than 53 kg (117 lb).
Perhaps the Copterpack is legit, and the tether rope is the kind of basic safety measure you'd be irresponsible not to take. Perhaps the team had to run a rope to avoid getting tangled up in red tape; Australia has somewhat of a reputation as a nanny state in this regard. Perhaps the creators edited the tether out because they thought it'd look silly dangling from a crane in a promo video. And they're right; this video would never have racked up its current tally of 1.4 million YouTube views with a visible rope in it.
The video drew in plenty of attention, that's for sure, and possibly some investors to go along with it. But whether the device works as shown or not, editing test flight footage in this way – and then only owning up to it when you've been caught out – is dishonest and bad business. We hope we have a chance to talk to the Copterpack team soon and straighten things out, because if the damn thing works, there are plenty of people waiting to get excited about it.
Source: Parallax (YouTube)