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That "Backpack Helicopter" Flight Footage Was Too Good To Be True. No, Literally.

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Dr. Katie Spalding

Freelance Writer

clockJul 12 2021, 11:18 UTC
That "Backpack Helicopter" Flight Footage Was Too Good To Be True. No, Literally.

Hang on a minute! You can't LIE on the INTERNET! Image credit: Khosro/Shutterstock.com

Have you heard of the CopterPack? Half-helicopter, half-backpack, it’s the brainchild of an Australian start-up that makes “your body … part of the aircraft”. It’s all-electric, carbon-fiber, and even comes with a self-leveling autopilot. And the best part? It works!

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Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it is.

CopterPack made the headlines last month when the company released an amazing 69-second video that it claimed showed the device’s first test flight.

But nothing stays secret for long on the internet, and people soon started wondering if everything was as it seemed. Radio-controlled aircraft enthusiasts in particular noted that the vehicle didn’t seem to behave as they would expect – where was the dust on take-off, they asked, and what’s going on aerodynamically?

Eventually, these murmurings made it to the computer of aerial filmmaker Nick Adams – aka Parallax – and he decided to investigate.

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“I took a look at the video and was literally … blown away,” Adams says in a video debunking CopterPack’s claims. “It looked … like it was real, right?”

Adams, like so many others, was initially fooled by the video, thinking it was “too difficult to fake”. But when he took a closer look, he noticed something hinky.

“When I pull it in full quality and started adding some effects to … highlight where basically the photoshop has been done … I think this is pretty conclusive,” he explains.

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To illustrate the fakery, Adams first increases the saturation and sharpness of the video – simple effects which serve to make the trickery easier to see. Almost immediately, the cracks in the footage begin to show: one of the earliest shots in the original video suddenly reveals a column, stretching upwards from the CopterPack’s driver and into the sky, where the landscape just … isn’t quite right.

“The funny thing is, sometimes the worst distortions are happening right before a cut,” Adams points out. “Look right before it cuts … this is the frame where it cuts, look how bad it is.”

“Now you can say, ‘well maybe the sea is doing some crazy stuff that’s never happened in the history of humanity and it’s just happening to do it always over the person in a vertical line’,” he says, “but to me that’s just not happening.”

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Another tell-tale sign that the video has been faked occurs later on when a surfer in the background is mysteriously cut in two. It’s difficult to see in the original, but with the contrast turned up, and Adams guiding the viewer through frame-by-frame, you wonder how on Earth you missed it.

Although CopterPack has not commented on the video, they have updated their website to say that “… CopterPack is currently in the early development stage. The recent tethered test of the prototype enabled evaluation of the flight dynamics and aircraft stabilization.” Per New Atlas, this addition was made after Parallax/Adams uploaded the debunking.

Now, there’s any number of reasons why the flight may have needed a tether – it could simply have been a health and safety measure that the company thought looked silly in post-production. But it’s perhaps worth noting New Atlas’s 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).”

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For now, we can only speculate. But whatever the reason, somebody definitely did their homework on this one.

“I think this is fake but [I] also commend the people who did [it],” Adams commented. “Most of the video is very very clean – it’s incredibly difficult to see any abnormalities.”


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