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Man Who Flew Like a Bird in Viral Video Admits Farce Was Part of Online Experiment


“As an artist he has succeeded, but he has fooled most of us."

A few days ago, we brought you the too-good-to-be-true story of Jarno Smeets who realized his dream of flying like a bird by building his own wings. It was an endeavor that he chronicled in both blog posts and video clips on his website Human Birdwings for eight months.

Shortly after the video of his second test flight of the wings went viral -- it has more than 3 million YouTube hits -- it was called out as a fake by experts in the film industry. There were also questions raised about his identity and resume.

Now Smeets, or shall we say Floris Kaayk, has admitted it was all an elaborate hoax. Wired reports that Kaayk gave a tell-all interview on a Dutch TV show where he said he is really a filmmaker and animator by trade -- not a mechanical engineer as he is described on his blog. He also said that this project was part of an "experiment about online media."

Here's Kaayk's revealing interview (Note: It's in Dutch so turn on the closed captions):

Kaayk said the experiment was to show how you can tell a good story through a blog. And boy was it good. Kaayk, posing as Smeets, worked on the project actively for eight months, wrote about 17 blog posts and developed more than detailed 10 videos to go along with them. Not to mention actually building the contraption and making a video to look like he actually flew it. He also had several helpers on the project who made it look even more like a legitimate operation. The computer-graphics imagery experts who weighed in on Wired and Gizmodo stated that while they found evidence it was a hoax, they said was a pretty good one. The host of the Dutch show even says Mythbusters found the hoax well done.

Kaayk also fooled a professor he asked about some of his designs into thinking he was pretty serious about flying. Wired reports:

“He wanted to chase a dream, as most artists do. He wanted to inspire people and I think he succeeded,” said neuromechanics scientist Bert Otten of the University of Groningen. “As an artist he has succeeded, but he has fooled most of us. We all want to fly, don’t we?”

Kaayk reached out to Otten in August 2011 to ask him about the mechanics of flight. Otten said he was not in on the hoax, and that he believed Kaayk — then “Jarno Smeets” — earnestly wished to fly.

“Although this kind of flight is possible in principle, he must have known early on that it would be impossible for him and that he had to fake it. It’s pretty fantastic that he made us believe that we were on to something.”

According to Kaayk's website, he graduated cum laude at the animation department of the St. Joost Academy and received his Master of Fine Arts degree at the Sandberg Institute. As Smeets, he said he attended Coventry College, which Wired debunked. 

Were you duped?

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