The best hoaxes mimic unlikely, yet plausible scenarios, and play on our fears or aspirations. Two videos that went viral this year were skillfully created by art students and released on an unsuspecting public. The first was a toddler-snatching golden eaglethat had us gaping in horror, while the second (below), featured a human bird wings project that sent many office-bound viewers soaring out of their cubicles. Both videos affirmed, at some level, the human obsession with flight. The second video went further, touching on what we feel at our core to be true — humans can fly under their own power.

Though probably not the first to flesh the Icarus myth, Da Vinci wrought the culture of human flight. To really fly — as a bird does — we must abandon the naive and distracting approaches that seemingly work so well for rotary-powered aircraft and embrace the principles that make sound engineering sense given a human’s power and scale.

No doubt eagles are strong creatures — Harpy eagles snatch monkeys from Amazonian trees, Martial eagles grab adolescent gazelles from the African savanna, and Golden eagles topple large goats from mountains. How much can they actually lift? As we will see, the obvious questions do not have obvious answers. An exceptionally large eagle might weigh 25 pounds and have a 9-foot wingspan. It would be conservative to say it could take off easily with an extra 10 pounds and maintain flight with at least double that. This year’s toddler hoax may be a stretch, but certainly not a huge one.

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