Flying 'Birdman' Admits He Faked It

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Updated Mar. 23: The Flying Dutchman, Floris Kaayk (a.k.a. Jarno Smeets), admitted on Dutch television yesterday that the video showing him flying like a bird was, in his words, "online storytelling." In our words: a fake. Wired magazine suspected as much when they reported on the viral YouTube video (see the entry below) and then CGI experts came in behind them saying that indeed, pixels didn't add up. And then last night, Kaayk, who is a filmmaker and animator, admitted that last summer, he started documenting the fake flying machine. If you're still wondering what all the flap was about, keep reading and watch the video below. via Life's Little Mysteries

From Mar. 22: Time Magazine originally called him "a Dutchman with mad engineering skills" and Gizmodo compared him to Da Vinci when a video of 31-year-old Jarno Smeets donning homemade wings and flying started going viral. Now the "Birdman" is being called a hoax.

Smeets, on his website, describes a process of designing and building homemade wings over eight months. The site shows large, lightweight wings that look a little like windsurfing sails attached to an aluminum harness. Sketches and diagrams detail his apparent control mechanisms: gyroscopes and accelerometers from a Wii Nunchuck and a Wii Motion Plus, as well as acceleration sensors from an HTC smartphone.

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A video that now has several million views shows Smeets with his friends, donning his wings and then flying up into the air with camera mounted on his helmet. The video has views of him in the air intercut with videos that are apparently from the helmet-cam.

Back on the ground, red-faced and exuberant, Smeets talks to the camera in Dutch about how he feels (dropping a few F-bombs, too).

I want to believe it really happened, and surely so does every kid that ever dreamed of flying like this. It didn't seem impossible — after all, hang gliding has been around for years. But Wired's Dave Mosher and Daniela Hernandez did some deep digging, and they're reporting that Smeets' resume doesn't check out.

They contacted people at the organizations listed on Smeets' LinkedIn profile. Pailton Steering Systems' group managing director said Smeets "never worked for us." Likewise, Coventry University didn't have a record of him. Smeets declined Wired's request for an interview, saying he was overwhelmed by all the messages he was getting.

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CGI experts and physics experts are weighing in now, too. Sanford University computer scientist and Ron Fedkiw pointed out to Wired that there is no continuous shot from take-off to landing, and suggested that clever camera cuts might have been used to trick viewers.

Jamie Hyneman of MythBusters took a look at the video and wrote:

The video of Jarno Smeets' flight is cool, and I don't see evidence that it was faked. It seems reasonable to accomplish, and is something I have wanted to try for a long time. I am suspicious because there is not much detail shown of the actual machine, but that does not mean anything other than they don't show it all.

Even if the whole thing is a hoax — or worse, a weird advertisement — at the very least it's sparked an interest in physics, Da Vinci, and DIY flying. The possibility is there. Just don't try this at home.

Photo: For real? Credit: Jarno Smeets/Human Birdwings.